* additional information on the real life publications quoted in Charles Xavier's fictional obituaries and why the obits are so different
* literature quoted in the series with references for etext for those who wish to read the source texts.
Queer parenting is a topic close to my heart. One of the reasons I was originally interested in writing Jean-Paul “Northstar” Beaubier is that he is canonically a gay dad, having adopted a baby girl who dies of HIV. In my fiction, gay parenting shows up in Northstar’s history, in a lesbian couple who have a child through donor insemination, and through Adam’s disrupted adoption of Daniel and the eventual successful adoption that Adam and Jean-Paul do together, of newborn baby Ezra. In this series, gay parenting also shows up in the person of Jake Patterson, who grew up in a queer family.
Lesbians and gay men have always been parents, but trends in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century have changed the picture of gay parenting in the reality of American society and in the public understanding of the phenomenon. Prior to the mid-1980s there were very few planned gay and lesbian families. Generally gay men and lesbians with children had begun parenting while in heterosexual relationships and had come out later. Issues of gay parenting were therefore inextricably bound up with issues of divorce and often of step-parenting.
The “gayby boom” that began in the 1980s and has been growing ever since changed all that. Lesbian couples began having children through donor insemination in large numbers. Sperm bank procedures changed, options opened up, and women had children together through both unknown and known donor arrangements. These families challenged conventional notions about the tie between parenting and biology. Similarly, as certain adoption routes became accessible to gay and lesbian couples – either openly or more often in a “don’t ask don’t tell” way – the numbers of two-mother and two-father families grew, and still continues to grow. To a lesser extent, gay male couples have managed to parent through surrogacy as well. There’s a large body of literature – both academic and popular level – on gay parenting. Families with two mothers or two fathers began to show up in children’s literature and in popular culture of a variety of kinds.
Legal issues for gay families are complex and changing rapidly and vary greatly from place to place, including within the United States. Advances in some states are often followed by setbacks, and progress in some parts of the country is met by backlash in others. I have seen this trend going on for the past 25 years and expect that it will continue in the “not so distant future” of my stories. There are a lot of same-sex couples with children who, like Jean-Paul and Adam, do not have equal legal rights and responsibilities to their children. I see this circumstance as one that will not be solved completely until same-sex marriage is completely legally accepted, at least in this country. In the United States, marriage is legally tied very strongly to parenting.
A child of a marriage is legally presumed to be the child of both spouses, regardless of biology. When a heterosexual couple conceives through donor insemination using an unknown donor, they are both the legal parents of the resulting child and are both on the birth certificate as such. If a heterosexual couple adopts, the child gets a new birth certificate with both parents’ names on it. Lesbian and gay couples don’t (except in a few jurisdictions) have the rights as parents that straight people take for granted. My children, for example, have only one parent’s name on their birth certificates. Ezra’s amended certificate has only Adam’s name and only Adam is legally responsible for him. As Jake said, Adam could legally decide he has sole custody and prevent Jean-Paul from seeing Ezra except as he chooses. Adam assures Jake that he would never do that.
In real life breakups, that dynamic has happened. There is very complicated case law associated with it but, in general, the birth or adoptive parent is the sole legal parent. In the course of a bitter divorce, many people conclude that their ex-partner is not a suitable parent. In some cases that may be true, but someone is often not at his or her best in judging the person they are divorcing. There’s something to be said for having an impartial third party make a decision on custody and visitation, if the parties cannot agree.
Adam and Jean-Paul are too principled to take advantage of the legal advantages they each hold. Adam with all the rights could limit Jean-Paul’s access and Jean-Paul with no responsibilities could choose not to support his child financially. Neither will do that because they both understand that Ezra is theirs and the law is an ass. Many divorcing lesbian and gay couples in real life are just as principled as they are and persist to coparent in very difficult circumstances. Some do not.
A new legal tool was pioneered in the 1980s to rectify this problem and it has spread through some of the United States on a state-by-state (and sometimes county by county) basis. It’s called second-parent adoption and Adam tells Jake that he and Jean-Paul had intended to go through with this procedure, but the problems of war and moving prevented them from doing so. Second-parent adoption allows for the non-legal parent to adopt the child without the legal one relinquishing. It is available in only some states, and is more or less expensive, intrusive and difficult depending upon where one lives. Backlash has caused it to be available, then disappear, and then sometimes come back in certain jurisdictions. Also, unprincipled divorcing gay and lesbian parents have sometimes dealt blows to second parent adoption. In a famous case in the past few years, a divorcing lesbian mother sought to have all second parent adoptions in California (the first state to do them) nullified in order to eliminate her ex-partner’s parental rights. It’s a complicated case which I won’t explain in detail here, but I will say that she won early battles – sending panic into the hearts of lesbian and gay couples throughout the state – but ultimately lost the war and California still has many same-sex couples with equal rights to their children. Some states have none.
Lesbian and gay parenting is not just a legal issue. It is a major social issue in the U.S. as well and a touchstone for conservative elements trying to forestall gay rights and integration of gay people into society at all levels. Curricula supportive of an inclusive definition of family have been controversial in public schools in a number of jurisdictions. The controversy over the “Children of the Rainbow” curriculum in New York City in 1993 led to the firing of then school chancellor Fernandez, and coverage of this issue in the national press. I wrote an essay on how to choose schools supportive of gay families at the time and it was reprinted a few places. If anyone’s interested, let me know and I’ll dig up a copy.
Some resources on lesbian and gay parenting:
A good source for information on the psychological research surrounding lesbian and gay parenting is the American Psychological Association. See http://www.apa.org/pi/parent.html.
Legal issues around gay parenting are covered well by Lambda Legal and National Center for Lesbian Rights, at http://www.lambdalegal.org/cgi-bin/iowa/index.html and http://www.nclrights.org/ respectively.
Family Pride Coalition is an umbrella organization of gay parenting organizations, providing support, information and networking to queer families. See their website at http://www.familypride.org/index.php.