With more than 184,000 same-sex households in the United States raising children under 18, state and federal laws need to catch up to this reality. These parents are no different than the rest of us in terms of changing poopy diapers, teaching their toddlers how to walk and saving for college educations. And despite the naysayers, they make as good a parent as any heterosexual.
Yet the American legal system treats them much like the beggar on the street. The few rights they do have are often inconsistent from state to state. This does a disservice not only to gay couples, but to their children as well.
The problems are most glaring when couples separate. Custody battles among same-sex families can be just as nasty as among heterosexual couples, but at least with the latter group a body of law, though flawed, has evolved over the years.
In one gay custody battle, the biological mother was denied ANY access to her child because fertility laws superceded her parental rights, reports the Los Angeles Times. The case is too long and complicated to get into here, but essentially courts don’t have clear state laws on gay parent rights. (A California law that takes effect in 2005 should help.)
“When you read the legal cases, what becomes crystal clear is that children of same-sex couples aren’t entitled to the same level of protection as children of opposite-sex couples,” Deborah Wald, a family-law attorney in San Francisco, told the Times.
Why the courts are focusing on legal rights over what is in children’s best interests is bewildering, but not surprising. Courts are a lousy place when it comes to coping with family issues. Even with the strong body of evidence that all parents MUST stay involved through their children’s lives, courts continually fail to protect both parents rights.
But for same-sex couples the problems are intensified simply because they are gay. Whether you believe in gay marriage or not – for the record I do – it is time to give same-sex couples parental rights at least equal to heterosexuals.
UPDATE: New York Times Magazine had this long piece on custody battles involving same-sex partners.