OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Kristen Williams and Erin Porterfield are fighting the state for custody of their two sons.
The two women fell in love and began having children in 2002, before it was legal for them to get married. They say their marital status and their sexual identity made things more difficult compared to heterosexual couples.
"We had to go through a lot of hoops other families don’t. Our constant need for legal documents and paperwork on hand, yeah we knew it would be complicated but we were in love and we wanted to start a family," Williams said.
Their two sons were born using the same sperm donor, but Porterfield gave birth to their oldest and Williams gave birth to their youngest. While they knew pretty much right away that their family experience would be hard, some situations proved more difficult because the state did not recognize them as a family.
"Those instances were more manageable: an ear infection, a broken arm, things like that that had happened to Cameron. But in considering the moments that are more traumatic or life-threatening, those moments of needing that kind of legal option were scary because you don’t have time to wait. In some situations there wouldn’t be time to haggle with phone calls or texts in guiding the medical staff," Porterfield said.
In 2013 the couple split up, and according to their lawyer, they did everything right under existing laws to ensure their family was safe. They filed for in loco parentis, giving each of them parental rights for the child they did not birth, until the child turns 19. The court acknowledged the parental plan.
Now, their oldest son is turning 19, the age in which in loco parentis expires, and there is no other legal bind connecting the family. While the time is ticking for them to get full parental rights for both sons, they say the state is not cooperating. With a heterosexual unwed couple who have a child, the man just needs to go to the state and sign an acknowledgment of paternity. Once it's notarized and submitted it acts as a court order and secures his rights for the rest of the child's life, whether or not they are biologically related.
"Which is exactly what we wanted to have happen in this case. The only difference is they couldn’t sign an acknowledgment of paternity because they’re not men. We submitted a revised form called an acknowledgment of parentage simply seeking that they be named the legal parent and it be effectuated as a court order just as if it was a man in a similar situation. The state denied that," said Angela Dunne, Managing partner at Koenig Dunne and the lawyer working with the two women.
Lawyers and legal counsel say the state not acknowledging their full parental rights is discrimination.
"You are treating children unfairly and you’re treating the children of same-sex parents unfairly because you don’t like the fact their parents are a same-sex couple and that’s impermissible. You can’t deny children the right to know their parents because you don’t like who they come from," said Sara Rips, LGBTQIA+ Legal and Policy Counsel for the ACLU of Nebraska.
Now, they're suing the state, but Dunne says Williams and Porterfield aren't the only ones experiencing this. She says her firm represents a number of same-sex couples who are going through similar issues.
Dunne says while it's going to be hard, they're ready for the fight.
"While it feels hard and it takes a lot of courage to move forward to change. Ultimately, I know in my heart the law is on my side because it’s what this country is founded on and that is we do not discriminate and we treat everyone equally. We’re just asking that take place," Dunne said.
In the meantime, Porterfield and Williams are focused on their family and raising their boys, just like they always have.
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