Two women sue Nebraska in order to be recognized as legal parents of sons they had as a couple

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Two Omaha women and their teenage sons filed a lawsuit on Monday suing Nebraska’s health department for rejecting their request that both women be listed as legal parents on their sons' birth certificates.

Erin Porterfield and Kristen Williams started their family in 2002 using assisted reproductive technology. Each woman gave birth to one of their sons, now 16 and 18, and both are considered a “person that has put themselves in the position of a parent,” for both sons, but with no legal parental right.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, which is representing the couple alongside Omaha law firm Koenig-Dunne, the women have been unsuccessful in trying to work through options in order for each mother to have full legal rights over their sons.

The two women filed the lawsuit alleging the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is not following state law and allowing for same-sex parents to have the same terms as it does for unmarried opposite-sex parents.

Porterfield and Williams “seek to be treated the same as unmarried opposite-sex couples who can establish parentage of their children through voluntary acknowledgment at any time after a child is born,” the lawsuit reads.

Erin Porterfield, back left, and Kristin Williams, back right, along with their children, Cameron Porter Williams, 16, front left, and Kadin Porter Williams, 18, at Omaha family law firm Koenig | Dunne in Omaha, Nebraska, Wednesday, August 4, 2021. (Photo by Rebecca S. Gratz for ACLU of Nebraska)
Erin Porterfield, back left, and Kristin Williams, back right, along with their children, Cameron Porter Williams, 16, front left, and Kadin Porter Williams, 18, at Omaha family law firm Koenig | Dunne in Omaha, Nebraska, Wednesday, August 4, 2021. (Photo by Rebecca S. Gratz for ACLU of Nebraska)

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Porterfield and Williams never married because, at the time, Nebraska banned the recognition of same-sex marriage, according to the lawsuit. While the couple may no longer be together, they filed the lawsuit together in hopes to give their sons more security.

“Our sons are our entire world, and we want to make sure we’re doing right by them,” Porterfield said in a press release. “Our boys have a right to the security of having both parents on their birth certificates, a required document in so many life changes and decisions. That’s why this matters to us. It’s about looking out for our sons.”

The women are seeking acknowledgment that they are both equal mothers to their sons and request that DHHS must apply state law and regulations related to the “voluntary acknowledgments of paternity” form which fathers can use to obtain full legal parenting rights.

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When Porterfield and Williams submitted their forms, DHHS changed it to “acknowledgments of parentage,” according to the DHHS rejection letter. Because the women were not married at the time of each birth, they did not adopt the child of the other, nor are they biologically related to the child of the other, they’re “not equivalent to the role of a parent.”

“While we spend our parenting time the same as most good parents — showing up for show choir and band competitions, making sure homework is done, teaching values and manners, and gently guiding our boys to be their truest selves regardless of cultural expectations — we haven’t had the luxury of peace of mind that should something happen to one of us our boys would seamlessly be afforded the government benefits other families take for granted,” Williams said in a press release.

Sam Petto, ACLU of Nebraska communications director, told USA TODAY that “Erin, Kristin, and the attorneys on this case are all grateful for the warm public support we’ve received since announcing the case on Monday, and they are waiting for the state to respond to the filed complaint and we’ll proceed from there.”

Follow Keira Wingate on Twitter: @KeiraRenee

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Women sue Nebraska for parental rights of sons they share

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