After a decade together, New Orleans couple Dale and Chris Liuzza ended their relationship. But because Louisiana doesn’t have second-parent adoption, Chris was able to leave the state, taking their 6-year-old son with him and leaving Dale with nothing but memories and heartbreak.
When their son, Seth, was born via a surrogate in 2004, the men were more concerned with caretaking than geneology. “We didn’t know or care about the biology,” Dale, 31, tells ABC News. “I pretty much raised him. As far as I was concerned, I carried him.”
But two years ago, Dale and Chris’ relationship fell apart. That’s when Chris learned he was Seth’s biological father, packed their bags and left Louisiana for Texas, and then eventually Washington State. Dale can only see Seth once every two months, and says his phone calls with his son are timed.
In more than 30 states, including Louisiana, second-parent adoptions are banned. That means non-biological parents can face a host of headaches—like not being able to pick their child up from school without a note, being banned from a hospital room, and not being able to provide their kids with health insurance and other benefits.
It’s a bitter irony that the states with the highest number of kids raised by gay parents are among the most conservative—including Mississippi, Wyoming, Alaska, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Alabama. And even if you do live in a state where second-parent adoption is recognized, it can be a legal nightmare if you go on vacation: “If you are a New York family visiting Philadelphia, you better take everything you have and hope there is a sympathetic nurse when you have to go to the hospital,” says Calla Rongerude, spokesman for the LGBT think tank Movement Advancement Project.
Should your relationship end—not a remote a possibility in this day and age—non-biological parents have almost no standing in custody cases. People like Dale can literally have the rug pulled out from under them. “I showed up at school one day to pick Seth up and he wasn’t there,” he says. “I called my ex and he was on a plane to Dallas. The school had no idea. My son had no idea. I had no idea.”
What makes this story even more tragic is once upon a time Dale and Chris seemed like the ideal couple, even getting profiled in Intended Parents back in 2004:
The Liuzzas were more focused on the elation of first-time parenthood than the legal technicalities of the adoption. They had grown fond of [surrogate mom Angie] Oliver and her family, just as the Olivers had grown fond of the Liuzzas. As they bundled up Seth for the trip back home, they promised to keep the Olivers updated on his progress through phone calls, photos and e-mails.
Except for an occasional wail, Seth slept through most of the flight to New Orleans. With experience baby-sitting their 5-month-old nephew, the Liuzzas felt they were well-prepared for their new roles as Daddy (Chris) and Dee Dee (Dale). But after 15 days of waking up every two to three hours to feed him, exhaustion had started taking its toll.
“You get so overwhelmed with the sudden changes in being a parent,” Dale said. “Everything revolves around him—when he eats, when he sleeps, when he gets a bath.
“At first we were hoping for twins,” said Chris. “But now we’re relieved it was just one.”
Back then Dale didn’t get any sleep because of late-night feedings and diaper changes. Now he’s up nights worrying about his son.