Advice for and from LGBTQ parents, in their own words

“LGBTQ parents can be more open to recognizing depression, bullying, or even just holding back”

Just in time for Pride in June, “Rainbow Relatives: Real-World Stories and Advice on How to Talk to Kids About LGBTQ+ Families and Friends” (May 8, 2018) is a collection of intimate, real-life stories and advice about coming out to family members—parents to children, aunts and uncles to nieces and nephews, grandparents to grandchildren.

The concept for “Rainbow Relatives” was born when author Sudi “Rick” Karatas asked his sister if her children knew about his (their uncle’s) sexual orientation. She said they didn’t, as she hadn’t been sure how to approach the topic and wished there was a book she could read to help her have those conversations. So, Sudi wrote that book. He hopes Rainbow Relatives will make readers more accepting of all people and families, especially in the LGBTQ+ community.LGBT Parents advice

Two Moms, Two Dads, Today’s Families

On one hand, many families are already formed when a parent comes out and usually it is a surprise to the kids and many adjustments have to be made. On the other hand, many same-sex couples decide to adopt or have children through a surrogate or in vitro fertilization. Being a parent and raising a family is not easy. Is it harder if you don’t have a traditional family? Since I don’t have kids, I relied on the interviews and surveys to get a better understanding of the challenges these families face for Rainbow Relatives. I will leave most of the advice to them and let their answers speak for themselves.

LGBTQ Parents

If you could give advice to other gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender parents or same-sex couples with kids or thinking of having them, what would it be?

  • Andrew: I think that it’s the most amazing thing I’ve done . . . and the hardest. I’ve learned more about myself in this journey (both good and bad). Someone gave us the advice that if Oliver ever says, “I want a mommy,” to think about it as if he said, “I want a horse.” Our son doesn’t know what a mommy does versus his daddies . . . and it will keep us from feeling like we’re depriving him of something.
  • Thea: It’s awesome, but only do it if you are 100 percent sure. I always thought I wanted a biological child but I could not love my adopted kids more.
  • Bruce: Having kids, it’s the greatest thing ever.
  • Primrose: Adopt from foster care! So many kids in our own cities and states need parents.
  • Albert: Make sure you are both on the same page; it makes life better when you both know what the other is thinking.
  • Kathy: Join an organization such as Pop Luck Club (PLC), an organization in Los Angeles, California, made up of families with two dads and go to Maybe Baby (a fertility group). Seek out other gay parents. Visit with other families, be a camp counselor, go read to kids in schools, volunteer. If you have never been in charge of other kids, like mentioned above, then it can be tough; already knowing how kids act can really help.
  • Ted: Do it. It’s the best gift in the world.

by Sudi Rick Karatas, Salon.com, June 29, 2018

Click here to read the entire article.

 

Second parent adoption key to creating security

Growing evidence around secure, same-sex families shows that their children are happy and healthy.  Securing those families through second parent adoption or step parent adoption is key to creating this security.

Second parent adoption is needed and recommended as one tenet of the debate surrounding same-sex marriage has focused on whether same-sex parents provide poorer conditions for raising children compared with different-sex parents. Political and public dialogue ensures that this notion remains pervasive and persuasive, even though the Supreme Court decision this summer ensured marriage equality in the U.S.

And it isn’t just talk: Laws exist that implicitly reflect the rhetoric that somehow same-sex parents are different.

For example, even though same-sex couples make decisions together to have a child, and even if both parents appear on the birth certificate, the nonbiological parent may have limited legal rights over the child.

In Texas, two parents of the same sex are even prohibited from being listed on supplemental birth certificates, only allowing for parents where “one of whom must be a female, named as the mother, and the other of whom must be a male, named as the father.”

Laws and Policies That Undermine Same-Sex Parenting Are Not Based on Science

Although all states offer second parent adoption to same-sex parents in legally recognized unions, only 15 states and the District of Columbia offer second-parent adoption to same-sex parents in cohabiting relationships. This means that in cases where the parents are not married, the nonbiological partner may be denied access to the children.

An underlying assumption about parents in same-sex couples seems to be that same-sex parents are less invested or are unable to follow through on the types of parenting that matter for children.

This type of argument is often rooted in the idea that biological parents who are partnered with each other have an advantage over a parent partnered with someone other than their child’s biological parent, with nonbiological parents less likely to invest or commit to children who are not their “own.”

This is wrong and must stop.

Laws and policies that undermine the rights of same-sex parents are more based on politics than on actual science of how they parent. Same-sex parents who conceive children via assisted reproductive technology, for example, should have the same parental rights as heterosexual parents who conceive via assisted reproductive technology and do not have to jump through the same legal hoop.

Very little research has directly tested whether there are different types of parenting investments by same-sex couples. However, in one study that we conducted, we found no difference in the amount of time parents spend with children between same-sex parents and different-sex mothers. But there is a catch.

Mothers in same-sex relationships, fathers in same-sex relationships, and mothers in heterosexual relationships spent about the same amount of time in child-focused activities, about 100 minutes a day.

Men in heterosexual relationships, however, spent significantly less child-focused time than all three other groups of parents — about 50 minutes per day. That means the only difference that we found tended to favor same-sex couples (and heterosexual mothers).

Importantly, these differences persisted when we controlled for factors that have well-known influences on time spent with children, including parent’s education, the number of children, the age of the children, and parent’s time spent working or commuting.

Here’s the catch to this “no difference” conclusion. When combining estimates across mothers and fathers to look at time investments at the family level, not just by individual parents, children raised in same-sex families would receive an average of 3.5 hours of child-focused time a day, compared with 2.5 hours for children in heterosexual families.

Click here to read the entire article.

 

News.UTexas.edu, by Kate Prickett & Alexa Martin-Storey, November 19, 2015

Same Sex Parenting Cases: Evidence Over Ideology?

Evidence Over Ideology in Same Sex Parenting Cases?

Last Friday, a Utah judge reversed an order in a same sex parenting cases, he had issued just three days earlier that would have removed a young girl from her home because her foster parents are lesbians. Under fierce pressure that even included grumbling by the state’s Republican governor, Judge Scott Johansen issued a temporary reversal after first ruling that it was “not in the best interest of children to be raised by same-sex couples.” The shift is good news for the girl and her foster parents, April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce; for child welfare advocates; and for anyone concerned with fairness, equality, or evidence-based policy.

Evidence should trump ideology when deciding on same sex parenting cases

Yet the matter is far from over. Johansen set a December date for the girl’s fate to be argued at a hearing. And the judge’s revised order left intact a critical foundation of his initial reasoning: what the judge still calls “a concern that research has shown that children are more emotionally and mentally stable when raised by a mother and father in the same home.”

Hoagland and Peirce told a news station they believe the judge relied on his religious beliefs to make his decision, something that would be plainly unconstitutional. Does the judge have any sound reason to give straight couples preference over same-sex ones?

Asked in court to cite any of the “myriad” studies he reportedly referenced in ruling against the same-sex couple, Johansen declined. And for good reason: There are none. A research team I direct, based at Columbia Law School, conducted one of the most exhaustive analyses of peer-reviewed studies on same-sex parenting published over the last 30 years. Our initiative, the What We Know Project, started with the question, “What does the scholarly research say about the well being of children with gay or lesbian parents?” Our results, which are constantly updated as new research emerges, are posted at our site, with links to the studies or their abstracts.

What did we find? Currently, there are 77 scholarly articles that address this question. Of those, 73—the vast majority—found that children raised in same-sex parenting homes fare just as well as their peers. Could the four outliers be the “myriad” studies Johansen is referencing? Not if he’s done an ounce of homework and is being remotely honest about what the research says. For starters, basing a ruling that breaks a family apart on four studies that are contradicted by 73 others is questionable on its face. But equally important, these four studies do not actually prove what their authors claim they do, and anyone who looks at them closely can see that.

Reviewing the studies clarifies that they all suffer from the same fundamental flaw: While the authors tout the importance of large, random samples and imply that that’s what they’re using, they in fact rely on samples that are anything but. Here’s how this works: They start with very large samples that come from a reliable dataset like the census. In some cases the original sample is as large as several million people. Out of this much ballyhooed sample size, researchers struggle to identify families in which a stable, same-sex couple raised children from infancy—the relevant standard, since what’s usually being debated, as in the Utah case, is whether such a couple ought to be allowed to parent. So researchers create their own definitions for what constitutes an “LGB” family, and they are uniformly very loose. In some cases they just ask children if a parent ever had a same-sex relationship and throw the “yes” kids into a category called “LGBT families”—even though they are a world apart from a situation in which children are raised by a stable, same-sex couple. This is not to say one type of family is superior to another, just that we must compare apples to apples to yield any useful conclusions about same-sex parenting. (Many of the gay-supportive studies also use small samples, but their authors don’t suggest otherwise, and—most important—they are actually studying children raised by same-sex parents.)

Click here to read the entire article.

by Nathaniel Frank, Slate.com

Colombia’s Gay Adoptions Ruling

Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruling found that barring gay adoptions had deprived children of the right to be raised by families.

In a landmark gay adoptions ruling that eliminated a glaringly discriminatory policy, Colombia’s highest court ruled on Wednesday that gay individuals and couples may adopt children. In a 6-to-2 decision, the Constitutional Court found that barring gay people from adopting had unreasonably deprived children of the right to be raised by families.

The decision was the latest victory for gay activists in Colombia who have challenged discriminatory policies in a string of smartly litigated cases. The ruling will make it easier for gay individuals and couples to adopt children in state foster care. It also will allow people to be legally recognized as the parent of a same-sex partner’s biological child.

Anticipating criticism from political and religious leaders, the justices wrote that “doubts and fears about whether society is ready to accept this decision won’t be dissipated by being blind to an irrefutable reality.” The judges argued that there was no evidence that same-sex couples were unfit parents and no compelling reason to bar them from the universe of potential adoptive families.

Wednesday’s decision sparked criticism from Catholic Church leaders, who argued that the issue should have been decided by Congress or approved in a referendum. While some Colombian lawmakers have introduced bills seeking to expand the rights of gay people, those initiatives have stalled. The country’s top court has picked up the slack. In doing so, it has set a commendable example in a region where gay people continue to face widespread discrimination and scorn.

Click here to read the entire article.

A version of this editorial appears in print on November 10, 2015, in The International New York Times.

 

New York Times, November 9, 2015

Should A Same Sex Couple Get Fertility Benefits?

Are A Same Sex Couple Entitled to Fertility Benefits?

Same sex couple Sarah Soller-Mihlek, a Brooklyn guitar instructor, and Jill Soller-Mihlek say, “We want to start a family,” speaking into a camera focused on Sarah and “We’ve always dreamed of becoming parents,” adds her wife, Jill.

The couple made the video last year and posted it to Indiegogo, a crowdfunding website, in hopes of raising enough money to pay for fertility treatments. Jill Soller-Mihlek, now 33, was hoping to get pregnant via a sperm donor and intrauterine insemination, which can costs tens of thousands of dollars depending on how long it takes to conceive.

Although the couple’s insurance plan typically covers fertility treatment, their insurer, United Healthcare, would not cover the cost. The reason? Jill Soller-Mihlek didn’t meet its definition of infertility because she did not have sex with men.

The couple’s insurance policy defines infertility as an “inability to achieve pregnancy after 12 months of unprotected heterosexual intercourse.” But women who use sperm donors must pay for costly, physician-supervised therapeutic donor insemination for 12 months before they meet the definition of infertility. (Women 35 and older need to go through six failed attempts before meeting the clinical definition of infertility.)

After the Soller-Mihleks paid $13,507 out of pocket for nine unsuccessful cycles of insemination, they decided to chronicle their travails on Indiegogo and Change.org. While the United Healthcare policy tacitly acknowledges single women and same-sex couples, many policies do not. Some even exclude unwed women. Notably, major insurers like United Healthcare often do cover insemination treatments when the issue is male infertility.

The Soller-Mihleks believe their plan’s criteria for granting medical coverage of fertility treatment reveals a subtle form of discrimination against lesbians. (Needless to say, gay men face even greater obstacles in attempting to gain coverage, given that coverage wouldn’t extend to the woman who’d be carrying for them.)

The Soller-Mihleks say their concern is that a female same sex couple, by definition, is incapable of getting pregnant through heterosexual intercourse and requires medical intervention to conceive. They say the subtext of the United Healthcare policy is that a lesbian could get pregnant by having sex with a man, she just chooses not to.

Shannon Price Minter, head of the legal division at the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco, said: “To me, the central injustice is that when a person has a known condition that precludes them from becoming pregnant, such as a woman who has had her ovaries removed, there is no requirement to go through a period of unprotected intercourse before being recognized as requiring fertility treatments. The same should be true for same-sex couples.”

Tyler Mason, a spokesman for UnitedHealthcare, said the company’s policy is based on the clinical disease of infertility, as defined by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine.

“Our coverage criteria are based on clinical trial data, published literature and recommendations from a wide variety of medical specialty societies and state laws,” Mr. Mason wrote in a statement. “We constantly review and update coverage criteria.”

Aetna also uses the clinical definition of infertility to support its reimbursement policies for fertility treatments.

“It’s not a pregnancy benefit,” said Cynthia B. Michener, an Aetna spokeswoman. “It’s based on the clinical disease of infertility, supported by medical evidence and medical society guidelines, including those set out by the A.S.R.M., and it’s the same for everyone.”

Click here to read the entire article.

 

New York Times, November 2, 2015, by Stephanie Fairyington

Do gay parents parents spend more time with kids?

Study finds gay parents spend significantly more time with kids

Gay parents spend significantly more time with their kids, according to a new study that challenges biases against same-sex parenting.

Researchers from the Population Research Center at the University of Texas found that women in lesbian relationships spend 40% more time engaged in child-focused activities than their straight counterparts, largely because both mothers typically offer as much time as mothers in straight relationships.

Fathers in straight relationships spend only about half as much time on child-focused activity. However, fathers in gay relationships spend roughly the same time as the mothers (around 100 minutes a day).

Lesbian couples invest 40% more time in their children

‘Our findings support the argument that parental investment in children is at least as great – and possibly greater – in same-sex couples as for different-sex couples,’ Kate Prickett, the lead author of the study, wrote on the Child and Family Blog.

‘On measures of child-focused time, children with two parents of the same sex families actually seem to receive more time investment. They received more focused time from their parents – 3.5 hours a day, compared with 2.5 hours by children with two different-sex parents.’

Child-focused activities are those that support their physical and cognitive development, such as reading to them, playing with them, helping with homework, bathing them and taking them to the doctor.

It does not include watching television or doing housework while a child is around. Child-focused activities, as well as certain family events such as eating meals together or reading books, are associated with better child outcomes. The study used 11 years of census data from 2003-2013, with a sample of more than 40,000 parents, 55 parents of whom were in gay relationships.

Click here to read the entire article.

 

gaystarnews.com – by Darren Wee, October 21, 2015

To adopt, or not to adopt… Really?

March 20, 2012 (See 2015 addendum @ the bottom of the article.)

Legal Surrogacy – To adopt, or not to adopt…???

adoptSurprisingly, that has been one of the most asked questions by parents of children born with the assistance of a surrogate mother.  In many cases, the carrier’s name may be removed from the child’s original birth certificate by a proceeding called a pre-birth order.  Some states do not provide for pre-birth orders.  Those that do, may or may not replace the carrier’s name with that of the non-biological intended parent.  California, for instance, does offer the ability to include the non-biological parent’s name on the child’s original birth certificate, and that very significant step is often mistakenly viewed as a replacement for a second parent adoption, which is the only definitive way to establish parental rights between a non-biological parent and a child born through legal surrogacy.

Legal Surrogacy is an emotionally, and financially, exhausting process.  It is a true leap of faith.  Couples considering surrogacy must juggle a myriad of concerns, the least of which being the cost.  With gestational surrogacy tabs running as high as $150,000.00, budgeting is a must.  Lawyer’s fees are often lumped together in surrogacy accounting statements, and some agencies do not include the cost of a second parent adoption in order to keep the numbers low.  Often, the cost of a pre-birth order is less than a second parent adoption.

In order to understand why a second parent adoption is vital, you must understand what a pre-birth order is, and what protections it provides.  Pre-birth orders are court orders that are obtained by filing a petition in the appropriate court in the state in which the child will be born.  Often, these petitions are not filed in the county where the carrier lives, but in a county which has a judge who understands the importance of pre-birth orders and grants them upon the motion of an attorney representing the intended parents.  This in itself may create a problem.

Some states may not recognize the relationship created by the pre-birth order because of the lack of a full judicial process attendant to a pre-birth order.  For an issue to be precluded from challenge, for instance the issue of a non-biological parent’s relationship to a child born through surrogacy, the court looks at the process by which that issue has been established.  The reason why adoption orders from one state are valid in every state, regardless of the gender of the parents, is because the judicial process of the adoption.  The state, for all intents and purposes, becomes and “adversary” to the adoptive parents in the adoption process.  The state performs background checks, it orders that fingerprints be taken, mandates that a homestudy is performed by a licensed social worker to ensure that the child’s prospective residence is safe and clean and essentially verifies that all adoption requirements by the petitioning parent, or parents.  The adoption order is the product of a fully litigated judicial process.  Because this rigorous process is not part of a pre-birth order proceeding, states which do not offer pre-birth orders may not recognize a relationship created in such an order.

Furthermore, some courts, through a pre-birth order, will add the name of the non-biological parent to the original birth certificate if that person is married to the biological parent.  For same-sex couples, this can present a fatal issue, particularly if the non-biological parent’s relationship to the child is being challenged in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage.  These situations usually arise upon the dissolution of a relationship and during the custody/visitation/support aspect of that process.

In New York County, Legal Surrogacy Judge Kristin Booth Glen, in a case entitled In the Matter of Sebastian[i] discusses the issue of establishing parental rights for a non-biological parent specifically.  The case involves married lesbian couple who used an anonymous sperm donor to have a child. Glen concludes, “that although [the] petitioner [non-biological parent] already has a legally protected parental relationship with Sebastian [through a marriage recognized in New York] and, even in the absence of that legal relationship, could utilize several less intrusive, expensive and time consuming methods of establishing one, the only remedy available here that would accord the parties full and unassailable protection is a second-parent adoption pursuant to New York Domestic Relations Law (“DRL”) § 111 et seq.”  Glen further states, “that a judicial order of adoption in one state must be afforded full faith and credit in every state, and that there can be no “public Policy” exception to that mandatory recognition…”.

The Matter of Sebastian case is an amazing confluence of family law, Constitutional law and reproductive law, with the ultimate conclusion that same-sex parents need to adopt to secure the non-biological parent’s rights to their children.  It is a broad and definitive statement that applies to all same-sex families, regardless of how their children were conceived.

While parents going through legal surrogacy must navigate financial and emotional waters, as well as an unsure legal landscape, the last step in the process, the second parent adoption, may seem like an afterthought.  It is, however, the only way to complete the process and ensure that each parent has a permanent and portable legal relationship with the child.

 

 

ADDENDUM (July 17, 2015) – It seems like ages ago when I wrote this piece, and the gay rights movement has literally transformed the world in those short 3 years.  While marriage equality is the law of the land in the United States, many people misinterpret this truly revolutionary civil rights gain as having the same transformative and direct effect on family law, specifically as it applies to the rights of a non-biological child to their bio parent’s spouse, even if achieved through legal surrogacy. 

While it is true that many states have what is called a “martial presumption of parentage,” the truth about this is that it is applied differently in different states.  For instance, in New York state, where I practice, there is specific case law that holds that the marital presumption of parentage does not apply to same-sex couples.  That case is called “Matter of Paczkowski v. Paczkowski.”  In that case, the appellate division of the Second Department of New York, the state’s intermediate appellate court, held that the “presumption of legitimacy… is one of a biological relationship, not a legal status.”

In essence, the court says that a marriage does not create a legal right between a non-biological parent and a child.  While it may be an indication of intent to be a parent, as would a non-biological parent’s name on a birth certificate (as echoed in “Matter of Sebastian” as mention in the body of this article) the only way to actually create the legal relationship that guarantees the security that all same-sex families need, is through an adoption order, and in some states, a parentage order.  Unfortunately, New York currently does not have the capacity to issue a parentage order but there is legislation in committee in Albany that may change that. 

In our ever evolving world where gay couples and, more particularly, gay families are becoming more common place and understood, there are still areas of the law that directly affect our lives that continue to fall short of protecting our families in the ways that they must be protected.  Creating family security is of the utmost importance and it is the responsibility of every gay parent to make sure that happens.

 

 

 

 


[i]  http://www.nylj.com/nylawyer/adgifs/decisions/041009glen.pdf 25 Misc.3d 567, 879 N.Y.S.2d 677 (N.Y. Co. Sur. Ct. 2009)