Mother no more?

North Carolina’s Supreme Court voids “second-parent” adoptions by homogamous couples.

Related Topics, by Julie Shapiro, calls my attention to a very aggressive anti-gay-parent ruling by the N.C. Supreme Court, which retroactively voided the adoptions of same-gender spouses. The decision, in the case Boseman v. Jarrell, went beyond the couple at hand to undo existing adoptions in which an adoptive parent joined a biological parent and shared parental rights, much like step-parents may do.

The public profile of the case is elevated by the fact that Boseman is Julia Boseman, the state’s “only openly-gay state senator,” the only one to vote against honoring Jesse Helms when he died, and a key supporter of anti-bullying and comprehensive sex education programs.

Shapiro writes:

The case begins with a familiar if sad scenario. Julie Boseman and Melissa Jarrell, a lesbian couple, decided to raise a child together. Jarrell became pregnant via insemination with sperm from an anonymous provider. Their son, Jacob, was born in October, 2002.

Jarrell and Boseman lived together with Jacob until 2006, at which point they separated. There’s no doubt that each of the women acted as Jacob’s mother before their separation, sharing the responsibilities and obligations of parenting. … In order to secure Boseman’s rights, the two women [had gone] to court in 2005 and requested that Boseman be recognized as an adoptive parent of Jacob [without terminating Jarrell’s parental rights]. The court complied with this request.  … With the adoption in place, when the women split up, you end up with an ordinary custody fight between parents.

But to get a leg up in that custody fight, Jarrell sued to have Boseman’s rights revoked, and that’s what the Supreme Court did — as if the adoption never happened, which is very rare in adoption cases so long after the fact. Not only that, Shapiro explains:

The North Carolina court’s opinion doesn’t just apply to Jacob. It applies to all the other second-parent adoptions that have been conducted there–or so it would appear. All the second-parent adoption completed in NC, even those where the two parents are perfectly happy raising their kids in a unitary family, are void. With the stroke of the pen, the NC court deprived all those families of the legal security that the adoptions provided.

It was just this scenario that those in favor of second-parent adoption rights were afraid of. In its explanation of why it filed an amicus brief on behalf of Boseman, the American Psychological Association said that “about 250 lesbian and gay couples have used the second parent procedure in adoptions in North Carolina. These adoptions, as well as future adoptions, would be at risk if the challenge is successful.”

Revoking the parental rights from stable families could be devastating, as Shapiro explains:

Well, suppose the adoptive mom is injured or killed. If she was a parent, her child might well be eligible to receive various benefits via Social Security. But as of a couple weeks ago, she’s not a parent any more and the child won’t be eligible. Or perhaps the child is eligible for health insurance because of the adoptive mother’s employment? Not any more. Not a legal parent, no more health insurance. …[T]here are probably a number of people in North Carolina who don’t realize that they aren’t legal parents anymore. … They may only find out they aren’t legal parents when it really matters most–when they try to make a claim on insurance and the insurer challenges the child’s eligibility, say.

According to media reports, the only recourse now is a change in state law enabling second-parent adoptions — or, of course, legalize homogamous marriage. That didn’t happen before 2010’s election, and it seems less than likely now that Republicans control both houses of the legislature.

3 thoughts on “Mother no more?

  1. This infuriates me. I’m also wondering what sort of precedent this sets for other adoptions in the state. Has this case opened the door for the challenge of adoptons from birthparents? What about step-parent adoptions? So sad.


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