Lead plaintiffs Marcie and Chantelle Fisher-Borne and their child claim the state's prohibition perpetuates historical discrimination against gay and lesbian people.
"Plaintiffs are six North Carolina families," the complaint states. "Each plaintiff is a member of a family that consists of a child or children being raised by two gay or lesbian parents who are in a committed, long-term relationship with each other. In each of these loving families, the child plaintiff has a legally recognized parent-child relationship with only one parent (either through birth or adoption), although, in reality, the child is being raised by both parents. Because of the numerous financial, psychological, and social benefits that flow from a legally recognized parent-child relationship, each of the plaintiff families wishes to apply to establish via adoption a full, legal parental relationship between the child and the second parent. Specifically, in each of the plaintiff families, the non-legal parent wishes to apply to adopt the child or children he or she is currently raising as the partner of the legal parent (a process that is often referred to as 'second parent adoption')." (Parentheses in complaint).
The couples claim other states allow second-parent adoptions to protect children's best interests, but North Carolina prohibits them, depriving children of health and life insurance benefits, veteran benefits, disability and Social Security benefits and other rights and privileges.
Though North Carolina allows unmarried people to adopt children, regardless of their sexual orientation, the law prohibits joint adoption by unmarried couples.
The state does not recognize same-sex marriage, making it impossible for gay and lesbian couples to adopt jointly.
North Carolina voters in May approved an amendment to add the ban on same-sex marriage to the state constitution.
The plaintiffs claim the state allows stepparents to adopt their spouses' children, but denies same-sex partners the privilege.
"Because the second-parent plaintiffs are not considered to be 'spouses' of the legal parent plaintiffs under North Carolina law and cannot become 'spouses' under North Carolina law even if they were to marry in another state, they are unable to use the stepparent adoption statute to adopt the children they are raising with their partners, without terminating the parental rights of their co-parents, the legal parent plaintiffs," according to the complaint.
The North Carolina Supreme Court in December 2010 reversed adoptions by unmarried second parents, saying family court lacked jurisdiction to approve them.
According to the complaint, 20 states and the District of Columbia allow second-parent adoptions, including adoptions by the legal parent's gay or lesbian partner.
"In summarizing the benefits of second parent adoption, the Indiana Court of Appeals found that '[a]llowing a second parent to share legal responsibility for the financial, spiritual, educational, and emotional well-being of the child in a stable, supportive, and nurturing environment can only be in the best interest of that child,'" the complaint states.
The plaintiffs, many of whom are certified as foster parents, claim the ban does not make sense, since North Carolina recognizes them as legitimate parents. The state also grants second parents limited rights, such as custody and visitation.
The couples say the ban deprives their children of many rights and benefits they would otherwise receive, threatens their families' stability, and limits the second parents' ability to make important decisions about their children, such as authorizing emergency medical treatment.
They say they have spent thousands of dollars on legal fees to create documents meant to bring their families some legal security.
They want the state enjoined from enforcing the ban.
They are represented by Jonathan Sasser with Ellis & Winters, of Raleigh, and by the American Civil Liberties Union.