Legislators file joint adoption bills for LGBT parents

Anchia.RafaelRep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, and Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, filed companion bills today (Wednesday, Dec. 17) that would allow adopted children in Texas to have the names of both parents listed on their supplemental birth certificates, regardless of the parents’ gender.

HB 537 and SB 250 would amend the Texas Health and Safety Code, which requires the supplemental birth certificate of an adopted child be in the names of the adoptive parents, one female and the other male.

“Texas families come in all shapes and sizes, including those formed by adoption. An adopted child needs to have a birth certificate that accurately reflects the child’s family,“  said Anchia.  “Texas laws should protect and support the rights of children and families — not hinder them.”

Under the current law, adopted children of same-gender couples are denied accurate birth certificates, which can cause difficulty in obtaining a passport or Social Security card or in registering for school.

“This bill removes an unreasonable obstacle to some children getting the important legal documentation they need,“  Garcia said.  “A birth certificate is vital and should accurately reflect both parents.  Neither these children nor their parents should be burdened with an incomplete birth certificate that omits a loving parent.”

As it stands, the requirement compels same-gender parents to carry and present documentation proving their legal parentage for medical care, school enrollment and international travel. Without a birth certificate, the child is left in legal limbo and can never have the same recognition of family status that is afforded other adopted children.

This will be the fourth consecutive legislative session that Anchia has filed this legislation. This is the first time the bill has been filed in the Senate.

—  James Russell

High court denies appeal from gay couple seeking accurate birth certificate for adopted child

Ken Upton

Ken Upton

In a setback for same-sex parenting rights, the nation’s high court today refused to hear a challenge of a Louisiana policy barring gay couples from obtaining accurate birth certificates for their adopted children. Lambda Legal reports:

The U.S. Supreme Court today denied Lambda Legal’s petition for a writ of certiorari in the case of a same-sex couple seeking an accurate birth certificate for their Louisiana-born son whom they adopted in New York. The Louisiana state registrar has refused to recognize the adoption and issue a birth certificate listing both fathers as the boy’s parents.

“By denying this writ, the Supreme Court is leaving untouched a dangerous Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that carves out an exception to the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution and to the uniformly recognized respect for judgments that states have come to rely upon,” said Kenneth D. Upton, Supervising Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office in Dallas. “This decision leaves adopted children and their parents vulnerable in their interactions with officials from other states.”

“More particularly, this decision leaves a child without an accurate birth certificate listing both his parents,” Upton added. “This issue now moves into the legislative arena. We need to push for a change in Louisiana state policy in order to stabilize and standardize respect for parent-child relationships for all adoptive children.”

Lambda Legal represents Oren Adar and Mickey Smith in their case against Louisiana State Registrar Darlene Smith. Adar and Smith are a gay couple who adopted their Louisiana-born son in 2006 in New York, where a judge issued an adoption decree. When the couple attempted to get a new birth certificate for their child, in part so Smith could add his son to his health insurance, the registrar’s office told him that Louisiana does not recognize adoption by unmarried parents and would not issue it with both adopted parents’ names.

Upton, who’s based in Dallas, has said he’s also interested in challenging Texas’ statute, which says the adoptive parents listed on an amended birth certificate must be a man and a woman. State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, introduced a bill this year that would have allowed same-sex couples to have both their names on adoptive birth certificates, but the bill didn’t make it out of committee.

“This case has direct implications for TX, which does not provide accurate birth certificates for adopted children with same-sex parents,” Equality Texas wrote this morning on Facebook in response to the Supreme Court’s denial of the couple’s appeal. “This must be corrected! … If you have legally adopted children who cannot get an accurate amended birth certificate in TX, please contact Info@EqualityTexas.org.”

—  John Wright

Groups hope couples, lawyers will take the parenting pledge

New guidelines for same-sex parenting and custody aimed at stopping LGBTs from denying parental rights to ex-partners

Mary-Bonauto
GLAD’S MARY BONAUTO | (Photo courtesy InfinityPortraitDesign.com)

Dana Rudolph  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@me.com

Some of the most contentious lawsuits involving the rights of LGBT people have occurred when the biological parent of a child uses anti-LGBT laws to try and deny the child’s non-biological parent custody or visitation.

But several LGBT legal organizations have published a revised set of standards aimed at stopping such behavior, and they’re hoping parents and attorneys will take a pledge to abide by them.

The publication is “Protecting Families: Standards for LGBT Families,” produced by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and NCLR’s National Family Law Advisory Council. It encourages lawyers to support and respect LGBT parents even when legal rights do not, and advises parents and lawyers to honor children’s relationships with both parents, seek custody resolutions that minimize conflict, and use litigation only as a last resort.

Mary Bonauto, the director of GLAD’s Civil Rights Project, authored the original version of the standards in 1999. She said the intent of the document is to urge same-sex parents to use whatever parental protections are available in their states, “for the sake of your children.”

These protections may assist with issues such as medical decision-making, but may also help maintain both parents’ relationships with the children when the couple breaks up.

The revised document is updated to reflect new laws in several states recognizing the relationships of same-sex couples, whether through marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships. But it cautions that same-sex parents should not rely on such laws to protect their parental relationships with their children.

“[W]e still have a huge architecture of discrimination against same-sex relationships,” said Bonauto. Many states do not recognize them at all or may not treat them in the same way as opposite-sex relationships. This may jeopardize the relationships of non-biological, non-adoptive parents to their children.

Even in Massachusetts, the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry, courts may not look favorably upon a non-biological parent who has not also done a “second-parent adoption” of a spouse’s biological child, she said.

“There are still very parent-specific protections you should try to avail yourself of,” said Bonauto.

Some protections may be available even in states that have constitutional bans against marriage for same-sex couples.

If parents do break up, Bonauto said, going to court is damaging financially and emotionally. And it can destroy the couple’s ability to work together as parents.

There have been a number of recent cases across the country in which a biological or adoptive parent has tried to claim the other parent has no parental rights. Best known among them is the case of Janet Jenkins and Lisa Miller, which has grabbed headlines nationally.

Miller, the biological mother, asked courts in both Virginia and Vermont to deny Jenkins visitation and custody, and has taken issues to the U.S. Supreme Court five times, without success each time.

Miller was eventually ruled in contempt of court for defying a Vermont court order that she allow Jenkins visitation. The court then granted legal custody to Jenkins.

But Miller went into hiding with the girl at the end of 2009, and a man accused of helping her leave the U.S. was arraigned in a federal court last April.

Many similar cases exist, and the outcomes have been mixed.

The Delaware Supreme Court issued a ruling in March upholding the right of a woman to be identified as a de facto parent of a child she had been raising with her former same-sex partner — a child the partner adopted but that the woman herself did not.

The Nebraska Supreme Court in August ruled that a non-biological mom has a right, under the doctrine of in loco parentis — which recognizes a person who acts as a parent — to a custody and visitation hearing regarding the child she and her former partner were raising together.

But the North Carolina Supreme Court in December 2010 voided a lesbian mother’s second-parent adoption. The majority on the court said state statutes permit adoptions only if the existing parent gives up all parental rights or is married to the person seeking to adopt, as in the case of a stepparent.

Other cases with biological mothers trying to deny parental rights to non-biological mothers have reached the appellate or state supreme court levels in the past few years in states including Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin — again with mixed results.

In several of these cases, notably Miller v. Jenkins, attorneys from conservative legal organizations such as Liberty Counsel and the Alliance Defense Fund have represented the biological mothers.

“They are making an industry of it,” Bonauto noted of the groups. But many individual, private attorneys, including ones in the LGBT community, are also representing biological mothers against non-biological mothers in such cases.

GLAD will soon be launching an online pledge where attorneys can promise not to take these cases and to endorse the revised standards. Parents, too, can pledge to uphold them.

New Jersey attorney William Singer, a member of the Family Law Advisory Council, said he hopes attorneys will discuss the standards with parents, not just at the time of breakups, but also at the time of family creation, “to try and impress upon both parents why it’s so important to maintain continuity of relationships for their children.”

The standards are available via GLAD’s Web site, GLAD.org.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas