In May, the Supreme Court decided that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. The Federal Defense of Marriage Act (which differs from the Pennsylvania Defense of Marriage Act) prevented same-sex couples whose marriages were recognized by their home state from receiving federal benefits available to other married couples. The result of the Court’s decision is wide-reaching in its impact on committed gay and lesbian couples, but unfortunately, the decision is far from rectifying all inequalities faced by same-sex couples. One critical thing the DOMA ruling doesn’t cover is parental rights. Since adoption law is the domain of state courts and legislatures, the DOMA ruling won’t change anything for same-sex couples when it comes to having the same legal parental rights as heterosexual couples.
Consider the case of Marcie and Chantelle Fisher-Borne, a same-sex couple who has been together for 16 years and were legally married in Washington, D.C. in 2011. Chantelle and Marcie are the mothers of two children, Miley (5) and Eli (18 mos.). Marcie is Miley’s biological Mother and Chantelle is Eli’s biological mother. But because the family lives in North Carolina which, as a matter of state law bans same-sex couples from second-parent adoptions, the family could face serious legal issues should something happen to either parent. North Carolina’s ban creates an “other mother” (the non-biological parent) scenario, wherein one parent would be considered a stranger in the eyes of the court system should the child’s biological mother die.
Unfortunately, the Fisher-Bornes are not alone. There are several states that explicitly prohibit same-sex couples from jointly adopting or completing a second-parent adoption and some other states where the law can be murky and depend on county practices or the judge. Luckily, same-sex couples in Pennsylvania can utilize the process of second-parent adoption to gain access to the rights and protections of legal parenthood. But for the Fisher-Bornes and countless other families, uncertainty in their family’s future persists. It is this insecurity that prompted the couple to become the lead plaintiffs in an American Civil Liberties Union suit challenging the adoption ban in North Carolina last year. Their case is currently pending in federal district court.
As Fisher-Borne’s story illustrates, adoption law varies greatly from state to state. If you’re considering adopting a child or are interested in learning more about having your spouse adopt your biological child through the process of step-parent adoption, it’s important to talk to a knowledgeable Pennsylvania Adoption attorney to learn about your rights and the process. Call our office today to set up a consultation with an adoption lawyer in Pennsylvania.