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The Plain English Attorney

Growing up, it was a time when equal rights between men and women were evolving. (Many would say they are still evolving). As a teenager I always heard “women can do anything men can,” and “women shouldn’t be treated any differently than men.” I agreed. One day during high school I was having lunch with a few friends in the school cafeteria and we had a discussion about equal rights and equal responsibilities.

“A woman can be President, or the head of a company,” a female friend said. “A girl should be able to ask a guy out, or do anything else that a boy can.”

I then asked, “Well, if you did ask a boy out, would you pay for the date?”

“Oh, no,” she said. “A guy’s supposed to pay for a date.”

Then the arguments came. Everyone except this one student agreed there should be equal rights and equal responsibilities. If anyone wanted to join the military, then any of them should be expected to go into combat. If anyone was going to do any job, then they should be paid the same and have the exact same responsibilities. And anyone… anyone… who asked another person out on a date had to be the person to pay for the date, (unless they both agreed would be splitting the check). However, that same girl was adamant that a woman shouldn’t have to go into combat, have to pay for anything on a date, and should never, ever, be subject to the military draft. She didn’t want equality. She wanted the benefits without the responsibility.

Flash forward to 2010, and I see the same mentality in the NC Supreme Court case of Boseman v. Jarrell. For those who are not following this case, here’s the quick background. Melissa Jarrell had Julia Boseman as her partner starting in August of 1998, and by 2001 they decided to have a child through artificial insemination with Melissa being the birth mother. Melissa gave birth to Jacob in October of 2002, and in 2004 they sought to conduct a “second-parent adoption,” in which the birth mother allows another person to be a legal parent to the child even though they are not married under state law. (This is still pretty much limited to Durham and Orange Counties). By August of 2005, they had the adoption decree. It must have been an extremely happy day for Julia and Melissa to both be legally recognized as parents since they both had been acting as if Jacob was their child and not just Melissa’s child.

That was the good. Now there comes the bad.

In May of 2006, Melissa and Julia split up, and by February of 2007 Melissa’s withholding Julia’s visitations with Jacob became so stringent that Julia filed suit to see her child more often. There was no threat of taking custody away from Melissa. There was no allegation that Julia was a bad parent. It was probably just that Melissa didn’t want her ex around anymore.

So how did Melissa handle this? She took the legal position that the adoption was not valid because same-sex partners can’t legally have a second-parent adoption. And now the case is in front of the NC Supreme Court.

Wow. Talk about the ultimate in “equal rights” hypocrisy. It was perfectly fine for Melissa to use the adoption laws to have Julia, her partner, become a parent to their child when things were good between them. It was fine for both of them to have the responsibilities, rights, and joy of being parents to their child together. And even after the break-up it was perfectly fine with Melissa to have Julia pay child support. Melissa even stated that Julia was a good parent. But now, apparently because she no longer wants Julia to be a parent to their child, Julia appealed her case all the way to the NC Supreme Court, arguing that domestic partners are not allowed to both be legal parents to a child under adoption law.

But what lies ahead? It could be good or bad news for LGBT equality. If the North Carolina Supreme Court rules that the adoption is valid, then it could open the doors to second-parent adoptions statewide. However, if it is bad news, Melissa could be jeopardizing the rights of all domestic partners in North Carolina to have a child and have both of them recognized as legal parents… just because she now doesn’t like the downsides of the adoption she had sought years before.

Most members of the LGBT community agree that there should be equal rights, and responsibilities, for everyone. If there is marriage equality, there will have to also be divorce equality. You can’t avoid the potential for alimony by later saying you and your partner should never have been allowed to be married in the first place. If there are equal rights to serve openly in the military, then there is the equal obligation to potentially go into combat. Imagine someone in the military arguing they shouldn’t be deployed to a combat zone because they are gay and gays shouldn’t be allowed to serve openly. And you can’t seek to have your partner become a full, legal parent to your child through an adoption process and then, years later when they are no longer your partner, argue they never should have been allowed to become a legal parent in the first place.

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