2012 was in many ways a record year for progress towards LGBT equality—but we still have things to accomplish in 2013. Here are my top 10 wishes for LGBT parents and our children in the year ahead.
Relationship recognition: Marriage brings with it many legal benefits and protections—but it also prevents our children from feeling they are second-class because their parents can’t partake in the institution that most defines stable, loving adult relationships in our society.
Same-sex parents were active in all four states that faced—and won—marriage equality ballot measures in 2012 (Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington). In Washington, lesbian grandmas Jane Abbott Lighty and Pete-e Petersen, 77 and 85 years young, respectively, were the first to legally wed.
In 2013, several states, including Delaware, Illinois, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, could see legislative action to allow same-sex couples to marry. Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear cases that could make it legal in California and/or ensure federal recognition of same-sex couples’ marriages.
Parental recognition. Marriage equality is not the same as parental equality, however. One legally married lesbian couple in Iowa had to fight a long court battle to have the non-biological mother placed on their stillborn child’s death certificate. Another married couple is fighting there so they may both be on their child’s birth certificate.
And just as opposite-sex couples do not need to be married in order to be recognized as parents, neither should same-sex couples. Yes, we need the option of marriage as a matter of equality, but should not rest all of our parental recognition upon that institution.
We therefore also need to expand the number of states that allow LGBT people (and others) to be recognized as “de facto” parents by virtue of a parent-child relationship and responsibilities and the legal parent’s consent. Currently, only one state, Delaware, will recognize de facto parents as having full parenting rights.
We also need more states to consider people parents because they consented to a partner’s insemination. Only 16 plus D.C. now do so for those in legal relationships, and a mere three states plus D.C. do so for those outside of legal relationships.
Adoption rights. In only 18 states plus D.C. can LGBT parents petition for joint adoption statewide. Five states (Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Utah) restrict same-sex couples from doing so. The remaining states are uncertain.
Second-parent adoption of a same-sex partner’s biological or legally adopted child by the other partner is only allowed statewide in 13 states plus D.C. It is restricted in seven others, and uncertain in the remaining 30.
Even in states where both same-sex parents may appear on their children’s birth certificates (because of marriage, civil union, or domestic partnership), LGBT legal organizations advise them to complete second-parent adoptions since other states and the federal government may not recognize the second parent’s right to be on the birth certificate.
Better safe schools laws. Eighteen states have no laws that explicitly protect students from discrimination or bullying that is based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Only six states prohibit discrimination based on those with whom a student associates, such as a parent. Many states could also beef up the required training, monitoring, and enforcement of their anti-bullying laws across the board.
Positive inclusion of LGBT people in school curricula and discussion. Eight states (Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah) have laws that prohibit teachers from discussing LGBT issues or mentioning them in a positive light. And even in other states, LGBT inclusion in the curriculum—or even knowing how to respond when a student brings up LGBT matters—is rare. Invisibility can lead to feelings of isolation among LGBT students and children of LGBT parents, and misunderstanding among non-LGBT students. Among older students, elimination of LGBT-inclusive materials in health classes can mean endangering students’ lives.
Inclusion in children’s media. Few children’s books, and no mainstream children’s television shows, include LGBT people and our families. We need them for the same reasons we need inclusion in school curricula.
More awareness of gender variation. From the moment a new parent is asked, “Boy or girl?” society tries to weigh us down with gender labels and expectations for our children. We must continue to work towards inclusion and acceptance, recognizing that many parents and children—from tomboys to transgender people—don’t fit those molds.
Equality in senior care. LGBT seniors cannot access a same-sex partner’s Social Security benefits and are treated as single (to the couple’s financial detriment) under Medicaid. Many suffer discrimination in elder care facilities. For those with children (and sometimes grandchildren), this can burden the entire family.
Basic protections. LGBT parents also need the same basic protections as any LGBT people, including nondiscrimination laws in employment and housing, as well as immigration policies that put same- and opposite-sex couples on an equal footing.
Time for our families. In all of our efforts to change the world, we must remember why we do so. Sometimes the most important thing we can do is take the time to play a game or read a book with our children, or simply spend a few minutes listening to them talk about their day. In the end, raising our children will be our most significant contribution to making the world a better place.
Best wishes to you and your families in 2013.
(Thanks to the Movement Advancement Project at lgbtmap.org for much of the data above.)
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (www.mombian.com), an award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.