GREENSBORO, N.C. — A civil liberties group says North Carolina's adoption laws are unconstitutional because they prevent unmarried couples from adopting their partners' children.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the federal lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of six North Carolina same-sex couples who support so-called second parent adoptions.
ACLU legal director Chris Brook says North Carolina's highest court in 2010 upheld adoption laws that exclude unmarried couples, both straight and gay, from jointly adopting children.
“North Carolina’s law denies children the permanency and security of a loving home simply because their parents are lesbian or gay,” Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina, said in a statement. “This is fundamentally wrong. No parent should have to worry about what will happen to their children if something happens to their partner.”
The lawsuit says second parent adoption is the only way a North Carolina family with gay or lesbian parents can ensure that both parents have a legal relationship with their child. Civil liberties groups say that children are at risk without such a relationship and can be excluded from benefits like health care.
Leslie Zanaglio and Terri Beck, of Morrisville, adopted two brothers a few years ago. The couple has been together for 15 years. They share a home and a dog and jointly parent their two sons.
But Zanaglio is the boys' only legal guardian.
"It saddens me that I'm the only one with legal rights when I know that Terri has worked just as hard as me," Zanaglio said. "We're absolutely equal parents in every sense of the word."
The couple says they live with constant fear of what would happen to their family if tragedy struck – if something happened to Zanaglio, they wonder if Beck would be allowed to retain custody of her sons.
"Would my children be removed from our home? Would they be separated from each other?" Beck said. "We just want to be able to provide for their safety and their security."
The couple joined five other families on the steps of the federal courthouse in Greensboro Wednesday to protest North Carolina's adoption laws.
"We're here today because our boys need two legal parents," Zanaglio said. "We want them to have two legal parents so that, if anything does happen, this family does stay together."
The ACLU also cited the case of plaintiffs Marcie and Chantelle Fisher-Borne of Durham, who have also been together for 15 years. Each woman carried one of their two children – a 3-year-old girl and a newborn boy. When their daughter was born, the couple said they were treated rudely by a hospital staff member who demanded their legal paperwork.
“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,” Marcie Fisher-Borne said in a statement. “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, that families will stay together and children won't be removed from the home if something should happen to the biological parent and that either parent will be allowed to make medical decisions or be able to be by a child’s bedside in the hospital.
Thirteen states and the District of Columbia allow second parent adoption.