Virginia Appeals Court Gives Full Faith and Credit to North Carolina Custody Order for Gay Dads

 

 

Arthur Leonard – Lesbian and gay Lawnotes, December 2009

 

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals of Virginia ruled on November 24 that the Fairfax Juvenile and DomesticRelations District Court had properly accorded full faith and credit, as required by the U.S. Constitution, to a North Carolina judicial decision awarding primary legal and residential custody of a child to two gay men (who are registered California domestic partners). Prashad v. Copeland & Spivey, 2009 WL 4030852. Still pending before the Deomstic Relations Court is a demand by the woman who served as surrogate mother for the child that the North Carolina custody ruling be modified to give her sole custody. One of the judges on the Court of Appeals argued in dissent that the case was not properly before the court for review on the merits.

 

In September 2003, Roberto-Luis Copeland and Philip Spivey contracted in Minnesota with Tanya Prashad, a married woman, for her to be a surrogate mother of their child. Copeland and Spivey both donated sperm that was mixed together to inseminate Prashad, and their child, identified by the court as A.C.C., was born in Minnesota in August 2004. No DNA test was done to determinate who was the father, and Copeland was named on the birth certificate. A few days after A.C.C. was born, the two men moved with A.C.C. to North Carolina. Prashad visited the child in North Carolina with the consent of the fathers, but the relationship deteriorated and after February 2005 the fathers refused to allow further contact.

 

Prashad and her husband traveled to NorthCarolina in April 2005, intending to take A.C.C. away from the fathers and bring the child back to Minnesota. A confrontation ensued in which the fathers refused to let Prashad see the child, and the fathers left with the child for California, where Copeland and Spivey registered as domestic partners. After staying in California for a time, they returned to North Carolina with A.C.C.

 

While they were living in North Carolina, Prashad filed an action against Copeland in the North Carolina Justice Court in Gaston County, seeking an award of custody and an order compelling the men to submit to DNA testing to determine A.C.C.’s biological father. The court ordered the test, and Spivey was determined to be the biological father. Spivey then moved to intervene as a party in the custody proceeding.  The North Carolina court determined that it had jurisdiction over the case because the two men and A.C.C. were legal residents of the state.

Sorting out the situation, the North Carolina trial court decided that both Spivey and Copeland should be parties to the case, Spivey as biological father, and Copeland as the person who was listed on the birth certificate and had actually served as A.C.C.‘s father since her birth. The court did not use the term “de facto father,” but that is essentially how it treated Copeland in allowing him to be a party. The court then approved a written agreement signed by Spivey, Copeland and Prashad, under which Copeland and Spivey were awarded primary legal and physical custody of A.C.C., and Prashad was awarded secondary legal and physical custody.

Copeland and Spivey then moved with A.C.C. to Fairfax County,Virginia. Seizing upon Virginia’s legal hostility to same-sex couples (evidence by having adopted both a statute and a constitutional amendment banning recognition of same-sex marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships), Prashad filed petitions in the Fairfax Juvenile Court, seeking to have the North Carolina custody judgment registered with the court but with Copeland omitted as a parent, and also seeking custody of A.C.C.  She specifically asked the court to exclude Copeland from having any parental rights, arguing that any acknowledgment of Copeland as a parent was an implicit recognition of the relationship between Copeland and Spivey in violation of Virginia law. Prashad also filed a petition to modify the North Carolina judgment so as to give her sole legal and physical custody of A.C.C.

On March 12, 2008, the Fairfax court registered the North Carolina court orders in their totality, declining Prashad‘s demand to exclude Copeland. Prashad appealed this decision to the Fairfax County Circuit Court, which affirmed, and then she took her appeal to the Virginia Court of Appeals, which also affirmed.  The majority of the Court of Appeals panel ruled in an opinion by Judge Cleo E. Powell that under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Virginia courts are obligated to recognize and enforce judicial orders concerning custody and jurisdiction of children that are issued by courts of other states that had proper jurisdiction over the parties and the subject matter of the case. Since Copeland, Spivey and the child were residents of North Carolina at the time the custody agreement was embodied in a court order there, the Juvenile Court properly registered it without any modification.  The Court of Appeals made clear that its decision only concerned the registration of the North Carolina custody and visitation orders, pointing out that all the discussion in the appeal raised by Prashad about “homosexual marriage” and “same-sex relationships,” was irrelevant in the court‘s eyes to the specific issue that was being appealed.

The court also discussed the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, which was intended to avoid “jurisdictional competition and conflict between State courts” by making clear that courts must respect custody decrees by “sister states.” The court also noted that Virginia had adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, which requires Virginia courts to “recognize and enforce” child custody determinations by the courts of other states. The court found that all the requirements of this statute were met by the North Carolina custody order.

Finally, the court found that the Virginia Marriage Amendment and the anti-same-sex marriage statute were essentially irrelevant to the issue of registering the North Carolina custody order because, as Judge Powell pointed out, “neither party is asking the Court to recognize Copeland and Spivey‘s relationship.” Furthermore, the North Carolina court, in determining that Copeland should be part of the custody proceeding there, had based this determination on Copeland’s long-standing relationship with the child, and not in any way on Copeland‘ s relationship with Spivey. As such, the Virginia amendment and statute were not implicated.  This ruling does not end the matter, of course, because still pending before the Fairfax Juvenile Court is Prashad‘s separate petition to modify the custody award to give her sole legal and physical custody. In a long and technical dissent, one member of the court held that the appeal was not properly before the court because the Juvenile Court‘s order to register the North Carolina custody order was not a final order on the merits of the dispute between the parties, but merely a preliminary step that had to be accomplished before the Juvenile Court would address the merits of the modification petition. The dissenter did not state disagreement with the majority‘s analysis of the substantive legal issues concerning recognition of the North Carolina custody orders, but merely that the court should have denied the appeal without discussing those issues at this stage of the case.

Gregory R. Nevins, an attorney in Lambda Legal’s Atlanta Regional Office, represented Copeland and Spivey on the appeal, with participation of theACLUofVirginia and localVirginia counsel, Laurie Forbes. A.S.L.

Pennsylvania Court Orders Sperm Donor To Lesbian Couple To Pay Child Support?

11.23.2009

A sperm donor who helped a lesbian couple conceive two children is liable for child support under a state appellate court ruling that a legal expert believes might be the first of its kind in the U.S.
A Superior Court panel last week ordered a Dauphin County judge to establish how much Carl L. Frampton Jr. would have to pay to the birth mother of the 8-year-old boy and 7-year-old girl.
“I’m unaware of any other state appellate court that has found that a child has, simultaneously, three adults who are financially obligated to the child’s support and are also entitled to visitation,” said New York Law School professor Arthur S. Leonard, an expert on sexuality and the law.
But Frampton, 60, of Indiana, Pennsylvania, died suddenly of a stroke in March, leaving lawyers involved in the case with different theories about how his death may affect the precedent-setting case.
Jodilynn Jacob, 33, and Jennifer Lee Shultz-Jacob, 48, moved in together as a couple in 1996, and were granted a civil-union license in Vermont in 2002. In addition to conceiving the two children with the help of Frampton — a longtime friend of Shultz-Jacob’s — Jacob also adopted her brother’s two older children, now 12 and 13
But the women’s relationship fell apart, and Jacob and the children moved out of their Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, home in February 2006.
Shortly afterward, a court awarded her about $1,000 a month in support from Shultz-Jacob. Shultz-Jacob later lost an effort to have the court force Frampton to contribute support — a decision that the Superior Court overturned April 30.
Jacob, who now lives in Harrisburg, said Frampton provided some financial support over the years and gradually took a greater interest in the children.
“Part of the decision came down because he was so involved with them,” Jacob said Wednesday. “It wasn’t that he went to the (sperm) bank and that was it. They called him Papa.”
The process was very informal — Jacob was inseminated at home.
In his written opinion requiring Frampton to help pay for the child’s support, Superior Court Judge John T.J. Kelly Jr. noted that Frampton spent thousands of dollars on the children, including purchases of toys and clothing.
The children knew he was their biological father, but Frampton opposed the effort to compel support from him.
“We made the argument that, according to Pennsylvania law as it stands, there can really only be two adult individuals that can be held liable for support in a child-custody case,” said Frampton’s lawyer, Matthew Aaron Smith.
Shultz-Jacob’s lawyer, Heather Z. Reynosa, wants Frampton’s support obligation to be made retroactive to when Jacob first filed for support. Frampton’s Social Security survivor benefits may also help reduce Shultz-Jacob’s monthly obligation.
It is unclear how the child-support guidelines, which assume two parents, will be adapted to account for three parents.
“That’s what’s going to be interesting, because there’s not a whole lot of guidance out there,” Reynosa said.
The state Supreme Court is currently considering a similar case, in which a sperm donor wants to enforce a promise made by the mother that he would not have to be involved in the child’s life. That biological father was ordered to pay $1,520 in monthly support.
About two-thirds of states have adopted versions of the Uniform Parentage Act that can shield sperm donors from being forced to assume parenting responsibilities. Pennsylvania has no such law.

South Florida man at forefront of effort to legalize gay adoption

By Susan Spencer-Wendel Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

November 29, 2009
For Starbucks manager Steven Mayer, 29, it’s a dream: a gay man in Florida one day adopting a child.

He and his partner, together about a year now, are making plans to adopt in 10 years.

“We’re kind of hoping society will catch up by then,” Mayer said.

More than 32 years after its passage, Florida’s blanket ban on gay adoption stands as the last one left in the nation. After a few failed legal challenges, now comes a case that advocates of gay adoption have pinned their hopes and legal prowess on.

And opponents are digging in — including Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, whose current office is required to defend the law.

The case springs from Miami­-Dade County, considered one of the more liberal legal bastions in the state. A gay North Miami man, Martin Gill, asked a judge to adopt two boys, half-brothers whom he’s cared for as a foster parent for nearly five years, since they were 4 years old and 4 months old.

Seeking the ideal case to challenge the ban, lawyers for gay rights groups and the American Civil Liberties Union found it in Gill and the children. The boys live with Gill, a flight attendant, his partner of nine years and the partner’s own son. All the social workers monitoring the foster family agreed: The brothers thrived with Gill, and he would be approved for adoption but for the law, according to court records.

For years, gay people have been fostering children in need. In Palm Beach County, child welfare agencies began publicly soliciting for homosexual foster parents in 2001.

Social science debate

ACLU attorney Rob Rosenwald Jr. of Miami, who represents Gill, describes the case as “the most extensive legal challenge to the ban, presenting for the first time the world’s foremost scientific authorities on children’s welfare to demonstrate that gay households are as conducive to raising children as straight ones.”

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman agreed and approved Gill’s adoption of the boys. Concluding that sexual orientation is not a predictor of a person’s ability to parent, she declared the law unconstitutional.

An appeals court’s review of her decision could come at any time. If the 3rd District Court of Appeal concurs, the case would automatically move to consideration by the Florida Supreme Court — placing the hot-button topic of gay adoption at the forefront again.

“The Florida Supreme Court asked for a complete presentation of the science on parenting by gay people,” Rosenwald said. “We put together the nation’s best legal talent and the world’s most respected scientific experts in order to give the court what it wanted and finally overturn this shameful ban once and for all.”

A recent public opinion poll surveyed 1,370 Floridians on the subject in January. The Quinnipiac University poll found that Floridians oppose the ban on homosexual adoption 55 percent to 39 percent.

But public opinion and the law are two different planets, and judges are bound by the law.

In challenging Lederman’s ruling, McCollum’s attorneys, including Solicitor General Scott Makar and his deputy Timothy Osterhaus, are arguing that it is not in the best interests of children to be raised by homosexuals. In Osterhaus’ brief, he wrote that the social science experts on both sides of the legal battle have acknowledged that homosexuals have higher rates of psychiatric conditions, that their children are more sexually active and endure peer bullying, and their relationships appear less stable than those of heterosexuals.

They are thoughts not lost on Mayer.

“I appreciate the laws being so strict even though I am gay,” he said. “I understand. Most homosexuals that I personally know don’t have relationships longer than six months or a year.”

A fight within a fight

But influential organizations have joined the legal fight to argue that there is no difference in homosexual parenting on the adjustment of children. They include nationally recognized psychiatry, psychology, pediatrics, social work and child welfare groups.

A legal organization also is girded for battle — the 3,582-member Family Law section of the Florida Bar. The Bar’s Board of Governors unanimously voted to allow the voluntary-membership section to file a friend-of-the-court brief — spawning another legal battle. Liberty Counsel, a conservative, nonprofit litigation group, appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, attempting unsuccessfully to block the section’s involvement.

Attorney Scott Rubin of Miami, the Family Law section’s head during the decision-making, said the family lawyers wanted to make a statement: that it is in the best interest of Gill’s boys that they remain with Gill.

And that for other children like them, placed in good homes, the sexual orientation of the parent “should be of no moment.”

Soon after the Bar section’s entry, the vast opinion divide unfolded on the pages of the Florida Bar News — the fiery letters a reminder that before a legal opinion always comes a personal one in the debate over gay adoption.

“Thus, it is clear that God, the giver of law, hates the practice of homosexuality and His law and His will are to keep children and those practicing homosexuality apart,” wrote a longtime Leesburg attorney.

A Broward attorney contravened:

“Florida’s children deserve good parents and if they happen to be gay — so what? It is time for Florida’s gay adoption ban to be taken off the books and become just a reminder of how hateful human beings can be toward each other so that we may strive to be better.”

Study says lesbians make better parents

By 365gay Newswire
11.24.2009 8:51am EST

Lesbians make better parents than a man and a woman, according to Stephen Scott, Director of Research, at the National Academy for Parenting Practitioners.

In a meeting hosted by the think tank Demos, Scott said that the latest research showed that children of such couples did better in life, reported UK Daily Express.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a backlash from the conservative right, with critics saying that children need fathers and that children do best when raised by their married biological parents.

The Fathers4Justice campaign attacked the study for failing to promote the role of fathers. A spokeswoman told the Daily Express:

“This Government has introduced a new gender apartheid where fathers are marginalized and excluded from their children’s lives whereas other types of parent are celebrated and promoted. ‘Father’ has become the new ‘F’ word.”

The study, done by researchers at Birkbeck College in London and Clark University in Massachusetts. says that children that are brought up by female couples are less likely to be confined by traditional gender roles and would even aspire to more male professions, said the Daily Mail

The Christian Institute noted that researchers claim that same-sex couples made good parents because they could never accidentally conceive, but instead they have to actively choose to adopt or find a sperm donor. This does not take into account the many gay and lesbian couples who have children while in straight marriages.

Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of former Republican vice-president Dick Cheney, is expecting her second child. The Times reported her optimism in a recent interview:

“Every piece of remotely responsible research that has been done in the last 20 years has shown there is no difference between children raised by same-sex parents and children raised by opposite-sex parents. What matters is being raised in a stable, loving environment.”

What’s Good for the Kids

November 8, 2009
The Way We Live Now
New York  times

It has been apparent for a while now that we live in child-centric times. We approach parenting with a single-mindedness that baffles our own parents, and certainly their parents, who thought children should be seen and not heard. We think it’s just fine to put our kids ahead of our careers, our relationships, our social lives, and even if we aren’t doing so, everyone around us seems to be.

We demand that public policy — on health care, or education, or stimulus money — consider the needs of children as surely as it does the needs of doctors, teachers and businesses. (I am not saying that public policy makers always respond, mind you, but “what about the children?” is certainly a rallying cry.) We devour research on how to build our children’s self-esteem, to keep them from being bullied and to expand their intellects.

It is striking, then, how comparatively rarely children are mentioned as an argument in favor of gay marriage. The issue is framed as a debate over equality and justice, of personal freedom and the relation of church and state, not about what is good for kids.

That’s partly because, until relatively recently, we didn’t know much about the children of same-sex couples. The earliest studies, dating to the 1970s, were based on small samples and could include only families who stepped forward to be counted. But about 20 years ago, the Census Bureau added a category for unwed partners, which included many gay partners, providing more demographic data. Not every gay couple that is married, or aspiring to marry, has children, but an increasing number do: approximately 1 in 5 male same-sex couples and 1 in 3 female same-sex couples are raising children, up from 1 in 20 male couples and 1 in 5 female couples in 1990.

This growth, coupled with the passage of time, means there is a large cohort of children who are now old enough to yield solid data. And the portrait emerging tells us something about the effects of gay parenting. It also contains lessons for all parents.

“These children do just fine,” says Abbie E. Goldberg, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Clark University, who concedes there are some who will continue to believe that gay parents are a danger to their children, in spite of a growing web of psychological and sociological evidence to the contrary. Her new book, “Lesbian and Gay Parents and Their Children,” is an analysis of more than 100 academic studies, most looking at groups of 30 to 150 subjects, and primarily on lesbian mothers, though of late there is a spike in research about gay fathers.

In most ways, the accumulated research shows, children of same-sex parents are not markedly different from those of heterosexual parents. They show no increased incidence of psychiatric disorders, are just as popular at school and have just as many friends. While girls raised by lesbian mothers seem slightly more likely to have more sexual partners, and boys slightly more likely to have fewer, than those raised by heterosexual mothers, neither sex is more likely to suffer from gender confusion nor to identify themselves as gay.

More enlightening than the similarities, however, are the differences, the most striking of which is that these children tend to be less conventional and more flexible when it comes to gender roles and assumptions than those raised in more traditional families.

There are data that show, for instance, that daughters of lesbian mothers are more likely to aspire to professions that are traditionally considered male, like doctors or lawyers — 52 percent in one study said that was their goal, compared with 21 percent of daughters of heterosexual mothers, who are still more likely to say they want to be nurses or teachers when they grow up. (The same study found that 95 percent of boys from both types of families choose the more masculine jobs.) Girls raised by lesbians are also more likely to engage in “roughhousing” and to play with “male-gendered-type toys” than girls raised by straight mothers. And adult children of gay parents appear more likely than the average adult to work in the fields of social justice and to have more gay friends in their social mix.

Heterosexual couples might want to pay attention to these results. While the gay-marriage debate is playing out on the public stage, a more private debate is taking place in kitchens and bedrooms over who does what in a heterosexual marriage (takes out the trash, spends more time with the kids, feels free to head out with their friends for a beer). The philosophical underpinnings of both conversations — gay marriage and equality in parenting — are similar, in that both focus on equality for adults (in the case of heterosexuals, mostly wives). But even if parents who seek parity do so for their own sanity and in pursuit of their own ideals, might it not also be better for their children?

Yes, if less conventional, more tolerant children are your goal. Because if the children of gays and lesbians are different, it is presumably related to the way they were raised — by parents with a view of domestic roles that differs from most of their heterosexual peers.

Same-sex couples, it seems, are less likely to impose certain gender-based expectations on their children, says M. V. Lee Badgett, director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of “When Gay People Get Married: What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage.” Studies of lesbian parents have found that they “are more feminist parents,” she says, “more open to girls playing with trucks and boys playing with dolls,” with fewer worries about conforming to perceived norms.

They are also, by definition, less likely to impose gender-based expectations on themselves. “Same-sex parents tend to be more equal in parenting,” Goldberg says, while noting that no generalization can apply to all parents of any sexual orientation. On the whole, though, lesbian mothers (there’s little data here on gay dads) tend not to divide chores and responsibilities according to gender-based roles, Goldberg says, “because you have taken gender out the equation. There’s much more fluidity than in many heterosexual relationships.”

So while we arguably spend too much time focusing on children, when it comes to the topic of nontraditional marriage, maybe we should start focusing on them more. One of the few parenting conversations that is not child-centric might be well served to become so. These are questions of rights and equality for adults, yes, but also questions of what is good for the kids.

Lisa Belkin is a contributing writer and the author of the Motherlode blog.

Schools emerge as new tactic in gay marriage votes


By The Associated Press
11.06.2009 3:30pm EST

(San Francisco) In one ad after another, voters in California and Maine were besieged with images of what would supposedly happen if same-sex marriage were legal: Students on a field trip to a lesbian wedding, elementary kids gobbling up books featuring gay couples, kindergartners learning about homosexuality from their teachers.

The strategy worked. Overruling the courts and lawmakers, voters defeated gay marriage ballot measures in California last year and in Maine this week after conservatives convinced residents that same-sex unions would become common classroom fodder without any say from parents.

The punch-to-the gut claim has emerged as the latest tool in the ever-evolving playbook of same-sex marriage opponents, and the Achilles’ heel of the gay-marriage movement. Voters seem to be swayed by the notion that gay marriage will be a corrupting force among children, even though critics blasted the message as a blatantly misleading case of fear-mongering.

“It was very effective. It’s drawing on the fears of the unknown,” said Sandy Maisel, director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at Maine’s Colby College. “There’s no evidence that it’s going to happen, but there’s very clear evidence that it’s an effective campaign tactic.”

Gay marriage opponents discovered the effectiveness of the schools message in last year’s successful effort to pass Proposition 8 to outlaw gay marriage in California.

After signing up to lead the campaign, political consultants Frank Schubert and Jeff Flint knew they had a problem: Polls were showing that residents tended to not have much of a problem with gay relationships.

With the help of focus groups, surveys and ammunition unwittingly supplied by their opponents, Schubert and Flint soon found a new way to frame the issue, by focusing on education.

It was a departure from past elections when the issue was defined in simpler terms – that marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. The various strategies have helped conservatives win 31 consecutive ballot initiatives on gay marriage.

“We bet the campaign on consequences, especially on education,” Schubert recalled in March when he and Flint were named the “public affairs team of the year” by the American Association of Political Consultants for their work in California. “Education from the beginning, while it was one of three consequences, it was the one that was the most emotionally charged and the most powerful.”

In California and Maine, gay marriage supporters countered the claims with spots featuring prominent elected officials – California’s chief of public instruction, Maine’s attorney general – who insisted that same-sex marriage had nothing to do with schools.

They also angrily denounced as deceptive the visuals the Sacramento team employed, including a Massachusetts couple who lost a lawsuit seeking parental consent before same-sex families are discussed in elementary classrooms.

But the response did not defuse the hot-button issue, advocates on both sides of the issue observe, in part because they failed to address what many parents knew to be true: Many public schools already have lessons that include references to gay families in the younger grades and confronting anti-gay discrimination for older students. Although the topics usually are broached in the context of appreciating diversity and tolerance, for some parents any discussion of gay people is too close to talking about gay sex.

“The trend that we are seeing is homosexuality is being promoted more and more in schools, and the increase in this is creating a hostile environment for kids with Christian or socially conservative viewpoints,” said Candi Cushman, education analyst for the Christian group Focus on the Family.

Cathy Renna, a public relations consultant in Washington who is married to a woman and has a 4-year-old daughter, said that equating references to gay parents with sex is “like saying that introducing someone’s mother and father to a class means you are talking about heterosexual sex.” But Renna agrees that same-sex marriage supporters need a different comeback to the kids-and-schools argument.

“This idea that gay people are coming to eat your children is a long-standing tactic of the right wing,” she said. “The response to those ads that not only has more truth, but more integrity, is that we live in a diverse world and our kids know that and it’s irresponsible for us not to talk about the world we live in in age-appropriate ways. Dismissing them as lies actually does a disservice not only to the people in our community, but to the public that knows better.”

In California, some gay rights groups want to try to repeal Proposition 8 at the ballot box next year. There has been talk about including language in the new measure that would state that nothing in it is meant to mandate the teaching of same-sex marriage in schools. Some gay rights advocates fear, though, that the wording could be used to undermine the way gay subjects are treated in schools now, said Chaz Lowe, founder of Yes! on Equality.

Melissa Murray, an assistant professor at the UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law who researched the messages used in the Proposition 8 campaign, said gay marriage advocates underestimated how deeply Schubert and Flint’s carefully crafted schools message resonated with the public.

One reason it resonated so deeply is it changed the debate from one of equal rights to the equally cherished notion of individual rights, something gay activists should keep in mind as the marriage moves to other states, Murray said.

“Parents are always thinking about how do I keep unwanted influences out of my children’s lives, and it’s a lot harder to do that as a parent if that influence is the state,” Murray said. “That’s the fear they are tapping into. … and they are just going to keep repackaging it, because it works.”

Report: Gay couples similar to straight spouses

By LISA LEFF (AP) –November 2, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO — Same-sex couples who identify as married are similar to straight spouses in terms of age and income, and nearly one-third of them are raising children, according to Census data released Monday that provides a demographic snapshot of gay families in America.

The study released by a think tank based at UCLA also found that Utah and Wyoming were among the states with the highest percentages of gay spouses in 2008, despite being heavily conservative states with no laws providing legal recognition of gay relationships.

The data from the annual American Community Survey showed that nearly 150,000 same-sex couples in the U.S., or more than one in four, referred to one another as “husband” or “wife,” although UCLA researchers estimate that no more than 32,000 of the couples were legally married.

The couples had an average age of 52 and household incomes of $91,558, while 31 percent were raising children. That compares with an average age of 50, household income of $95,075 and 43 percent raising children for married heterosexual couples.

“It’s intrinsically interesting that same-sex couples who use the term spouses look like opposite-sex married couples even with a characteristic like children,” said Gary Gates, the UCLA demographer who conducted the analysis. “Most proponents of traditional marriage will say that when you allow these couples to marry, you are going to change the fundamental nature of marriage by decoupling it from procreation. Clearly, in the minds of same-sex couples who are marrying or think of themselves as married, you are not decoupling child-rearing from marriage.”

Gates said the report is the first to reliably compare same-sex couples who identify as married with gays who say they’re in unmarried partnerships and with married opposite-sex couples.

In the past, same-sex couples who referred to one another as “husband” or “wife” automatically were recorded as unmarried partners, a step gay rights activists lobbied the Census Bureau to eliminate as more states have legalized same-sex unions.

Unsurprisingly, Massachusetts, where gay couples have been able to get married since 2004, had the highest proportion of same-sex couples who were either legally married or considered themselves married, 3.63 for every 1,000 households. Vermont, which allowed same-sex couples to enter in civil unions with all the rights and obligations of marriage in 1999 and made same-sex marriages legal this year, came in second, with a rate of 2.71 per 1,000.

But Hawaii, Utah and Wyoming — states with neither civil unions nor same-sex marriage — came in next, ahead of California, Nevada, Connecticut, New Jersey and Rhode Island. What accounts for the phenomenon is unclear, but “it does provide this evidence that there are clearly couples in conservative parts of the country who do use these terms and do see their relationships in that framework.”

Melissa Bird, a 35-year-old Utah lobbyist, said she understood why her home state has so many same-sex couples who see themselves as married, even though the state government does not recognize them that way. Bird and her 26-year-old partner had a commitment ceremony two years ago in Utah that wasn’t legally binding. They tied the knot legally in California last year before voters approved a gay marriage ban.

“There is very much a marriage mentality here in Utah,” said Bird, whom considers her partner her wife. “We know a lot of people who get ‘married’ in quotes. It never crossed our minds not to do it.”

Once same-sex couples who labeled themselves as unmarried partners were factored in, however, the geographic distribution changed significantly. The District of Columbia came in first, with same-sex couples — both unmarried partners and those who called themselves married — representing 14.12 of every 1,000 households. Maine, where voters on Tuesday will decide whether to repeal a law that legalized same-sex marriage, was next, with gay couples heading up a little more than eight of every 1,000 households.

Although the report includes the first official estimates for the number of same-sex couples who call themselves wives or husbands, Gates said collecting accurate data on the marital status of gay couples remains difficult because of the hodgepodge of laws affecting their relationships. In addition, many couples may be reluctant to identify themselves as such if their neighbors, families and employers do not know they are gay, he said.

The Census Bureau has promised to produce a report on the marital status of gay couples after the once-a-decade national census is completed next year. However, the bureau said there was too little time to change the questionnaire to separate out legally married gay couples in the nationwide tally.