Judge Allows Religious-Based Michigan Adoption Agencies to Turn Away LGBT Couples

Religious-based adoption agencies that contract with the state of Michigan will be allowed to refuse to place children in LGBT homes under a preliminary injunction issued by a federal judge Thursday.

District Judge Robert Jonker in Grand Rapids Michigan blocked Democratic state Attorney General Dana Nessel, Michigan’s first openly gay statewide officeholder, from barring the faith-based agencies from excluding LGBT couples from adoption services.Michigan adoption LGBT

He said her action conflicted with state law, existing contracts and established practice. Nessel had, through a legal settlement between same-sex couples and the state Department of Health and Human Services, reversed the state’s stance earlier this year.

Michigan, like most states, contracts with private agencies to place children from troubled homes with new families.

Jonker, in issuing a preliminary injunction, said Lansing-based St. Vincent Catholic Charities’ longstanding practice of adhering to its religious beliefs and referring same-sex and unmarried couples to other agencies is not discriminatory.

Wanting to cancel the contract “strongly suggests the State’s real goal is not to promote non-discriminatory child placements, but to stamp out St. Vincent’s religious belief and replace it with the State’s own. … It would disrupt a carefully balanced and established practice that ensures non-discrimination in child placements while still accommodating traditional Catholic religious beliefs on marriage,” he wrote.

A spokeswoman for Nessel said her office was reviewing the decision to determine next steps.

Nessel in March announced an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union to resolve a 2017 lawsuit filed by two lesbian couples. The settlement said a 2015 Republican-backed law that lets child-placement agencies not provide any services that conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs does not apply if they are under contract with the state.

Time.com by David Eggert, September 27, 2019

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Gay fathers study shows they receive less parental leave than other couples

Gay fathers study shows they received the same number of weeks off as different-sex couples in just 12% of 33 countries studied

Gay fathers study shows that around the world they receive less paid parental leave than lesbian or heterosexual couples, researchers said on Thursday, with many left struggling to pay household bills if they opt to spend more time at home with their children.gay fathers

The study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) examined paternity laws in 33 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that offer paid leave to new parents.

First published in the Journal of Social Policy, the research found that gay male couples received the same number of weeks off as different-sex couples in just 12% of those nations.

Lesbian couples received equitable time off in just under 60% of the countries studied, researchers found after examining legislation gathered by the International Labour Organization in 2016. Some countries have since updated their leave policies.

“A lot of the differences in leave stem from gender stereotypes where women are the primary caregivers,” Elizabeth Wong, the lead author, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“That not only affects heterosexual couples, it greatly disadvantages same-sex male couples.”

Laws in most countries did not prohibit same-sex couples from paid leave, but policies only referenced the needs of heterosexual couples and did not acknowledge same-sex couples.

As of 2019, same-sex marriage was legal in less than 30 countries, and gay sex remains illegal in about 70 countries.

The rise of far-right political parties around the world has raised concern around LGBT+ rights, and the fight for parenthood or adoption rights is a legislative battle even in countries like Germany.

On average, same-sex male couples had five fewer months of paid leave than different-sex couples, while same-sex females received three fewer months than heterosexual couples, researchers said.

The study did not address transgender or non-binary couples.

Australia, New Zealand, Iceland and Sweden were the only countries to offer the same paid leave to all couples, including gay men, ranging from 18 to 70 weeks.

While companies in Switzerland often offer parental leave to men, only a minority of people benefited, said Jody Heymann, a director at WORLD Policy Analysis Center.

“There’s little doubt that if you want to avoid discrimination, it’s far better for paid leave to be done through social insurance,” said Heymann of government funded public health programs.

A 2018 report from the WORLD Policy Analysis Center found that OECD countries that offered six months paid parental leave saw increased numbers of workers and no change to unemployment or economic growth.

Thomson Reuters Foundation by Kate Ryan, September 5, 2019

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A Gay Couple Had To Flee Russia For The Crime Of Caring For Their Adopted Children

The gay couple, who had to leave Russia after authorities threatened to take away their 12- and 14-year-old sons, spoke with Russian-language outlet Meduza about their plight.

When Andrey Vaganov’s 12-year-old son complained of stomach pains in June, the ambulance rushed him to one of Russia’s top pediatric hospitals. The ache turned out to be nothing, but while there, the child told the hospital staff that he and his brother don’t have a mother who lives with them — they have two fathers.russia gay

The revelation that Vaganov and his partner, Evgeny Erofeyev, have been raising their adopted sons together for nearly a decade put them squarely in the crosshairs of the Russian authorities. Since then, the couple have had to flee the country with their two sons, accused of breaking Russia’s infamous “gay propaganda law” simply by letting their children know that they are married. The law, which makes teaching minors about LGBTQ issues illegal, didn’t pass until 2013, years after the children were adopted. Since then, it has been used as a weapon against the gay community in Russia more broadly, allowing for state-sanctioned harassment of activists and persecution of individuals like Vaganov and Erofeyev.

In an interview with Ivan Golunov, an investigative reporter with Meduza, an independent Russian-language news outlet, the couple explained how they became targets of Russia’s anti-gay laws. Vaganov had adopted his elder son, Denis, in 2009, and then his second, Yuri, two and a half years later. It was around that time that Vaganov met and soon married Erofeyev, a businessman like himself, in a ceremony in Denmark, which recognizes same-sex marriages.

gay russia“We never asked our children to hide anything,” Vaganov told Meduza. “This was our conscious position, explaining why is it somehow stigmatizing and so on.” But Yuri’s admission to the hospital staff was a complication — before the child left the hospital, Vaganov was told that he and his son would need to report to the police the next morning to answer some questions. The two showed up as requested to meet with an investigator and a juvenile affairs official, with Vaganov insisting that his lawyer be present.

By the time the first interview was over, what had started as a false alarm caused by Yuri eating too much had become a news story. While carrying out his questioning, Vaganov said, the investigator handling the “preinvestigation check” frequently had to step out of the room to speak with his superiors. Soon Vaganov’s phone began to ring with journalists who had learned about the situation from a Telegram channel known for publishing confidential details about Russian law enforcement’s investigations.

Buzzfeednews.com, by Hayes Brown – August 12. 2109

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They Lost Custody through adoption law. Should They Still Be Able to See Their Children?

Adoption law in New York may be changed to give more rights to birth parents, even when adoptive parents object.

Adoption law in New York may be changing.  Latoya Joyner, a state assemblywoman from the Bronx, said she was raised by a loving adoptive family after her biological parents lost custody of her. The same was true for Tracy L. VanVleck, the commissioner of human services in Seneca County. 

But that is where their similarities end. The women are on opposing sides in an emotionally charged battle over a potential change in New York state adoption law that is awaiting Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s signature.adoption for gay couples

The legislation, called Preserving Family Bonds, would fundamentally shift the relationship that birth parents can have with their children after a court has taken the children awaypermanently and another family steps in to adopt them.

The proposed change has touched off a wide debate, some of it informed by the wrenching personal experiences of people who have not only gone through the foster care system but, like Ms. Joyner and Ms. VanVleck, now have the power to shape it.

The Anonymous Donor Myth

The anonymous donor myth was, only a few years ago, not a concern to the many anonymous sperm and egg donors who have helped countless families around the world.

The anonymous donor myth has only in the recent past become an issue that anyone considering becoming an anonymous donor, or anyone considering using an anonymous donor, must confront and plan for.  ART (assisted reproductive technology) lawyers must also factor into their counsel with all parties to an ART agreement the reality that there simply may be no such thing as anonymous donation anymore.  This counsel must address not only gamete (sperm and egg) donation, but also embryo donation and adoption.anonymous donation myth 2

If you think about it, there really is no such thing as anonymity any more.  This year, Facebook has over 2.3 billion monthly active users.  YouTube has 1.8 monthly active users.  Twitter has 320 million monthly active users.  With other social platforms such as Instagram, WeChat and Snapchat providing information on its users to anyone who has not perfected the art of keeping an account private, there are literally millions of ways to locate and identify a person with just a small amount of information.

I was recently in Seattle for the annual conference of The Academy of Adoption and Assisted reproduction Attorneys (AAAA) where a fascinating presentation was given on just this subject.  One speaker demonstrated how, with the scant information she had provided when she was an anonymous egg donor, how it took her less than 5 minutes to find herself on social media.  She essentially did a facial recognition search which yielded a direct hit result.  And this was just possible from the picture she used in her egg donor profile.  That picture, coupled with her educational background, made a google search of her provide instant confirmation of identity.

The anonymous donor myth becomes even more implausible when you consider the influx in popularity of commercial DNA testing kits such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com.  And the implications for anonymous donors go way beyond gamete donation, but adoption as well.

The reality of the anonymous donor myth hit me hard, and in a completely unexpected way.   I was at work one afternoon when the phone rang.  It was a former client of mine with whom I had done estate and probate work.  Her voice was shaking when she called and I could tell that something was very wrong.  She told me that a relative of hers was contacted by a woman who explained that she was adopted at birth and that she had done an ancestry.com DNA test.  The test revealed that her birth mother was related to the relative of my former client.  She then related to me the story of how when she was younger she had been molested, and that molestation resulted in a pregnancy.  She gave the child up for adoption and had told no one in her family about it.  She was reliving that trauma knowing that her secret would most likely be revealed due to an inadvertent action by a relative of hers who had also had the DNA test performed and who had consented to its results being added to a national database.

anonymous donor myth 1One of the most sacred areas of law for expectant mothers who, for many important reasons, cannot keep their children is called “infant safe haven” law.  This type of law decriminalizes the abandonment of unharmed infants in specified locations, such as hospitals, police stations or fire houses.  Mothers need to know that if their personal circumstance requires them to seek the protection of an infant safe haven law; they must be able to rely on the confidentiality that these laws were designed to provide them.  If mothers fear that their identity will be revealed through DNA or Facebook searches, they are less likely to place the child in a safe space.

The reality is that a medical professional or facility can do their best to shield the identity of a donor, but they have no control over the actions of others down the road, like the donor herself, the intended parents or even the child who is the result of ART.  One positive reaction I see in the ART community is the encouragement, with thorough explanation, of known gamete donation.  Known gamete donation can be helpful in many ways.  If a child has a medical issue that may be genetic, with a known donor, parents may access that information more easily.  Studies have also shown that the earlier a child is told about his or her origin story, the better adapted they are.  Having a known gamete donor may make the difference to a child questioning their genetic heritage. 

The anonymous donor myth does not have to be a devastating blow to a family.  With proper professional, both legal and psychological, intended parents considering gamete donation will be able to make informed and beneficial decisions.  These decisions will have long lasting effects on the mental and physical well-being of their children.  As professionals, it is our duty to explore all possibilities with our clients and to ensure that they understand the implications of the anonymous donation myth.

By Anthony M. Brown, Esq. – August 6, 2019

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New Report Shows International Adoption Edging Closer To Extinction

The industry’s overregulation is making it increasingly difficult for willing families to take the plunge and attempt international adoption.

Rachel Garber always knew she wanted to adopt a child. Besides having grown up with five adopted siblings, in 2007 she made a memorable trip to the Chinese city of Xi’an, where she spent a month volunteering at a home for abandoned babies. “During this trip my feelings on adoption were solidified,” she says. “I met my husband Ryan in 2010, and he knew right away that if we got married, we would end up going to China for a child.”

While those plans were temporarily put on hold after their son Nixon was born with special needs, in 2017 the Garbers were finally matched with a little boy in China. After committing to his file, they learned that he was from the very city where Rachel had previously volunteered: Xi’an. “It was meant to be,” she says.

Rachel and Ryan brought their second son, Nolan, home from China to Wyoming last year. Today he is 3 1/2 years old and thriving. His mom describes him as “very loving and yet very strong-willed!” A nearby doctor happens to be the foremost authority in Nolan’s area of medical need. “From the moment we met our son, he has been a joy,” Rachel says. “We have had many hard days, or days where I question my ability, but I can’t imagine our life without him.”

In a nation where tens of thousands of families have adopted children from overseas, the Garbers’ story may sound familiar. But it is a story that is growing increasingly rare. International adoptions to America have been falling dramatically for the past 15 years, and a recent report shows that the decline hasn’t slowed.

The U.S. Department of State’s annual intercountry adoption report to Congress, released in March, shows that Nolan Garber was one of just 4,059 children adopted from overseas in FY 2018. This represents a 13 percent decline since the prior year, an 82 percent decline since intercountry adoption’s peak in 2004, and a new historic low.

Why Is International Adoption Disappearing?

In its report, the Department of State (DOS)—which functions as the U.S. authority over international adoption—offers a few explanations for the latest decline. It notes that the largest decrease last year occurred in China, where the communist government has been suppressing the activities of all foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

TheFederalist.com, By Wendy Metzgar, April 2, 2019

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A new study suggests an LGBTQ millenials ‘Baby Boom’ is in our future

LGBTQ millennials are leading the way when it comes to the growth in LGBTQ families according to a new survey from the Family Equality Council, an LGBTQ rights organization.

LGBTQ millennials

The survey found that 63% of LGBTQ millennials between the ages of 18-35 are looking at starting a family or adding to their current one. What’s more, results from the LGBTQ Family Building Survey show that 77 percent of LGBTQ millennials are either already parents or are considering having children. This is 44 percent higher than LGBTQ people over the age of 55. 

The data points to a shift in the LGBTQ community in the wake of the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision which secured marriage equality in the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling fueled speculation that we’d see a dramatic shift in LGBTQ family growth as a result.

Additionally, the survey revealed that 48 percent of LGBTQ millennials are actively planning to grow their families in the future, narrowing the gap between them and the 55 percent of non-LGBTQ respondents. In a 2013 Pew Research Center poll, only 35 percent of LGBTQ adults were shown to be parents, compared to 74 percent of non-LGBTQ adults.

That means in the last five years, the gap between queer and non-queer people wanting families went from 39 percent to 7 percent. Likewise, transgender survey respondents were found to be equally likely to grow their own families as their non-transgender peers.

by Gwendolyn Smith, LG BTQNation.com, February 10, 2019

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It’s easier now for gay men to adopt. But they still face lots of pushback, and weird questions.

Ten years ago in the United States, a couple of gay men hoping to become fathers may have considered their dream too outsized or even impossible.

Until the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act by 2015, many states did not recognize marriage between same-sex partners — levying a major strike against a couple of men seeking to adopt or match with a surrogate.

gay dads

Now, they are on the cover of Parents MagazineA recent report from ReWire.News suggests that becoming fathers is easier than it once was for gay men. But the evidence is largely anecdotal. There is no clearinghouse, for example, that reports on the clientele of private adoption and surrogacy agencies, heterosexual or otherwise, or how long couples wait to become parents. And there is still plenty of resistance to gay parents, as the petition by One Million Moms against the cover of Shaun T and husband Scott Blokker in Parents Magazine attests.

On Parenting spoke with four gay men who had all entered fatherhood in the past 10 years through different means. One adopted through foster care, and another had an open adoption through a private agency. Another worked with a surrogate in the United States, and one worked with a surrogate overseas. Their experiences and geographies were varied, but several themes emerged. The road toward fatherhood may be more smoothly paved than it was 10 years ago, but there are still significant challenges.

Money in the bank

Jared Gertner of Los Angeles said he often hears a particular encouragement to would-be parents: “Everyone tells you, ‘No one is ever ready to have a child, so just go for it!’ But as a gay man, the opposite is true.”

For men who want to become fathers in the United States without a female sexual partner, there are options. They invariably require a lot of paperwork, and often a lot of money and a long time waiting.

This due process isn’t a bad thing, said Julian Chang of San Diego, who adopted his son four years ago with his husband, Wade Estey. “If everyone had to be fingerprinted and produce their tax records in order to become parents, there would be a lot more wanted children in this world,” Chang said.

With the exception of adoption through foster care, though, the financial costs are often tantamount to buying a car or even a house outright.

By Kendra Lee Stanton, WashingtonPost.com, January 25, 2019

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Federal court allows same-sex couples to challenge Michigan’s anti-gay adoption law

Two same-sex couples are challenging the state’s “license to discriminate.”

A federal judge ruled Friday that a lawsuit challenging Michigan’s “license to discriminate” for religiously affiliated adoption agencies can proceed.

Two same-sex couples, Kristy and Dana Dumont and Erin and Rebecca Busk-Sutton, are directly suing the state for contracting with religious child-placement agencies it knows will refuse service to same-sex couples. In 2015, the legislature approved a law that ensured that agencies receiving taxpayer funding could refuse to serve same-sex couples without endangering their contracts with the state. Both couples have since been denied service from such agencies.

The state, along with St. Vincent Catholic Charities (which has joined the case as an intervenor defendant), argued that the case should be dismissed. But in his opinion Friday, U.S. District Judge Paul Borman, a Clinton appointment, agreed that the couples have made a credible case that the government is improperly entangled in endorsing the anti-gay religious views of these agencies.

“The Plaintiffs allege that the State Defendants could not turn away a same-sex couple on the basis of religious objections, yet they acknowledge that they are permitting their delegated agencies, carrying out a State function, to do exactly what the Constitution forbids them to do,” he wrote.

ThinkProgress.com by Zack Ford, September 17, 2018

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Guardianship for Children – Priceless Peace of Mind

Creating a guardianship for Children may be the most important reason for creating an estate plan.  With a thoughtfully chosen guardian, parents can rest assured that their children will be ok if something were to happen.

A guardianship for children in a Last Will and Testament is the only way to ensure that your children will be with whom you choose in the event of a death of a parent.  To dispel a common misconception, naming someone as a godparent through a church ritual has no legal weight when a guardian is required after the death of a parent or parents.  I would argue that the exercise of choosing that person is good for the parents as it has them thinking about why someone may be a good choice as a guardian for their children, but that exercise is just that until the choice is declared in a properly executed Last Will and Testament.guardianship for children

To be crystal clear, only a child guardian designation made in a properly executed Last Will and Testament is a valid designation of a guardianship for children

Becoming a parent forces that person to think in the long-term.  Imagining your children’s lives without you is certainly not easy but imagining their lives without you and without any clear direction as to where they should live or who they should live with is far worse.

Hypothetically, if no guardianship for children is established in a properly executed Last Will and Testament, the court will look to see if there are any family members who would petition the court to take on that responsibility.  That person, while being a close family member, may not be the person that a parent would choose for their child.  Also, the court prioritizes the closest living blood relatives, so if you have not made your wishes known through a properly executed guardianship for children in a Will, then a more distant family member who may be the better choice would have an uphill battle in court.

Another fact that most parents do not realize is that when there is a guardianship for children properly established in your Last Will and Testament, the designated guardian still must petition the court to be made the legal guardian of the child.  This process is streamlined when the deceased parent has made a clear guardianship for children designation, but that designee must still follow the protocols of having the guardianship established in court.

singleIf no guardianship for children has been properly executed, then the closest living blood relatives must petition the court to be named legal guardian, creating an often time consuming and emotional journey for all involved, especially the children.

While this article focuses on how to properly execute a guardianship for children, I also want to remind readers of the different ways that parents can provide financially for their children if a parent, or parents, die.  Basic estate planning is essentialEstate planning with children in the mix offers new options, and challenges.

Remember also that you can name a guardianship for children even before they are born.  Carefully crafted Wills may refer to “future born children,” as well as defining children to include adopted children, children in utero, children you are in the process of adopting and children who are created through assisted reproductive technology. 

Now that you understand the process, the real work begins.  Being able to have these conversations among parents is crucial. Agreeing upon an appropriate guardianship for children may take time and effort, but it may be the most important decision you will ever make for your family.

 

Anthony M. Brown, Esq. September 7, 2018

 

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