Nebraska ACLU lesbian

Erin Porterfield, Kristin Williams and family.

Erin Porterfield and Kristin Williams are fighting to have themselves named as the legal parents of their two children after the state of Nebraska has repeatedly refused.

The couple broke up in 2013 after both gave birth to one child while they were together. Porterfield gave birth to their first son, Kadin, 19 years ago. Three years later, Williams gave birth to their second child, Cameron.

Same-sex couples couldn't legally marry in Nebraska when the children were born so both of them only had their biological mothers listed on their birth certificates. After repeated attempts to add an additional parent to their certificates, the state has refused unless they get married.


Currently, each parent has been granted temporary in loco parentis (or "in place of parent") rights over the other's biological child, but they do not have full parental rights.

Williams and Porterfield filed a lawsuit against the state of Nebraska on Monday claiming that the state's decision violated their constitutional rights by discriminating against them for being women.

Their case seems pretty clear-cut.

"If you had a man and a woman in this exact same scenario, not together anymore, never married, do not want to get married, so we don't have adoption available to them, all the man needs to do is go and sign an acknowledgment of paternity and he gets put onto the birth certificate and it is a legal order then that he is a parent," Angela Dunne, a managing partner at the plaintiffs' legal firm, told WOWT. "Erin and Kristin can't do that because they're women."

"We were never able to marry because by the time the supreme court had awarded that right to gay people, we had split as a couple," Williams said. "We continued to care for both of our children as any couple would with shared custody."

The lawsuit also petitions the state to allow anyone, regardless of gender, to be able to provide voluntary acknowledgment of paternity rights.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services says that the parents' request falls outside of the power granted to the state's executive branch. The DHHS said in a letter that "at this time, the only routes to legal parentage under Nebraska law are through marital presumption, adoption, or biological relationship."

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts.via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

The state's governor, Republican Pete Ricketts agrees with the DHHS. However, he misstated the facts of the case in a statement to KETV.

"The couple had the opportunity to get married and chose not to," Rickets incorrectly told KETV. "So, we looked at how Nebraska law reads and we applied Nebraska law."

No, the couple didn't have the chance to get married because they broke up two years before it was legal in Nebraska.

It's ridiculous that the state's governor is pushing back against the couple's request because it's legal for same-sex couples to get married and adopt in Nebraska. It's also legal for a man to put his name on the birth certificate of a child, regardless of his relationship to the other parent.

All Williams and Porterfield want is the security of knowing their children are cared for in case of an emergency and that they have the rights of inheritance that any children of a straight couple would enjoy.

But unfortunately, they are forced to fight a battle that should have been settled long ago.

"Our sons are our entire world and we want to make sure we're doing right by them," Porterfield said in a statement released by the ACLU. "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."

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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