First, two heroes:
Lesbian mom Janice Langbehn in October received the 2011 Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian honor. In 2007, Langbehn was denied access to her partner Lisa Pond, who lay dying in a Florida hospital. The couple’s three children were kept from Pond as well. Her story helped motivate President Obama to revise hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples.
Iowa college student Zach Wahls shot to fame in February when at an Iowa House hearing, he spoke eloquently about his two moms and against a bill that would ban marriage for same-sex couples. A video of his speech became a YouTube hit. Then, in November, progressive organization MoveOn.org reposted the video — and the reposting gained over 600,000 new Facebook shares, Likes and comments in less than 24 hours. The video has now garnered almost 2.5-million YouTube views in total. Wahls is clearly striking a chord.
Legislation also advanced, both federally and in some states.
The Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which would ban discrimination against LGBT parents in adoption or foster-care placement, was reintroduced in the House by Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) in May and introduced for the first time in the Senate by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in November. It looks unlikely to move this session, but has gained 86 House sponsors — more than double the number it had last session — and eight Senate sponsors, indicating that support is growing.
In May, Washington state enacted a version of the Uniform Parentage Act that gives registered domestic partners the same rights as opposite-sex spouses. Among other provisions, it presumes people in a domestic partnership are both the parents of a child born to one of them. Equally important, said LGBT family-law expert Nancy Polikoff in her blog, is the fact that nonbiological parents will also be recognized if they live with the child and hold the child out as their own, even if they are not married or in a domestic partnership with the biological parent (beyondstraightandgaymarriage.blogspot.com).
And in August, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the Protection of Parent-Child Relationships Act. The statute will prevent sperm donors from signing a “voluntary declaration of paternity” with the biological mother and denying the nonbiological mother legal parenthood.
Same-sex couples racked up some wins in court as well.
Most significantly, the Arkansas Supreme Court in April unanimously agreed with a lower court ruling that struck down the state’s ban on adoption and foster parenting by unmarried couples — by definition, all same-sex couples in the state.
In March, the Delaware Supreme Court ruled that Carol Guest (a court pseudonym) was the “de facto” parent of a child she had been raising with her former partner, Lynn Smith. Smith was the only one to adopt the child because the child was from Kazakhstan, which does not allow two women to adopt jointly. The case had been through the courts once already, and Guest had been denied custody under the state law that defined who may be considered a parent. The legislature, motivated by the case, amended the law to include “de facto” parents. Guest was then granted custody, but Smith continued to challenge her, which precipitated the March state Supreme Court ruling in Guest’s favor.
As evidenced by that case, some of the most contentious issues involving LGBT parents come when a biological or adoptive parent tries to deny custody to the other, using a legal system that does not always recognize both parents’ rights. Guidelines released in September from Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and NCLR’s National Family Law Advisory Council are designed to stop that. They ask parents and lawyers to honor the relationships between children and their nonbiological parents, even when the law does not, and to seek conflict-free custody resolutions. Parents and lawyers can sign pledges to that effect at glad.org/protecting-families.
A number of organizations also released major new reports on LGBT parents and our children.
“All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families” details the demographics of LGBT families across America and the legal obstacles they face. It makes a compelling case for how current inequalities harm children, and what we need to do to create positive change. Seasoned with charts and personal stories, this will become a go-to reference for advocates, politicians, the media and the families themselves. The report was prepared by the Center for American Progress, the Family Equality Council and the Movement Advancement Project, in partnership with several other groups.
And “Expanding Resources for Children III: Research-Based Best Practices in Adoption by Gays and Lesbians,” by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, compiles previous information, incorporates findings from new studies and makes recommendations for policy and practice changes to benefit the more than 115,000 children who need permanent homes.
There were plenty of other successes this year that will have a positive impact on LGBT parents and our children, including repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the enactment of marriage equality in New York. My intent here is to celebrate the parenting-specific ones, not to lessen the others.
May 2012 bring more joys, both personal and political, for our families.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (www.mombian.com), a blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.