The Fisher-Bornes are a family in every sense of the word — except legally. They are entering a lawsuit that seeks to unify their family and others like theirs in the eyes of the law.
Marcie and Chantelle — both UNC alumni — have lived together for 15 years and are raising two children together. Miley is Marcie’s biological daughter and Elijah is Chantelle’s biological son.
Chantelle Fisher-Borne (left) holds her biological son, seven-month-old Elijah, and Marcie Fisher-Borne (right) holds her biological daughter, four-year-old Miley.
But the state does not recognize the children’s legal relationship to their birth mother’s partner.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit last week on behalf of six families — including the Fisher-Bornes — against the state seeking to change the law to allow for second parent adoption.
This would allow Marcie and Chantelle to become legal parents to Elijah and Miley respectively, said Chris Brook, legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina.
Current state law allows individuals in unmarried relationships to legally adopt children, but precludes their partner from adopting the child unless the first parent relinquishes all existing parental rights.
The Fisher-Bornes worry that this could turn a visit to the doctor into a potential nightmare.
“If we find ourselves in a health care situation, we’re never really sure if there’s going to be an issue,” said Marcie.
The complaint alleges that N.C. General Statutes discriminate against the children on the basis of their parents’ sexuality by preventing them from legally having two unmarried parents.
Prior to 2010, at least 250 same-sex couples were able to obtain decrees for second parent adoptions in Orange and Durham county courts, based on a loose interpretation of adoption statutes, Brook said.
But Holning Lau, a professor at the UNC School of Law, said that a 2010 state Supreme Court ruling nullified the decrees, stating that district courts did not have the authority to interpret the adoption statutes in such a manner.
Brook said the current law violates the rights of same-sex couples and their families.
“The Constitution mandates that parents involved in the case have a right to equal parenting,” he said. “All parents should have equal opportunity to adopt if it’s in the best interest of the children.”
But not everyone supports the plaintiffs.
Kami Mueller, spokeswoman for the N.C. Values Coalition, said same-sex couples are not permitted to marry in the state, and the lawsuit is part of an effort to undermine the structure of traditional families.
“(This lawsuit is) potentially a foot in the door for an attack on marriage,” she said. “The ACLU is attempting to force same-sex adoption, and eventually same-sex marriage, on N.C. through the courts.”
Lau said the case has the potential to change the way people envision families.
“The case is very important, win or lose, because it is an important conversation starter on the issue of second parent adoption,” Lau said.
Brook said the lawsuit was not motivated by the May passage of Amendment One — an amendment to the state constitution that defined marriage between a man and a woman as the only legal union in North Carolina. He said it was motivated instead by a desire to further establish the legal relationship between parents and their children.
“We want to continue to be who we’ve always been to our children — their parents — but with the state’s support,” Marcie said. “That’s what they need and what they deserve.”
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