Was 2017 a good year for LGBT parents and our children? The political situation in the U.S. was grim, but we also saw progress in some areas.
In perhaps the biggest win for LGBT parents this year, the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned the Arkansas Supreme Court in Pavan v. Smith, a case involving two married, two-mom couples who had children with the help of anonymous sperm donors. The Arkansas court argued that non-biological mothers have no right to be on birth certificates, which are purely about biological connections; the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed.
The Pavan decision then impacted a September ruling of the Arizona Supreme Court, McLaughlin v. Jones (McLaughlin), where a biological mother was trying to claim that her ex, the nonbiological mother, was not a parent and had no right to seek custody of their child conceived through assisted reproduction. The court cited Pavan in ruling for the nonbiological mother’s parenthood.
Two similar cases are pending decisions in their respective state supreme courts, Turner v. Steiner in Arizona and Strickland v. Day in Mississippi. Cathy Sakimura, family law director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), told me in July that “Pavan requires states to apply all the benefits of marriage equally to same-sex spouses, including questions about parental rights, so it has a huge impact on these pending cases.” Here’s hoping.
In a win that didn’t cite Pavan, though, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled in December in favor of Sarah Sinnott, a mom whose former partner sought to stop her from seeing their daughter. The partner had only legally adopted the girl, although they were raising her together. The couple was not married, and a lower court had said Vermont law only recognized parentage by married parents or those with a genetic connection to the child. Luckily, the state’s highest court disagreed.
Three same-sex couples also finally won a case in the Nebraska Supreme Court in April that they had brought in 2013 against the state’s ban on “homosexuals” becoming foster parents. The ruling meant that gay men and lesbians could, in theory, now be treated equally in foster-care placements in all 50 states — but read on.
The biggest setback this year was the continued advancement of so-called “religious freedom” laws that allow child-placement agencies to discriminate against LGBT prospective parents and others if serving them conflicts with the agencies’ religious beliefs or moral convictions. Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota and Virginia had such laws already; in 2017, similar bills passed in Alabama, South Dakota and Texas. Some of these laws also allow agencies to refuse to serve certain children, to deny children services to which the agency objects or force them to undergo discredited “conversion therapy,” as the Human Rights Campaign detailed in a recent report.
Additionally, a bill introduced to the U.S. Congress in April, the “Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act,” would enshrine such laws on the federal level. An opposing bill, the “Every Child Deserves a Family Act,” would block them, but it likely stands no chance in this Congress, despite being an important sign of support for our families.
This year’s election also saw big wins for queer candidates — including several who are also parents and/or grandparents. They include Jenny Durkan, mayor of Seattle; Danica Roem, elected to the Virginia House of Delegates and the first transgender elected official in Virginia; and several others elected to city councils and school boards. Kudos to them.
Representation of LGBT families in the media also continued to move forward. In August, Disney Junior featured its first two-mom family on the award-winning “Doc McStuffins.” Creator and executive producer Chris Nee, a lesbian mom, named the characters after Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer, the women at the heart of the U.S. Supreme Court Windsor decision that revoked part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Their (fictional) kids were named for queer icons Gertrude Stein and Brandon Teena.
LGBT parents also were represented in several advertisements and catalogs from major brands this year, including Target and the Gap, with two moms; Google Home, with two dads; and Vicks India and Baby Dove, with transgender moms. Campbell’s V8+Energy Drink also sponsored a video on Pop Sugar from the two-mom family behind the video blog Team2Moms.
In other media coverage, spouses and dads Ben and Daniel Bowman were part of PeopleTV’s Family Portrait video series on “the diversity of modern families” in November. And this month, the Good Housekeeping website ran a profile of Casey Brown, a non-binary blogger and parent. If this venerable publication (which my grandmother reads) is publishing such content, I think queer parents are definitely making strides in visibility and acceptance.
Will these steps forward in representation be enough to counterbalance the efforts of those who oppose us? Stay tuned for 2018.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.