Waldlaw Blog

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Arkansas Rules in Favor of Gay Foster Parents!

Kudos to the ACLU -- and to the Arkansas Supreme Court! http://www.365gay.com/Newscon06/06/062906arkansas.htm (Little Rock, Arkansas) The Arkansas Supreme on Thursday upheld a lower court ruling that it is unconstitutional to bar gays and lesbians from becoming foster parents. The justices rejected an appeal from the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services which had argued children would suffer under the care of gays or lesbians. "There is no correlation between the health, welfare and safety of foster children and the blanket exclusion of any individual who is a homosexual or who resides in a household with a homosexual," Associate Justice Donald Corbin wrote in the opinion. The state Child Welfare Agency Review Board in March 1999 imposed the ban on placing foster children in households with gay adults in what it called an effort to protect children from disease, violence, sexual abuse, neglect and instability. A challenge was filed that year by the ACLU on behalf of four prospective foster parents. Among them was William Wagner who has been married for 31 years and has a 27-year-old daughter and a 23-year-old son. Although Wagner is a married heterosexual, he was disqualified from serving as a foster parent because his gay son sometimes lives at home. In 2004, Circuit Court Judge Timothy Fox ruled the state Child Welfare Agency Review board had overstepped its authority by trying to regulate "public morality.'' Fox said that the Arkansas Legislature gave the child-welfare board the power to "promote the health, safety and welfare of children,'' and that the ban does not accomplish that. He also found that being raised by gay parents doesn't increase the risk of psychological, behavioral, or academic problems for children and that children of lesbian and gay parents are just as well adjusted as children of straight parents. The state then appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Wonders of Modern Science

I opened this morning's San Francisco Chronicle to the following headline: "Boy's odds of being gay traced to womb Study looks anew at puzzling role of brothers' birth order" (for the full story, go to http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/06/27/MNGPHJKU0V1.DTL&hw=Sabin+Russell&sn=001&sc=1000 .) According to this story, by a "medical writer" for the Chronicle, "a boy's chances of growing up gay increase with the number of older brothers he has." The supposed reason for this supposed scientific fact has something to do with mothers producing an antibody during childbirth when we're birthing male babies, which antibody may linger in our bodies and effect the development of future male fetuses. Or something like that. The story reports a study by a Canadian scientist, who has found that boys with more older brothers who are biologically related to them are more likely to be gay, regardless of whether the boys are actually raised together. His finding "is consistent with -- but does not prove -- a theory that some male homosexuality may be caused by exposure in the womb to maternal antibodies created in the mother's blood during previous delivery of male children." See -- male homosexuality IS the fault of the mother -- Freud was right, he just had his reasons wrong. So here's my first question: why are we supposed to care about this??? Why does it merit a front page story in the San Francisco Chronicle??? I have, quite frankly, always found it patronizing when folks opine that it is okay to be gay if and only if sexual orientation is genetic, as opposed to a choice. I like to think that I would choose to be with my partner of 25 years if the odds were even between her and some guy. "I couldn't help myself" seems like a rather disrespectful -- and even offensive -- way to describe our relationship. I know that some people feel very strongly that they have always been gay -- or straight -- and that they have never had anything resembling a choice in the matter. I am sure this is true for some people. I also think that many people could be either straight or gay, depending on the cards that life dealt them. I guess I tend to agree with Kinsey that there is a scale here, a continuum; that as with so many things there are more than just two options. Sort of like the gender spectrum being experienced these days within the transgender community, where some people are clear in their gender identities and others feel they fall somewhere in between "male" and "female" so that neither label fully fits. Anyway, I find it interesting that there is such excitement over "scientific proof" that male homosexuality may be determined in the womb. Is there a lesson we're supposed to learn from this? Does it have any application whatsoever? Will it make anyone's life better? Isn't there something more meaningful these scientists could be focusing on? Oh, and in case you're wondering, the article states clearly that there is "no similar relationship between birth order and the probability that a girl will grow up to be lesbian." However, "the fraternal birth order effect [whereby younger brothers are more likely to be gay] is lmited to younger boys who are righthanded. In other words, if a younger boy has many older brothers but is left-handed, he does not have an elevated chance of being gay." Unless, of course, he's born on a Tuesday when the moon is full....

Friday, June 23, 2006

It's Summer

I can't believe it's been 2 weeks since I've blogged. My apologies to my loyal readers. The last two weeks have been something of a whirlwind, with kids finishing school and Little League ending, and work, work, work, and beautiful weather to enjoy for a change!! As my kids get settled into summer vacation mode, I have been reflecting a lot on the meaning of Summer Vacation for adults. My 10-year-old is very clear about what summer vacation means: it means he can watch TV whenever he wants, make amazing messes and not have to clean them up, stay up way later than usual -- at least that's his interpretation. Whenever my partner or I ask him to do anything he doesn't want to do, he stares us straight in the eye with his most serious and intense glare and says, in a loud, clear voice: "IT'S SUMMER." So, to my 10-year-old, SUMMER apparently means that he can do whatever he wants whenever he wants with no consequences, and adults be damned. But what does summer mean to me?? It means a few absolutely gorgeous warm evenings, like we had earlier this week, when we can not only barbeque in the back yard but we can enjoy a glass of wine and dinner in our garden, with citronella candles burning on the table to set the mood and keep the mosquitos away. It means more time with my children, and more time with my children playing outdoors and riding our bicycles and going to (mostly bad) summer movies instead of worrying about homework and such. It means family vacations. And, this summer, it means a surge in my caseload, with many new adoptions and pregnancies and other interesting family events to ponder and celebrate. The legal landscape for contemporary families is getting more and more complex and fascinating. It keeps me occupied not just in terms of my time, but also in terms of my "mindspace." I love the twists and turns that my work takes me through -- I love the variety of families I see, and the thought and creativity that my clients put into making their sometimes complex choices -- and I love the thought and creativity I need to put into providing my clients with the best legal protections possible given a legal framework that never thought of so many possibilities for creating and defining "family." So there you have it -- the kids are in the yard, my e-mail is stacking up, I have to go to court but I have a party to go to later -- I guess it's summer! Wishing you all a wonderful summer, from waldlaw....

Friday, June 09, 2006

We Won in the Court of Appeal!

As those of you who follow this blog know, a couple of weeks ago I argued the first lesbian parentage dispute to make it to the Court of Appeal since the California Supreme Court ruled on the trio of lesbian cases last summer. Well, today the Court of Appeal issued its ruling and ... well ... we won!! The case involves a lesbian couple who were together for about 5 years before deciding to have a baby. They were registered domestic partners; they became pregnant using sperm from an anonymous donor; they gave their daughter their hyphenated last names; and non-bio mom stayed home with the baby when bio mom went back to work. Then, when the baby was about 4 months old, bio mom announced that the relationship was over and that she was taking "her" daughter and leaving. That was almost 3 years ago, and non-bio mom has only seen the child twice since. When Charisma (non-bio mom) first called me about this situation, back in 2004, no attorney wanted to represent her because -- under the law as it stood then -- the case was such a loser. I explained to her -- as a number of attorneys had before -- that she was a "legal stranger" to her daughter, and didn't have standing to request visitation or custody of her. But Charisma wouldn't give up. She was absolutely clear that this was her daughter and that she could never look at herself in the mirror again if she didn't do everything in her power to fight for her. As a mother myself, I understood that, and I helped her put together the legal arguments she needed to make in the trial court, so that she could preserve all possible issues for appeal, on the hope and belief that some day the law would change and she might win. When I stood up for Charisma in the Court of Appeal on May 18, 2006, the thing that most moved me was the sense of how far we had come in such a short amount of time. From 2004 -- when there was no question that Charisma was going to lose -- to 2006, the law has changed so much that what was a slam-dunk loser only two years ago now felt winnable. And now we've won. The decision is good. It will set the rules of engagement for lesbian couples wrangling over custody and visitation issues in the First District -- which covers twelve Northern California counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Solano, and Sonoma -- for some years to come. It makes absolutely clear that where a lesbian couple uses an anonymous sperm donor to have a baby together, and brings that baby home together, and raises that baby together for some period of time, that baby is entitled to have two legal parents the same way that babies born to heterosexual couples do. And I am very proud and happy to have played a role in making this important change in the law. So congratulations Charisma! Congratulations NCLR on fighting the good fight -- as always! And, most of all, congratulations to all the children of dissolved lesbian couples who may now get to have two mommies without having to endure a long and blistering court fight along the way! To read the decision, if you're interested in the details, go to: http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/ The case is Charisma R. v. Kristina S., and the decision was released today, 6/9/06.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Federal (Anti)Marriage Amendment

The Republicans are back to their old tricks.... As all heck (remember, there are children in the room) breaks loose -- with gas prices gone through the roof and new reports of atrocities by our military in Iraq and the economy looking everything but stable -- the President and Senate have decided that their biggest priority is to make sure that lesbian and gay couples can't get married. As I write this, the Senate is debating the "Federal Marriage Amendment" -- an amendment designed to strengthen the institution of marriage by keeping people who want to marry from being able to. This is obvious political gamesmanship, but what else is new. When the going gets tough, find a scapegoat. As noted on CNN on Friday: Guess what Monday is? Monday is the day President Bush will speak about an issue near and dear to his heart and the hearts of many conservatives. It's also the day before the Senate votes on the very same thing. Is it the war? Deficits? Health insurance? Immigration? Iran? North Korea? Not even close. No, the president is going to talk about amending the Constitution in order to ban gay marriage. This is something that absolutely, positively has no chance of happening, nada, zippo, none. But that doesn't matter. Mr. Bush will take time to make a speech. The Senate will take time to talk and vote on it, because it's something that matters to the Republican base. This is pure politics. If has nothing to do with whether or not you believe in gay marriage. It's blatant posturing by Republicans, who are increasingly desperate as the midterm elections approach. There's not a lot else to get people interested in voting [for] them, based on their record of the last five years.But if you can appeal to the hatred, bigotry, or discrimination in some people, you might move them to the polls to vote against that big, bad gay married couple that one day might [move] in down the street. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0606/02/sitroom.03.html If you aren't interested in being a scapegoat any more, or having your gay friends/family/co-workers be scapegoats any more, there are several things you can do RIGHT NOW: (1) Call your Senators. There is no doubt they are getting a lot of calls from those who oppose marriage equality. They need to hear from us too. To find the phone number of your senator, go to http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm (2) The Democratic National Committee has a petition for you to sign at http://www.democrats.org/page/petition/lgbtdiscrmntn (3) And here's the big one, folks. The Republicans can win their war against us with sound bytes. We can't win without doing the long, slow work of changing people's minds and hearts one person at a time. That work has to start today. Gay people need to be proud of our families. We need to be proud of them at church, at school, in the supermarket, at the movie theater. There are a ton of healthy gay American families out there. We are the dentists, the UPS guy, the police officer, the teacher and, yes, the lawyer. Our communities rely on us. They need to know that we rely on them too -- to do the right thing, and not allow us to be scapegoats any longer.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Catwoman Comes Out

From Yahoo! News: Batwoman is back as a lesbian By LARRY McSHANE, Associated Press Writer Wed May 31, 6:12 PM ET NEW YORK - Years after she first emerged from the Batcave, Batwoman is coming out of the closet. DC Comics is resurrecting the classic comic book character as a lesbian, unveiling the new Batwoman in July as part of an ongoing weekly series that began this year. The 5-foot-10 superhero comes with flowing red hair, knee-high red boots with spiked heels, and a form-fitting black outfit. "We decided to give her a different point of view," explained Dan DiDio, vice president and executive editor at DC. "We wanted to make her a more unique personality than others in the Bat-family. That's one of the reasons we went in this direction." The original Batwoman was started in 1956, and killed off in 1979. The new character will share the same name as her original alter ego, Kathy Kane. And the new Batwoman arrives with ties to others in the Gotham City world. "She's a socialite from Gotham high society," DiDio said. "She has some past connection with Bruce Wayne. And she's also had a past love affair with one of our lead characters, Renee Montoya." Montoya, in the "52" comic book series, is a former police detective. Wayne, of course, is Batman's true identity — but he has disappeared, along with Superman and Wonder Woman, leaving Gotham a more dangerous place. The "52" series is a collaboration of four acclaimed writers, with one episode per week for one year. The comics will introduce other diverse characters as the story plays out. "This is not just about having a gay character," DiDio said. "We're trying for overall diversity in the DC universe. We have strong African-American, Hispanic and Asian characters. We're trying to get a better cross-section of our readership and the world." The outing of Batwoman created a furor of opinions on Web sites devoted to DC Comics. Opinions ranged from outrage to approval. Others took a more tongue-in-cheek approach to the announcement. "Wouldn't ugly people as heroes be more groundbreaking?" asked one poster. "You know, 200-pound woman, man with horseshoe hair loss pattern, people with cold sores, etc.?" DiDio asked that people wait until the new Batwoman's appearance in the series before they pass judgment. "You know what? Judge us by the story and character we create," he said. "We are confident that we are telling a great story with a strong, complex character." DiDio spent most of the morning fielding phone calls from media intrigued by the Batwoman reinvention. "It's kind of weird," he said. "We had a feeling it would attract some attention, but we're a little surprised it did this much."