Why I’m Fighting for Same-Sex Parenting Through Open Adoption


This guest post is by Trey Darnell, an adoptive father.

It is hard to fathom that it has been two and a half years since we decided to become parents through an open adoption.  In February 2014, we were able to finalize our adoption of Harper in Washington County, Tennessee.

You might wonder why I mention the county and state.  Living in Washington County and in the state of Tennessee, we are not provided any protections being a same-sex couple or Harper’s two dads.

Today is an enormous and important day for my family and me. The Supreme Court of the United States will hear arguments regarding the constitutionality of state laws that prohibit marriage equality to the LGBT community.

Tennessee is one of the four states that will have their case argued in front of what we refer to as the “Supremes”.   There is a lot of forward movement and expectations that equality for our family will become reality.

When Matthew and I started the adoption process, we were very aware of the individual steps that we would experience on the journey. 

Through our agency, we would have a weekend intensive course, home study and create an adoption profile to become an approved family.

As a “live” waiting family, we would receive exposure to expecting parents that were considering placement as an option.  The subsequent steps would include a match, a birth, birth parent terminations, post-placement visits and the adoption finalization.

In Tennessee, the adoption cannot become final until six months following placement.  This is the day that our family would be official.

Laying out the steps makes it sound fairly easy.  Adoption is not easy.  There are so many emotions that ride this roller coaster designed for drastic speed changes along with many ups and downs.

For same-sex couples, every state presents a different set of challenges.

Challenges that a heterosexual couple does not have to experience. Some states do not allow a same-sex couple to adopt at all.

In Tennessee, there is no legislation that currently exists that allows or disallows an adoption between two individuals of the same gender.

This lack of legislation places the decision in the hands of the judge(s) in the particular county you reside.  Matthew and I were prepared and expecting to proceed with a single-parent adoption where one of us would be the adoptive parent.

For home study and judicial purposes, the other would be a roommate providing financial support.  There would be no legal protections for the roommate in a single-parent adoption.

Tennessee permits a second-parent adoption. 

This type of adoption theoretically would require another home study, post-placement visits, and another adoption finalization.

That is if the particular judge would grant the second-parent adoption for an LGBT individual at all.  I will not even mention the additional cost.

After much discussion, Matthew and I were willing to accept this path to parenthood but decided it was not something we would share with our family or friends.

same-sex-adoptive-parents-with-attorneyA few months before we became parents, Matthew and I were introduced to a local attorney who had worked tirelessly as an advocate for the LGBT community and the positive outcomes of same-sex parenting.

This wonderful lady was very selective in families that she accepted as clients as each one was representing our community as a whole. 

I have to admit that we both were terrified the moment that we were in essence being interviewed by this brilliant family attorney.

Being accepted by Ms. Judith Fain meant Matthew and I would be able to adopt Harper together at the same time.  No single-parent adoption.  No second-parent adoption.

We were going to be treated as if we were a heterosexual couple.  Being treated as a normal couple and as an equal is hard to explain in words.  It was just wonderful.

On February 27, 2014, we became an official family.

Our parents and our attorney were all gathered in the judge’s chambers as he reviewed all of our documentation.  He took his time to ask several questions and then made our adoption final with the stroke of a pen.

You always hear that these are the cases that judges enjoy the most.  If you are familiar with the world of adoption, you know how important and special those photos are with the judge on finalization day.

With the judge’s signature the adoption become final, Harper was granted a name change, a new birth certificate could be ordered and the adoption record would be sealed.  Our adoption process was complete. Or so we thought.

adoption-finalization-judge-babyNot all states have updated their birth certificate forms.  A handful of states still list the parents’ names in fields labeled mother and father.  Some states have updated their forms to indicate different variations that include parent or applicant.

Some even use “mother or parent” and “father or parent”.  In the states that have not changed their birth certificates to represent different variations of families, one parent is listed in the mother field and the other in the father field without reference to gender.

I will say that Matthew and I had often discussed who would get to be listed as the mother on Harper’s Texas birth certificate.  We both wanted that birth certificate designation.

Before leaving the courthouse that day, the completed forms and supporting documentation were sent to the State of Texas for completion.

Approximately two months later we received a letter stating that Texas family code does not allow two males to be listed on a Texas birth certificate.  We were provided the following Texas statute.

“Sec. 192.008.  BIRTH RECORDS OF ADOPTED PERSON.  (a)  The supplementary birth certificate of an adopted child must be in the names of the adoptive parents, one of whom must be a female, named as the mother, and the other of whom must be a male, named as the father.

This subsection does not prohibit a single individual, male or female, from adopting a child.  Copies of the child’s birth certificates or birth records may not disclose that the child is adopted.”

What confused us is that we have close friends that had adopted a child from Texas just six years earlier.

Both of them were placed on the amended birth certificate.  Both of them were male.  Why were we being discriminated?  Why was this not a policy being enforced in every situation?

The Texas Application to Amend Certificate of Birth asks for only the name of the father and the mother of the adopted child.  It does not have any field to indicate gender.

Without requiring the applicant to identify gender, the decision is left up to the Texas government employee to determine whether the person listed is male or female. 

Needless to say if you have a gender-neutral name, you have a high probability of having both names listed on the birth certificate.

While Texas officials and representatives will tell you this law is not attempting to negate a court order from Washington County, Tennessee, but for all purposes it is doing just that.

same-sex-adoptive-parents-with-daughterWhen you are required to provide documentation for your child, what is typically requested?  A person’s birth certificate.  Every time we are asked for Harper’s birth certificate we prepare ourselves to explain who we are and anticipate the variety of reactions.

Yes!  Harper has two dads, we are gay and legally married, she is legally ours, and here is our adoption decree. Yes, Texas is discriminatory and doesn’t recognize us both as Harper’s parents on the one document that universally represents who you are as an individual.

Matthew and I continue to fight for equality.

I do not really care for the word fight because it sounds threatening, but it truly represents what we are doing, fighting peacefully.

There are not words to describe how we feel about our family and being Harper’s dads. She is one amazing little girl.

We often talk about growing our family with the adoption of another child. 

A few months ago a friend contacted us about a potential situation in our community.  A 14-month old little boy that was available for adoption by a Tennessee couple.

Matthew and I decided to inquire further. After an email and a few voicemails, I received a return phone call from an attorney that was excited that we lived within ten miles of the available child.

The attorney seemed impressed with my knowledge of the adoption process and the relatively easy steps that we would need to take in order to meet the attorney’s requirements.

Our experience with an open adoption was very appealing.

Matthew and I have maintained a wonderful relationship with our Tennessee social worker and could have an updated home study fairly quickly.

The attorney was hoping for a placement within seven days. Before ending the call, I wanted to fully disclose that Matthew and I was a same-sex couple and provide assurance that, within our county, there were two judges that have substantial experience working with LGBT families.

I provided all of our contact information and multiple links for our information online. 

I quickly noticed a change in his tone and began to realize how unfamiliar this attorney was with family law in Tennessee especially with LGBT individuals.

It is unsettling to be explaining how we were able to adopt Harper without a single and second parent adoption.  The attorney still didn’t sound convinced and I provided a copy of our adoption decree showing that both Matthew and I were Harper’s legal parents in a two-parent adoption without discrimination.

During those few days of waiting, Matthew and I were thrown right back into the adoption waiting game.

I have to admit it is much different the second time around. We caught ourselves having high anxiety, thoughts of self-worth, and the desire to be chosen.

I think those feelings are best described as being in high school again and running for prom king or queen. It was not something that we were enjoying.

Everything was happening so quickly.  We were obsessing.  A few days later the attorney sent an email to our social worker and me stating the child was placed with another family.

We were thankful for the opportunity to be considered as potential adoptive parents of this little one and were completely okay with the outcome. 

Needless to say, we were beyond relieved to no longer have those feelings of self-analyzation that is the waiting game in adoption. 

Within two or three days, we were notified again that the same child was still available for placement.  I have no doubt that we were lied to by this attorney.  Rather than saying that we were not the adoptive couple that he desired, he chose to state that child was placed with another family. 

Matthew and I are both capable of handling the truth. 

I was unable to maintain my frustration and through a strongly worded email I lashed out at this local attorney. 

There are only so many times that you can maintain composure and use examples of discrimination as a teaching method.  This instance I called a spade a spade.

Courtesy: Jessica Fuller, Johnson City Press

Courtesy: Jessica Fuller, Johnson City Press

So this week my community and its leaders will call a spade a spade and argue that marriage inequality is in fact discrimination.  I firmly believe that by the end of June, when the Supreme Court is expected to come down with its ruling, equality will be widespread and the diversity of families will be embraced.

Families come in all shapes and sizes.  We love the differences in the world and believe all are equal. 

Even after the Supreme Court issues an opinion, we will continue to lead by example, educate, be positive role models and talk about same-sex parenting through open adoption.

I hope all of you will join in spreading the positive message of adoption and same-sex parenting.

Trey Darnell is from Johnson City, Tennessee and one of Harper’s two dads.  He met his husband Matthew seven years ago through MySpace where the conversation started over a west coast hamburger chain called In-N-Out Burger.  They are advocates of adoption and equality.

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