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Same-sex couples sue over adoption rights in North Carolina

Same-sex couples in North Carolina have filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on second-parent adoptions for gay families, saying it violates their constitutional rights and is discriminatory, the American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday.

The ban came out of a state supreme court ruling in December 2010 that only stepparents who are legal spouses of the child’s biological parent can adopt. Same-sex marriage has never been recognized in North Carolina, and in May, voters approved a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman, so there is no way for same-sex couples to become legal spouses.

The ACLU, along with its North Carolina chapter, filed the lawsuit on behalf of six same-sex couples and their children. In each of the families, the child has a legally-recognized relationship with one parent and wants to establish the same with the second one. But under the state court ruling, the existing legal parent would have to give up their parental rights for an adoption to occur.

Consequently, the legal complaint argues, these children “suffer numerous deprivations,” including exclusion from a number of benefits, such as health, disability and social security, “as well as uncertainty about their ability to continue their relationship with their second parent if something should happen to their legal parent.”

Elizabeth Gill, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project, said in a statement that the policy was “discriminatory” and didn’t “take into account what’s best for a child.”

“We don’t ever want there to be any question as to who should care for our children,” said Marcie Fisher-Borne, who has been with her partner, Chantelle, for 15 years. Each woman carried one of their two children. “If something were to happen to either one of us, it could tear our family apart.”

Twenty states and the District of Columbia allow gay and lesbian parents to obtain second parent or stepparent adoptions, the complaint said, noting that North Carolina courts have given joint custody to gay or lesbian second parents under a “de facto parent doctrine.” However, that status does not create a “full” parent-child relationship, the complaint said.

Named as defendants are John W. Smith, director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, David L. Churchill, Clerk of the Superior Court for Guilford County, and Archie L. Smith, clerk of the Superior Court for Durham County.

Churchill and Archie L. Smith did not return calls placed by msnbc.com seeking comment. The North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts said it does not comment on any matters where litigation is pending.

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