March is coming in like the proverbial lion with a wave of good news for LGBTQ families.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed a bill Feb. 19, expanding the state’s paid family-leave law in a number of ways, including by expanding the definition of “family” to include chosen families and expanding the definition of “parent” to include foster parents and those who become parents via gestational surrogacy.
“New Jersey is now the first state in the nation to offer paid family leave that is inclusive of all families,” according to the Center for American Progress, which also observed in a statement, “Making paid leave available to chosen family is especially important to LGBTQ people and people with disabilities, as they are disproportionately likely to need time off to care for chosen family.”
A bill also passed the New York Assembly Judiciary Committee Feb. 27, that would more effectively protect families created through assisted reproductive technologies. The Child-Parent Security Act would legalize gestational surrogacy in the state and simplify the procedure for securing the legal rights of nonbiological parents. It has yet to pass the full Assembly and Senate, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has expressed his support.
And in Virginia, the General Assembly on Feb. 22, passed an update to its surrogacy laws that will now give same-sex couples and single parents the same rights as different-sex couples. The legislation, known as Jacob’s Law, is named after the son of two dads who had to fight for their rights to him after he was born with the help of a surrogate. A Virginia court had refused to recognize their Wisconsin surrogate contract, precipitating a long legal battle.
On the federal level, Judge John F. Walter of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Feb. 21, recognized the birthright citizenship of Ethan Dvash-Banks, the son of Andrew Dvash-Banks, a U.S. citizen, and his Israeli husband Elad Dvash-Banks. Two-year-old Ethan was previously denied recognition of his citizenship — even though his twin brother was granted it. Andrew and Elad had met while Andrew was studying in Israel. They could not live together in the United States because the Defense of Marriage Act (struck down in 2015) was still in place. Instead, they married and settled in Canada, where they had twin sons through surrogacy. When they sought recognition of the twins’ U.S. citizenship, the State Department demanded DNA tests and other documentation of their biological relationships to the boys, even though the law imposes no biological requirement, according to LGBTQ rights organization Immigration Equality. Because one child was conceived with the sperm of one father and the other child with the sperm of the other father, however, the State Department said one was a U.S. citizen while the other was not.
Judge Walter, however, ruled that Ethan is indeed a birthright citizen of the United States. Because this was a clear statutory ruling, however, he did not decide on the constitutional issue the fathers had raised, namely, that the State Department’s policy “violates the due process guarantee of the Fifth Amendment by infringing on the fundamental right of same-sex couples to marry.”
That means that at least one other family, that of U.S. citizen Allison Blixt and her spouse Stefania Zaccari, an Italian citizen, must continue to fight for their children’s right to be U.S. citizens. Like the Dvash-Banks couple, the women married abroad while the Defense of Marriage Act was still in effect, and then had two sons, Lucas and Massi. The U.S. State Department refused to recognize their marriage and said that Massi was Allison’s son because she had given birth to him, but Lucas, who was carried by Stefania, was not. It thus has refused to recognize Lucas’ citizenship. The Dvash-Banks victory is a step forward, but not the end of the story.
In news from abroad, France’s National Assembly passed legislation Feb. 19, that will require schools to use “Parent 1” and “Parent 2” on all school forms, instead of “Mother” and “Father,” in order to recognize the variety of families today. Any queer parent (in France or elsewhere) who has had to cross out and write in the appropriate parental titles on a school form will likely applaud the measure.
In business news, mega-corporations Samsung and AT&T in February each unveiled commercials featuring same-sex parents — and in both cases, the parents’ queerness was not the focus of the ad. AT&T’s ad touts the idea that “just OK is not OK” in either babysitters or wireless networks. It shows a two-dad couple realizing that their babysitter’s assertion “I’m pretty OK with children” means she doesn’t really have the childcare skills they want in a sitter. Samsung’s ad, which ran during the Academy Awards, among other times, shows two women, one of whom is pregnant, lying in bed viewing an ultrasound on their phone. It’s part of a longer commercial showing people using Samsung products, which ends by displaying the text “What we create today lets you create the future.” Kudos to both companies for showing that same-sex parents are simply a part of today’s society.
This flurry of good news should not blind us to the significant challenges that remain for LGBTQ families, but I hope it reminds us that we can still make progress, even in difficult times.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.