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A Texas judge, using her power of discretion in adjudicating cases related to marriage between LGBT+ couples, has selected to keep two newborn children from their parents – because the parents happen to be gay.
In April, half-brothers Lucas and Ethan were born, making Jason Hanna and Joe Riggs both proud and loving fathers. The two men, however, have been unable to be recognised as the legal parents of the babies due to Texas’ ‘unconstitutional’ ban on equal marriage.
Hanna and Riggs obtained a donor egg and then met a surrogate, CharLynn, who agreed to carry their babies for them. Hanna is biological father to one child and Riggs is biological father to the other. However, because Texas bans marriages for LGBT+ couples, neither father is allowed to co-adopt their spouse’s child, and neither of the men is on the birth certificates.
Texas’ ban on equal marriage was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge last February. The decision, however, has been stayed pending appeal. Because a judge can use his or her own discretion in cases regarding LGBT+ marriages, the Texas judiciary has opted to deny Hanna and Riggs their rights to be parents for their own children.
The birth certificates currently list only one parent: the unrelated surrogate mother – who has no biological relationship with the children.
Hanna told MSNBC’s NewsNation, ‘I went in very optimistic. We are the biological dads. We have the paperwork. And there’s no reason we should not have full adoption rights to our own children.’
In another interview, Hanna told the Fox News affiliate, Dallas News, ‘It’s a little scary because right now we don’t have full parental rights over own biological children.’
Riggs added, ‘A family court, I guess I expected them to be looking out for the best interests of our kids. We walked out away that day and it wasn’t in the best interests of our kids.’
Speaking to SiriusXM Progress, Jason Hanna said, ‘As of right now in Texas two men cannot be on the birth certificate. So our attorney followed the letter of the law. We petitioned the court. We had DNA testing there [in court] and petitioned the judge to ultimately remove the surrogate mother from the birth certificate, who has no biological ties to the boys. We would like each biological dad to be placed on the birth certificate of our own son, and then ultimately proceed to the second-parent adoption. The entire petition was denied.’
Jason Hanna and Joe Riggs married last July in Washington DC, where gay marriage is legal, after meeting six years ago.
‘We were sworn in and ultimately the judge was saying that with the information she had in front of her, under Texas law she couldn’t grant it,’ Riggs said. ‘I was shocked. We had a ton of questions as we walked away from that courtroom.’
It should be noted that, because discretion is given to individual judges in each case, other gay couples in Texas have successfully completed the same process.
Hanna said, ‘In order to grant a second-parent adoption [automatically under current law], it has to be between two married people. And so, considering we’re not legally married in the eyes of Texas, they don’t have to grant that second-parent adoption because they don’t recognize our marriage … It’s up to the judge’s discretion on whether or not to grant it.
‘Without [co-adoption], if something happened to either me or Joe we don’t have any legal recourse to keep the other’s biological child. The state could come in and separate these two brothers…We want to reiterate how important it is for a state to recognize each family, whether it’s same-sex or opposite-sex, and really to ensure everyone has equal protection from the state.’