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ACLU lawsuit challenges second-parent adoption ban

by Eric Ginsburg

BY ERIC GINSBURG eric@yesweekly.com’ 

When you’re adopting, everyone says you should submit for multiple children and not to set your heart on one kid. The process is often arduous and potentially disappointing.

But after poring over different profiles of children in the foster care system, spending hours and hours reading descriptions written by social workers and looking at pictures, Megan Parker knew immediately that Jax would fit perfectly into her family, and her partner, Shana Carignan, agreed.

Jax has cerebral palsy. The couple was specifically looking for a child with special needs, in part because of Parker’s background as a home-care provider for a woman with multiple disabilities.

Both parents went through the adoption process, taking classes and submitting to background checks.

“A big part of why we were chosen was because we had all these awesome resources for kids with special needs here,” Carignan said. Jax goes to school at Gateway, one of five schools of its kind in the nation. His mothers assembled a long list of resources including access to medical care that contributed to why they were selected.

When Carignan and Parker began he adoption process, second-parent adoption was legal in North Carolina, and it wasn’t until after Jax was in their home that the state banned same-sex second parent adoption. Until 2010, a parent in an unmarried couple could adopt their partner’s biological or adoptive child, providing legal rights for both parents.

“I would have never chosen to be a single parent of a child like Jax,” Parker said. “It is so much stress for one person to handle.”

Carignan and Parker joined five other couples to announce a lawsuit they filed in federal district court with the ACLU of North Carolina seeking the right to a second-parent adoption on June 13 in Greensboro. The six couples live across the state, but Parker and Carignan are the only couple from the Triad.

The lawsuit names the clerks of court for Guilford and Durham counties and John W. Smith of the state administrative office of the courts as defendants.

State ACLU Legal Director Chris Brook said he expects it to be a relatively long process, with possible appeals to the 4th Circuit Court in Virginia and then the Supreme Court.

While Parker isn’t raising Jax alone, she has full legal custody and responsibility for their son. They gave him Carignan’s last name. Parker also plans to change her name to Carignan.

The ban has caused concrete challenges for the couple, who both attended UNCG. When Jax spent five days in the hospital for a medical procedure, Carignan wasn’t allowed to stay in the room with him.

“I knew I was needed but it was like I wasn’t valid,” Carignan said. “Megan couldn’t get sleep.”

It is far from the only time the issue has come up, in more benign situations like signatures for school to much more serious ones. Parker had a stroke last year, and while she was recovering at home, Jax needed to be taken to the hospital. Situations like that, and other scenarios they want to plan for, are too much to worry about, they said.

Carignan also can’t put her son on her secondary insurance in case his Medicaid doesn’t go through, which happened once already.

If their relationship ultimately didn’t work out, Carignan would not only have no financial responsibility to Parker and Jax, but she and her family wouldn’t have any visitation rights. Even though that is unlikely and the couple had a commitment ceremony in September 2010, it is stressful and frustrating to consider.

Parker and Carignan fulfill different parental roles for Jax and love him in different ways. When he is upset or wants to cuddle, Parker steps in, and if he is feeling playful or goofy, he looks for Carignan.

That’s just part of the reason Jax needs two parents, they said, in addition to the financial and logistical reasons.

He loves going to Grasshoppers games and is a TV junkie. With some help, the couple adapted a bike trailer so he could fit into it, and he laughs wildly when they pedal him around, ultimately falling asleep before making it home. Jax has already far surpassed the progress they were told he would ever make, and it’s clear it has a lot to do with his environment.

Until they adopted him a little after he was two years old, Jax lived in a group foster home in Texas. Besides immediately providing him with medical attention, Parker and Carignan got him a $14,000 computer he can operate with his eyes.

Their pride in his progress and their overflowing love for their son isn’t just apparent listening to them talk about him or bragging about his positive attitude and character, but in the photos around their home and watching them interact with him.

“He’s just a funny kid,” Carignan said. “He’s got the best personality.”

Parker agreed, adding that Jax doesn’t get grumpy like other kids his age.

“He’s so clever, he figures things out so quickly,” she added.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation recently granted Jax’s wish to go to Disney World, and the family will go later this year. While they take beach trips and visit family in Blowing Rock in their wheel-chair accessible vehicle, this will be the 4-year old’s first trip to Disney World, and he couldn’t be more excited.

It could take years for the lawsuit to be resolved, but they are committed to staying here and fighting it out instead of moving somewhere with different laws. After all, Carignan is from here and her parents still live in Greensboro, and Parker is a lifelong North Carolina resident who has made the Gate City her home.

“This is our home and it’s a great place to raise a family,” Carignan said, “but to think that this is still happening here, it’s shameful.”

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