Same Sex Couple Denied Co-Parenting Rights in Texas

Jason Hanna and Joe Riggs met four years ago. Last July, the made that commitment legal in Washington DC, where same sex marriage is legal, and then they returned to Dallas to celebrate the wedding with their family and friends. It sounds like a happily ever after fairy tale…but the dream isn’t quite complete.

Josh and Joe always knew they wanted to be parents. They also knew that, in the state of Texas, gay marriages aren’t recognized as legally binding. So, they saved their money, sought out legal counsel, and did their very best to prepare for the uphill battle of same-sex parenting.

But it still wasn’t enough.

After returning to Dallas, Jason and Joe connected with a surrogate mother.  The surrogate, CharLynn, gave birth to twin boys, Lucas and Ethan, in April. Jason is the biological father of one twin, and Joe is the biological father of the other. But legalities say that neither one of them has parental rights to their own child, let alone each other’s. In fact, the only one listed is CharLynn, who has no biological ties to the children, since an embryo donor was used for the IVF process.

Jason Hanna And Joe Riggs

“As of right now, in Texas, two men cannot be on the birth certificate,” Jason Hanna explained during an interview with SiriusXM Progress. “So our attorney followed the letter of the law. We petitioned the court. We had DNA testing there [in court] and petitioned the judge to ultimately remove the surrogate mother from the birth certificate, who has no biological ties to the boys. We would like each biological dad to be placed on the birth certificate of our own son, and then ultimately proceed to the second-parent adoption.”

But, because Texas has a ban on gay marriage (ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge last February), and because a judge can use his or her own discretion in cases such as these, the entire petition was denied.

“We were sworn in and, ultimately, the judge was saying that with the information she had in front of her, under Texas law, she couldn’t grant it,” Joe said during the Sirius XM Progress interview. “I was shocked. We had tons of questions as we walked away from that courtroom.”

This was especially confusing since Jason and Joe do know of other gay couples who have successfully completed the process. And while they do have some options to present to the court, nothing changes the fact that this wouldn’t even be a problem if their marriage was considered legal in the state of Texas.

Jason Hanna And Joe Riggs

“In order to grant a second-parent adoption [automatically under current law], it has to be between two married people,” Jason said. “And so, considering we’re not legally married in the state of Texas, they don’t have to grant that second-parent adoption because they don’t recognize our marriage…It’s up to the judge’s discretion on whether or not to grant it.”

It also means that, should anything happen to either one of them, their entire family could be ripped apart. And that will be the case unless this family is granted the parental rights they are searching for (and, quite honestly, should already have).

“Without [co-adoption], if something should happen to either me or Joe, we don’t have any legal recourse to keep the other’s biological child,” Jason explained. “The state could come in and separate these two brothers…We want to reiterate how important it is for a state to recognize each family, whether it’s same sex or opposite sex, and really to ensure everyone has equal protection from the state.”

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About the author


Kate Givans is a wife and a mother of five—four sons (one with autism) and a daughter. She’s an advocate for breastfeeding, women’s rights, against domestic violence, and equality for all. When not writing—be it creating her next romance novel or here on Growing Your Baby—Kate can be found discussing humanitarian issues, animal rights, eco-awareness, food, parenting, and her favorite books and shows on Twitter or Facebook. Laundry is the bane of her existence, but armed with a cup of coffee, she sometimes she gets it done.

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