When starting our journey to parenthood, our focus was on the result. Every obstacle and required task put us one step closer to becoming dads. Everyone believes that we became dads the day we met Harper. The truth is you are not officially parents until adoption finalization. In February 2014, we had reached the last obstacle and were scheduled to appear before a judge to finish the exhausting adoption process.
Tennessee provides challenges to same-sex couples wanting to become parents through adoption. There is no state legislation that says Matthew and I could not become parents, but there is no current legislation that says we can. Typically, Tennessee adoptive gay parents have to continue through two separate adoption processes. Initially, one parent is the adoptive parent and the second are considered a roommate. After the first adoption is complete, you can continue with a second parent adoption. We had prepared for this possibility but kept it private from our family and friends.
A little over a year ago, we met a same-sex couple that lived only a few miles from us that had adopted two newborns. This new friendship gave a great support to Matthew and myself. We now had someone that understood every step we were taking and knew exactly the thought process we were going through. Stef and Sarah also gave a sense of hope to the scariest question of all. How would we both be legal parents of Harper when the time came to finalize the adoption?
Living in a conservative community, we were shocked and elated to hear of a judge that would hear adoption cases for same-sex couples as a family unit and not just as a single parent. We met with a family attorney that had built a relationship with the local judge and began the vetting process. It was very apparent that our attorney had put much heart and effort into this relationship and was determined to present couples that she felt would provide a long lasting positive outcome.
Our day had arrived and we were prepared to head to the courthouse where our attorney and both sets of our parents would be for this special moment. Having both sets of Harper’s adoptive grandparents in the judge’s chambers made this day even more special. We also learned that we would be seeing a different judge than normal and would be the first same-sex couple that he would grant. Our attorney had built a strong foundation and more judges were eager to be a part of the great qualities of same-sex families. When meeting the judge, we realized that legislation and extreme groups are the reasons for inequalities and they do not represent the majority of our state. A family is not cookie cutter and all the child needs is love and support.
Following the finalization hearing, we began to finish all the remaining paperwork. Harper had been granted a name change from her birth name and now we could apply for a new birth certificate. A birth certificate with our names listed. The one document that tells a child who they are. The most important document you will ever have.
Only a few states have updated their birth certificate layout to accommodate all the possibilities of diverse families. Some states have replaced “Mother” and “Father” with “Parent A” and “Parent B” or something similar. So for the states that haven’t changed their birth certificate layout, same-sex parents would be listed in the “Mother” and “Father” fields without reference to sex. Needless to say, Matthew and I were trying to gain leverage against each other as to who would be listed as Harper’s mother. It was a novelty that we both wanted.
As the weeks passed by and we watched Harper continue to grow and discover all of the new things around her, we were knocked backward with a letter from the Texas Department of State Health Services. A new obstacle had presented itself. We learned through highlighted text and bold font that Texas is currently unable to process our request.
“The Certificate of Adoption has been completed to show two adoptive fathers. The Texas Health and Safety Code 192.008 states the supplementary birth certificate of an adopted child must be in the names of the adoptive parents, one of whom must be a female, names as the mother, and the other of whom must be a male, named as the father.”
There are not many things in the world that piss me off, but this one sure did. Here our adopted daughter, whom the State of Tennessee has named Matthew and myself as her parents and guardians, approved a name change and ordered the change of the birth certificate, is being denied an accurate amended birth certificate. The one document that is used for enrolling in school, the one document that is used for enrolling in sports, the one document that you use to obtain a new social security number and card is inaccurate because of discriminatory legislation. Texas and the adoption specialist for Texas Vital Statistics are trying to overrule and negate a court order by the State of Tennessee. They are quick to tell you that there is no stance being taken against the Tennessee court order and they are only following state legislation. We disagree and feel that Texas is trying to make a statement. When requesting any treatment or service, we are never asked for a court order. We are asked for a birth certificate.
On the Texas form Certificate of Adoption, there is no requirement to distinguish between a male or female. We have spoken with several families that have been successful with both same-sex parents’ names being included on an amended Texas birth certificate. The truth is, if your name sounds unisex, you have a good chance to make it through the discriminatory scrutiny. You also have the chance to slip through the cracks with little oversight. There is no consistency that I can find and it merely comes down to what particular day your application gets processed. How can Texas enforce a discriminatory legislation if there is no clear ability to determine the sex of an individual applying for an amended birth certificate? We thought the last hurdle was complete, but we learned that our push for equality still continues. We will continue to be a thorn in Texas’ side until this is resolved.
There is a romanticized idea of becoming a parent through adoption. Some believe that the adoption story comes to a close when the new birth certificate arrives. The truth is the adoption story never ends. We are a family of adoption and we will continue to share our adoption story for as long as there is someone to listen. Our family has grown with the addition of the birth family, and Harper will forever know all of them.
I think that we both have inherited this sense to continue to share about our journey to become dads. There are so many LGBT individuals that are unsure of their possibilities of becoming a parent. There are also a lot of people that still are unclear of the positive message of gay parenting. For us, we have to keep showing the positives and correct the negatives when we have the opportunity. Until we feel that our adoption story has evolved into just our story, we will keep sharing. One day very soon, our non-traditional family will be seen as just a family. No labels, no adjectives and not extra words. Just family!