help4yourfamily

Create the family you want to have

Children Are Not Protected By Homophobic Laws

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

English: Rainbow flag flapping in the wind wit...

English: Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue skies and the sun. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In honor of blogging for LGBT families day today, which I learned about from Dana Rudolph, over at Mombian.com, I am going to post about the importance of acceptance for all families.  I believe this is my first post that will be considered political, however, there are some things as a therapist, and as a human, that we can not allow to idly slip by without comment.  As best I can, I intend to make this post informative rather than preachy.  You will have to let me know how I do.

As my regular readers know, many of the families I work with are created through adoption.  If you are a regular reader of my blog, you also may know that I was raised by my mother, my father and my father’s husband.  In case that is confusing to you, as it has been to so many, my father is gay.

For the past eight years, I have traveled to my state capitol twice a year, first to testify against the Defense of Marriage Act, then, a few years later, to testify for the Civil Marriage Protection Act in front of both the State House of Representatives, as well as the State Senate.  Since my father began his relationship with his husband over thirty years ago, I’ve come to know a little bit about being in a family that is outside the norm and it helps me in my work with families formed through adoption.

In my state, Maryland, as we speak, there are quite a few people interested in the topic of gay marriage.  Earlier this year, the Civil Marriage Protection Act, the bill I mentioned earlier, was passed and signed into law with a start date next year.  This bill makes marriage between same-sex couples legal.  As you could probably predict, this has a few people pretty riled up.  It’s a pretty sure bet that the law will be taken to referendum and we will be voting on whether it will actually be enacted or not this coming November at the same time that we vote for the presidential candidates.  Please pause now for a moment to consider how it would feel for your family to be voted on.  That is how I feel.  Now, take a moment to feel that way and add to it the knowledge that in each and every state that has had a similar vote on your family, the people voted against acknowledging the union of your parents.  In case you are having a hard time putting that one together, let me sum it up for you.  It sucks.  But enough about feelings, let’s talk about facts.

As a social worker, it is my job to support and protect families and the safety and security of children.  By legally recognizing all families, we are protecting not only the couples, but the children of those couples.  The example I am about to give may seem counter-intuitive, but please allow me to break down how this works by giving you a composite of a few families I have worked with over the years presenting a situation I have seen too many times.  As you read it, please remember, I’m a therapist so I see people who are going through a hard time:

Susan, an attorney, and Vanessa, a former educator, then stay-at-home-mother, have been together for 15 years.  Seven years ago, they decided to adopt a child from another country that does not allow same-sex couples to adopt.  Consequently, the couple decided that the person that looked best on paper, and who had the best health benefits package through work, would be the one to adopt.  Susan adopted their daughter, Kayla, as a single parent and the couple planned that once she was formally adopted by Susan, they would get a second-parent adoption, which is legal in Maryland, so that Vanessa would be legally recognized as  Kayla’s mother.  After adopting Kayla, as happens to all parents, life sped up.  The second parent adoption didn’t happen.  Susan and Vanessa needed to pay for unanticipated costs like speech and mental health therapy for Kayla.  Vanessa knew she was Kayla’s mom and assumes that Susan honors that as well.  After all, Vanessa stays home to care for Kayla and, were they in a traditional family, she does a lot of what we would call the “primary caretaking” for Kayla.

That is why, when Susan tells Vanessa that she has decided to end the relationship, Vanessa is shocked!  Remember, Susan is an attorney, she quickly enlists the help of friends to create a custody agreement, reminding Vanessa that she has not been legally recognized as a parent to Kayla.  Vanessa realizes she has little or no recourse but to sign the agreement.  After all, Susan has all the money, and Vanessa can no longer offer to be a stay-at-home mother to Kayla since she will not be getting spousal support.  After speaking to an attorney, Vanessa finds out that in Maryland, the law has rarely recognized the “de-facto” parent, which is the only recognition Vanessa could hope to get at this point.  Vanessa is devastated as she sees Susan meet a new woman who then begins to parent Kayla as well, while she watches her own relationship with Kayla diminish before her eyes.   While you are imagining what this does to Susan, please imagine what this does to Kayla as well!  Whereas children with married parents who are divorcing have the protection of the law, which recognizes their legal relationship to both parents, Kayla is left watching not only the relationship between her parents dissolve, but her relationship with her primary parent diminish as well.

I know it seems strange to make a case for marriage by highlighting the protections for children of divorced parents.   I actually debated for a while before writing that example, because, you see, as an adult raised by gay men, I feel pressure to say that our families are the best in response to all the attacks we get and the headlines I see everyday like this one and this one.  But the truth is, our families are just like all the others.  We have happy and sad times, times of wealth and of poverty, and ups and downs in relationships.  We don’t always act in ways that we wish later that we feel good about in hindsight.  I will point out for the record that Massachusetts, the state where same-sex marriage has been legal the longest, has the lowest divorce rate of all the states so this is not a typical situation by any means.  But it does highlight the need for protection for children.

After all, marriage isn’t only about loving each other.  In the way it is constructed in the United States, it is not solely a religious recognition of a relationship either.  It is also about legal protection, and the rights of families that are connected via marriage, like it or not.  My father and his husband have spent thousands of dollars over the years to have the same civil protections that my husband and I had the day we married almost 13 years ago.

Now that we are looking at the cost to the children of having parents who are not allowed to have a legally recognized relationship, let us also take a quick look at the research as well.  I will note here that all professional mental health organizations, including the National Association of Social Workers and the American Psychological Association are in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.  Also, in a report released last year titled, “All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families,” recent research showed that among other things:

  • Children in LGBT families, while overall they have the same incidence of mental health issues as other children, they are more likely to have a mental health issue in states where their families are not recognized.
  • Children in LGBT families have more fear than other children that their families will be broken up.
  • There are still states where children are left in foster care even though there are LGBT parents willing to adopt them because the state does not allow LGBT parents to adopt.
  • Children with LGBT parents are more likely to be denied adequate assistance from the state, since their entire family is not legally recognized, the state does not always take all family members into account when providing assistance and may give families headed by LGBT couples less financial help.
  • Children with LGBT parents are not financially protected when a non-legally recognized parent is injured or killed.

You can find a good break-down of this report here.

A final thought about this topic.  The argument I hear over and over, even from people who know I have same-sex parents is that they want to protect their children from knowing about same-sex couples.  Parents reason that, while they do not want children with same-sex parents to be discriminated against, neither do they want their children learning in school that being gay is “normal or acceptable.”  People really say these things to me.  My response, if I am being honest is this: Being gay is not about sex.  Get your brain out of the bedroom!  What makes a relationship is not what you do in there!  A relationship is made from mutual love, care and respect.  And really, is your concern that your child’s school is going to teach about how gay people have sex?  Let’s get real.  Schools don’t teach about how straight people have sex.  That’s a debate for another day.

If you are worried about how your child is going to respond to knowing that gay people exist, I wish you could see the video (it has since been removed from youtube) of little Calen when he first meets a gay man who says he has a husband.  It was an endearing little video.  Here is an excerpt of the transcript (read it with the lisp of a four or five-year old):

“I usually see husbands and wives…but this is the first time I’ve seen husbands and husbands. How funny. So, that means you love each other? Yeah. You’re much alike — you’re much alike. Okay I’m going to play ping-pong now. You can play if you want to.”

Yup, that’s pretty much how it goes.  I hope your kids can handle all that struggle :).

What do you struggle with when it comes to this issue?  Let’s have a discussion here for anyone that is interested.

May 31, 2012 - Posted by | keeping children safe, Parenting | , , , , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. I’m from north carolina, and we just added an amendment against gay marriage. I have never been so disappointed in my otherwise lovely state. I too am a social worker, and cannot agree more with your thought. I wish everyone could set aside their hate for a moment and realize that it really is about people, especially the children. Thank you for your thoughtful post.

    Comment by bjones1031 | June 4, 2012 | Reply

    • Thank you for your comment and your follow. I love North Carolina too and I was saddened by their decision even though I know in the end everything will work out for the greater good.

      Comment by help4yourfamily | June 4, 2012 | Reply

  2. A lot of good information here. It amazes me that we still need to debate this stuff!

    Comment by kristin @MondaysWithMac | June 4, 2012 | Reply

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