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Texas Lawyers Are Telling Same-Sex Parents to Legally Adopt Their Kids

Image courtesy Deborah Cannon
Jenny Pitts pictured with her daughter, Ellison.

From Texas Standard:

Most adoptions are about children finding their "forever homes," or their permanent families. Other adoption proceedings are for parents who want to make sure their kid remains a part of their family, as is the case for many same-sex parents.

Adoptive mother Jenny Pitts says it pains her to imagine the child she's reared could legally be taken from her. 

"Not once have I felt that this kid is not mine," Pitts says. "I've even at times forgotten that this kid is not mine biologically."

Pitts' daughter is the biological child of her wife Deborah Cannon. If they divorced, or if Cannon died, what legally comes into question is whether Pitts would still be seen as one of the parents.

Since this summer when same-sex marriage became legal throughout the country, attorney Liz Brenner has been telling same-sex parents in Texas that they need to adopt their children. A marriage certificate may not guarantee their legal relationship to the child.

"With opposite-sex couples those rights are fairly automatic," Brenner says. "There's a presumption that when a child is born to an opposite-sex relationship that child is the child of both parents."

The same is not always true for same-sex parents. Brenner says the issue has come up in several states with different results.

"A New York court found that the non-biological parent did not have a legal relationship to the child. The child was born during the marriage, but the court found that presumption didn't apply to the non-biological parent," Brenner says. "In another state, Massachusetts – same scenario – the court found it did apply. So, we just don't know how it's going to play out in Texas."

Pitts says she finds that part upsetting, because she was a part of her daughter's life from the get-go. She and Cannon meticulously planned for this baby.

"There seems to be a lot more planning that's involved with same-sex couples because it's not like you just have 'that night,'" Pitts says, speaking about potential pregnancies –planned or unplanned – between opposite-sex partners.

Still, what Pitts and Cannon learned on their own journey is that there is a different kind of “oops” for same-sex couples who have a kid on the way: namely, failing to take the necessary legal steps to ensure that the state recognizes the family, before the unthinkable happens. As the new legal landscape reshapes old definitions of family, that fact is making it all the more urgent for same-sex couples in Texas to plan for parenthood.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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