Julia Boseman and Melissa Jarrell were domestic partners in Wilmington, North Carolina, and always wanted to raise a child together. In May of 2000, they decided to make their dream a reality, and began the process of having a baby. They decided that Melissa would do the child-bearing, but Julia would be equally involved in the process in every other respect. They chose an anonymous sperm donor together after researching and discussing various options. They jointly attended the medical session necessary to conceive their child and to administer proper prenatal care. Julia read to the gestating child in Melissa’s womb and played music for him; she also cared for Melissa during her pregnancy and was present at the birth. Melissa and Julia jointly chose their son’s first name, and agreed that he should have a hyphenated last name composed of their surnames. In every way, they behaved publicly and privately as the parents of the child, introducing him into their respective extended families.
But North Carolina refuses to recognize same-sex marriages, so in the eyes of the state, Julia was not legally a parent. To remedy this obstacle, she sought and received a court order adopting the child without severing her partner’s legally recognized parental rights. Officially, their child now had two, same-sex parents. Then the couple split acrimoniously, with the acrimony greatly magnified when Melissa sought to limit Julia’s contact with her son.
Julia sued, arguing that she was the child’s parent as much as Melissa.
The North Carolina Supreme Court, in the case of Boseman v. Jarrell, came to a wise and fair decision. No, the adoption wasn’t valid, and shouldn’t have been granted. You can’t adopt a child while the child’s biological parent maintains parental rights, except in a step-parent scenario. Because North Carolina doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages, however, Julia Boseman couldn’t qualify as a legal step-parent. Nevertheless, the court ruled that Melissa’s conduct indicated that she had voluntarily abandoned her rights as the “paramount parent”…
“The record in [this case] indicates that defendant intentionally and voluntarily created a family unit in which plaintiff was intended to act — and acted — as a parent. The parties jointly decided to bring a child into their relationship, worked together to conceive a child, chose the child’s first name together, and gave the child a last name that “is a hyphenated name composed of both parties’ last names.” The parties also publicly held themselves out as the child’s parents at a baptismal ceremony and to their respective families. The record also contains ample evidence that defendant allowed plaintiff and the minor child to develop a parental relationship. Defendant even “agrees that [plaintiff] … is and has been a good parent.”
“Moreover, the record indicates that defendant created no expectation that this family unit was only temporary. Most notably, defendant consented to the proceeding before the adoption court relating to her child. As defendant envisioned, the adoption would have resulted in her child having “two legal parents, myself and [plaintiff].” In asking the adoption court to create such a relationship, defendant represented that she and plaintiff “have raised the [minor child] since his birth and have jointly and equally provide[d] said child with care, support and nurturing throughout his life.” Defendant explained to the adoption court that she “intends and desires to co-parent with another adult who has agreed to adopt a child and share parental responsibilities.”
With all that on the record, the court’s majority determined that Melissa could not now deny that Julia was, in fact, a parent too.
You see? The law isn’t always an ass!
But people often are. Melissa Jarell’s legal machinations to deny Julia Boseman’s parental rights may have been a clever litigation strategy but were unforgivably unethical. She made cynical use of North Carolina laws that she had doubtlessly condemned in years past as discriminatory, heartless, bigoted and homophobic. Her case against her former partner depended on North Carolina’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages, though she and Julia clearly regarded themselves as being married in every other respect. Melissa also regarded herself as a victim of anti-gay bigotry, until laws based on that bigotry gave her an apparent edge in her efforts to deny what she had spent six years asserting: that Julia Boseman was also her son’s parent. Then she decided to use those laws to make Julia a victim. This was dishonest, unfair, and cruel.
Fortunately, a court realized that Melissa was harming their son as well.