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Cari Searcy, left, and Kim McKeand with Khaya Ray Searcy in Mobile.
AP Photo by Robb Carr
Cari Searcy, left, and Kim McKeand with Khaya Ray Searcy in Mobile.

Same-sex partner suing for parental rights

By Amanda Thomas
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — A Mobile woman raising a baby boy with the child's mother wants to adopt him as a second parent, a legal step of significance in a state that just passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages.

Cari Searcy's partner, Kim McKeand, gave birth to the baby boy in December with the aid of a donor. Searcy then sought to become the adoptive parent of the child, who bears her last name. Adoption would give Searcy rights to make medical decisions for the child as well as securing the sense of family in their home.

But Searcy's application was denied in probate court May 3. McKeand said the judge ruled against adoption because Alabama does not recognize same-sex marriages. She said their case is now going to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.

"We're going to do whatever we can to get it passed here," Searcy said. "It is discouraging when we think about the current environment against gays in our state, but I have to believe that somewhere in our court system there are still fair-minded judges."

McKeand, 28, and Searcy, 30, who met at college in Texas and moved to Mobile five years ago, have real concerns about the medical care of the baby, Khaya Ray Searcy. The child was born with a hole in his heart and the first weeks were difficult.

"He had to have open heart surgery in Atlanta and we ran into some issues with my not being a legal parent," Searcy said. "It was really hard."

McKeand said she had to learn how to insert a feeding tube in Khaya's nose before they could bring him home from the hospital. Because she didn't feel comfortable doing the procedure, Searcy volunteered to learn.

But the nurses would not teach her.

"They said, 'No, you're not the parent, Kim is,' " McKeand said. "Finally it took our doctor — the cardiologist — to step in and say it was OK."

Khaya now has a clean bill of health, but the couple has not forgotten the experience.

"That's what really pushed me to get this second parent adoption," said Searcy.

Wide impact

The legal resolution of the court case might have a wide impact — according to 2000 census data, there are gay families in every county in the state. And the issue is not confined to Alabama.

"It's happening all over the country," said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

"It's happening because the agencies responsible for those kids have decided that the gay and lesbian population is one worth placing kids."

The New York-based institute, which is not affiliated with any gay rights organizations, released a report in March that found there is no child-centered reason to prevent gays and lesbians from becoming adoptive parents.

"Research shows gay and lesbian parents provide good homes," Pertman said.

Support for children

He said the community should support the children no matter what kind of family they grow up in.

"Bringing our views or prejudices on the kids is not productive," he said. "The community should support a system that places kids in permanent, safe and loving homes. We have to support that for the sake of the kids."

The American Academy of Pediatrics supports legislation and legal efforts to provide second-parent adoptions by same-sex parents. The Alabama chapter of the academy believes all children benefit from being raised by caregivers who are constant, dependable, loving and dedicated to children's safety.

According to an article in the July edition of Pediatrics, in early 2006 efforts were under way in at least 16 states including Alabama to introduce constitutional amendments prohibiting gay and lesbian individuals and couples from adopting children or being foster parents.

"Same-sex parenting is a controversial issue in our country," Linda Lee, executive director of the Alabama chapter, said. "Our main concern is that children, regardless of the circumstances in which they live, receive the best of care."

2 parents better

Jonathan Klein, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester in New York, contributed to the July article and is the chair of the AAP Committee on Adolescence.

"I think evidence on the developmental outcome of children shows that, overall, two parents are probably better than one," Klein said.

He also said that parents with established legal custody have a variety of benefits that isn't always available to same-sex couples even if they're playing that role in a child's life.

"I think if parents are not able to be involved in all aspects of their communities because of a community's attitudes, that potentially damages families," Klein said.

Searcy and McKeand talked about being parents, but it wasn't until about a year ago that they felt it was the right time.

"We found a donor who is a really good friend of ours and he signed over all his rights," Searcy said.

They enjoy a measure of acceptance in Mobile. Searcy works for a video production company and McKeand works for a broadcaster that provides domestic partner health benefits covering them both.

"Our home is a normal one," said Searcy.

"It's filled with love, commitment and support. Our sexual orientation is just a small part of who we are. Kim and I are dedicated to giving Khaya the best life possible and we're going to do what it takes to do that."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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