The Gray Of Parental Rights For Same-Sex Couples
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles by Annie Tobey regarding a high-profile parental rights case in Richmond. Tobey has agreed to cover this case from the point of view of the biological mother. However, she has approached the case with an open mind, vetted the mother and her story, and firmly believes in the justice of maintaining the mother’s parental rights.
When it comes to legal rights in the United States, the land of the free, members of the LGBT community are often treated like second-class citizens. Using fuzzy standards—from majority opinion, entrenched religions, or “the way it’s always been”—too many citizens and leaders deprive gays of legitimate protections of the law, ignoring objective standards and overlooking American ideals like individual rights.
This is especially apparent in family matters. Only a few states allow legal civil unions for gays, and the rights of same-sex parents are similarly mixed. Most single gays and lesbians can find creative means of becoming parents, through surrogacy, adoption, or assisted reproduction, but becoming a two-parent family is more challenging. If a lesbian bears a child while joined in a legal union, both partners may be legally considered to be the parents, however, only about half of states permit an unmarried same-sex partner to gain the legal status of parent through a second-party adoption. In other states, co-parenting agreements provide a small measure of security, though they don’t hold the same legal import as adoption does.
Besides the emotional importance of official commitments, the practical legal ramifications are major. When a same-sex couple is raising a child, one adult may not have access to school records or authorization to make medical decisions. When a relationship goes south and visitation and custody become issues, gay parents are treading on shifting grounds.
Contentious court battles have raised the ire of many activists, who are already incensed at discrimination against gays. As recently as 1993, a Henrico County, Virginia court took custody away from Sharon Bottoms because she was lesbian. Sharon was eventually allowed limited visitation, but her girlfriend was forbidden to have contact with the boy. Other battles throughout the nation have pitted biological mothers against their former partners as they argued over custody and visitation. Knowing that same-sex couples can’t become natural co-parents and that the legal deck is stacked against them, gay rights activists jump easily to the side of these non-biological parents.
In a well-known Virginia case, biological mother Lisa Miller came to the commonwealth and converted from her “evil ways” by denouncing homosexuality. She used the courts to wrest custody of the daughter from her former partner, Janet Jenkins, despite the fact that the two had been joined in a Vermont civil union and that they had planned the child together. The courts initially sided with Miller, but after more legal battles (read, “time, money, and emotional turmoil,” which affects the child as well as the adults), Jenkins got custody. Now, however, Miller has run off with the girl.
In New York, biological mother Janice R. refused to draw up second-parent adoption papers for Debra H. for the son that had been born a month after they were wed in Vermont. Since the baby had been conceived through in vitro fertilization before the marriage, Janice claimed sole parental rights. When they parted ways, Janice R. eventually denied visitation to Debra H., but the courts awarded Debra H. parental rights because of the Vermont union. Again, though, the decision took extensive legal battles (so again read, “time, money, and emotional turmoil”).
Also in Virginia, biological mother Stadter fought Siperko. The two women had agreed to have a child through artificial insemination; they shared prenatal responsibilities and expenses and parenting responsibilities; but they did not enter any agreement concerning Siperko’s parental rights. The first judge awarded the girlfriend temporary, supervised visitation; the circuit court overturned that decision, on grounds it wasn’t apparent that the child would suffer actual harm if visitation were not awarded, a decision that the Court of Appeals affirmed. In the end, Siperko lost the case, and both went through extensive legal battles (yes, you know, “time, money, and emotional turmoil”).
The dramas continue. In Ohio, T.L. and D.F. had entered into a court-approved joint custody agreement of their child, but when they separated, D.F. began to prevent T.L. from seeing their child. Another couple, L.E. and K.R., had two children, each child conceived while the couple was together, each woman carrying one of the children, and each adopting the other’s child through a second-parent adoption. After they ended their relationship, K.R. cut off contact.
One can’t help but wonder about the cases that never made it to court—despite who was in the right—because the parties did not have enough time, money, or emotional resources to fight.
Tomorrow — the recent high-profile case of Kelly Decker and her five-year-old daughter.
Annie Tobey is a freelance writer and editor living in Richmond, Virginia. For six years, she’s shared her philosophical passions through V Magazine for Women, combining love for life, the diversity of women, and a celebration of success in all its forms, on the printed page and online, now at www.MyVMagazine.com. She also shares her joie de vivre as a travel writer at www.ActiveWomanTraveler.com. She welcomes freelance opportunities for writing and editing, helping businesses present a polished written message that builds a quality brand. Contact her at email@example.com.
On Wednesday, the NBA released its first collection of LGBTQ Pride teeshirts featuring the logos of all 30 pro basketball teams. The line is a collaboration between the basketball league, the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and TeeSpring and was released in celebration of LGBTQ Pride Month. This is the first time an [...]June 9, 2016
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