Georgia law, however, is silent on the topic of adoptions by gay individuals or gay couples, leaving adoption decisions where they should be — in the hands of individual judges who can best weigh the best interests of the child.
In the most recent case, Nicole Bates and Tina Bates were a couple, even taking on the same last name. They decided to have a child. Nicole was the birth mother.
They couldn’t get married, so Tina would not automatically be recognized as the child’s parent — as she would have been if she were a straight man married to Nicole, even if the child were conceived using donor insemination.
So to solidify Tina’s parental rights, Nicole consented for Tina to adopt the child in Fulton County Superior Court, in a procedure that has been dubbed “second parent adoption.” Tina became the child’s legal mother without Nicole having to give up her parental rights. A judge agreed it was in the best interest of their child.
It’s the same legal route my partner and I used with our two little girls, and it’s the same legal route that has been used by hundreds of gay families in Georgia.
So when Nicole — in an attempt to keep Tina, now her ex, from having legal rights to their child — decided to go to court to say that second-parent adoption shouldn’t be valid, she endangered all of our families, too.
That is, in a word, inexcusable.
I have no idea why Nicole and Tina broke up. That’s not our business. I don’t know who is the better parent or who should have primary custody. That’s not our business either.
But it became our business when Nicole, caring only about beating Tina in court, used every gay family in this state as cannon fodder.
Both Nicole and Tina are legal parents to their child. If they disagree about custody issues, they need to go to court and argue about who is the better parent, who can better provide for the child, who handled more childcare and what schedule of visitation would be in the best interest of the child — just like straight couples, married and unmarried, can do.
Instead, Nicole and her attorney attempted to argue that the adoption — the adoption that Nicole sought and consented to — never should have been granted in the first place, because they claim second-parent adoption isn’t legal for unmarried couples.
And, of course, gay couples can’t marry.
Way to exploit anti-gay discrimination, ladies.
In this case, we got lucky. The case wound its way through courts in Fulton, which held that it was too late for Nicole to challenge the adoption, then Henry County. There a judge ruled that the 2004 marriage ban barred same-sex couples from being involved in a second-parent adoption, making Tina a legal “stranger” to her child.
In a July 11 ruling, a three-judge panel of the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the Henry County decision, on the grounds that the case had already been decided by Fulton.
The appeals panel stated in the ruling that it was not commenting on the validity of second-parent adoptions in general, which is good for us, since the court also cited a dissenting opinion in another lesbian adoption case — Wheeler vs. Wheeler, which had similar facts — to call the concept “doubtful.”
We may not be so lucky next time, so it’s a risk our community can’t take again.
Look, break ups suck. Whether gay or straight, the end of a relationship is painful and difficult. The temptation to go after your ex with every weapon available is understandable.
But as gay people in a state that still doesn’t recognize our full equality, we have to hold ourselves — and each other — to a higher standard. We can’t take legal stands that exploit our lack of rights, and we can’t take legal stands that risk our entire community.
If your attorney suggests it, say no. If you find out that your friend is going to do this, tell them not to. Shun them if you have to. The stakes are that high.
Nicole and Tina Bates’ family is already destroyed. Had Nicole Bates won her case, she could have destroyed all of our families, too.