Waldlaw Blog

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Same-Sex Families Discussion Rages on SF Gate

This morning's Chronicle newspaper boasted a front page story on the diversity of lesbian and gay Bay Area families. Titled "Same-sex couples raising children less likely to be white, wealthy," the article discussed the financial and ethnic diversity of same-sex families with children in California, citing information gathered by Our Family Coalition and the Williams Institute, among others. This article has caused a firestorm of comments from Chronicle and SF Gate readers, which are quite interesting to read -- 170 comments and counting as I write this. For anyone wanting to join the discussion, go to: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article/comments/view?f=/c/a/2007/10/31/MNJET3CR3.DTL And HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

While We're Talking About Kansas

In a decision many of us had been waiting for for many months, the Kansas Supreme Court voted on Friday to uphold Kansas' sperm donor statute against a challenge brought by a known donor. Many states (including Kansas and California) have statutes that state that when a man provides his sperm to a licensed physician for purposes of inseminating a woman who is not the man's wife, the man will legally be a sperm donor and not a father. This means that the donor has no parental rights (i.e. he can't seek custody or visitation of the child) and no parental responsibilities (i.e. he can't be held responsible for child support). The problem arises when women use men they know as sperm donors, and the donors' expectations don't match the law. In the Kansas case, the man sued for custody and visitation, arguing that it had always been the plan that he would have regular, parental conduct with the child. The Kansas statute has a specific "opt out" provision, whereby a written agreement between the donor and the recipient can create a parental relationship between the donor and the child; but in the Kansas case the man and woman had not entered into any such written agreement. Nevertheless, the donor argued that it was a violation of his legal rights to deny him legal recognition as a parent to a child that was his genetic child, that he knew and cared about and was prepared to support. The Kansas Supreme Court voted in favor of sperm donor statutes for several reasons: (1) they promote certainty about who parents are in the case of women using donor insemination; (2) they encourage men to be sperm donors without fear of financial responsibility for the children born as a result of their donations; and (3) they allow married couples to use donor insemination where the husband is impotent or sterile without fearing interference with their family structure. For these reasons, and others, the court found that the donor in Kansas had no legal rights to the child conceived from his donation, and that the mother was a legal single mother. For more info, see: http://www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/opinions/supct/2007/20071026/96102.htm

Friday, October 19, 2007

When the Bay Area Seems More Like Kansas

Some of you may not know that I am Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of Our Family Coalition (OFC), the Bay Area's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender family organization. One of the cornerstones of OFC's work is our efforts to make sure that Bay Area schools are welcoming places for LGBT families with children, and that their curricula speak to our children's needs. As part of this effort, we put on two elementary school fairs each year -- one in San Francisco and one in the East Bay. At these fairs, LGBT parents can meet with other parents, teachers and elementary school administrators to learn how different schools are addressing the needs of LGBT families, and to get ideas about which school might be best for their own children. Last night was our annual East Bay school fair, hosted by Chabot Elementary School in Oakland, and much to our shock and horror their was a counter-demonstration outside. The demonstrators showed up at school pick-up time, when the elementary school children were getting picked up by their parents, carrying signs and placards with enticing slogans like "sodomy forum." They handed out flyers to teachers, parents and even some students that included the words "The perverts want your children!" At least one child went home to her parents with the question: "Mommy, are we perverts?!" This was in Oakland. In October, 2007. After our state legislature voted for the second time that lesbian and gay couples should be allowed to marry. With the issue of whether it is constitutional to limit marriage to different-sex couples pending before our state Supreme Court. This was in Oakland, in Alameda County, home to the largest per capita number of lesbian families in the state of California. This was a wake-up call for us at OFC, and for me personally. I am not naive. I know that there are still plenty of people out there who hate gay men and lesbians, who think we're wicked and immoral, and who aren't ashamed to say so. But I had actually thought that we were beyond the point, in the San Francisco Bay Area, where adults would think it was appropriate to hold protests at an elementary school in the name of morality. So, folks, here is my message of the day: If you, too, had thought that we had made enough progress that some of the work that organizations like OFC do might no longer be necessary, think again. And while you're thinking again, it would be great if you could take out your checkbook and make a contribution to OFC or one of the other wonderful Bay Area organizations working so hard to keep our children safe....

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

An Adoption Mess in Guatemala

The political and ethical issues surrounding international adoption have always been controversial, and they currently are coming to a head in Guatemala. Charges of baby stealing, falsified DNA tests, and payment of birth mothers to give up their babies for adoption have all surfaced, causing governmental agencies on both sides of the border to take pause. This isn't the first time these issues have surfaced in Guatemala, nor in international adoption in general, and they are leading some to question the propriety of many of these programs. On the other side of the equation, concern for the futures of thousands of babies already in foster care make significant delays very troubling. According to a recent CNN article, the Guatemalan government estimates that as many as 17 babies currently leave Guatemala each day for adoptive parents in the United States, and U.S. diplomats in Guatemala have estimated that 1 in every 100 Guatemalan babies end up in the international adoption market -- which, by any measure, is A LOT of babies. How these babies come to be available for adoption -- what the impact is on Guatemalan culture and society to have so many Guatemalan children being raised abroad -- and how the world should respond to grinding poverty that leaves mothers with no viable economic alternative to relinquishment of their children for adoption are all issues that we, as ethical and caring people, need to be grappling with. And still. I have many wonderful clients raising wonderful Guatemalan children here in the United States, and my own niece brought her Guatemalan daughter home less than a year ago to the endless joy of my mother, who frankly dotes on the baby. Our Guatemalan children have enriched the fabric of our communities, the same way that our Chinese children and our Russian children have, adding to our ethnic and cultural diversity and causing heightened awareness in our churches, synagogues and schools of the gifts these countries have to offer. The ethical and political complexities of international adoption create problems that are not easily solved; and in looking for solutions it is important to remember that what appear to be sensible long term solutions may be completely wrong if implemented too abruptly or without due consideration of their short term effects. With threats that the whole program will be shut down indefinitely effective January 1, 2008 (see a recent memo from the Department of State for details), I honestly don't know what the future holds for Guatemalan adoptions. In the meantime, many clients in my law practice are turning their eyes toward Vietnam, where many of the same political and economic complexities exist. We need to take a long look at international adoption, with all its many wonders and potential pitfalls, and come up with a game plan that respects the legal process, respects the cultural imperatives of each country, but avoids leaving children languishing in orphanages while prospective loving parents wait in endless bureaucratic queues for children to bring home. To be honest, I'm not sure what the long term solution to this recurrent problem is. But to strand 3000 Guatemalan babies in orphanages and in legal limbo while our governments work to figure this all out is, simply put, wrong.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Watching Our Kids Grow Up -- High School??!!

I wrote a blog in July about moving my sons into separate bedrooms, and the ways that the move brought home to me that my sons are growing up. Well, one thing inevitably leads to another, our older son is now an 8th grader, and I seem to be spending all of my free time (what's that?!) checking out high schools. Yes, you read that right. I said high schools! When I was getting ready for high school, there were two choices: a private prep school or the public high school that served our whole city. (It never occurred to us to look at the parochial school alternative, since we are Jewish.) We decided that public school was the way to go, and off I went -- to Cambridge High and Latin, which shortly became Cambridge Ringe and Latin. If you went to public high school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that's where you went. In San Francisco, there are three choices that demand consideration: private schools (now euphemistically called "independent" schools), public schools, and parochial schools. And nothing can be taken for granted, in any category. In other words, if we decide that public school is the right way to go for my eldest son, then the next step is to figure out which public schools we are interested in, apply, and hope like heck he gets in somewhere we can live with. Same, of course, for private schools. And given the level of uncertainty and competition, apparently even Jewish lesbians like me are supposed to seriously consider Catholic school as a reasonable alternative. (And then, of course, there's home schooling...NOT.) The current system for "choosing" high schools in San Francisco has me spending at least one day per week shuttling my beloved child around to high schools for "shadow" days and interviews and open houses. And this will go on for at least one more month. But if this sounds like a complaint, it isn't really. Because through this process, my son is getting a chance to look at himself in a lot of different environments, and to really think for the first time about what he enjoys, what stimulates him, and what he wants for his future. I am sure things will get tense at some point along the way, when friends get into schools he doesn't get into or something else prevents him from going somewhere he thought he wanted to go. But right now, each visit produces a self-reflective gem: "that school puts too much of an emphasis on technology"; "that school didn't seem that challenging academically"; "I would get to travel outside the U.S. if I went to that school"; "I loved the shop program at that school." When I looked at preschools for my son, I was still guessing at what would work for him; when I looked at elementary schools, I had a better idea but still was going largely on instinct. Looking at middle schools for my son, I had a much clearer idea of what would work for him -- both academically and socially -- but it still was me visiting the schools and picturing him there and checking out the curricula and feeling out the social environment. Now, for the first time, our older son is picking a school for himself, and through the process he's thinking in a completely different way about ... well, about who he is. So the high school admission process is actually being an opportunity for introspection that I had not anticipated, and yet another step along the way to self-awareness for this rapidly maturing young man that we live with.