When Walden University PhD in Public Policy and Administration student Mark Maxwell (shown at right) and his partner Tim Young were married in Washington, D.C., in January 2013, it wasn’t only to support their belief that anyone in the United States has a right to be married. It was also a public statement that they should be viewed by their home state of North Carolina as a married couple that has legal rights to jointly adopt children.

In recognition of Pride Month, which celebrates the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals have had on local, national, and world history, Spotlight on Walden highlights their story.

Mark and Tim have jointly fostered 43 children and have adopted four. But each time they adopt a child, they have to choose which partner will be the legal guardian. Although North Carolina recognizes both of them as foster parents, it does not recognize their marriage and will only legally recognize one adoptive parent. “When a child comes into our home, together we’re meeting with teachers and running to lacrosse, but when it’s time to adopt, we alternate who the legal guardian will be,” Mark explains.

As a result of his personal experience, he has chosen to focus his dissertation on the impact of North Carolina’s policy that same-sex couples may foster but not adopt children jointly. He aims to interview a sample of 10 families who are living this experience to write a qualitative study.

“We are very private people, but we ‘came out’ in the media. We have to give our voice to our community,” says Mark, who plans to continue to be a public figure in support of the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (GLBTQ) families. “When I speak about families, I’m really talking about the children,” he continues. “If they don’t have the same legal protections as other adopted children in the state, they are second-class citizens. I want to be a voice for these families.”

Mark is currently the vice president of the North Carolina Foster and Adoptive Parent Association and is building a network within the state to create training opportunities to help the public understand the need for equal rights for families who adopt children.

No matter what their passion or cause is, Mark encourages others to continue speaking out to effect positive social change. “If you need to advocate for children, AIDS research, the end of abuse to women, or any other cause, you have to do something,” Mark says. “We have an obligation as Walden students to be ambassadors for change.”

Read more about Mark's story and watch his video.

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