North Carolina's highest court on Monday voided a state senator's adoption of her former domestic partner's biological son, a move that appears to close a method for same-sex couples to adopt unless the Legislature steps in.
The state Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that the adoption of Melissa Jarrell's son by state Sen. Julia Boseman was invalid because a Durham County District Court judge waived a requirement five years ago that Jarrell had to give up her parental rights in the process.
Under the adoption plan approved by the lower court, Boseman became an adoptive parent while Jarrell retained full parental rights as well.
However, Associate Justice Paul Newby wrote for the majority that the adoption never occurred in the eyes of the law because lawmakers have made clear the biological parent must terminate a legal relationship with the child. That part of the ruling favored Jarrell, who had sued to negate the adoption after the couple separated.
She and Boseman, North Carolina's first openly gay member of the General Assembly, had been living together when Jarrell gave birth to Jacob in 2002.
The majority of justices let stand another lower court ruling allowing the two to have joint custody of the child, saying it would be in Jacob's best interest for the women, who have been sharing parental responsibilities, to rear him.
Still, the ruling eliminates a method for same-sex couples to adopt and could raise legal questions about so-called "second parent" adoptions like this one. They have been granted in Durham and Orange counties in recent years, according to testimony and court documents.
Those issues are best addressed at the General Assembly, Newby wrote. At least 27 states permit second-parent adoptions through state law or based on evidence in local courts, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a national group that works for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.
"The avenue is going to have to be changing the statute," Connell said in an interview. Otherwise, she said, this ruling closes down the method completely. Republicans taking charge of the Legislature next month are considering whether to vote on a constitutional amendment that would prohibit gay marriage.