“It is same-sex parenting that is heating up as the next skirmish in the nation’s culture wars,” asserted the Chicago Tribune (Dec. 3, 2008), referring to the recent Arkansas ban on unmarried people (and, by definition, lesbian and gay people) fostering or adopting children. For many of us, however, the fight for our families’ rights is an ongoing battle rather than an upcoming skirmish. Let us look back, then, at some of the other major events of 2008 that defined this conflict.
California’s Proposition 8, of course, overshadowed all other LGBT news this year. It was not strictly a parenting issue, but the Yes on 8 campaign made huge strides by falsely stating that if marriage for same-sex couples remained legal, schools would be required to teach children about such marriages as early as kindergarten. Even though the right never quite defined why this would be a bad thing, the result was that 68 percent of married voters with children under 18 voted for Prop. 8, according to CNN exit polls, versus 45 percent of those without.
Prop. 8’s passage also led to numerous reports of the children of same-sex parents wondering if their families would now be split apart. On the other side of the country, the New Jersey Civil Union Commission found similar fears. In its final report to the state this month, it cited many teen and adult children of same-sex parents who spoke of the stigma they feel because their parents can’t marry, the worry that someone will break up their family and the fear of bullying. Professional psychologists backed up their stories. The New Jersey government has yet to act on the report; regardless, it will stand as a significant codification of the impact of inequality on children.
On a brighter note, the New York State Health Department asserted that same-sex couples who marry out of state but bear children in New York may now list both their names on their children’s birth certificates. (LGBT legal experts recommend, however, that non-biological parents still do a second-parent adoption to ensure recognition out of state.)
Another major sign of progress was the Florida court ruling that the state ban on adoption by lesbian and gay people was unconstitutional. The decision meant that the two boys fostered by plaintiff Frank Martin Gill for the last four years are now his legally adopted sons. The case is being appealed by the state, however, so although Gill’s sons cannot now be taken away, the fate of other foster children in the care of lesbian and gay people is less clear. It should also be noted that Gill has been parenting with his partner of eight years, but they decided to pursue an adoption only for Gill, afraid that a joint adoption attempt would be more likely to fail. Progress happens in stages.
Not at all progressive, however, was the decision by a West Virginia judge to try and remove a 1-year-old child from the care of the lesbian couple who had been fostering her since birth. He said she should instead be adopted by a married, opposite-sex couple. The women have appealed to the state Supreme Court, which has granted an emergency stay of the ruling, allowing the girl to remain, for the moment, with the only moms she has ever known.
The U.S. Supreme Court helped LGBT families this year mainly by refusing to hear a number of cases. In October, they rejected the appeal of two opposite-sex couples from Lexington, Mass., who claimed their school district violated their constitutional rights when it did not give them prior notice before including LGBT-inclusive books like “King & King” in their children’s elementary-school curriculum. Still standing, therefore, is the circuit-court ruling that said public schools are not required to shield students from ideas that could be religiously offensive, especially if they do not require the students to agree.
The U.S. Supreme Court also refused the case of a Kansas man who had donated sperm to a lesbian and claimed she had said he could be a full parent to her children. The man then asked the Kansas Supreme Court to overturn a state statute denying donors parenthood without written agreement. They ruled against him. By refusing the case, the U.S. Supreme Court leaves other states free to proceed with new laws stating that a sperm donor is not a parent unless all parties agree in writing, as LGBT family-law expert Nancy Polikoff noted on her blog (beyondstraightandgaymarriage.blogspot.com, Oct. 6, 2008).
Finally, the Supreme Court refused the appeal of “ex-lesbian” mom Lisa Miller, letting stand a ruling that Virginia must enforce a Vermont court order awarding child-visitation rights to Miller’s former civil-union partner, Janet Jenkins. Good news for Jenkins, although Miller continues to deny her visitation, as reported by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD newsletter; Dec. 17, 2008).
Looking forward into 2009, expect action around a new federal rule enacted by the Bush administration last week, which allows federal officials to cut off federal funding for health organizations that do not allow employees to refuse to provide services that they feel violate their personal, moral or religious beliefs. This would include reproductive services to lesbians or other unmarried women, hormone prescriptions for transgender people, abortions and birth control.
So 2008 was a year of political ups and downs. We must measure it not only by politics, but also by our children’s development and our own growth as parents. I hope that in this sense, at least, 2008 was a good year for all of you.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (www.mombian.com), a blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.