Did 2014 bring LGBTQ parents and our children closer to equality? Most visibly, it was the year that marriage equality spread to most of the United States — a great thing for many families, but certainly not all that happened.
Marriage, of course, opened up legal and financial benefits, as well as a sense of fairness and inclusion, to tens of thousands of children being raised by same-sex couples. It also brought with it an expansion of parenting rights in some states. In Virginia, for example, married same-sex couples may now do second-parent adoptions or jointly adopt. Utah and North Carolina will now issue amended birth certificates to same-sex couples wanting second-parent adoptions.
We should remember, however, that marriage and parental rights are not identical. Different-sex parents do not need to be married in order to be recognized as legal parents, and neither should same-sex parents. The Idaho Supreme Court recognized this in February, before marriage equality became legal there in October, when it ruled that a person can petition for a second-parent adoption even if the two adults are not married.
Parents gave back to the marriage-equality struggle too. Many of the plaintiffs in the marriage-equality cases were parents, and most of the judges in those cases weighed the interests of children very heavily. Many cited a passage from the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2013 Windsor decision noting that marriage inequality “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples” and “makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.”
The Seventh Circuit’s Richard Posner focused clearly on this angle, writing that, while the cases were formally about discrimination, “at a deeper level … they are about the welfare of American children.”
He then gave us the snarkiest statement from any marriage case this year: “The only rationale that the states put forth with any conviction — that same-sex couples and their children don’t need marriage because same-sex couples can’t produce children, intended or unintended — is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously … Heterosexuals get drunk and pregnant, producing unwanted children; their reward is to be allowed to marry. Homosexual couples do not produce unwanted children; their reward is to be denied the right to marry. Go figure.”
The most personal passage in a 2014 marriage ruling, however, came from U.S. District Court Judge Michael McShane in Oregon, himself a gay dad. He wrote: “I believe that if we can look for a moment past gender and sexuality, we can see in these plaintiffs nothing more or less than our own families. Families who we would expect our Constitution to protect, if not exalt, in equal measure. With discernment, we see not shadows lurking in closets or the stereotypes of what was once believed; rather, we see families committed to the common purpose of love, devotion and service to the greater community.”
He then offered this inspiration: “Where will this all lead? I know that many suggest we are going down a slippery slope that will have no moral boundaries. To those who truly harbor such fears, I can only say this: Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other … and rise.”
Marriage aside, we should not forget other types of cases that impacted our families. The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled in July, for example, in the case of a biological mother trying to deny parental rights to a former partner — a type of case we have seen too many of over the years. The court ruled that a non-biological mother is the legal parent of her daughter, and has the right to seek custody after a breakup.
All was not progress, however. A lesbian teacher at an all-girls Catholic school in Michigan said she was fired in August when the school cited a policy permitting firing over “lifestyle or actions directly contradictory to the Catholic faith.” School administrators were concerned that her pregnancy through assisted reproduction was “non-traditional,” she said. Ironic for a church founded on a non-traditional pregnancy.
And in a puzzling decision, Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court Judge Margarita López Torres ruled in January that a married two-mom couple were already both legal parents to their child, so the non-biological mother could not do a second-parent adoption. Second-parent adoptions, however, are recommended by most LGBTQ family-law experts even for married couples, since they give a non-biological parent and child a more secure legal connection in jurisdictions that don’t recognize the parents’ marriage.
This past year was also a good year for mainstream visibility. Iconic brands Coca-Cola and Chevrolet featured gay dads in television commercials during the Olympics. Honey Maid (Nabisco), Marriott, Starbucks, Target and General Mills Canada also ran commercials or online video campaigns featuring same-sex parents.
On the screen, the Amazon Web series “Transparent” gave us the story of an older parent coming out as transgender — and has been nominated for two Golden Globe awards. ABC comedy “Modern Family” continues to show us gay dads as part of a wider network of extended family, and ABC Family’s “The Fosters” remains a compelling drama about a two-mom family, with appeal to both parents and teens.
All in all, then, it was a pretty good year for both LGBTQ family rights and visibility, though weighted towards the same-sex parents among us. It sets the stage for an even more impressive 2015.