A few weeks ago, I was in Chesterfield County Circuit Court with a church member and her family. The case concerned her rights to visitation with the daughter she and her previous partner had birthed and raised for the child’s first six years (the girl is now 10).
The partner is the birth mother and therefore is recognized under Virginia law as the mother- the only mother. And she seems to be resisting visitation by the church member I was there to support. All this is troubling enough. But the distress I was feeling was exacerbated by words that the judge kept repeating: “You know, Ms. F——, you are not a parent.”
Of course, that is not true. Legally, she is not recognized as a parent, but that does not make her a non-parent. It makes her a parent without legal rights.
The pain of all this is excruciating. And it happens too often in Virginia, and elsewhere. As usual, the law lags behind social changes.
But I continue to believe that we will break down the walls and move on to better times—not only in this situation but also in the larger matter of re-thinking families so that all of them are protected.
One reason I have hope is a new book by Joe Cobb and Leigh Anne Taylor, Our Family Outing: A Memoir of Coming Out and Coming Through. In it, they explore Joe’s struggle with his sexuality, his coming out, their divorce, the changes for them in church and family, and their new-found sense of family–where Leigh Anne, now married to Hugh, is the godmother to JJ, the son born to Joe and his husband, James.
The book is a lovingly honest portrayal of what it means to remain family in the midst of extraordinary strains—providing hope for the continuing evolution of understandings of family that move us beyond bloodlines, laws, and rigid religious rules.
Joe and Leigh Anne model for us the truth of today’s families. There just is a lot of creativity going on, in response to all sorts of modern and post-modern pressures and changes. And the crazy part about it is that much of this creativity has been going on a long time. The African-American community has created endless variations on family, based on who is available to care for each other in the face of slavery, Jim Crow and socially mandated and brutally enforced poverty, imprisonment, and early death.
But, as a culture, we have bought into “Father Knows Best” versions of the family and denied other versions—not their existence so much as their worth and validity.
By the way, they are deeply religious people. Joe is a former pastor in the United Methodist Church, now serving as Pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of the Blue Ridge, and Leigh Anne is a deacon in the Virginia Methodist Conference and Minister of Music at Blacksburg United Methodist Church.
That is one of the missions of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia: to overcome this cultural and religious myopia and repression, and to promote the well-being of ALL Virginia’s (and the nation’s) families.
One way you can support this mission is to participate in one or more of the three events in Richmond this next weekend at which Joe and Leigh Anne will speak, and read from the book. There is no charge for any of them.
- Friday, April 20, 12:30, lunch with pastors and other religious and community leaders, MCCRVA Celebration Hall; reservation required—email me at RevRobinG@MCCRichmond.org
- Saturday, April 21, 10:00 a.m. – 12 noon, Brunch at Centenary Methodist Church, 411, E. Grace St. (near the state capitol)
- Book reading and signing at Barnes & Noble at Libby Place, 5501 W. Broad St., at 1:00 p.m.
Here is a note about what fuels my hope. Centenary United Methodist Church, where they will speak on Saturday, is part of the larger United Methodist Church from which Joe had to leave in order to maintain his integrity. Centenary is a flagship congregation—the first, and so far only, UMC congregation in Virginia to have gone through the lengthy congregational process to become part of the Reconciling Ministries network.
God is at work. Can we not help God?
Rev. Dr. Robin H. Gorsline is President of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia, an interfaith organization of gay and straight clergy and lay people working for equality for LGBT Virginians. Read more of his thoughts on faith and spirituality on his personal blog.
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