(OPINION): 2013 was a banner year in terms of LGBT rights being brought to the forefront of the national and international consciousness. On the international level, the dramas unfolding in Russia, Uganda, and India are shedding light on how far some places in the world need to come. In contrast, the US Supreme Court’s dealing with DOMA in June and the recent stampede of states joining the ranks of those already on the right side of marriage equality are worth celebrating. The American LGBT family has much to be pleased about.
2013 ended with 18 states and the District of Columbia recognizing same-sex marriage in some form, and while 18 is a far cry from 50, let’s not forget that those 18 states account for 228 electoral votes and 123 million people which is almost 40% of our population. (Oregon, Nevada, Wisconsin and Colorado, which account for another 32 electoral votes and 17.5 million residents, recognize civil unions, domestic partnerships or other legal status for same-sex couples.)
Also this year, President Obama included LGBT families (specifically same-sex parents) in his National Family Week proclamation: “Whether united by blood or bonds of kinship — whether led by a mother and father, same-sex couples, single parent, or guardian — families are the building blocks of American society,” This might not seem like a big deal, but it paves the way for full equality for non traditional families. With marriage equality quickly becoming a foregone conclusion, the LGBT family unit is the next, connected, battlefield.
There is a fair bit of good news already. In October, California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, signed legislation that allows more than two people to be a child’s legal parents. The bill was passed in reaction to In re M.C., a 2011 case where two women and one man each seemed to meet the criteria to be the legal parent of the same child. While the legislative ruling was narrow in that it states specifically that the purpose of new bill was to abrogate the previous appellate ruling, it does open up the possibility of more than two legal parents if/when a court deems that limiting the number of adults with legal ties to the child would be detrimental to the child. The bill also paves the way for polyandrous families (who are often a part of the LGBT community) to have an easier time in terms of rights and responsibilities.
Also in October, Governor Brown signed a bill that bans discrimination by health insurers offering fertility coverage. The new law, AB460, amends the state’s Insurance Code to prohibit insurers from withholding coverage for most fertility treatments based on “age, ancestry, color, disability, domestic partner status, gender, gender expression, gender identity, genetic information, marital status, national origin, sex or sexual orientation.”
But California isn’t alone. Back in February, both Kansas and Massachusetts took on the subject of non-biological parenting rights. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that a non-biological parent has the right to seek custody, and. the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled that same-sex couples who marry and have a child through artificial insemination are subject to the same child custody laws as heterosexual couples.
More recently, the ColoradoCourt of Appeals in December ruled that in the context of a same-sex relationship, a child may have two mothers – a biological mother and a presumed mother. Furthermore, the Court held that the presumed mother may petition the court for a designation of legal parentage under the Uniform Parentage Act. This is a mixed victory as gay fathers still have an uphill battle… but in terms of precedent and roads being paved, this is a huge win.
Cases like those above are why adoption rights are one of the focused 2014 goals of many LGBT advocacy groups, including the Family Equality Council. Emily Hecht-McGowan, the current director of the FEC, recently told The Advocate, “In the vast majority of states, LGBTQ parents still face barriers in creating families. Even when a same-gender couple is already raising children together and they are functioning as a complete family unit, in most states the second parent is unable to create a legal relationship with their own children because of the inability to do a second-parent adoption... [W]e are working at the state level to advance a handful of LGBTQ-inclusive adoption and surrogacy bills.”
At the federal level, the FEC has a bill, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which would prohibit any public child welfare agency receiving federal financial assistance, (which they all do) from discriminating against any potential foster or adoptive family on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. In addition, ECDFA prevents discrimination against any foster youth because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The Act was introduced to Congress back in May and has been “referred to committee”… which doesn’t bode well.
2013 saw great leaps forward, 2014 promises to be just as significant.
By Kaylia Metcalfe