Blog of Rights

Protecting Kids and Families in North Carolina

By James Esseks, Director, ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & AIDS Project at 10:18am

We’ve just filed a new federal case in North Carolina to ensure that kids being raised by lesbian or gay parents can have legally protected relationships with both of the parents who are raising them. North Carolina bans second parent adoption – which is the name for that kind of protection – and the stories of two of our plaintiff families illustrate just how harmful the ban is. 

Crystal Hendrix and Leigh Smith are raising two children together, 2-year-old Quinn and Joe, their baby. Crystal carried each of them and of course is recognized as their mother. But Leigh, the stay-at-home mom, can’t become a legal parent because of the ban on second parent adoption. Crystal’s parents have never accepted the women’s relationship, so both Crystal and Leigh have a real concern about what would happen if Crystal were to die or become legally incapacitated, with Leigh remaining a legal stranger to the kids. Crystal, Leigh, and Leigh’s parents tell their story here

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Megan Parker and Shana Carignan have been a couple for several years. In 2010, Megan adopted Jax, who has cerebral palsy, limited speech and mobility, and was living in a group foster home. Because of the second parent adoption ban, Shana can’t become a legal parent to Jax. When Jax was hospitalized later that year, Shana and Megan planned to take turns staying the night with him, but the hospital wouldn’t allow Shana to stay past visiting hours because she wasn’t considered his parent. With no breaks for a good night’s sleep, Megan stayed at Jax’s side around the clock for an exhausting five days in a row. As Shana explains, “Megan didn’t sign up to be a single mother. All I want is to be able to fully take on my responsibility as Jax’s mom, too.” Check out their story here.

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Twenty states clearly authorize second parent adoptions, as does D.C., whereas five states ban them. For many years, family court judges in North Carolina issued second parent adoptions to families where a same-sex couple was raising kids together. In late 2010, however, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that this kind of adoption isn’t allowed in the state, which means that many parents, like Crystal and Leigh, and Megan and Shana, can’t fully protect their children. 

Bringing this case under the federal constitution is a big deal – if we win, the ruling likely would affect other states in addition to North Carolina. Since there are hundreds of thousands of same-sex couples all over the country who are raising kids together, this case could potentially result in protections for all of those families, too. 

Many thanks to our partners at Sullivan & Cromwell, who have helped put this case together (just as they helped us strike down Arkansas’s adoption and foster parenting ban last year), and to the Ellis & Winters firm in North Carolina.

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