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Six couples in North Carolina are taking second parent adoption to the Federal level. The ACLU of North Carolina has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the gay and lesbian couples contending that denying second parent adoption deprives Americans of equal rights and the right to due process.
A second parent adoption occurs when one partner in an unmarried couple adopts the other partner’s biological or adoptive child. This can occur in both gay and straight relationships. In December 2010, the North Carolina Supreme Court banned second parent adoptions for same-sex couples.
Elizabeth Gill, staff attorney for the ACLU LGBT Project stressed the harm that is caused by “not allowing lesbian and gay couples the ability to create the same parent-child relationships as hetro-families.”
“Harms are an incredibly important part of this case,” Gill said. “Kids are left vulnerable in a number of different ways. Children are harmed by not having access to health care benefits and the harm from the real fact that a child could be taken away.”
Currently 20 states plus Washington, D.C., have clear protection for second parent adoptions either through statute or by case law. Five states expressly prohibit it and the remainder – including Michigan – are ambiguous, with many states having counties that will do it while others won’t.
Though two other cases – one in Michigan – have been filed in Federal courts, none have been heard yet, Gill said. “The process can take years, but if we start now it will be all those many years closer,” she said.
Chantelle Fisher-Borne and her partner Marcie have been in a committed relationship for 15 years. A recent vote in North Carolina solidified their inability to get married, and a 2010 vote banned second-parent adoptions completely in the state. They hope that justice can be done for the sake of their children by attacking this law at a Federal level.
The couple has two children, and each is the biological mother of one. When their daughter was born, the couple was treated rudely by a hospital staff member who demanded their legal paperwork. If both women were able to be fully recognized legal parents to their children, such encounters could be avoided.
“We were treated as if our family was less than other families, during what should have been one of the happiest occasions of our lives,” said Marcie. “We don’t ever want there to be any question as to who should care for our children. If something were to happen to either one of us, it could tear our family apart.”
Some of the protections that come with a second parent adoption include ensuring that all children in the family are covered if one partner lacks health insurance; ensuring that families will stay together and children will not be torn from the only home they’ve known if something should happen to the biological parent; ensuring that either parent will be allowed to make medical decisions or be able to be by their child’s bedside if one their children is hospitalized. The law doesn’t just affect same-gender-loving partners and their kids. Examples of other situations where second parent adoption would give essential protections to a child include if a single dad also wants his sister or his mother to have parental rights, or if a straight couple who is unmarried wants to jointly adopt. Essentially it would remove marriage as a barrier to parenthood.
In Michigan the second-parent adoption case filed federally has stalled because the State of Michigan has filed for a summary dismissal, contending that adoption is a state right and not a federal one. Hazel Park women April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse have been together for ten years, and have lived together for six. Rowse is the legal parent of one child and Rowse is the legal parent of another. Each of the children was taken in by DeBoer and Rowse after being abandoned or surrendered at birth by their mothers. The women served as guardians and licensed foster parents to the children before adopting them as individuals. Each child could only legally be adopted by one of the women, so they face the same fears as the couples in North Carolina. (Read more at https://www.pridesource.com/article.html?article=52468)
To help the general public understand the issue and to help supporters mobilize their friends, co-workers and neighbors, the ACLU has put together an “Allies Guide to Talking about Adoption by LGBT Parents” which can be downloaded at https://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/allys-guide-talking-about-adoption-lgbt-parents.