August 7th, 2006

Haring Family

Gay Parenting 101: What is the Legal Status of Same-Sex Parents?

This is a very large and complex topic and I won’t presume to give an exhaustive reply. I’m going to limit myself mostly to the U.S., and I’m going to limit the topic as well by talking only about planned lesbian and gay families, where a male or female couple have a child together, through any of the methods described here. And even with those limits I’m only going to scratch the surface.

In general, when lesbian and gay couples have children, only one of the two parents is legally recognized as a parent. There are a few exceptions to that rule, which I’ll cover in a later post, but in this one I want to explain why it is that we aren’t both recognized as parents and what effect that has on our families. In the United States, rights and responsibilities associated with parenthood are generally tied to: biology (in particular, the act of giving birth) and marriage. Collapse )

Now, obviously we shouldn’t have to do all that. It’s unfair and unjust that lesbian and gay couples need to be so careful about where we live and where we work and need to put together a myriad of legal documents just to get some of the benefits that straight people get with a trip to city hall or church (and they get all those gifts and money, too!) But beyond that, the real problem is that none of that is enough. None of that gives us the rights and responsibilities of parenthood in an equal way, the way that heterosexual couples get automatically. We think and we plan and we work to rectify unequal laws but things can still go terribly wrong. When is it a problem to not both legal parents, even with a supportive community and all that legal documentation? When things go very wrong: death and divorce.

Next up: What can and has gone terribly wrong for legally unrecognized parents?
Haring Family

Gay Parenting 101: Death and Divorce

For some lesbian and gay families, the day-to-day effects of only one parent being legally recognized as such are minimal. We can have an assortment of legal documents drawn up that cover most ordinary situations. Some of us can afford private insurance; others have enlightened employers who provide insurance for the whole family. We may live somewhere where there are good options for schools and camps and community centers that recognize our families for what they are. Still, even with all that in place, there are two times when legal status can count for a lot: death and divorce. Collapse )

In What’s Past Is Prologue Jean-Paul and Adam struggle with these issues when they break up, in much the way that real life separating gay and lesbian parents do. Adam is the sole legal parent but he’s committed to coparenting, even with a new lover who seems to want to squeeze Jean-Paul out. Jean-Paul is insecure about his parenthood without legal structures to back him up and asks that Adam not tell his new lover that he (J-P) has no legal rights. Adam does the right thing for a variety of reasons, but would he have if there had been more rancor between them? Not everyone manages to.

What tools are available to prevent the legal issues that plague children of same sex parents if one parent dies or the couple breaks up? There are a few, none of them perfect.

Next Up: Tools to Protect Children of Same Sex Parents: Second Parent Adoption, Joint Adoption, Domestic Partnership, Civil Union and Marriage. How They Work, Where They Are Available and Where They’re Not and Why They Are Inadequate