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A civil liberties group says North Carolina's adoption laws are unconstitutional because they prevent unmarried couples from adopting their partners' children.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the federal lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of six North Carolina same-sex couples who support so-called second parent adoptions. A second parent adoption occurs when one partner in an unmarried couple adopts the other partner's biological or adoptive child.
"We're a family. We're a family just like everybody else," said Lee Knight Caffery, from Charlotte. She and her partner were one of the couples involved in the lawsuit.
Caffery gave birth to their two children, thanks to a sperm donor. She says her partner, should have legal rights, in case there is an emergency.
"Dana does these things just as much as I do and she is no less a mother or parent, except in the eyes of the law," she said.
ACLU legal director Chris Brook says North Carolina's highest court in 2010 upheld adoption laws that exclude unmarried couples, both straight and gay, from jointly adopting children.
"North Carolina's law denies children the permanency and security of a loving home simply because their parents are lesbian or gay," said Jennifer Rudinger, Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina. "This is fundamentally wrong. No parent should have to worry about what will happen to their children if something happens to their partner."
The lawsuit says second parent adoption is the only way a North Carolina family with gay or lesbian parents can ensure that both parents have a legal relationship with their child.
Marcie and Chantelle Fisher-Borne, one of the couples in the case, have been together for 15 years and live in Durham. Each woman carried one of their two children -- a three-year-old girl and a newborn boy.
"When their daughter was born, the couple was treated rudely by a hospital staff member who demanded their legal paperwork," a release from the ACLU stated. "If both women were able to be fully-recognized legal parents to their children, such encounters could be avoided."
"We were treated as if our family was less than other families during what should have been one of the happiest occasions of our lives," said Marcie Fisher-Borne.
"We don't ever want there to be any question as to who should care for our children. If something were to happen to either one of us, it could tear our family apart."
Civil liberties groups say that children are at risk without such a relationship and can be excluded from benefits like health care.
According to the ACLU, some of the protections that come with a second parent adoption include: ensuring that all children in the family are covered if one partner lacks health insurance, ensuring that families will stay together and children will not be torn from the only home they've known if something should happen to the biological parent, ensuring that either parent will be allowed to make medical decisions or be able to be by their child's bedside if one their children is hospitalized.
The ACLU told WBTV 20 other states and Washington, D.C. allow second-parent adoptions.
Local adoption agencies WBTV reached out to on Wednesday have different stands on the issue. Some representatives from private adoption agencies said they require couples be married, others said they don't ask about sexual orientation when it comes to single adoptions.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.