Greater NW Pride: On Being an LGBTQIA+ Parent
Greater NW Pride: On Being an LGBTQIA+ Parent
On Being an LGBTQIA+ Parent
In 2007, my book, On Being a Gay Parent was published by Seabury Press/Church Publishing Group. It was a first in many parts of the publishing world. I wrote the book and hosted/wrote a blog with that name, simply because there were very few books in the world that spoke about being a gay man of faith, ordained as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), raising his children with his partner and the children’s mom in the same town, and living life fully as a middle class family in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I was often simply known as “the gay parent” in some circles before people knew my name. While there was a growing number of out-LGBTQIA parents with children in the world in those days, there weren’t many books or articles in the world in those days about raising children as gay dads. I was on the national board of COLAGE—Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere— which was a national group that tried to provide written resources, meet and greet opportunities in small groups throughout the US, and summer and winter retreats for LGBTQIA+ parents and our families. Dan Savage, of the column “Savage Love” in Seattle, had published his book, The Kid (1999) about raising a child with his boyfriend/partner, now husband, a book which was both funny in part, and sad, especially because of Savage’s negative experience and opinion about religion and faith. Culture was slowly making changes, but not the laws of the land.
Since 2007, the United States and the world is, thankfully, a different place today for those of us who are LGBTQIA+ families, including the legalization of same sex marriage in 2015, with the Obergefell v. Hodges decision and marriage equality law.
However, there is one tripping point in US law that had to do with whose name is on the birth certificate when the parents are LGBTQIA+ or “same sex,” and choosing perhaps surrogacy in order to welcome a child in the world between two gay dads, or the birth of a child in which a woman and her wife conceive a child through assisted reproductive methods. This is one of those areas or spaces in US family life in which opposite-sex couples are free to sign on a birth certificate for children born, even if the father did not have a biological relationship with a newborn. Many states said that only the birth mother could have the name on the birth certificate, and not the other mom. Like-wise with dads in a same-sex relationship: only the biological or donor dad could have his name on a birth certificate, and not the other dad.
Why does whose name is on the birth certificate as a parent matter in the life of a child? Any parent of a child of any age goes to a doctor’s office for a yearly visit, or who has taken a child to the emergency room in a hospital can quickly tell you that one of the questions that is asked of the parents is, “Who is the parent?” in terms of care of the child in the doctor’s office, or admittance to the hospital, care, and who speaks for the child and child’s care, up to the age of 18 years old. That’s where and when birth certificates come in handy.
The latest attack against LGBTQIA+ parents came from the state of Indiana. Trudy Ring of advocate.com filed this report: Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, a Republican, objected to a case that arose in Indiana in 2015 when Ashlee and Ruby Henderson of Lafayette sued Kristina Box, the state’s health commissioner, and various officials in Tippecanoe County over the county’s refusal to list both of them as parents on the birth certificate of their daughter. Ruby Henderson had conceived the child through alternative insemination. County officials said the software the state used for birth certificates wouldn’t accommodate the listing of two women. He wrote: “A birth mother’s wife will never be the biological father of the child, meaning that, whenever a birth-mother’s wife gains presumptive ‘parentage’ status, a biological father’s rights and obligations to the child have necessarily been undermined without proper adjudication.”
The US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana ruled that the county and state were wrong to do that, and the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit agreed, which led the state and county to seek a Supreme Court hearing.
What the SCOTUS did on Monday, December 14, 2020, was to refuse to even hear the case on a 6-3 vote, ruling that treating same-sex couples differently was unconstitutional and out of step with marriage equality under Obergefell v. Hodges. What Alphonso David, President of the Human Rights Campaign added was this: “By refusing to hear this case, the court effectively reaffirms its ruling in Pavan v. Smith that unequivocally ruled states must issue birth certificates on equal terms to same-sex parents. We refuse to allow our love to be treated any differently under law and will fight to make sure skim-milk marriage never becomes the law of the land.” “Skim-milk marriage” refers to a comment by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, saying the nation should not deny same-sex couples any of the rights that opposite-sex couples enjoy.
This surprising decision by SCOTUS revealed that the place and presence of LGBTQIA+ parents and families may actually be more safe and secure, legally, as well as culturally in the US, even with the inclusion of a more conservative-leaning SCOTUS as of late.
And there is even more good news! Mey Rude in advocate.com wrote the following: Officials in England’s Department for Education show that one in six children adopted in the last year (2019) in England were adopted by a same sex couple. Compare that to 2012, in which just one in 22 adoptions went to same-sex parents. This does not include single LGBTQI+ parents who adopt, bisexual people in different-sex couples, and LGBTQIA+ people who foster children. Just single parent LGBTQIA+ adoptions could add another 10% of adoptions going to LGBTQIA+ parents. This is the third consecutive year that adoptions by LGBTQIA+ parents have increased in England.
The report said that LGBTQIA+ couples are more likely to adopt older children, groups of siblings together, and children who need more support than others. These are the children who traditionally don’t get adopted as children who are seen as “easier.”
For a moment, just reflect upon that fantastic statistic. We are talking real life in today's world.
As we come into yet one more holiday season, in which the place and presence of all families is in the spotlight and held up as iconic because of the focus on the mysterious and beautiful birth narrative of the Christ child, along with Mary and Joseph, consider LGBTQIA+ parents and our families. These stories above about LGBTQIA+ families show great advances in terms of how US and English societies in general are making changes—legally and culturally—that are fabulous for LGBTQIA+ parents and families. Trust me: it would be easier raising our children in today’s world as a gay parent in parts of the US than it was for us in the earlier part of this century, in which we were always known as the “gay parent" or "the lesbian parent." We were "the Other." The "not normal." LGBTQIA+ parents are finally starting to create, discover, and live out loud and live life more fully in communities here and abroad, which are a safe, nurturing place for our families. My hope is that in the years to come, our churches would be part of the ecology of care for LGBTQIA+ parents and our children. We are not there, yet. In the years to come, I would invite the churches of the major Protestant denominations to join in this effort to provide safe sanctuary and a nurturing place for all the members of families which include LGBTQIA+ parents and families. May it be so.
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Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell is an openly gay Presbyterian pastor in the Portland area serving as the part-time LGBTQ+ advocacy coordinator for The Oregon-Idaho Conference of the UMC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Become a subscriber to the Greater NW Pride blog to get Greater NW Pride in your email box!