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PRIDE and Family Law

Part 3: Family Law and Adoption

Many LGBTQIA+ couples and individuals choose to grow their families through adoption. LGBTQIA+ couples are more than six times more likely to adopt than straight couples and represent an important placement resource in the foster care and adoption communities. The biases and discrimination that permeate other areas of family law and of life in general can also impact fostering and adoption, but fortunately LGBTQIA+ adoption is legal in North Carolina, and an attorney experienced in family law can help you get past the hurdles and protect yourself from discrimination.

North Carolina allows only married couples or single individuals to adopt, with no mention of gender or sexual orientation. So LGBTQIA+ couples and single individuals are free to adopt legally in North Carolina. Prior to Obergefell v. Hodges and federal marriage equality in 2014, this meant that same-sex couples couldn’t adopt together because they couldn’t get married.  Now, however, any married same-sex couple can adopt in the same way any married straight couple can. State law doesn’t allow any unmarried couples to adopt, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The North Carolina Department of Social Services (NC DSS) also has written policies not to discriminate against anyone regardless of sex, which is generally interpreted to include discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Private adoptions through agencies are a little more complicated. While the state may be willing to formalize an adoption by an LGBTQIA+ couples, some agencies are not willing to place children in non-traditional families. In 2021, the Supreme Court heard Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, where the city sued a private, taxpayer funded, Catholic adoption agency that refused to place children with same-sex prospective parents. The Court held that private foster and adoption agencies can exclude LGBTQIA+ families from adoption based on religious grounds. When researching adoption agencies, it is important to look into an individual agency’s policies before reaching out.

NC DSS may not overtly discriminate against same-sex parents, but there can still be difficulties with public adoptions as well. Studies have shown that LGBTQIA+ prospective parents often face negative comments and attitudes from both social workers and birth parents. Older children may also have their own biases and request not to be placed in LGBTQIA+ households. The social workers and evaluators who perform home and parenting evaluations sometimes also hold same-sex couples to a much higher standard than straight couples before approving their home for adoption. A study has shown that gay men are less likely to get a positive response when they reach out to be foster or adoptive parents. Same-sex couples who plan to adopt through any avenue need to be prepared to face and overcome discrimination in the system.

There are about 10,500 children in foster care who need the love, support, and stability of an adoptive family. While biases and discrimination can make adopting these children a longer and more difficult process for same-sex couples, a prepared and patient LGBTQIA+ couple or individual can make it over these hurdles and offer a loving home to a child who needs it.