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Equality is about more than marriage

It’s about families, and lots of other things, too.

RedEquality

Joe Riggs and Jason Hanna never expected to make national news after a surrogate mom gave birth to their twins.

Riggs, 33, and Hanna, 37, have been together almost four years. They’re best known in the community for collecting teddy bears at Christmas for Children’s Hospital to donate to children going through chemotherapy or other serious procedure. They’ve donated about 1,000 bears so far. At their Christmas parties, they also collect money to divide between the Family Equality Council and Stand Up to Cancer.

“I always wanted a family,” Hanna said. “We both grew up in loving households.”

[…]

Last summer, the couple married in D.C. and in August had their religious ceremony at Cathedral of Hope. Riggs parents walked him down the aisle. His grandparents flew in for the ceremony as well.

But what would make the family complete for them was children. So last year, they enlisted the services of a surrogate to give birth to their biological children. Because Riggs had fertilized one of the eggs and Hanna the other egg that was implanted in the surrogate, they didn’t know which baby was biologically which dad’s when the boys were born. The eggs came from an anonymous out-of-state donor. So neither father’s name went on the birth certificate in the hospital.

So they went to court to end the surrogate’s parental rights and get their names on the birth certificates. The surrogate had signed the paperwork to relinquish her rights. (The woman who carried the babies had acted as surrogate before, but this was the first time she had done so for a gay couple.)

But the judge turned them down.

“The judge stated she couldn’t grant the adoptions with the petition in front of her,” Hanna said.

They had DNA tests and presented those tests as part of the petition. It didn’t matter. Not only did the judge turn down the surrogate’s request to end parental rights and have her name removed from the birth certificate, the judge refused to place the name of the biological dads on the birth certificates.

Finally, the judge turned down a request for each of the dads to adopt the other’s baby. So legally, the boys have one unrelated surrogate listed as their mother and no father.

“There are issues with these documents,” the judge said, without indicating what those issues were, according to Hanna.

I can’t begin to think of a valid reason for something like this. Surrogacy, demonstrating paternity, cross-adopting – these are all standard, not-the-least-bit-unusual things. What makes this even more exasperating is that as the story notes, filing this paperwork in a different county – Dallas, Bexar, Travis, Harris – would have led to it being routinely processed. Riggs and Hanna can refile in another county to get this mess straightened out, but they shouldn’t have to do that. This is just wrong, and it deserves a lot more attention than it’s getting – a Google News search on “Joe Riggs Jason Hanna” found no mainstream Texas news stories; the closest was this post in the Morning News LGBTQ Insider blog. The story has gone national, so maybe it will get some coverage here as well. It sure would be nice. Thanks to Texas Leftist for the heads up.

UPDATE: I got the impression from the Dallas Voice story above that Harris County would be a viable place to file for a second parent adoption, but the feedback I’ve received in the comments below and on the Facebook page say otherwise. As such, I’ve edited accordingly. Thanks for the correction!

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3 Comments

  1. Valerie says:

    I’m not sure that in the counties you listed the paperwork would have been routinely processed, at least not in the way it sounds like it was presented by this couple’s lawyer. Regarding the second-parent adoption (SPA) part of this, judges in Texas have complete individual freedom as to whether or not to grant an SPA to a same-sex parent.

    It is commonly known, at least in Houston, that judges in Harris County will not grant a same-sex SPA. Most couples travel to San Antonio, because most judges in Bexar County will grant them. My partner did an SPA of my son (who I gave birth to and who she has been mother to since before he was born, so to speak) and we had to travel to San Antonio to ensure that it would be completed.

    I recently learned of a couple that completed a SPA in Travis County, so they may be granting them as well.

    An SPA is similar to the adoption that a step-parent would do, but because gay couples cannot marry in Texas, and because the law does not explicitly allow or deny same-sex parent SPAs, gay couples must jump through some hoops, hold their breath, and cross their fingers.

  2. Valerie – Thanks for your feedback. I have amended the post accordingly.

  3. Yes an SPA instead of allowing true adoption. Sounds separate and unequal to me.

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