Holly Talks About Egg Donation

Parenting by Gays More Common in the South, Census Shows

January 18, 2011
New York Times

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Being gay in this Southern city was once a lonely existence. Most people kept their sexuality to themselves, and they were reminded of the dangers of being openly gay when a gay church was bombed in the 1980s. These days, there are eight churches that openly welcome gay worshipers. One even caters to couples with children.

The changes may seem surprising for a city where churches that have long condemned homosexuality remain a powerful force. But as demographers sift through recent data releases from the Census Bureau, they have found that Jacksonville is home to one of the biggest populations of gay parents in the country.

In addition, the data show, child rearing among same-sex couples is more common in the South than in any other region of the country, according to Gary Gates, a demographer at the University of California, Los Angeles. Gay couples in Southern states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas are more likely to be raising children than their counterparts on the West Coast, in New York and in New England.

The pattern, identified by Mr. Gates, is also notable because the families in this region defy the stereotype of a mainstream gay America that is white, affluent, urban and living in the Northeast or on the West Coast.

“We’re starting to see that the gay community is very diverse,” said Bob Witeck, chief executive of Witeck-Combs Communications, which helped market the census to gay people. “We’re not all rich white guys.”

Black or Latino gay couples are twice as likely as whites to be raising children, according to Mr. Gates, who used data from a Census Bureau sampling known as the American Community Survey. They are also more likely than their white counterparts to be struggling economically.

Experts offer theories for the pattern. A large number of gay couples, possibly a majority, entered into their current relationship after first having children with partners in heterosexual relationships, Mr. Gates said. That seemed to be the case for many blacks and Latinos in Jacksonville, for whom church disapproval weighed heavily.

“People grew up in church, so a lot of us lived in shame,” said Darlene Maffett, 43, a Jacksonville resident, who had two children in eight years of marriage before coming out in 2002. “What did we do? We wandered around lost. We married men, and then couldn’t understand why every night we had a headache.”

Moreover, gay men who have children do so an average of three years earlier than heterosexual men, census data shows, Mr. Gates said. At the same time, there are fewer white women of childbearing age nationally, according to demographers, while the number of minority women of childbearing age is expanding.

Jacksonville was a magnet for Ms. Maffett even before she moved here. While its gay residents remained largely hidden, it had a gay-friendly church. In 2003, she spent her Sundays driving 90 minutes each way to attend from the town where she worked as a school bus driver.

Ms. Maffett appreciated the safety of the church in Jacksonville. Her father was a Baptist preacher, and her former husband was a member of the Church of Christ, so she knew how unwelcoming some churches could be for gays. Even so, she felt little connection to the gay congregation in Jacksonville — mostly white, male and childless.

“The pastors were all white guys,” said Ms. Maffett, who is black. “They were nice to us, but we weren’t really feeling that they knew how to cater to kids.”

Then she met Valerie Williams, a customer service worker with a sunny personality and a booming voice. Ms. Williams, 33, had been part of the city’s gay community for years, and when the first African-American, gay-friendly church opened in 2007, she thought it needed to go one step further.

“People were looking to do stuff with their kids, and they had no place to go,” she said.

So last summer, Ms. Williams became pastor of St. Luke’s Community Church, one of the oldest gay-friendly churches in the city, and immediately set up a youth program. Attendance by the mixed-race congregation swelled to more than 90 from 25 in just a few months.

“All of a sudden you started seeing all of these women coming out,” Ms. Maffett said. “All of them had children.”

In 2009, the Census Bureau estimated that there were 581,000 same-sex couples in the United States, Mr. Gates said; the bureau does not count gay singles.

About a third of lesbians are parents, and a fifth of gay men are. Advocacy groups argue that their children are some of society’s most vulnerable, with fewer legal protections and less health insurance than children of heterosexual parents.

Even so, their ranks have been mostly left out of national policy debates, because the Census Bureau did not conduct its first preliminary count of same-sex couples until 1990. This year, the bureau will count married same-sex partners for the first time.

“We don’t know a lot about this group,” Mr. Gates said. “Their story has not been told.”

About 32 percent of gay couples in Jacksonville are raising children, Mr. Gates said, citing the 2009 Census data, second only to San Antonio, where the rate is about 34 percent.

Some gay parents here say that family life can be complicated. Cynthia, the mother of a talkative 9-year-old, can be herself at her daughter’s cheerleading practice, because it is far from their home. But at her daughter’s school, she tells no one that she is gay, because her partner, Monique, teaches there.

Their daughter, they said, ends up with a mixed message at school.

“We tell her, ‘Be honest, don’t lie, but keep this in the closet,’ ” said Monique, who asked that the couple’s last names not be used to protect her privacy at work, “It gets confusing for her.”

Ms. Williams confronts those troubles directly with a program called Youth Power Hour, a kind of group counseling session for children of gay parents. This month, the group of about 20 young people discussed their problems after a free spaghetti dinner cooked by one of the adult moderators.

“This girl at school is always bullying me,” said a 9-year-old named Diantra.

Ms. Williams responded, her voice filling the room: “Remember what we said? Tell an adult.”

Cynthia’s daughter, also part of the group, said the sense of community it provided helped her.

“It feels good to be around people who don’t just have moms and dads,” she said, pulling her braids nervously. “I like it because I’m not alone anymore.”

Married same-sex parents face legal hurdles. Florida does not recognize same-sex marriage, and its domestic partnership recognition, while growing, is an uneven patchwork, and still leaves many spouses uninsured.

Even when employers agree to cover domestic partners, those couples pay higher taxes, because without federal recognition of their status, health coverage is considered income and is taxable. Until recently, Florida was one of a handful of states that expressly prohibited adoption by gay couples.

But money is often a more immediate problem.

Ty Francis, a bank customer-service worker here with a sharp sense of humor, supports six children together with her partner, Rosalyn Cooley, a health care worker.

“I’m one check away from being on welfare,” Ms. Francis said.

But that kind of financial difficulty does not dampen enthusiasm for coaxing along acceptance in this conservative city of more than 800,000 people. A recent billboard supporting gay and lesbian youth drew no public scorn or boycotts, and gay pride parades have been held for several years.

Ms. Williams compares the community’s efforts to the struggles of the civil rights movement.

“Slowly but surely, all this will pass,” she said. “I truly believe that.”

Federal Court to Re-Hear Same-Sex Couple’s Challenge After Louisiana Refuses to Respect Out-of-State Adoptions

 Lambda Legal, January 14, 2011

Five-year-old son raised by two fathers still without accurate birth certificate.

(New Orleans, January 14, 2011) – The full 16-member U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on Wednesday, January 19, 2011, regarding the New York adoption of a Louisiana-born baby boy by a same-sex couple.

Lambda Legal represents Oren Adar and Mickey Smith in their case against Louisiana State Registrar Darlene Smith. Adar and Smith are a gay couple who adopted their Louisiana-born son in 2006 in New York, where a judge issued an adoption decree. When the couple attempted to get a new birth certificate for their child, in part so Smith could add his son to his health insurance, the registrar’s office told him that Louisiana does not recognize adoption by unmarried parents and so could not issue it.

Lambda Legal filed suit on behalf of Adar and Smith in October 2007, saying that the registrar was violating the Full Faith and Credit Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by refusing to recognize the New York adoption judgment because the child’s parents are unmarried.  The Constitution requires that judgments and orders issued by a court in one state be legally binding in other states. Further, a state may not disadvantage some children over others simply because the child’s parents are unmarried. The Louisiana attorney general disagreed, and advised the registrar that she did not have to honor an adoption from another state that would not have been granted under Louisiana law had the couple lived and adopted there. In 2009, U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey ruled against the registrar and issued a summary judgment ordering her to issue a new birth certificate identifying both Oren Adar and Mickey Smith as the boy’s parents, saying her continued failure to do so violated the U.S. Constitution. In 2010, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and affirmed the judgment. The attorney general requested a rehearing by the full Court of Appeals, which was granted.

WHO:          Kenneth Upton Jr., Supervising Senior Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal

WHAT:        Oral Arguments, Adar v. Smith

WHERE:          John Minor Wisdom U.S. Court of Appeals Building
                600 Camp St.
                New Orleans, Louisiana

WHEN:        Wednesday, January 19, 2011
                9:00 a.m.

Wisconsin court leaves stand a parentage order for a nonbio mom but precludes such orders in the future

Wednesday, January 12, 2011 – Beyond Gay and Straight Marriage – Nancy Polikoff

The most horrific part of last month’s North Carolina Boseman v. Jarrell opinion against second-parent adoption was that it said the court that granted the adoption lacked “subject matter jurisdiction,” which means that the order was void, along with all second-parent adoption orders, the moment it was granted. That wiped out every second-parent adoption in the state.

Well, within days of that opinion a Wisconsin appeals court ruled in Dustardy H. v. Bethany H. that the state does not allow a nonbio mom to obtain a parentage order, but it refused to vacate the order that a court had granted in 2004. The trial court did have subject matter jurisdiction, the appeals court ruled, and therefore, although the order was erroneously granted, it remains in effect because the bio mom did not challenge it in enough time.

Wisconsin does not permit second-parent adoption. So when Dusty and Beth had a child, Christian, by donor insemination in 2004 they filed a parentage petition and obtained an order from a trial judge that Dusty, the nonbio mom, was also Christian’s parent. The trial court had two theories. First, it applied the state’s donor insemination statute, which makes a husband the legal parent of a child born to his wife using donor insemination. It also used the “de facto parent” standard established in a 1995 visitation case and named Dusty a legal parent because she met that standard. These are both plausible theories supporting recognition of both of the Christian’s parents. The couple’s lawyer clearly sought some mechanism to protect Christian’s emotional and economic security and the intent of this couple that their child have two parents.

When the couple split up they informally shared custody of the child, but in 2008 Dusty filed for joint custody and Beth responded by asking that the parentage order be declared void. Beth won, and Dusty appealed.

The appeals court said Beth was right on the law. It limited the insemination statute to husbands, and it said the “de facto parent” test could only support a visitation order, not a parentage petition. On the insemination issue, I blogged a little over a year ago about an Oregon appeals court ruling interpreting a similar statute to apply to the lesbian partner of a woman who gave birth through donor insemination. Unfortunately, the Wisconsin court ruled differently.

But — and here is where it differed from the North Carolina court — the Wisconsin court said the trial court that issued the parentage order DID have subject matter jurisdiction to do so. Therefore, it was a valid order unless appealed or unless Beth used a different statute to file for relief from that order within a “reasonable time,” which she did not do. So Dusty remains Christian’s mother. And similar parentage orders from Wisconsin courts, at least if they are several years old, cannot be challenged by a bio mom trying to get rid of her child’s other parent. And if the couple remains together and has such an order it is valid for purposes of determining the right to government benefits, inheritance, or other matters flowing from the parent-child relationship.

It’s worth mentioning again that this bio mom has destroyed a source of legal security for children of lesbian couples in Wisconsin while gaining nothing for herself. In the North Carolina case, the court vacated the adoption but ruled that the nonbio mom met the standard for obtaining a visitation order for her child, so the bio mom didn’t get what she wanted there either. Instead she wiped out every second-parent adoption in the state, even for happily-still-together families.

And a note for gay male couples: Wisconsin has a surrogacy statute that allows a nonbio dad to obtain a parentage order when the child is born using a donor egg to a gestational surrogate. One of the country’s most reputable surrogacy agencies is The Surrogacy Center in Madison, and they happily work with gay male couples.

Supreme Court lets stand New York ruling for Debra H.

Beyond Gay and Straight Marriage – Nancy Polikoff – January 11, 2011
I wrote extensively about the dreadful New York Court of Appeals decision last year that refused to recognize parentage of a nonbio mom based on the couple’s creation of a two-parent family. That court did, however, find that Debra H. was the parent of the child born to Janice R. because the couple was in a Vermont civil union when the child was born. The fact that a child in New York has two parents if the couple is married or in a civil union but otherwise has one parent, no matter how much that couple planned for and raised the child together, was a major impetus for the conference I’m hosting in March on the “New Illegitimacy.”

Anyway, Janice asked the US Supreme Court to hear her case, claiming that granting parental status to her civil union partner violated her Constitutional right to raise her biological child. Yesterday, the Court denied her petition. That’s what I expected. The Court hears very few cases at all, and very few specifically in the area of family law, which is generally a matter of state law and varies so much from state to state. Other nonbio moms have also been turned away when they’ve asked the Court to hear their cases. Refusing to hear a case — which is called a denial of certiorari in legal-speak — has no legal significance. In other words, it doesn’t add anything to the New York ruling or make it more meaningful in any way. It just leaves it alone.

Landmark State Supreme Court decision establishes parentage for Gay Parents

Boston, Massachusetts January 7, 2011 — In an unprecedented decision, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that two gay men could be recognized as legal parents on the birth certificate of their twins born through surrogacy. This is the first time in U.S. history that a state high court has acknowledged the parentage of two men while stating the relevant statute “confer(s) parental status on an intended parent who is a party to a valid gestational agreement irrespective of that intended parent’s genetic relationship to the children.” It “has created a new way by which persons may become legal parents.”

“This is the single most important decision in the history of gay men having children through surrogacy,’ said John Weltman, Esq., president of Circle Surrogacy, and author of an amicus brief in the case. “For a state high court to recognize the right of two gay men to be legal fathers of a child from the outset of the surrogacy process sets an incredible precedent. Furthermore, it positions Connecticut as one of the best states in the country for couples – gay and straight – to pursue gestational surrogacy with egg donation to create their family.”

Anthony Raftopol and Shawn Hargon, an American couple residing in Hungary, had a daughter through surrogacy, and were both recognized as her child’s legal father on the birth certificate. They then had twins in April 2008 through the same gestational surrogate and egg donor. When the couple petitioned the court to be named as the children’s legal parents, the court granted their petition. However, this time the Attorney General, acting on behalf of the Connecticut Department of Health, attempted to block the creation of the birth certificate, stating that parentage could only be established through conception, adoption or artificial insemination.

The Supreme Court rejected this claim, noting that according to the Department of Health’s argument, a child born to an infertile couple who had entered into a gestational agreement with egg and sperm donors and a gestational carrier would be born parentless. “The legislature cannot be presumed to have intended this consequence,” the Court declared, “which is so absurd as to be Kafkaesque.” The revolutionary decision acknowledges that entry into a valid gestational agreement creates a fourth method to establish parentage, regardless of biological relation.

LGBT Parenting Roundup

Mombian – January 4, 2011

I’m still recovering from the holidays, so let’s be different and start with some celebrity news before diving into politics:

Celebrity News

  • Elton John and his partner David Furnish are now proud parents. “Elton John and David Furnish became first-time fathers on Christmas after welcoming a baby boy via a surrogate,” says the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Just once, though, I want to see a newspaper headline say, “[Male celebrity] and [Female celebrity] welcomed their new baby via sexual intercourse.”Much coverage of the new dads has also mentioned that John is listed as “Father” and Furnish as “Mother” on the child’s birth certificate, as if that somehow explained their parental roles. Fact is, of course, it may or may not coincide with their roles—but they might just have filled them out at random, as the forms clearly haven’t caught up with the reality of families today. “Parent” and “Parent” really isn’t that hard, folks.
  • Meanwhile, Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka spoke with People about raising their twins (and After Elton has a copy of the adorable photo spread).
  • Jane Lynch, lesbian mom and Glee actor, and Dan Savage, gay dad and “It Gets Better” campaign founder, talk with Newsweek about gay rights and being parents.

International News

  • Eleven-year-old Aspen Drewitt-Barlow, son of the first gay couple in Britain to have a baby via surrogate, has a sweet piece in the Mirror about life with his two dads. In a separate story, his parents are planning to set up a surrogacy center focused on same-sex couples.
  • The U.K.’s Guardian newspaper profiles four lesbian couples with children.
  • Since the U.K. changed its law requiring fertility clinics to consider a child’s “need for a father” before providing services, the number of lesbian couples seeking in vitro fertilization (IVF) has doubled, and the number of single women has tripled. The number using donor insemination at registered clinics has stayed about the same.
  • In Argentina, a baby girl was registered with the last names of both her biological and non-biological mothers, as the first child of a legally married lesbian couple in the country.
  • A gay couple in Johannesburg, South Africa gay has won a seven-year-battle for permission to have a child via a surrogate.
  • On a similar note, the Jerusalem Family Court ruled that a baby born to a surrogate may be adopted by the biological father’s partner.
  • Volker Kauder, the parliamentary leader of Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats, said same-sex couples have no right to have children.

U.S. Politics and Law

  • I’ve done an in-depth piece for Keen News Service on the recent awful North Carolina Supreme Court ruling that has jeopardized all existing second-parent adoptions in the state.
  • From the Dallas Voice, via Pam’s House Blend, comes the tragic news of lesbian mom Debie Hackett who died by suicide after losing a custody lawsuit with her former partner. As Pam points out, “It’s hard to pinpoint any one cause other than a person in crisis didn’t get the help she needed in time,” but the stress of the custody battle likely did not help her emotional state. I’ll take a cue from the Dallas Voice and provide a link here to the LGBT-friendly American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Warning Signs for Suicide.

Eleven LGBT Parenting Resolutions for 2011

Mombian.com – January 1 2011

(Happy 2011 to all! I’ll be back on a regular posting schedule next week. In the meantime, here’s a piece that was originally published as my Mombian newspaper column. Feel free to add your own resolutions in the comments.)

The end of November through early January is one big party in our multi-celebration family, with Thanksgiving leading to Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s, and my spouse’s birthday in quick succession. In between finding room for our son’s new Lego sets and making sure the cats don’t eat the tinsel off the tree or knock over the menorah, however, I like to think about resolutions for the coming year. Here are 11 for 2011 that I offer as suggestions for other parents as well—some generic, some with an LGBT twist.

Travel someplace new. One of the great joys of parenting for me is sharing new places with our son. And while I like taking him to places I already love, I also think there are lessons to be learned when we go someplace new to all of us—local or farther afield—and get to explore it together. If your child is old enough, have him or her help with the planning.

Teach someone something about your family. We don’t all have to be outspoken advocates 24×7—but if we each commit to saying even one thing during the year that helps a non-LGBT person better understand LGBT families, we’ll be making progress. Share what it means to have books and other media that reflect LGBT families. Explain how a certain piece of legislation would affect you. Suggest how another parent might discuss your family to her/his kids.

See more things from your child’s perspective. It is a cliché to say that parenting helps one see the world through a child’s eyes, but it is also all too easy to spend so much time in “responsible parent” mode that we forget to do so. Make a point of trying to see your child’s view. Even if you don’t agree, it will help you communicate more effectively.

Take time for your partner/spouse/a date. I often joke that if the right wing wants to stop gay sex, they should be encouraging us all to become parents. I also firmly believe, however, that a healthy relationship between parents leads to a happier, healthier home environment. A little time away from the kids (whether in bed, at the movies, or otherwise) helps us refresh and recharge. And if kids think that becoming a parent means giving up the rest of one’s life, then they’ll never want to become parents themselves. Set an example of good balance.

Help another LGBT family. Whether in-person or online, share something that has helped you as an LGBT family—a referral to a friendly lawyer or doctor, an approach to discussing donors, surrogates, or birth parents with your child, an inclusive book you have loved. Whatever stage you are at in your parenting journey, someone else is less far along, and might benefit from your advice.

Read a book about a different type of family. Pick out one—or one for yourself and one for your children—about a family of another race, religion, nationality, or that brought children into their lives in a different way. LGBT parents often urge others to learn more about us; we should return the favor.

Volunteer at your child’s school. At least once each year, raise your hand to help out in the classroom, at the book fair, on field day, or with a fundraiser. Yes, it’s hard if you’re also employed full-time, but your kids will appreciate the effort—not to mention that having LGBT parents who are visible, valuable members of the school community helps us all.

Support a small LGBT cause. Support the big organizations, too, if you wish, but don’t forget the smaller ones like local community centers and youth groups, HIV/AIDS service organizations, health initiatives like the Mautner Project (mautnerproject.org), and youth education organizations and initiatives like Groundspark (groundspark.org) and the Family Acceptance Project (familyproject.sfsu.edu).

Build things with your kid(s)—often. A paper airplane, a cake, a tower of blocks, a new deck—whether a one-time affair or an ongoing project, creating things together can be a world of fun—as well as an exercise (for both of you) in how to follow directions, share, overcome frustration, and ask for help.

Make sure your legal documents are up to date and accessible. Are your wills, powers of attorney, and other legal documents in order? Have there been any major life changes (like moving to a new state or becoming married or civil unioned) since you last made out your wills? Do you have copies of your powers of attorney and adoption papers or parentage orders that you bring with you when you travel? A new year is a good time to check all of this and see a lawyer if necessary.

Thank your family. However you define it, whoever is included, make sure to tell them that you value their role in your life, despite the annoyances, arguments, piles of laundry, and tacky holiday gifts.