Change in the wind

It’s not just California: Gay and lesbian families are winning important victories and vital recognition throughout the country. A report from the front lines in Utah, Virginia, Maryland, and beyond.

BY Advocate.com Editors

September 06 2005 11:00 PM ET

I grew up in Utah as a Mormon, and received my law degree from the University of Utah College of Law in 1988. It was in Utah that I began my life as a lesbian advocate. For all sorts of reasons, I’ve returned to Utah often since I left for San Francisco nearly 12 years ago. But I found myself there last week for a reason I had never anticipated: I am arguing before the Utah supreme court.

It’s an out-of-body experience. It feels like a dream. I am in a courtroom filled to standing-room-only capacity. I am arguing an important parenting case. My client is a lesbian mother. Her former partner, who no longer identifies as a lesbian, is refusing to let her see their little girl. A lawyer affiliated with the ardently antigay Alliance Defense Fund is representing my client’s former partner.

I look up and see the faces of the justices seated on the Utah supreme court and begin my argument. I am not dreaming.

I was also not dreaming when the California supreme court issued opinions in three lesbian parenting cases in mid August. In one of those opinions the court wrote, “We perceive no reason why both parents of a child cannot be women.” The court added, “A person who actively participates in bringing children into the world, takes the children into her home and holds them out as her own, and receives and enjoys the benefits of parenthood should be responsible for the support of those children—regardless of her gender or sexual orientation.”

In all three cases the court ruled that the coparents were legal parents and entitled to all the rights and subjected to all the obligations that legal parenthood demands.

All across the country, the battle for family recognition is going our way. The Maryland court of appeals ruled in favor of a gay father, holding that he must be given an opportunity to challenge a custody restriction that prohibits him from living with his partner. The Virginia supreme court held that the Department of Vital Records must comply with a state law requiring that new birth certificates be issued to all adopted children—after the department had refused to issue birth certificates listing two same-sex parents. A divided West Virginia supreme court awarded custody of a child to a lesbian—ruling that a “psychological parent” can intervene in custody battles and defining “psychological parent” as a person who fulfills a child’s psychological and physical needs and provides emotional and financial support. These rulings combined are a tremendous victory for children, for parental responsibility, and for common sense.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, along with colleagues at the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, are bringing cases, one by one, on behalf of LGBT-headed families in courts throughout the country. In one sense the fact that we are winning so many of these challenges is a small miracle. Our adversaries are so much better funded—the largest antigay group in the country has an annual budget of $130 million, while the combined annual budgets of the leading 12 national LGBT organizations, including NCLR, barely break $50 million.

We have our work cut out for us. In California two proposed constitutional amendments would not only forbid lesbian and gay couples any right to legally marry but would also repeal our hard-won and expansive domestic-partner protections.

But in yet another miracle, first the California state senate, last week, and then this week the assembly, in historic votes, became the first legislative bodies in the country to vote in favor of the basic right of lesbian and gay couples to marry.

Actually, this miracle, like the court victories, was the result of much hard work and commitment. Mark Leno, the assemblyman who authored the bill, never gave up believing that such a vote was possible, and California’s statewide LGBT lobbying group, Equality California, worked tirelessly to make the vote happen.

But against this very encouraging backdrop several states are considering legislation to bar LGBT people from adopting, and there are more anti–gay marriage constitutional amendments on the way in other states. But make no mistake, the tide is turning. Between legal cases, talks with legislators, and conversations at the water cooler we are moving hearts and opening minds. The only way to win full equality is to engage in the hard work of making our lives real to everyone we know.

The faces of LGBT families are the faces of every family. In the days and weeks ahead, many of us will be called upon to tell the stories of our own families. This is the time to show courage. There’s no turning us back.

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