Waldlaw Blog

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Virginia Upholds Vermont Parentage Order

Lesbian and gay families are certainly "in the news" this month! First, today's news: This morning, the Court of Appeals of Virginia ruled that a mother was in violation of the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act when she took her daughter and moved from Vermont to Virginia in an effort to avoid giving her ex-partner visitation rights. (I blogged about this case on August 4, 2006, after the Vermont Supreme Court ruled.) This is a HUGE victory for children and an important clarification of the law for all same-sex families. It means that a parent that lives in a state that provides protection to lesbian and gay families cannot avoid those protections by taking the child to another state. To put it bluntly, we just dodged a bullet -- and got an indication that even states like Virginia, which are actively inimical to LGBT families, will uphold judgments of other states benefiting our families. This is great news. But here's the most amazing thing. Sometimes -- like last summer -- it has felt like every time I picked up the newspaper there has been more depressing news. Last summer, we lost case after case and saw the radical right mobilizing like never before to attack LGBT families with children. Now, the past month has brought us: A 3-part series in the L.A. Times -- called "Fathers in the Making" -- following the ordeal of a gay male couple trying to have a child through surrogacy; a New York Times article titled "Gay Donor or Gay Dad?" on the complexity of known donor inseminations in the LGBT community; and a long article in Redbook on "The Changing Shape of the American Family." Each of these articles has presented LGBT families in a positive light. And now we've won the Miller-Jenkins case in Virginia (although knowing Liberty Counsel, they probably will appeal the decision to the Virginia Supreme Court). And we just won a case in Pennsylvania where the non-biological mother of two children was given custody of those children over the objection of the biological mother, based on the trial court's finding that she was far better able to parent the children. And a baby born to lesbian moms in New Jersey last week will get to have both of her moms' names on her birth certificate, because of the New Jersey Supreme Court's ruling that gay couples deserve full equality under the Constitution. So, during this Thanksgiving season, I am happy to report that we who fight for LGBT families have much to be thankful for. Happy belated Thanksgiving from Waldlaw!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Promoting Marriage

The front page of The Wall Street Journal this morning has an article entitled "How a U.S. Official Promotes Marriage to Help Poor Kids: To Encourage Couples to Wed, Wade Horn Plans to Spend $500 Million in Five Years." Here's the first paragraph of the article: "The notion that government can help children escape poverty by promoting marriage for their parents was once considered a fringe idea from right field. It is now federal policy." First, I have to comment that under our current administration, far too much of federal policy could be accurately described as "fringe ideas from right field." That said, the thing that boggles my mind about the concept that promoting marriage will cure poverty is the extent to which it represents an over-simplification of a very complex problem. PROBLEM: Children raised by unwed parents are more likely to live in poverty. SOLUTION: Their parents should get married. (Here my mother, the bio-chemist, interjects: PROBLEM: Children raised by unwed parents are more likely to have bad teeth. SOLUTION: Their parents should get married -- cavities cured!) Let me quickly say that I have absolutely nothing against marriage. I was raised by parents who remained together in a loving and stable marriage until my father died. (Actually, I'm not at all convinced that their marriage ended when my father died -- it is undeniable that he continues to be a daily presence in my mother's life almost 10 years later.) But I had the privilege of hearing directly from the folks involved in the federal marriage initiative last summer, when I attended the conference of the International Society for Family Law, which was held in Salt Lake City, Utah and was hosted by Brigham Young University (a veritable hotbed of fringe ideas from right field, as far as I could tell!). The research these folks rely on takes children raised outside of marriage and lumps them all together, creating a category that is far too broad to have any use whatsoever. The category includes children conceived by teenagers in the back seat of a Chevy; children whose mothers left their fathers to escape domestic violence; children who had a parent die; children whose parents divorced when they were young; children who were raised by stable, committed, non-marital couples; children who were born to or adopted by single parents who wanted them desperately; and children who were born accidentally to single people who had no desire to have children and no way to support them. Furthermore, the research completely leaves out subtleties like race and class from the analysis. I have no problem buying that children do best when raised in a way that maximizes stability and safety, and that for many children that stability and safety comes in the form of a loving marriage between their parents. But for many other children, the stability and safety they need comes from a grandmother who is always there for them; their same-sex moms or dads who can't get married but love and provide for them nonetheless; their tribe or another circle of loving adults who provide them with the guidance and affection they need; or the one mother or one father who raises them with love and integrity as a single parent. None of which has anything at all to do with poverty. If the goal is to raise children out of poverty, wouldn't it make more sense to put $500 million into after-school programs in targeted neighborhoods; into job training and substance abuse treatment and prevention; into programs designed to improve the well-being of the communities in which children are raised, and not just the individual parents raising them; into desperately-needed improvements to our foster care system? I have no doubt that some couples need external encouragement to make the commitment to each other and to their children that marriage represents. But is that really the job of the federal government? At a price tag of $500 million? As federal policy, this seems to be much more about promoting a particular social agenda than about raising children out of poverty. If the government really wants to help children, there are a myriad ways to do so. Let's get on with it, and stop debating the pro's and con's of marriage.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Have You Met the Halloween Fairy?

A belated Happy Halloween to all! Every year at Halloween, I kick myself for not sharing a family tradition with the preschools and elementary schools in my community before the actual event is past. This year, I again forgot about my goal of sharing this tradition until about 10:00 last night, so I'm sharing it now in hope that it will be of use to some of you for next year. When my children were little, a friend in my parenting group read an article about the Halloween Fairy which she shared with the rest of us. The article gave rise to a tradition that this group has all enjoyed ever since. Here is how it goes: On Halloween night, after all the kids are asleep, the Halloween Fairy flies through the neighborhoods looking for candy. When she finds candy outside the doors of neighborhood children, she takes the candy and leaves a gift in its place. So children who have spent a wild evening trick-or-treating and are left with more candy than they want or need (and far more candy than their parents want or need them to have!) can keep a small, reasonable amount of candy to eat (say 10-15 pieces, depending on their age) and leave the rest of the candy on their doorsteps with a note to the Halloween Fairy before they go to sleep. And Lo and Behold, when they wake up in the morning, there is a special gift for them on the stoop where the candy was! (Some candy taken by the Halloween Fairy has been known to mysteriously appear in the birthday pinatas of some of these children. I have no idea how that could have happened.) The Halloween Fairy tends to be rather modest with her presents -- a small box of Legos or a single Beanie Baby or a pack or two of baseball cards has been found to suffice. But the Halloween Fairy makes the morning after Halloween -- which can be rather dreary -- a special time for all involved, and saves many parents from the lengthy and tiresome battles involved in trying to keep their children from eating gobs of candy each day well into the month of November. So look for the Halloween Fairy in your own neighborhood next year -- and let me know if she shows up and brings your kids as much pleasure as she has brought mine!