BUT, I’M ON THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE!

Why a Birth Certificate Alone Is Not Sufficient Protection for Your Legal Parentage Rights

A common misconception among LGBT parents is that being listed as a parent on a birth certificate is all that is needed to establish one’s legal parentage to their child.  If only it were so simple.birth certificate

I’d like to give you an example to illustrate the issue more queerly.  Close your eyes and hearken back to the days of yore… It’s late 2013, and the Supreme Court has required the federal government to recognize same sex marriages from the states that allow them.  Nevertheless, we were in a legal enigma: what happened to those marriages when they crossed state lines from a marriage equality state to a non-marriage equality state? Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham and Dana Ann Melancon can tell you what happened to them…the state no longer recognized their marriage.  So, when they moved from California to Mississippi and decided to get divorced, they were in a bit of a pickle. Mississippi decided that their marriage was against the state’s public policy, and therefore, the divorce and division of marital assets that they sought was not available to them.

“How could this have happened?”  You may ask. “What about the Full Faith and Credit Clause from the US Constitution?”  Doesn’t it require that “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State”?  Well, the Supreme Court has held that the Full Faith and Credit Clause is meant to apply to judgments and court orders from one state to the next, but it does not hold the same requirements for laws or administrative records, like marriage certificates.  So, their valid marriage certificate in California was worth the paper it was written on when they moved to Mississippi. Fast forward to Obergefell, and marriage equality is now the law of the land, and the Supreme Court has held that marriage cannot be denied to same sex couples, but that was an issue of individual rights under the Constitution, and not an issue of recognition of administrative records across states.  

So, the issue that existed for marriage certificates a few short years ago still exists for birth certificates today.  You and your co-parent may both be on the birth certificate in your child’s birth state. But, what happens if you get into a car accident on a cross country road trip in a state that decides that your birth certificate is against public policy and therefore need not be recognized?  Seems like a pretty tragic time to be left out in the cold and unable to make medical decisions for your child, especially if your co-parent is not with you or is incapacitated.

by Amira Hasenbush, LGBTBar.org, October 15, 2018

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What does a Kavanaugh Court mean for the LGBT community?

What does a Kavanaugh Court mean for the LGBT community?  In short, a generation’s worth of challenges, dismissals and legitimized discrimination. 

What does a Kavanaugh Court mean for the LGBT community?  Like so many others, I dreaded this question.  I watched in painful anguish during the confirmation circus as the country wrestled with issues as varied and inflammatory as sexual assault, blatant perjury, white entitlement and gender bias.  The outcome was heartbreaking and, dare I say, demoralizing but hopefully the process will bring clarity and power to a growing movement of forward-thinking Americans who will not accept the dismissal of integrity and will stand for the ultimate legitimacy of the Supreme Court.

There is a very real possibility that the new “Kavanaugh” court will hear one of three cases from different Federal Circuit courts that address Federal anti-discrimination protections for the LGBT community.  This issue may reach the court through a case called Bostock v. Clayton County Board of Commissioners.  This case will ask whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends the protections which already exist under the Act to gay and transgender litigants.  This is a key question to be asked because, while many states already do provide anti-discrimination protections for LGBT Americans, but there is no Federal standard.  To be fired from your job simply because you are gay or transgender strikes at the heart of the entire community and is exactly the type of protection that Kavanaugh has signaled he would not extend to our community.

What does a Kavanaugh court mean for the LGBT community?  It may mean that new cases, which touch on the holy grail of anti-gay opposition – religious freedom – offer the conservative court the ability to pay homage to the religious right, from whom they have received unwavering support.  We all know how the “right” has reacted to the courts extending protections to the LGBT community in the past.  Unfortunately, the pendulum is swinging back and because of the nature and timing of judicial nominations, it may take a generation to readjust.

We are looking at potential religious objection cases like the most recent Masterpiece Cake Shop case, which narrowly allowed a baker to refuse service to a gay couple.  The next set of cases may open the door to more blatant discrimination, all in the name of religion.

What does the Kavanaugh nomination mean for the LGBT community?  It means that, once again, we have to rise above the humiliating and successful political gamesmanship that kept Merrick Garland off the court and put Brett Kavanaugh on it.  The republican dishonesty and self-service that created our new court is truly appalling, but our first priority must be to vote out those who would continue to play this stacked deck against us. 

Power begets power and the republicans have been quite successful at winning in state races which allowed them to redraw legislative districts in their favor.  This redistricting has laid the foundation for what we are seeing today: unequal representation in congress, an electoral college that favors republicans, the ability to name judges to federal courts across the land and a deepening divide between the few with power and the majority with less and less.  Until we energize the majority of Americans who believe in affordable and comprehensive health care for all Americans, sensible gun regulation and equal treatment under the law (which truly is the majority of this country), we will continue to cede power to those who have quite effectively taken it from us.

If democrats win just one chamber of the legislature in November’s midterm elections, we will finally see a much needed check on the unfettered power of the current executive.  We may finally be able to investigate the long laundry list of outright violations of the law perpetrated by our President, his cabinet and our new Supreme Court Justice.  But none of this happens if we do not activate and stay engaged.  None of this will happen if we fail to reach out to others in a demonstration of true democratic partnership.  As a community, we must consolidate our political power with immigrants, women, African Americans, health care advocates, sensible gun regulation proponents.  In short, we must vote!

What does the Kavanaugh nomination mean for the LGBT community?  In the most immediate terms it means that we need to protect ourselves now.  If you are transgender, make sure that your correct gender is reflected on identification documents.  If you are a parent who has not had a court ordered establishment of parentage, get your second parent adoption.  If you are unmarried or are in a polyamorous relationship, do the basic estate planning that will protect your family unit in case the unexpected occurs. If you have family members who are unfamiliar your family, or other families like ours, reach out to them and tell them how their vote can directly affect your family.  Tell your story!

My nine year old son asked me why a picture of Brett Kavanaugh was on the cover of Gay City News, my go to source for NYC LGBT news.  I told him that he was going to be very important to the our community because he will decide cases that will affect our lives.  He asked, “do we like him?”  I said that I was a little afraid of how he would treat us.  Then my son said, “what if he was good to us.?”  “What if he made decisions that were good?”  I stopped my anxiety spiral  in that moment and realized whatever Kavanaugh does on the court, I still have my family and I still get to teach my son right from wrong.  My son is the my hope for our future and his ability to see possibility gives me great pride.

What does the Kavanaugh nomination mean for the LGBT community? We have had to fight for our rights before and we will have to continue to fight for the foreseeable future.  But if there is one thing I have learned from my experience in the trenches, it is this: you cannot rely on others to create your future.  Step one: vote in November.  Step 2: never give up.

By Anthony M. Brown, October 10, 2018 Time For Families

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The Anthony Kennedy Retirement  – a Death Knell for LGBT Rights in the Court?

The Anthony Kennedy retirement was a shock to many, as was his pro-LGBT legacy.  Whether the Kennedy legacy will live on with a new Supreme Court remains to be seen.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy was responsible for the first pro-LGBT Supreme Court decision in 1996, when Colorado, by voter ballot, amended its state Constitution to prohibit the state from protecting gay people from discrimination.  This decision, Romer v. Evans, started a conversation among the Justices that would continue on through the marriage cases and beyond the Anthony Kennedy retirement.Anthony Kennedy retirement

Anthony Kennedy laid that ground work for marriage equality by decriminalizing sodomy in the Lawrence v. Texas case, decided in 2003.  I had the privilege of working at Lambda Legal, the attorneys for Petitioner Lawrence, while preparing for that case.  Sodomy was a crime only for gay people in Texas and a conviction of the crime of sodomy was used as an excuse for employment discrimination, removal of children and much more.  This landmark ruling laid the foundation upon which much of our current LGBT jurisprudence rests.

Kennedy authored the Windsor case in 2013 and the Obergefell case in 2015, both of which solidified marriage equality and the federal recognition thereof.  But he also joined the majority siding against LGBT issues in several cases, most recently in the Masterpiece cake shop case.

In order to predict the future of a post-Kennedy Supreme Court’s treatment of LGBT rights, we need to dispense with a few misconceptions.  First, the Republican senate will not hold themselves to the same standard they held President Obama in his attempt to fill the Scalia vacancy.  If they did, they would wait until after the 2018 midterm elections to allow a new, possibly democratic, senate the right to vote on President Trump’s next pick.  Do not hold your breath, but do call Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski!

Second, the Anthony Kennedy retirement will not move current right-leaning Justices to the left in order to preserve the very delicate balance between the conservative and progressive wings of the court.  Roberts, Thomas, Alito and Gorsuch have made their opinions clear on previous LGBT matters before them and another conservative voice on the court will tip the balance against progressive protection of LGBT rights for generations to come.

Finally, there are real and relevant conflict of interest issues which may directly affect criminal and civil prosecutions directed at the very president that would be nominating Supreme Court Justice who would be hearing them.  If there were ever a “litmus test” issue, it is not abortion or LGBT rights, it is the potential ability of a sitting president to be indicted or prosecuted.

Anthony Kennedy retirementWhat is most troubling about Anthony Kennedy’s legacy is what he did not do.  Kennedy was a wordsmith, much to the chagrin of many in the legal community.  He never clearly defined what level of legal scrutiny gay people deserved in equal protection cases.  The equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution provides for different levels of protection depending on which category the discriminated class falls into.  The legal scrutiny that a class receives often determines whether the discrimination is permissible or not.  The key indicators of whether a case deserves heightened scrutiny were, perhaps purposefully, left out of Kennedy’s written decisions regarding LGBT litigants.  He shied away from describing gay people as a “subject classification.”  

Kennedy did not discuss whether a “compelling state interest” existed to justify the discrimination, another word indicator of common equal protection analysis.  My fear is that the absence of a clear direction for equal protection scrutiny will now be left in the hands of a decidedly more conservative court.  Make no mistake; they will not speak around the issue as Kennedy was accused of doing.

The Anthony Kennedy retirement will, and should, cause LGBT individuals, couples and families to reevaluate their own legal affairs.  The good news is that the most important issues, such as estate planning, second and step adoption protections and anti-discrimination policies are state based.  This cuts both ways if you live in a state which does not provide adequate protections for LGBT Americans. 

While it is unlikely that the Supreme Court would overturn their 2016 decision in V.L. v. E.L., a case which required states to recognize the second parent adoptions of other states, of particular interest to gay couples moving to less LGBT friendly states, a newly conservative court may take the opportunity to allow a state to deny recognition of a pre or post-birth order for a gay male couple establishing parentage after surrogacy from another state.  While this fact pattern has not yet arisen, it is foolish to deny that anti-LGBT organizations will be looking for ways to chip away at the protections we have fought so dearly for.

If the Anthony Kennedy retirement can teach us anything, it is that being proactive in the creation and protection of our families is no longer optional, it is imperative.  Create your estate plan if you do not have one.  If you have been putting off your second parent adoption, don’t!  Give to Lambda Legal, the ACLU, NCLR and GLAD.  If the senate allows Trump to nominate and appoint a new Justice to the Supreme Court, we, as LGBT Americans, will be living with that choice for the next generation.  That is the sad and simple reality. 

By Anthony M. Brown, June 29, 2018

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Some L.G.B.T. Parents Reject the Names ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’

When Amanda Davidson, a 42-year-old Los Angeles-based artist and writer, welcomed her firstborn child in December — a boy named Felix — with her partner Isaac Schankler, 39, a composer, she chafed at the assumptions the medical staff members made about how the pair wanted to identify themselves as parents.

“‘Hi, Mommy! Where’s Daddy? Mommy needs to know this, but so does Daddy,’” she said with a big laugh. The binary clashed so much with how the couple sees themselves and exists in the world — she’s queer-identified, and her partner goes by pronouns they/their/them and uses the gender-neutral title Mx. — she refrained from calling herself anything vis-à-vis Felix for the first two weeks of his life.

She eventually settled on Mama. “I was racking my brain for a mama-alternate, but it feels right for the moment,” she said, adding that in her universe, “identity wiggles around,” and she’s open to other possibilities.estate planning

Mx. Schankler remembers reading the queer writer Andrea Lawlor’s essay on identifying as “Baba” (as opposed to some iteration of mother) in Mutha magazine and thinking that “dad” or “daddy” wouldn’t work for them either, so they opted for “Abba.” It means “dad” in Hebrew, providing a link to their Jewish heritage: “It does feel more gender-neutral, or at least doesn’t have quite the same baggage that dad and daddy have,” Mx. Schankler said.

Naming is particularly important to the pair as a means of signaling their queerness, since they “pass” as a straight couple. “We don’t look visibly queer,” Ms. Davidson said, “So in some ways, our choice of names helps us affirm our identities.”

The duo’s ambivalence about traditional monikers is reflected in a study, currently under peer review, on the naming practices in same-sex adoptive families. The study, by Abbie E. Goldberg, Clark University’s pioneering L.G.B.T. family scholar; Melissa Manley, a doctoral student, and Emma Frank, a recent Clark graduate, is one of the few on the topic. It found that of 80 participants — 20 lesbian couples and 20 gay couples — recruited from adoption agencies across the United States, including cities with high concentrations of lesbian and gay populations, all opted for derivatives of mother and father.

A quarter of them, however — 20 percent of the lesbian couples and 5 percent of the gay couples — participated in some version of “undoing gender.” Many do this by taking parental names from their native cultures or religions that strip away the binary in this cultural context, collapsing the dichotomy between terms by merging them, such as “Mather,” a fusion of mother and father, or creating nicknames (“Muzzie,” in one instance).

Ellen Kahn, the director of the Children, Youth & Families Program at the Human Rights Campaign, said the gender binary that underlies “mother” and “father” doesn’t jibe with some parents’ self-understanding and self-presentation: “For queer parents who don’t think of themselves as gender conforming, ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy’ may be a little discordant with the way they think about themselves.”

Both Dr. Goldberg and Ms. Kahn surmise that the couples who are using new terminologies are willing to do so because of the hard-won rights L.G.B.T. people have secured, particularly the right to marry. “Now there’s more willingness to push some of those boundaries,” Dr. Goldberg said, “because of greater legal recognition and acceptance.”

by Stephanie Fairyington – New York Times April 26, 2018

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Known Donor Family Law New York – Protecting Lesbian Mothers

Known Donor Family Law New York is changing. 

Many lesbian couples look to known donor family law New York prior to choosing known donors to help them have their families.  In my legal practice, I have seen this number increase steadily over the last 10 years.  Reasons for choosing a known donor include giving children a link to their biological heritage, having access to specific medical histories and providing male influences in the lives of children born into these progressive families.

The law appears to be coalescing in favor of intended mothers and a recent Appellate Division case moves known donor family law in New York further in that direction.  Before discussing the new case, let me give you a brief history of existing known donor family law in New York.known donor family law New York

Existing Family Law Treatment

Brooklyn Family Court Judicial Hearing Officer (JHO) Harold Ross, in a decision titled The Matter of L., et. al, held that as long as uncertainty exists for LGBT couples who create their families with assisted reproductive technology (ART), with both anonymous and known donors, then second parent adoptions are the best way to secure those families from this uncertainty.

In the Matter of Brooke S.B. v. Elizabeth A.  C.C., a landmark decision released in August of 2016, the New York’s highest court overturned previous New York precedent that had torn families apart for decades and ruled that non-biological and non-adoptive parents did have standing to sue for custody and visitation in the New York family court system.  While this case did not specifically address the issue of a known donor’s rights to a child he helped come to be, it brought New York family law in line with many other states which recognize “de facto” parents for the purpose of custody and visitation and prioritizes the best interests of the child in making these critical decisions.

New Case Law 

This new known donor case, entitled In the Matter of Christopher YY v. Jessica ZZ and Nicole ZZ, New York’s Appellate Division, Third Department (whose jurisdiction covers matters derived in South Central New York State to North Eastern and Central Eastern Counties in New York) addressed the issue of a known donor who sought to have a paternity test ordered by a family court.  The family court agreed with the donor and ordered the testing.  The mothers filed an appeal and the result of that appeal was to overturn the lower family court’s decision to order paternity testing for two reasons, thus codifying new known donor family law in New York.

The first reason was the marital status of the mothers.  They were married when they planned on having the child and they had an informal agreement (one drafted and executed without the benefit of legal counsel) with their donor, something that all intended mothers should have with their known donor prior to insemination.  The court stated that there existed a “presumption of legitimacy of a child born to a married woman.”  Even if this presumption exists, the court must conduct a “best interests of the child” analysis before any paternity testing can be ordered.

known sperm donorsThe key question is whether the paternity testing is in the best interests of a child.  The court determined that the presumption existed regardless of the gender of the parents, a huge statement of support for lesbian couples across New York.  However, that presumption can be “rebutted” by a donor in certain circumstances.  The court looked at the facts of this case, the existence of an agreement in which the donor stated that he would not seek paternity, and the lack of a significant relationship between the donor and the child after the child’s birth. 

To determine whether the presumption of parentage that the court established for the non-birth mother could be rebutted, they applied the concept of “equitable estoppel,” which bars a legal claim by a party if that claim is inconsistent with a prior position taken by them and relied upon by the other party.  In this case, the prior position was outlined in the known donor agreement he signed with the mothers, that he would not attempt to establish paternity,  and his lack of a relationship with the child after her birth.  Equitable estoppel prevented the known donor from proving to the court that the paternity testing was in the best interest of the child.

What does this case mean for Known Donor Family Law New York? 

This case is certainly a step in the right direction.  But these cases are fact specific and unless there is a legal instrument, such as a step or second parent adoption order, the possibility of taking a party to court will always be a financially and emotionally time-consuming specter over a family.  Another benefit of a step or second parent adoption is that is clearly and indisputably terminates the rights of a known donor, making a claim such as the one made by the donor in this case, a nullity.

Known Donor Family Law New York is moving in the right direction.  If you are considering a known donor, you must also consider how best to secure your family from unwanted paternity or visitation suits.  For answers to your questions, please contact Anthony M. Brown at anthony@timeforfamilies.com or visit www.timeforfamilies.com.

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Swiss Gays and lesbians can now adopt stepchildren

From January 1, same-sex couples and de facto spouses may adopt stepchildren in Switzerland.

In addition, the secrecy surrounding adoption will be loosened so adopted children and their biological parents will be able to get in contact more easily. Swiss gay

Until now, only married people have been able to adopt their spouses’ children. In Switzerland, homosexuals have been able to enter into a civil partnership since 2007, but gay marriage is not recognised. From 2018 however, adoption will be possible for anyone in a civil partnership or a longterm relationship. 

Swiss law will thus align itself closer to that of other western European countries and the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. 

That said, a couple in a civil partnership will still be unable to adopt a child who is biologically unrelated to both parents. This means that a gay person can adopt if single, but not when in a civil partnership. 

The adoption option was deliberately left out of the nationwide vote on approving civil partnerships for gays in 2005 in order to increase the chances of success. 

December 26, 2017 via SwissInfo.ch

By Sibilla Bondolfi

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As Surrogacy Surges, New Parents Seek Legal Protections

As more couples turn to surrogates to carry their child, some states are considering further protections for the intended parents, many of whom are gay, by handling custody issues before a child is born.

When Brad Hoylman and his husband wanted to start a family, they looked to a woman nearly 3,000 miles away to carry their child.Hoylman

The two Manhattanites turned to a surrogate in California, a state with a robust commercial surrogacy industry, because the practice is banned in New York.

The advent of gay marriage, advances in reproductive technology, and the fact that more people are waiting longer to start families have fueled a surge in the surrogacy industry.

In 2015, 2,807 babies were born through surrogacy in the U.S., up from 738 in 2004, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Women are often paid at least $30,000 to carry a baby created from the egg and sperm of others.

But in many places, once the baby arrives, outdated state laws fail to answer an important question: Who are the parents?

In many states the law is murky or even silent on surrogacy. The industry is free to operate but the contracts signed between surrogates and intended parents may not be legally binding. The baby may be born in a state that views the woman who gave birth as its mother, even if she has no genetic connection to the child.

The legal uncertainty is particularly concerning to the intended parents, who usually spend about $100,000 (including payments to a surrogate and the company she works with as well as doctors and lawyers) and risk ending up without the child they counted on. Gay male couples have an additional fear: that they might be discriminated against if they are embroiled in a legal fight over custody.

In states that ban commercial surrogacy and those with no laws at all, legislators are pushing bills that would legalize the practice, determine parentage before a child arrives, and ensure that contracts are enforceable and followed by all parties. In many cases, they would require surrogates to be at least 21, to have already given birth to their own children, and to undergo medical and psychiatric evaluations before signing a contract.

Hoylman, a state senator from New York, introduced a bill this year that would legalize surrogacy in his state and establish the legal framework of intended parentage.

Surrogacy became legal in Washington, D.C., in April, and lawmakers in Minnesota and Massachusetts debated bills this year but didn’t approve them. In New Jersey, state lawmakers passed similar bills in 2012 and in 2015, but Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed them. The Senate passed another bill this week.

Women and Babies as Commodities?

Critics of surrogacy, including both religious conservatives and some feminists, object to what they view as the commodification of both women and children. Opponents point to numerous European countries that have banned the practice and say states should be wary of letting American women be used by others, including foreigners searching for surrogates beyond their borders.

For many, the financial aspect of surrogacy is most troubling.

“Women will be exploited by wealthy people,” said Jason Adkins, executive director of Minnesota’s Catholic Conference. “We see all kinds of Hollywood stars contracting with surrogates, but we don’t see any Hollywood stars serving as surrogates for their nannies and maids.”

Surrogacy companies prefer to work with women they consider financially stable in order to avoid women who may be acting out of financial desperation. Medicaid does not cover surrogacy costs, and women who are enrolled in the program would risk losing coverage for themselves and their families if they carry a surrogate baby.

By Rebecca Beitsch, Huffingtonpost.com, june 29, 2017

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Why Do I Have To Adopt My Own Daughter?

This Pride, I’ll be marching for my daughter, who isn’t securely mine without adoption.

This year’s Pride Parade will be different. On June 25th, LGBT New Yorkers and their straight allies will congregate in the streets of Manhattan with an urgency the city hasn’t seen since the 80s AIDS crisis or the Stonewall Riots in 1969, which galvanized the modern day Gay Rights Movement. Tens of thousands will stomp down Fifth Avenue protesting the Trump Administration’s sustained efforts to roll back—way back—LGBT progress. I’ll be joining them, but mostly I’ll be marching for my daughter Marty, who, it turns out, isn’t securely mine without an adoption.

Since taking office in January, Trump has rejected proposed changes to include LGBT-related questions on the U.S. Census; he erased a page dedicated to LGBT Rights from the White House’s official website; he rescinded the guidelines Obama put forth allowing trans students to use the bathrooms that correspond with their gender expression; and he partially revoked an Obama-era executive order compelling federal contractors to demonstrate their compliance with anti-discrimination directives.lesbian moms

Although I thought Marty was already mine in no uncertain terms, a few months ago, while researching estate planning attorneys, my spouse Sabrina and I discovered just how tenuous my relationship to Marty could be without a second-parent adoption. Despite the fact that she was born within my marriage, that my name is on her birth certificate, that we live in New York, one of the most progressive states in the country, and that our marriage is recognized by the federal government, every major LGBT advocacy group strongly advises me—and every other non-gestational parent—to complete a second-parent adoption to protect our family from potential legal consequences. And it will cost, at best, a whopping$4,000.

Neglecting to adopt Marty could have shattering consequences: If we ever visit or live in a state where family law is not settled on questions surrounding the legal status of non-biological parents, or one that continues to challenge marital equality, or another country that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, my parentage could be disputed by a medical or school administrator. In cases of life or death, and the need for immediate decision-making authority, that could be especially devastating.

According to Anthony M. Brown, an LGBT family law attorney in New York City, it’s not just news to me. “Gay couples are often surprised and indignant by the necessity of second-parent adoption because they believe we’ve already fought and won this battle,” he says. “But the battle is still playing out in family courts around the country and world.”

“Emboldened legislatures,” he adds, “are attempting to whittle away at marriage rights through parentage issues.” Arkansas and Indiana, for examples, refuse to allow non-biological parents in same-sex marriages to appear on their children’s birth certificates. And a judge in Kentucky thinks he can recuse himself from gay adoptions because, he says, “under no circumstance would ‘… the best interest of the child … be promoted by adoption …’ by a practicing homosexual.”

These legal quagmires existed before Trump was elected, but his presence in the Oval Office adds new anxieties for same-sex parents. “In the Trump era,” says Cathryn Oakley, a senior legislative counselor at the Human Rights Campaign, “where we see more rhetoric about it being OK to discriminate and Trump giving credence to those who say they should have a religious right to refuse services to same-sex couples, you need to have every possible protection.”

by Stephanie Fairyington, Elle .com June 23, 2017

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In Gay Rights Case, Woman to Appeal for Parental Rights to Ex-Partner’s Son

A Manhattan woman who went to court to prove that she should be considered a legal parent to a child adopted by her former same-sex partner is planning to appeal after losing her case last week.

“I have to keep going,” said Kelly Gunn, 52, of the West Village area of Manhattan. “I’m going to do everything I can to protect him and protect my relationship as parent.”

Ms. Gunn went to court last September to prevent her former partner, Circe Hamilton, 45, from moving to her native London with Abush, the 7-year-old whom Ms. Hamilton had adopted from Ethiopia in 2011.

Ms. Gunn and Ms. Hamilton were a couple when they began planning for the adoption, but they separated in 2010 before Abush had been identified by the adoption agency. In court, Ms. Gunn argued that because the adoption plan had been created when they were together, and because she had provided support and care once the boy arrived, she merited the legal status of parent. Ms. Hamilton argued that their adoption plan had ended with their separation and said that the role Ms. Gunn had played in the boy’s life was akin to that of a godmother or a close friend.

Circe Hamilton

Ms. Gunn’s arguments were made possible because of a newly expanded definition of parenthood in New York. Bringing custody law up to date with the realities of same-sex and other nontraditional parenting arrangements, the State Court of Appeals ruled in August that a caretaker who is not related to, or the adoptive guardian of, a child could still seek custody and visitation rights.

The landmark ruling in that 2016 case, known as Brooke S. B., was written by Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first African-American woman on the court, who last week was found dead in the Hudson River.

Increasing numbers of children were being deprived of access to a loving de facto parent, Judge Abdus-Salaam wrote, simply because that parent did not appear on an adoption paper or have a biological tie. The ruling created a new legal test.

“Where a partner shows by clear and convincing evidence that the parties agreed to conceive a child and to raise the child together, the nonbiological, nonadoptive partner has standing to seek visitation and custody,” she wrote.

In one of the first applications of that ruling, Judge Frank P. Nervo concluded in his April 11 decision that Ms. Gunn had failed to prove that her role in Abush’s life rose to the level of parent. Citing her emails to Ms. Hamilton, he said that Ms. Gunn “herself acknowledged repeatedly that the plan to adopt a child with respondent died with their relationship.”

Nancy Chemtob, Ms. Gunn’s lawyer, has 20 days to seek a continued stay of the ruling before Ms. Hamilton can leave the country with Abush. “I believe that this decision doesn’t follow Brooke,” she said.

Bonnie Rabin, one of Ms. Hamilton’s lawyers, said the ruling should allay concerns that a trusted caretaker could suddenly claim parental rights under the state’s expanded definition of parentage. “That would be very scary to parents,” she said.

New York Times, by Sharon Ottoman, April 19, 2017

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Second Parent Adoption Necessity: Securing Parentage in Uncertain Times

Second parent adoption necessity has become the primary topic of discussion for me both at work and in my private life. 

Is there a second parent adoption necessity?  Everyone wants to know whether their family is safe.  Since January 2017, I have received more calls from parents who have not gone through the second parent adoption process for whatever reason and are now concerned that their children may be the ones who suffer from the lack of clear and incontrovertible parentage; a parentage that second parent adoption provides.

Why do I have to adopt my own child?  Many gay and lesbian parents are asking this question when attempting to understand the second parent adoption necessity.  In New York, married lesbian couples who have used anonymous sperm donors are allowed to be listed as a parent on their child’s birth certificate.  Gay couples who have children with the help of a surrogate mother may have petitioned for and received a pre or post-birth order declaring them the legal parents of their children.  They may also be on their children’s birth certificate.  So why is second parent adoption a necessity?second parent adoption necessity

The answer to this question is perhaps the most confounding that I have had to provide clients and friends.  If you can guarantee that your relationship will never end in divorce or dissolution and that, if it does, both individuals will prioritize the best interests of the child first and foremost, then perhaps you can get by without a second parent adoption.  But the reality of a relationship ending is never certain and, unfortunately, the non-genetically related parent is vulnerable to what may be costly and emotionally terrifying consequences.  While the few cases we have seen that have addressed the issue of the validity of a pre or post-birth order have ultimately upheld those orders, those cases cost the litigants tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.  This is because every jurisdiction has different laws around parentage, some more friendly than others.

With a second parent adoption, there is no question about the parentage rights of a non-genetically related parent.  Even with recent New York case law protecting non-adoptive lesbian parents, there remains questions about what rights other than the standing to sue for custody and visitation exist without adoption.  Federal social security benefits attach to “natural or adopted” children.  Inheritance rights attach to “natural or adopted” children.  Without adoption, future clarification will be needed to accurately assess when parentage exists.

Assisted Reproductive Technology and Gay Families – Sometimes it feels  like we are all just waiting for the law to catch up to how gay and lesbian couples have their families.  One recent decision from Brooklyn, Kings County Family Court to be precise, describes this issue masterfully and concludes that second parent adoption is the one way to ensure that couples are protected as state courts and legislatures grapple with assisted reproductive technology (ART) issues.

While the court in this decision confirms that a parental relationship exists in most cases with or without the adoption, it also holds that married gay and lesbian couples are entitled to second parent adoptions to expel any doubt about parentage and to protect families, particularly when they travel throughout the country and around the world.  The good news is that in many states, New York included, a marriage is not a prerequisite for a second parent adoption.

Whether you are a lesbian couple with a known donor or an anonymous donor, or whether you are a gay couple with a surrogate mother and a pre or post-birth order, the second parent adoption necessity is very real.  Second parent adoption is the right choice to make to protect your family from any future uncertainties.

For more information, email me at Anthony@timeforfamilies.com or visit www.timeforfamilies.com for more information.

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