States of Equality: Brittany & Jessica in Mississippi

Few things are as powerful as a personal story. As part of our States of Equality campaign, Family Equality Council is sharing stories from LGBTQ families who have faced discrimination across the U.S.

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Brittany: Living here, there’s so much love here, and the people, and the food, and the culture. I’m absolutely convinced the sunset is better here than anywhere else. There’s something I love about it, but at the same time they’re really bad to us, it’s so conservative. They’re not looking out for anyone that isn’t a straight white male.

Brittany: When we got engaged, our plan quite literally, was to hop a plane, go get a courthouse wedding, and come back and fake it.

Jessica: But it so happened the [inaudible 00:00:36] happened…

Brittany: Six months before.

Jessica: Six months before we had planned to have our wedding.

Brittany: So it was a sigh of relief.

Jessica: So it was perfect.

Brittany: Thank God. We don’t have to leave state.

Jessica: We don’t have to fake it.

Brittany: So we got married. In the real way.

Jessica: When we were little we never really dreamed about our wedding, but we both always dreamed that we wanted to be parents.

Brittany: Mississippi was the only state that explicitly outlawed LGBT adoption. It just flat out said, “No two people of the same gender can adopt.” And so, we became part of a four couple suit against our state. The state would try and make arguments like, gay people can’t conceive a baby, and our co-plaintiffs would look over at their nine year old. Well, there she is. This was post- [inaudible 00:01:30] and so at that point, we could be married so there was no point in really trying to argue. There was just a bias against us and so we won.

Brittany: When we filed the law suit, our angle going in was that we wanted the opportunity to be able to adopt out of our foster care system. That was what we were always aiming to do. So when we were trying to figure out the ways in which we wanted to go about becoming parents, essentially came down to we know Jess wants to carry, and we know that Jess is in her thirties. The clock on that is short. And so we decided we’ll have our biological child that we knew would always be legally ours.

Jessica: Definitely still wanna adopt out of-

Brittany: Foster care specifically.

Jessica: Out of foster care.

Brittany: For a long time there were no fertility clinics in Mississippi that would treat lesbian couples because you couldn’t do artificial insemination on single women, or something like that, we were considered single. Yeah. It was nuts. But our friend’s a nurse practitioner in that office. And so she would do inseminations on the low down. We picked a donor and it took a while.

Jessica: Took about a year. And here she-

Brittany: Here she is.

Jessica: Here she is.

Brittany: She came crashing in.

Brittany: We talked to some acquaintances that had already had kids that they were putting people on the birth certificate. But something about that just didn’t feel like enough. So we reached out to a local attorney and she was like, “It’s absolutely not. Five years from now this guy came out of nowhere and it turns out he’s really the father. It doesn’t matter that you’re on the birth certificate, this guy has rights over you.” And I was like, “Oh, no, that’s not happening.” We just never wanted there to be any question that if anything happened to Jessica, that there would ever be one second of time that Wren was not in my care.

Brittany: As soon as she was born, we contacted the attorneys and they were able to petition the court and so she emailed us two hours later and was like, “Congratulations, your paperwork’s at the circuit clerk’s office.” We only had one hiccup. They tried to not give me her adoption decree. And I was like, “So you’re telling me that this morning, not even two hours ago, a judge signed off on my adoption with my name on it, with my kid, and here’s my driver’s license and you still won’t give me the paperwork?” Called the attorney and she was like, “I need you to just calm down. I’m gonna call them and see what I can do.” So they gave it to me and I came home and forced Wren into a cute little dress to take a picture and she is absolutely rolling her eyes in every single one of them. But it was done and she was mine. And I make Jess let me sign all of the mother paperwork because that feels … I don’t know … good.

Jessica: So many people are like, “Oh I’m so sad. My baby’s growing up.” But it’s so fun to watch her grow up. It’s so fun to see her now reaching out for things, and playing, and I can’t wait until she’s one and she starts talking. I can’t wait to hear what her little voice sounds like.

Brittany: It’s just the best thing I have ever done.

Speaker 3: Can you wave at Grandma? Hi!

Brittany and Jessica Harbuck’s love story is not unlike many others. Except that for this Mississippi couple, their love story also includes constantly having to jump over legal hurdles. When they first wanted to get married, it was against the law. When the Supreme Court finally legalized same-sex marriage, the couple celebrated their love with a blowout wedding — but their fight was far from over. The Harbucks dreamed of growing their family and Mississippi was the only state in the country to explicitly ban same-sex couples from adopting.

With 26% of same-sex couples raising children in Mississippi — more than in any other state — it was clear that the the ban was created with the purpose of outright discrimination. With the help of the Campaign for Southern Equality, Brittany and Jessica became one of four couples who sued the state to repeal the ban.

Family Equality Council supported the lawsuit, stating at the time: “The Mississippi adoption ban is an outdated relic of a time when courts and legislatures believed it was somehow OK to discriminate against gay people simply because they are gay.”

The lawsuit was successful in challenging the same-sex adoption ban and the case was won. Yet even in jumping over their second legal hurdle, Brittany & Jessica soon saw there were more barriers in their way. Jessica wanted to have a biological child, but with no assisted reproductive technology services available specifically for LGBTQ couples, the couple struggled to find someone who would treat them.

When their baby was finally born, the Clerk of Courts office signed off on Brittany’s adoption decree, but was reluctant to actually hand over the paperwork. The pair wouldn’t stand for it — they both wanted full rights to their baby. After a call with the couple’s lawyer, the court finally gave them their adoption papers.

Brittany and Jessica are still interested in adopting a child from foster care. But despite helping overturn the state’s ban on same-sex adoption, Mississippi lawmakers doubled-down on discrimination in 2016, passing HB1523, a sweeping “license to discriminate” law that authorizes Mississippi child welfare providers to refuse to work with LGBTQ prospective parents.

Despite these challenges, Brittany and Jessica are enjoying raising their baby and looking forward to watching her meet all of her milestones.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” Brittany said.

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