So Gay Men Can’t Even Be Fathers to Their Biological Children Now?

Imagine being told that even though you are biologically a child’s father, you still don’t get to be listed as a father to that child, essentially because you and your partner are in a same-sex marriage which isn’t recognized by the state you live in. That’s the extraordinary situation married couple Jason Hanna and Joe Riggs of Dallas, Texas are currently facing.

The couple have been together for six years and, two years ago, married in Washington DC. Recently they decided to do what many married couples do: have children. They contacted a woman known to us as CharLynn who is an experienced surrogate, having carried three other pregnancies to term and began making arrangements.

Hanna and Riggs decided to use the same egg donor for both of their children and that they would father one of the children each, and then adopt each other’s biological son so that the ties between them would be cemented and their family complete. An important note here is that CharLynn is not the egg donor and has no biological relationship to the children. Nevertheless she did give birth to the couple’s two healthy baby boys.

Hanna and Riggs knew going into this that they would have to fight to be listed as parents to their children because Texas refuses to acknowledge same-sex marriage and, as a result, does not automatically grant joint parenting rights. The couple couldn’t have anticipated just how much hostility they would face, though.

Instead of waiting for the courts to adjudicate this matter, CharLynn’s name was placed on the birth certificates as the mother of both children, even though she has no biological claim over the children, nor does she want it. That’s because Texas uses a gestational surrogacy agreement and for it to be lawful in the state the parents must have a legal claim to those children which, without their marriage being recognized, they do not have. Due to the fact that Hanna and Riggs were unable to sign the birth certificates in the first instance, this due to legal advice surrounding the joint adoption, the law seems to default to giving CharLynn parental status.

GLAAD reports that at this time, and due to various legal issues,  neither men are listed as fathers even on the birth certificates of the children to whom they have a biological claim.

Trying to straighten out this mess, Hanna and Riggs went before a judge in Forth Worth this month, petitioning to add each of their names to their biological sons’ birth certificates so that Texas would recognize them as fathers, and also to ask that they be allowed cross adopt each other’s biological children. They were asked to subject themselves to DNA tests to prove their parental status, and they complied.

Staggeringly though, the judge denied the petition because, she said, based on the evidence and current state law, the petition could not be granted. But why?

When it comes to the biological claim, the denial may have been a technicality: because they petitioned for those actions together, to be listed as biological fathers and so remove the surrogate’s name, and to joint adopt, they were denied the petition without the judge considering each separate question.

However, removing CharLynn’s name may be particularly problematic anyway because the judge appears to be saying that the agreement cannot be lawful unless the couple who is seeking to adopt has a valid marriage license under Texas law. Again, while the couple are married for the purposes of federal law, we come back to Texas refusing to recognize same-sex marriages per the state’s constitutional ban.

“It’s astonishing that in our country, in 2014, loving parents can still be denied basic legal protections for their own children,” GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis is quoted as saying. “As a gay mother of twins myself, it breaks my heart to think that Joe and Jason’s family has now been put in harm’s way, simply because they live in a state that refuses to respect their legal marriage. Every parent should be able to protect their own child, regardless of who they love or where they live.”

Texas actually does have precedent to grant second parent adoptions to same-sex couples but, as in many states where marriage equality isn’t yet legal, this is often down to a judge’s discretion.

Interestingly, Texas’ ban against same-sex marriage has been declared unconstitutional but that order is stayed pending an appeal with the appellate courts. This may be in part why the lower court judge felt her hands were tied on this matter — yet again demonstrating how same-sex marriage bans can lead to unanticipated legal problems, not to mention the heartache caused to the two men in this case who just want to be recognized as the dads that they are.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Cathleen K.
Cathleen K3 years ago

The Texas state constitution bans the recognition of same sex marriages. This will be struck down eventually, and then all of this kind of nonsense can just go away.

Harry H.
Harry H.3 years ago

The gay gene only passes maternally. Gay IS In Your Genes, Northwestern University Study More...

The politics of masculine insecurity is the
economics of the mafia. It had a populational

It's the oligarch replacing democracy with himself
and his wife calling unmanly any disapprover.

It produced the scapegoater extraordinaire,
but also the hypocritical gay guy
demonizing gays (hypocritically.)

I think about when C. Richelieu was
installed (the counterpart to our
spies) is when an errant J banker
was made banker to an errant C
moral leader. Then the above
political devices was invented
coincident with the Peter Pan
Syndrome, except the gay gene
passing maternally's consistent.

The persons transfering the
politics of insecurity--the oligarch
replaces democracy with himself and
the manhater calls unmanly any
disapprover--is a likelier gay gene

The parents' product, the
scapegoating gay kid, defines
the leadership of the religious
right today, along with the gay
fascist murderers of those American
leaders who actually were Christ-like.

It also defines WWII, wherein gays
were k

Cheryl Erland
Cheryl Erland3 years ago

To Bill C. You state "Bottom line Tim and Alex is clear to me and I am educated in human behavior, I 100% agree that any parents have the right to be on the birth cert and to assure this you fight the law."

In a fair and just system, I agree. You fight the law. But we are not living with one that is even remotely fair. We have a judicial system where money buys you a "not guilty" verdict, where technicalities allow the guilty to go free, where a heterosexual father is assumed NOT to be the better parent in a custody battle (again, unless said father can pour money into the mix), where juries can be threatened and blackmailed into giving not-guilty verdicts (usually in organized crime cases), - the list goes on and on.
These laws are man-made and, when they are wrong, justice becomes a difficult concept to realize. I'm not against following the law in general but neither am I filled with the conviction that it must be followed blindly. These fathers didn't make the system corrupt but they are forced to work within it. You try following the (unfair) law of the land when it's YOUR child at stake. You would likely whistle a different tune in that case. And if you're honest with yourself, I'm willing to bet you'd agree with me.

Mark Vaughan
Mark Vaughan3 years ago

These gentlemen have opened a can of worms. I have to say, they brought it on themselves, but all in all, I am glad they did; it will force a reexamination of Texas' archaic laws.

Michael M.
Michael M3 years ago

Well of course, it's Texas...

Sharon H.
Sharon H3 years ago

Tim W...regarding the age thing, my cousin did that very thing back in the mid 60's. She and her boyfriend went to another state because they were both 17 and couldn't marry in PA until I think age 20 without a parents consent. When they came back to PA, they were still considered legally married.

Jane R.
Jane R3 years ago

How can this be allowed to happen? These children belong with Jason and Joe. Texas, it is time to enter this century.

Norma Villarreal
Norma Villarreal3 years ago

In a state where many children are neglected, abused, and are placed in the custody of the we have biological parents who want their family and run into technicalities! Good grief!

Tim W.
Timothy W3 years ago

Bill C.
Hetero couples travel elsewhere to get married when it works for them. I knew people when I was younger that went out of state to marry simply to avoid age laws. Yet when they came back to our state the couple was legal. They had married and that was that. These men went where they had to in order to marry. It is wrong that a couple can be recognized as married in some states and not in others. That all aside if they are the biological parent of one of the children they should at the least be on the birth certificate of the child they fathered. The courts are skewing things to make their own point. It is the courts and the state of Texas that are using the kids as pawns.

pam w.
pam w3 years ago

I sincerely hope the ACLU is deeply involved in this case. It's a travesty!

Of course---it's also TEXASS.