In September, the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders presented the first Union County LGBTQ Pride event in recent history. Dozens of families shared their stories with event organizers and elected officials at Union County’s Family PRIDE CommUNITY Picnic, an event organized to celebrate diversity and marriage equality. On Friday, Oct. 13, Freeholder Chairman Bruce H. Bergen, Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski, Rahway Mayor Samson D. Steinman and over a dozen LGBTQ allies stood in support of equality with Union County (Rahway) residents to raise awareness and support equality for same-sex families in Union County.
“Following conversations with parents at the Family PRIDE CommUNITY Picnic last month, it has become clear that many same-sex couples with children have important questions regarding legal guardianship,” said Freeholder Chairman Bruce H. Bergen. “The Freeholder Board proudly supports all families in Union County. We stand as allies and advocates for our families that deserve full equality. We support changes in State laws that alleviate the extensive financial and emotional burden to gain legal parental rights.”
Misunderstanding of the laws could have adverse effects on married same-sex families in the event of a crisis. The concern at the center of many conversations during the September family Pride event is the issues of “second-parent adoptions” and legal guardianship of children in same-sex families.
Overwhelmingly, LGBTQ allies and parents assume that the 2015 US Supreme Court ruling in support of same-sex marriage resolved equality issues for the married LGBTQ community -- the benefits of which are being challenged daily by states nationwide.
While states are redefining the legal benefits and securities of marriage across the country – challenging the extent of the marriage equality ruling – same-sex married couples cannot rely on “marital presumption” (a rule generally applied to children born of a man and a woman) or a child’s birth certificate (New Jersey allows both parents regardless of sexual orientation to be listed on a child’s birth certificate), and thus these families are seeking second-parent adoptions to secure legal parental rights of their children.
While the process of second-parent adoptions is different from state to state, the financial and emotional burden of the process is felt by all same-sex couples who seek the security of legal parentage of their child.
Union County residents and same-sex married couple, Christy Wilson and Danni Newbury, familiar with the second-parent adoption process from their first daughter in 2013 – prior to the 2015 US Supreme Court ruling – like many same-sex couples, were surprised to learn that they would need to endure the second-parent adoption experience again for their second-child in 2017.
“When we were ready to have a second child, we assumed my rights as the second parent were secured with the Federal marriage equality ruling,” noted Ms. Newbury the non-biological parent of the same-sex couple’s children. “It wasn’t until after our daughter was born that we checked in with a lawyer. We were surprised, but relieved that we looked into it.”
“Given the priorities of the administration in Washington, we must do all we can legally to protect the security of our family,” said Ms. Wilson, birth-mother of both children to Ms. Wilson and Ms. Newbury.
In New Jersey, the second-parent adoption process takes months, costs upwards of $3,500, includes fingerprinting, state and FBI background checks, and culminates with a hearing in front of a Judge -- all to demonstrate that the second-parent of same-sex couples is fit to be granted legal parental rights to a child that they financially and emotionally helped to conceive.
“The unfortunate situation is that some same-sex families assume that because they are married or because the names of both parents are listed on the child’s birth certificate, both parents have legal parental rights,” noted Ms. Newbury, an employee of the County of Union in the Office of Public Information. “In the case of most same-sex married couples, that is not accurate.”
On Friday, October 13, backed by LGBTQ equality allies, Ms. Wilson and Ms. Newbury shared the second-parent adoption proceeding experience with friends, family and colleagues in an effort to raise awareness about the need for same-sex families to understand and explore their legal options to protect their families, and also to seek support for changing New Jersey State laws to represent a more just and equal process for same-sex couples to secure parental guardianship – an effort that has garnered support by elected officials from Rahway and Union County, as well as State Legislators in Trenton.
“Pride events matter because inequalities are not always obvious,” said Freeholder Bruce H. Bergen. “When a community comes together to voice their need for support, it’s important to acknowledge their concerns and work with them toward full equality.”
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