Waldlaw Blog

Friday, January 29, 2010

Greeting Fred Phelps, SF Style!

The Westboro Baptist Church was in San Francisco yesterday, and will be back today, spewing their venom in a variety of choice locations around the city including the Jewish Contemporary Museum, a local synagogue/elementary school, Twitter (?), Stanford Hillel, a performance of Fiddler on the Roof ... and my older son's high school. In case you aren't familiar with the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), they're the congregation in Kansas that became famous for picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard and who regularly picket the funerals of people who have died of AIDS, as well as the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq. (I am not linking to their websites because I don't want them to get more traffic than they already do, but if you can't help yourself they have two different sites, godhatesfags.com and jewskilledjesus.com -- are you getting the idea here?) Why, you may ask, were they picketing my older son's high school?? The honest answer is: I have absolutely NO IDEA. My son attends a large public high school -- one of three in the Bay Area that Westboro Baptist Church has selected for picketing -- and while it has an active Jewish students' group (dubbed "Shmooze for Jews") and an active Gay/Straight Alliance, these are just two of a myriad of clubs including a broad variety of cultural and academic clubs, chess club, mah jong club, debate club, etc etc etc. What makes it worth picketing the high school can only be explained by what I gather is a general strategy of the WBC to picket high schools wherever they go, in an effort to take their message of hate directly to the youth. In any case, they were there yesterday afternoon picketing my son's school. We had several days warning that they were coming, and had been making light of it at home. But when I found out, yesterday afternoon, that the WBC folks really were going through with this cockamamie plan, I have to admit to having a true "Mama Bear" moment of utter protectiveness and fury at someone putting my children in harm's way. I had an almost irresistible urge to drive straight to my son's school and run the bastards over. Instead, I reasonably calmly picked up my younger son from his middle school, then made a bee-line across town to scoop up my elder son. Here's what I found: The WBC folks were, in fact, having their picket -- all seven of them -- complete with offensive signs and plenty of venom. But the teachers and counselors had formed a human shield between the picketers and the students, and the students were amazing and fabulous, carrying signs and colorful balloons; wearing yamulkes and feather boas; playing loud music to drown out the hatefulness ("I'm Coming Out" by Diana Ross was blaring through the courtyard when I arrived to pick my son up); doing Israeli folk dances in the school courtyard; and turning the whole event into a moving and uplifting show of solidarity and spirit and good humor the likes of which I haven't seen in quite a while. The students -- very visibly including the gay students and the Jewish students -- the teachers, the staff, the parents -- EVERYONE formed a strong and united front to turn back the hatred. It made me proud of my city, and especially proud of our youth. It also brought home to me in a whole new way what the families must have gone through that walked gauntlets of hatred to take their children to school during the early days of school integration. Having people spew hatred at your children at their schools is particularly awful. I can't imagine what courage and conviction it must have taken for the parents and children who integrated schools in Little Rock and beyond to go through with their plan, and face down the venom day after day. One day, with lots of solidarity and support, was quite enough for me. Favorite signs from yesterday: "God Hates Figs" and "God Hates Polyester Too" (with a citation to Leviticus, no less!). And rumor has it that the school "Phelps-a-thon" -- where people were asked to pledge money for every minute the WBC folks picketed the school -- raised over $900 for the school Gay/Straight Alliance. Now that's what I call turning lemons into lemonade! So, when all was said and done, we had a reasonably happy ending. Although I still wish these awful people would just stay the f**k away from my kids!!!!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Tribute to Howard Zinn

When I was growing up -- the child of radical intellectuals in Cambridge, Massachusetts -- there were two other families that stood out for me as being cut from the same cloth as my own: the Boudins and the Zinns. Leonard and Jean Boudin lived in Greenwich Village, and their home was our home during many happy trips to New York. Leonard is the only lawyer I remember from my childhood, and his loving encouragement and willingness to take me seriously during my very early years as an attorney -- given that he was one of the great attorneys of his time, while I was a young whipper-snapper still figuring out who I wanted to be when I grew up -- endeared him to me for a lifetime. Roz and Howard Zinn, on the other hand, were local: they were at our home for every major family party; were at every demonstration that my parents took me to; were part of the discussion on what was wrong with our country and what could be done to right it -- not as a theoretical matter, but as a practical matter (which sit-in's to attend; what letters to the editor of which paper should be written; etc etc) -- that made up the fabric of my childhood. Beyond the political connection, which was strong, we also had a personal connection -- Roz and Howard's daughter Myla spent her summers in the same small town on Cape Cod where my mother still lives, and we all spent many happy hours together on the beach and in the village, enjoying summer swims and ice creams and all those small things that make New England summers special. I was honored to provide babysitting services to the family, caring for Howard's oldest grandson for two consecutive summers when he was just a baby and toddler. In this capacity, I got to know both Roz and Howard as devoted parents and grandparents. When I was in law school, I had the true honor of giving a presentation with Howard Zinn. As I said, I had known him from childhood -- but now I was sitting next to him on a panel, talking about immigration issues (if I remember correctly), with him providing a historical and political perspective while I filled in with a legal one. Howard treated me as a peer, and was utterly respectful of my vision and my voice -- something that deeply honored and impressed me at the time, and has stayed with me ever since. When I talked to my mother this morning, just after learning of Howard's death, we touched on Howard's legacy -- A People's History of the United States in particular. But more than his contribution to history, politics and culture, I will always remember Howard Zinn as one of the warmest and most charming men I have ever met. As I said to my mother this morning, Howard was always a delight to be with -- more so than almost anyone I know. He was a truly lovely person, and his passing leaves a hole in the world that will never be completely filled.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Tough Month for Surrogacy

December was a bruising month for surrogacy. Two cases made national headlines, both of which involve courts and broken promises and abundant heartbreak. And both of which, surprisingly, involve "gestational surrogacy" -- the type of surrogacy considered "safest" by surrogacy agencies and attorneys around the country. A quick glossary of terms: There are two kinds of surrogacy: traditional and gestational. In traditional surrogacy, the woman carrying the child (commonly referred to as a "traditional surrogate" or just a "surrogate") is also the genetic mother of the child/ren she's carrying. In other words, a traditional surrogate is a woman who has agreed to be inseminated with donor sperm and carry a child to term for another individual or couple, with the intention of giving the child to him/her/them immediately following birth, even though the child is genetically related to the carrier/surrogate. Because it involves a contractual commitment for a woman to give up her own biological child, traditional surrogacy is generally quite controversial and most folks acknowledge it is legally risky business. But gestational surrogacy is a process where an embryo is created through in vitro fertilization of eggs with sperm, and then implanted into the womb of a woman (commonly called a "gestational carrier") who is not genetically related to the child. This is the true "rent-a-womb" scenario, and is generally considered legally far safer. So back to the cases. Both have, as I said earlier, made national headlines, so you may already be familiar with them. Both, surprisingly, involved gestational surrogacy -- the women carrying the babies were not genetically related to them. And in both cases, the gestational carriers -- the women whose wombs had been rented -- were found to be legal mothers of the children despite this lack of a genetic connection. A surprising result? Not if one stops to look at the laws of the states in which these two cases occurred. The first took place in Michigan, where contractual surrogacy is not only illegal but is actually criminal. "Michigan has very strict laws prohibiting surrogacy contracts. State law not only holds these agreements unenforceable, but also imposes fines (up to $50,000.00) and jail time (up to five years) on anyone who enters into such a contract." Knowing that, the outcome of a surrogacy challenge in Michigan no longer seems surprising. The second took place in New Jersey. This case was somewhat more surprising because, up until the court ruled in December, many believed that gestational surrogacy was legal in New Jersey -- and the surrogacy agreements enforceable -- at least for unpaid surrogacy arrangements. (Traditional surrogacy is clearly illegal in New Jersey, under the Baby M. case from the 1980's.) The New Jersey case involves a married gay couple who had contracted with the sister of one of the men to carry a baby for them. Ultimately, the couple conceived twins, using the sperm of one of the men and donated eggs; and the other man's sister carried the twins to term for them as an uncompensated gestational carrier. So far so good. However, after the twins were born the sister decided that she wanted to be a mother instead of an aunt, and she has now won parental rights in court. This has pitted brother against sister in a custody battle, which is about as ugly as it gets; and it has made clear -- at least for the moment -- that both traditional and gestational surrogacy contracts are unenforceable in the state of New Jersey. So what's going on out there? The short answer is that surrogacy law remains as unclear as it always has been, with the 50 states forming a patchwork quilt of laws and policies that vary as much as state birds and flowers vary. The outcome of any surrogacy dispute will depend largely on the state in which the dispute occurs. At some point, there may be uniformity to surrogacy legislation around the country, but I'm not holding my breath. In the meantime, it is incumbent on fertility clinics, surrogacy agencies, surrogacy attorneys, and anyone else involved in the assisted reproduction arena to help get the word out: individuals or couples seeking to become parents through surrogacy MUST know the laws of the states in which they are engaging in the surrogacy process. Otherwise, they run the risk of ending up like the couples in Michigan and New Jersey -- with their years of planning for parenthood producing nothing more than a legal battle over parentage and a mess of heartbreak.