My New Kentucky Baby

May 20, 2011
New York Times
By JOSHUA GAMSON

We came to Bowling Green, Ky., home of our good-humored surrogate, Gail, with a court order from California designating me and Richard — my husband in some states, though not in Kentucky — as the future baby’s legal parents. I’d been hoping to avoid Kentucky. Its laws make it seem unwelcoming to gay people and ambivalent about surrogacy. I figured that culturally it would be red-statey too, full of homophobia, guns and fatty foods. The coasts seemed safer, especially for a black man, a Jew and their black-Jewish daughter.

We’d invited Gail to come to Massachusetts, where we were married and our first kid was born, or to California, where she went for the in vitro fertilization. She was usually up for adventure — after all, she was carrying a baby for two men made with another woman’s egg. But she wanted to keep her schedule as a clerk at an amusement park and as a single mother of three, and so our baby would be born in Kentucky.

When I arrived a few days after Richard, I didn’t find much to allay my fears. Our hotel was next to a Cracker Barrel, and the main strip contained mostly churches and fast-food joints. Our daughter, Reba, an impressionable preschooler, had already begun to say things like “Do y’all want to go to the pool?” Richard went with Gail to meet the obstetrician, who, when faced with the requirements of our surrogacy plan, got hostile and scheduled her labor to be induced on his off-day.

Not long after my arrival, our lawyer called to report that the local family court had refused to domesticate the California court order, leaving things in legal limbo. She said she would threaten to sue Kentucky for violating the “full faith and credit” clause of the Constitution and instructed us to get out of there as soon as the baby was born.

I felt vaguely unsafe and out of sorts. People seemed to stare at us. One night I dreamed that the baby was born healthy, and then stolen.

But when Madeleine Blanche came along a few days later (full head of black hair, long eyelashes), the women at the Bowling Green medical center couldn’t have been nicer. Our presence seemed to send their Southern hospitality into overdrive: they dispensed diapers, advice and coffeecake. We chatted about 4-year-olds, work and the cost of preschool. Nurse Christie brought a button for Reba that said, “I’m a big sister!” Unfamiliar heads popped in and out. Not homophobia but a kind of homophilic curiosity was swirling around us, turning us into objects of gossip but also of generosity. Anxieties about discrimination were one thing, but my assumptions about homophobia now seemed glib and snobbish.

The problem was getting out of there. One sympathetic young clerk had been instructed by hospital lawyers not to put our names down on the birth forms as parents, but Gail had declined to sign anything that gave her legal or financial responsibility for our baby. The clerk tried the form with just Richard’s name as father, but the computer spit it back, saying it required a mother. So she sent the forms, along with a copy of the California court order, to the Kentucky Office of Vital Statistics with neither Father nor Mother listed. Her small act of administrative disobedience was, to me, quite touching. The hospital released us and our legally parentless baby.

Months later, we still had no birth certificate. Smelling discrimination, I indulged in self-righteous daydreams of lawsuits, but my suspicions proved unreliable again. For Kentucky officials the problem turned out to be much more mundane than sexual taboo: they didn’t want California telling them what to put on their forms. In the end, they issued a birth certificate saying that Gail was the mother, then sealed it and issued an amended one listing Richard and me as the parents.

Finally the birth certificate arrived in the mail. With all the lawyering and money that preceded it, I was surprised that it was just a piece of paper. Then I noticed something: the California judge had directed Kentucky to list one of us as Mother and the other as Father, but Kentucky officials refused. Instead they labeled us Parent and Parent. Kentucky out-liberaled California.

We picked up Reba from preschool. She was uninterested in the news but happy for the celebratory dinner, through which the baby slept, eyelashes fluttering. I made a toast: “To Kentucky, y’all,” and I meant it.

Timo Miller website raising funds for defense of man who helped Lisa Miller evade court order to transfer custody

Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage – Nancy Polikof – May 14, 2011
Timo Miller, the Christian missionary and Mennonite pastor arrested last month for aiding and abetting the international kidnapping of Isabella Miller-Jenkins by her biological mother, Lisa Miller, has set up a website telling his side of the story and seeking funds for his defense.

A Vermont court ordered a change of custody after Lisa repeatedly defied the court orders providing for visitation between Isabella and her other parent, Janet Jenkins. After the last hearing in the case, but before the court issued its ruling, Lisa fled the country, allegedly with Timo Miller’s help. She and Isabella remain in Nicaragua.

The Timo Miller website compares Lisa to a mother goose who will “fight to the death to protect her young.” It describes same-sex couples raising children as follows:

Since God has not intended for two men or two women to raise children as a family unit, they can’t produce children on their own. This creates a problem in their agenda to create the perception that homosexual behavior is normal. Thus they resort to adopting children or using artificial insemination from a male donor in the case of a lesbian relationship. Can you imagine being a child growing up in the middle of such an environment?

According to the version of events on the website, Lisa “realized the emptiness of her lesbian lifestyle” and “the danger that lifestyle posed for her young daughter.” So she “repented of her immoral ways” and sought to make a new life. “Unfortunately for little Isabella,” the website continues, “the lesbian activists decided the situation was an opportunity to further their agenda. They filed lawsuits on behalf of Janet Jenkins (the former lesbian partner) to force visitation rights and eventually gain custody of Isabella in an attempt to prove that their “civil unions” have parental rights.”

One of the many things wrong with this version is that Lisa herself filed to dissolve the couple’s civil union and requested custody, with visitation rights to Janet. The website describes Lisa’s losses in the Virginia appellate courts as those courts “wash[ing] their hands of the situation because of some legal technicalities.” Those “technicalities” are the laws explicitly designed to prevent parental kidnapping by giving control over custody litigation to the state that issues the initial court orders. When Lisa filed in Vermont, she gave that court the power to decide Isabella’s custody and visitation. That’s not a “technicality.”

The website puts references to Janet’s parental rights in quotes (i.e., “parental”) and then says the accusations against Timo Miller beg the question of how “a biologically unrelated individual who has not gone through the adoption process” can even have parental rights. “Most states have specific prohibitions banning homosexual marriage,” it continues, “helping to prevent a situation like this from occurring.” If this turns out to be his defense, it will get him nowhere. In numerous situations, legal parentage does not require biology or adoption. And laws banning access to marriage for same-sex couples have never been interpreted to prohibit parenting by same-sex couples. (Some states do not allow both partners to be legal parents of their children  but that’s entirely separate from whether they can marry.)

The case summary page on the website concludes: “Will you stand beside Timo as he faces the accusations against him? Will you pray for him and his family? Has God blessed you with the ability to help financially?”

Miller won’t be able to build a defense around his religious convictions, but it looks like that’s what her’s going to try.

Surrogate mother to 6 pregnancies, says this is to be her last

May 16, 2011 –  PrideAngelAdmin
Amanda Broomhall, 39, from Penhill, has two children of her own, but since 1997 has helped couples from all over the UK have babies. Surrogacy UK has recently recorded a surge of interest following high-profile surrogacy stories concerning Elton John and Nicole Kidman. Miss Broomhall said that surrogacy was something she “fell into”.She said: “I can, so I thought why not if it helps somebody else? People give blood and give bone marrow. I’m just using a part of my body that would otherwise lay dormant.”

Surrogate arrangements are usually set up through agencies, although private arrangements can be made. As a surrogate in the UK, it is illegal for Miss Broomhall to receive payment, although some couples have offered her large sums of money to carry their child.

“People can be desperate,” she said. “People ring me up and say ‘can you help me have a baby?’ and when I tell them I can’t at the moment they say, ‘I’ll pay you lots of money’. They think if they throw money at me I will help them. They think they can buy a child.”

For each birth, Miss Broomhall only takes two weeks off work and has never let the process affect her day-to-day life. She said: “If I sat at home and rested as other new mothers do when they are looking after their new baby, I don’t think that would help me. I want to get my life back on track, so that’s the way I deal with it.”

However, nine weeks into her sixth surrogate pregnancy, Miss Broomhall has decided that this time will be her last. She said her age was the main factor in her decision to give up. “I’m not as young as I used to be,” she said.

“With the last pregnancy I did have a number of problems, mainly around my kidneys. They’re showing signs of stress. If I can’t look after myself I can’t nurture an unborn child.”

Massachusetts same-sex weddings inspire pioneering author’s new picture book

by Dana Rudolph
contributing writer
Monday May 9, 2011

More than 20 years after she wrote Heather Has Two Mommies, the first picture book for and about children with lesbian parents, Lesléa Newman is still turning out must-reads for lesbian families. Her latest work, Donovan’s Big Day, is a delightful story about a boy preparing for the wedding of his two moms.

Newman, who has over 60 books for children, young adults, and adults to her name, along with numerous literary awards, said she wrote Donovan to be “pure, joyful celebration,” a “gift that I wanted to give our community.”

She got the idea for Donovan in the shower, where she was reflecting that many books featuring gay parents also centered around some kind of “issue.” As an example, she points to Heather itself, which focused on a girl trying to understand why she doesn’t have a dad.

She left “issues” out of Donovan entirely. The young boy has only the problems any child might face while attending a wedding of any sort. He has to dress up, keep clean, and not fidget. Most of all, he has to make sure to hand his moms their rings at the proper moment.

There is just enough light tension to keep young readers engaged as Donovan goes through each step of his preparations. Illustrator Mike Dutton’s dynamic gouache drawings capture Donovan’s earnest spirit with gentle humor.

In creating the character, Newman said, “I just tried to remember what it was like to be a child and to see the day from the child’s perspective.”

The book is also a celebration of wider family. Donovan stays with his grandparents the night before the wedding. His aunt and uncle drive him to the ceremony, and he shares the back seat with his cousins. Upon arrival, there are more relatives and friends to kiss and compliment him.

Newman found inspiration for Donovan from watching same-sex couples in her home town of Northampton, Massachusetts, go to City Hall for marriage licenses on May 17, 2004, the first day they legally could. “There were many, many children present that day — children of those couples, children as bystanders…participating in all the joy,” she recalled.

And at a more recent wedding she attended, the two women ended up holding their fidgety children while saying their vows. “I thought that was such an amazing, beautiful moment,” Newman said, “that I wanted to capture that spirit of love and joy in the book.”

Newman acknowledges that not everyone will welcome another children’s book about two moms. Heather has been one of the books library patrons most frequently ask to be removed or reshelved, according to the American Library Association.

“It’s just so puzzling to me that a book about love could be seen as threatening or something that should be challenged,” Newman said, but adds that librarians “have been absolutely wonderful” in supporting her and following proper procedures when someone complains.

Some things have gotten better over the years, however. She explained that when she and a friend published Heather on their own in 1989, “It was a very grassroots project. We raised money, mostly in $10 donations.” When she went on to write other children’s books, editors chose not to put “Author of Heather Has Two Mommies” on the book jackets, Newman said, “even though that’s what I’m known for.”

Now, Donovan’s publisher, Tricycle Press, a division of mega-publisher Random House, has her authorship of Heather clearly on the cover. “That, to me, is a very interesting way to look at how far we’ve come,” Newman says. “Something that at one point had to be hidden now is out there and celebrated.”

She believes that many publishers are, however, still cautious about picture books that show same-sex parents. They may have financial concerns and feel that only families with two moms or two dads would be interested in buying the book, or they might think “the gay thing” will “alienate” readers, she speculated.

She would like to see more books like the recent Monday Is One Day, by Arthur Levine, “where there are all kinds of families, including families that have two moms, two dads, one mom, one dad, a mom and a dad, interracial couples, and interfaith couples,” she said. “The world is so wonderfully diverse. I really would love children’s literature to reflect that on a more grand scheme.”

Her own upcoming works show her range as a writer. Her picture book A Sweet Passover (Abrams, 2012), is about a girl who is tired of eating matzo during the holiday. And for young adults, her book October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard (Candlewick Press, 2012), will tell “the story of his murder and its aftermath in a cycle of 68 poems.”

As for books that feature LGBT families, she says parents have told her they’d like to see “books that are not ’issue’ books as much as just books about a family having an adventure or doing something interesting. If the kid has two moms or two dads, that’s not the focus of the story.”

And although Donovan may, like Heather, face challenges in libraries and schools, she said that for lesbian parents, “a book is the least of it. What they want is for their child to feel safe in that school and for that child to be able to be open about who his or her family is.” But, she added, “Perhaps a book like this can help that happen.”

Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian, a blog and resource directory for LGBT parents. She can be reached at drudolph@mombian.com.

GOP continues attacks on partner benefits for state employees

Michigan Messenger – By Todd A. Heywood | 05.11.11

After the state legislature failed to override the Michigan Civil Service Commission decision to offer insurance benefits to unmarried partners of state employees, Republicans are trying a different tack. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed a lawsuit to void that decision.

The key issue here is whether the state’s anti-gay marriage amendment, passed in 2004, forbids such benefits from being offered. That amendment says:

“To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children, the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose.”

It’s the “or similar union” phrase that is at issue here. Does a provision that extends insurance benefits to unmarried partners and their dependents constitute the recognition of a “similar union” to marriage? The state supreme court ruled in 2008 that offering benefits specifically to the partners of gay employees does violate this provision, but the policy being challenged here is not specific to same-sex partners. The courts have yet to rule on this broader kind of policy.

A press release on the Attorney General’s website says the AG will argue two points about the January decision of the Michigan Civil Service Commission:

1) The decision exceeds the Constitutional authority granted to the Commission. The Michigan Constitution grants authority for the Commission to establish compensation rates for State employees. It does not empower the Commission to compensate or otherwise provide benefits to non-family members or non-employees.

2) The decision violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Michigan Constitution. By arbitrarily granting state health plan eligibility exclusively to “non-family” adults and their dependents, the Commission has violated the equal protection rights of actual family members and their dependents not eligible under the plan. If an unmarried state employee lives with a sibling or a cousin, for example, that relative is not eligible for health benefits, yet such benefits are available to any non-family member.

Both Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) and Speaker of the House Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) were quoted in the press release supporting Schuette’s lawsuit.

Denise Brogan-Kator, interim executive director of Equality Michigan, says the law suit is “ridiculous.”

“First, he talks about what he thinks is the Michigan Civil Service Commission’s unconstitutional order,” Brogan-Kator said. “That is not true, in my opinion, I think it certainly meets the letter and the intent of the law and the supreme court decision.”

On top of that, Brogan-Kator took Schuette to task on the cost estimates of the proposal, which would take effect Oct. 1. The governor’s office has said the benefit plan could cost the state as much as $6 million a year.

“He continues to throw around this projected cost that some one literally made up and there is no support for,” she said. “It is purely a scare tactic.”

She also found some irony in the fact that had a citizen sued over the decision, the Attorney General would have to defend the decision.

“How much is this going to cost us?” she asked.

Brogan-Kator is not alone in her criticisms of the lawsuit. Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Project of the ACLU of Michigan, was also critical.

“We believe that the lawsuit brought by the Attorney General, not only is misguided but it completely mischaracterizes the action that was taken by the Michigan Civil Service Commission,” Kaplan said. “This particular contractual provision had been put on hold for more than 6 years, with the passage of Michigan’s Constitutional amendment denying same-sex couples the right to marry. In addition to recognizing what had been collectively bargained for, the action taken by the Michigan Civil Service Commission also recognizes the diversity of the State of Michigan’s workforce and the importance of treating all employees fairly in terms of compensation and access to health insurance benefits.”

“The decision to extend health insurance benefits is not only lawful, but it’s the right decision, as families (both traditional and non-traditional) are always stronger when health insurance is accessible,” Kaplan continued. “Estimates show that less than 2 percent of all eligible households are likely to opt in to this program, making the already inflated cost estimates from Senator Richardville and House Speaker Bolger even more out of line with reality.”

“Family members who are considered to be dependents of state employees can be covered for health insurance benefits in Michigan (whereas non-family dependents are not) and we believe that the Attorney General’s allegations regarding equal protection are legally flawed,” Kaplan said. “At a time when many Michigan residents are suffering the effects of our economic downturn, it is inappropriate for the Attorney General to try to take away health care benefits from state employees and their families that were bargained in good faith.”

The AG’s lawsuit is not the only attack on such partner benefits being launched by state Republicans. Last week, the Michigan House approved an amendment to the education omnibus bill which would penalize state universities and colleges if they offer benefits to unmarried adult partners — called other eligible individuals by both the MCSC and state universities. Under the amendment educational institutions that do not certify they have ended those programs would lose five percent of their state appropriations.

The legislature will have to vote again on a conference committee bill which would combine the Senate and House versions of the education funding. It is not yet determined whether the amendment will be included in the compromise legislation.

Michigan State University, which was one of the state’s first public bodies to create an other eligible individual insurance program following the 2008 supreme court ruling, issued the following statement from Kent Cassella, the MSU spokesperson.

“We are reviewing the text of the amendment and evaluating what the potential impact might be. MSU has an Other Eligible Individuals program that allows employees to add one other adult to their policy subject to certain restrictions. The governor and house have already proposed cuts as deep as 22 percent for public universities in the coming year. We do not believe the state should consider imposing any additional cuts on top of the already steep reductions proposed and significant reductions taken in recent years.”

But Republican lawmakers are defending the amendment.

In an interview with Craig Fahle on WDET Monday morning, House Appropriations Committee Chair Chuck Moss (R-Birmingham) defended the amendment.

“Well the universities can make their own policy; they just have to pay for it. If they want the money, they are gong to have to comply with the law. The Civil Service Commission found a way to go around it, which in my mind — once again — if you don’t like the law, that’s a legitimate point of view, go change it,” Moss said. “But it’s illegal.”

Equality Michigan’s Brogan-Kator disagreed with Moss.

“The Michigan Supreme Court said explicitly that universities and other state employers could not provide benefits to the partners of their gay employees by virtue of them being their partners. That’s why the universities and the state had to go around and do these, other eligible employee programs,” Brogan-Kator said. “It is not a wink and nod, but because it is living up to the reality imposed by the marriage amendment and the supreme court.”

ACLU’s Kaplan also assailed the legislation.

“The ACLU of Michigan strongly opposes any efforts by the Michigan Legislature to penalize universities that have voluntarily chosen to provide health insurance benefits to designated others of employees, which may include same-sex partners,” Kaplan said. “This action interferes and usurps the authority and autonomy of public universities to decide what kinds of benefits and compensation it offers to employees. At a time where Michigan families are feeling the effects of the economic downturn, why are members of Michigan legislature trying to eliminate the ability of universities to provide access to health care for their employees’ families? This insensitive and intrusive action taken by the Michigan House would also make it more difficult for Michigan universities to attract and retain the best and brightest talent for its faculty and staff, since universities in most other states are able to provide health insurance benefits to employees’ families, including same-sex partners.”