The fight for same-sex parenting in Pennsylvania is not over

The fight for same-sex parenting in Pennsylvania is not over

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 Her bright blue eyes stared at me from across the fluorescently lit Target aisle. She had a bright pink bow wrapped around her bald head. Her little hands seemed to be reaching out to me. I ran down the aisle, carefully took her off the shelf, and ran to my mother. I cried and begged until my mother finally agreed to buy her for me. Doll in hand, I left Target feeling elated. 

Ever since the age of 5, I’ve always wanted to be a father. As I grew older, my aspiration to be a father remained steady. I would always take care of the children in the neighborhood, watching them in the park while their parents ran errands or taking them to a nearby ice-cream parlor. Every summer, I worked as a counselor at a children’s day camp. Throughout high school, I babysat nearly every weekend. As a gay individual, I still never doubted that I could become a father one day. I remember reading “And Tango Makes Three,” a children’s book about two male penguins who father a baby penguin, and thinking to myself, Even if I am gay, I can still have kids. I can still be a father.

On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Prior to this decision, same-sex marriage was already legal in 37 states along with Washington, D.C., yet it was banned in the remaining 13 states. I remember waking up to multiple notifications on my phone. I ran up to my sister and showed her the New York Times article: “Supreme Court Ruling Makes Same-Sex Marriage a Right Nationwide.” We then proceeded to dance around the room gleefully. With the legalization of same-sex marriage, many assumed that same-sex parenting was no longer an issue. If gay men and women can marry, can’t they by nature have children as well? The answer is, not exactly. 

Research from the Williams Institute at UCLA shows that lesbian women and gay men are much more likely than heterosexual men and women to be raising non-biological children. Henceforth, adoption is very popular among same-sex couples. Since 2010, no state in the United States has had a categorical ban on gay adoption. However, many states still use individuals’ sexual orientation to deny custody, adoption and foster care — though they may claim that their refusal is based upon another factor. Only seven states prohibit discrimination in adoption based on sexual orientation. Furthermore, three states allow state-licensed child-welfare agencies to refuse to place and provide services to LGBT children and families if doing so conflicts with their religious beliefs. In relation to foster care, 41 states are silent on fostering by LGBT parents, and only eight states support fostering by LGBT parents. Nebraska is the only state to openly restrict fostering by LGBT parents. 

Movement Advancement Project (MAP) released a report last year concerning the laws and policies related to LGBT people in all 50 states. Upon examination, MAP devised a policy tally for each state and grouped all 50 states into four categories: negative equality, low equality, medium equality and high equality. Our very own state of Pennsylvania scored “medium equality” with a tally of 10.5/38.5. Meanwhile, both New Jersey and New York scored “high equality.”

In Pennsylvania, there is no law that protects prospective LGBT adoptive and foster parents from discrimination. In other words, a biological mother who is putting her child up for adoption can refuse to give her children to an individual solely based on the prospective parent’s sexual orientation. Additionally, Pennsylvanian LGBT parents struggle with state family-leave laws that allow workers to care for their new children. Employees in Pennsylvania may typically take up to 12 weeks of leave to bond with their new child. Pennsylvania entirely lacks a family-leave law that protects LGBT parents. Therefore, an LGBT parent may be denied this right.

Now, I implore you to fight for our rights. Contact our senators. Contact our representatives. Contact our governor. We deserve to have all the rights that heterosexual parents have. Nearly all of the scholarly studies in existence conclude that there are no discernable differences between the well being of children raised in same-sex families versus those raised in heterosexual families. “I want you to know that I think my family is great, so why don’t you people just stop all this hate?” asked Hannah Jurs-Allen, daughter of two lesbian mothers. The fight is not over. We must continue fighting for equality. 

Yoav Varadi is a first-year in the Joint Program between the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University. He was born in Jerusalem, Israel, and now resides in Cherry Hill, N.J.

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