New TX Fathers Fight for their Family

Joe Riggs & Jason Hanna • Dallas, TX

The frustration and lack of security that Joe and Jason are feeling this week as they work to adopt their month-old sons is not something that new fathers should have to confront - but as long as states like Texas continue to deny the freedom to marry to loving, committed couples like Joe and Jason, that vulnerability will persist.

This weekend, Joe Riggs and Jason Hanna gathered with their family members and friends in Dallas, Texas and celebrated their very first Fathers' Day as dads. Their newborn sons Lucas and Ethan, welcomed into the world last month, looked around at their family members and friends with awe - and all of Joe and Jason's loved ones took turns showering affection onto the boys ("the twins," Joe and Jason call them, although technically one son is biologically Joe's and one is biologically Jason's).

"Fatherhood is absolutely amazing," the couple said, speaking with Fox4 in Texas. "We have been blessed with two healthy little boys. There's never been any doubt that these are our little guys." 

But even as they celebrated the joys of Fathers' Day, Joe and Jason are also dealing with the pain of being told that their relationship is not valid in the eyes of Texas and that they are not allowed to adopt their sons. The couple married in Washington, DC in August 2013, but because Texas does not allow same-sex couples the freedom to marry - and even refuses to extend any respect to marriages legally performed in other states - Joe and Jason are not seen as married in their home state.

That denial of respect has real, tangible consequences for Joe and Jason and families like theirs and makes them vulnerable. Just this week, a Fort Worth, Texas judge in family court ruled that Joe and Jason were not allowed to adopt their own sons. Although same-sex couples have been approved for second-parent adoptions in the past in Texas, the matter can differ from court to court - it is, officially, up to the judge to decide.

"I expected a family court to be looking out for the best interests of our kids - and I felt like we walked away that day and it wasn't in the best interest of our kids," Joe explained.

Joe and Jason spoke with Michelangelo Signorile on his SiriusXM radio show about the ruling. "Technically, I don't have any legal rights at all right now to Jason's biological child - so I could run into issues if somebody questions what relationship I have with this child," Joe said. "I would say he's my son, but according to Texas, he is just some other kid. So it becomes really important from a family unit perspective - I don't have any legal rights to act accordingly for someone who is my son."

"I expected a family court to be looking out for the best interests of our kids - and I felt like we walked away that day and it wasn't in the best interest of our kids."

Joe and Jason are also not listed on their biological sons' birth certificates - a law in the state forbids two men or two women from appearing on the birth certificates of children.

The frustration and lack of security that Joe and Jason are feeling this week is not something that new fathers should have to confront - but as long as states like Texas continue to deny the freedom to marry to loving, committed couples like Joe and Jason, that sense of insecurity and vulnerability will persist. There will always be the chance for these families to be treated differently from families headed by different-sex couples.

"Until we are recognized as a married couple in Texas," Jason told Fox4, "We are missing out on a lot of the rights and benefits that we should have." 

Stories like Joe and Jason's are a reminder that every day that same-sex couples are denied the freedom to marry - every day that marriage laws discriminate in 31 states - real families are hurt. It's time for the U.S. Supreme Court to end this patchwork of marriage laws and affirm what 20 consecutive federal and state rulings have already declared: That denying the freedom to marry is unconstitutional - and that anti-marriage laws belong in the ash bin of history.

Photos Courtesy of Joe Riggs and Jason Hanna