Thursday, April 5, 2012

Our Own Worst Enemies

Back before Ladybug, when I thought about lesbian families and custody rights I assumed that the threat to our families came from outside.  When we started doing our wills and guardianship paperwork before LB was born, the lawyer made sure to ask us if our families are hostile about our relationship (thankfully they are supportive).  During the ten days I spent in the hospital before delivering at 29 weeks, I spent some amount of time crying because I was worried that if I died we wouldn't be able to complete LB's second parent adoption and Baltimore City would whisk her off to foster care.  Badger told me that was all crazy talk, and even if the authorities challenged her right to LB, my parents would have supported her fully and they would have worked everything out together.  True enough, but it was one more stressor in an already stressful situation.

Come to find out that the usual lesbian custody battle isn't with DYS or even with homophobic relatives, but between lesbian moms.  If you look at the family law cases on the NCLR website,

they are almost all related to lesbian moms breaking up or divorcing and the gestational mom (GS) seeking to deny the non-gestational mom ) NGS access to their child.  Law scholar Julie Shapiro posted about a case in which a lesbian mom argued that the woman who was in the delivery room when she had a baby and supported and cared for that baby for years was just a babysitter and not a mom

The findings in the full opinion are depressing and infuriating (and I love JS's blog, it is so smart).

A few things seem to facilitate this mom denial

1. Homophobia clearly, and desperate GSs seeking to deny custody to a former partner sometimes turn to the worst sort of anti-gay legal organizations for support.

2. The emphasis on community respectability among gay advocates means that they only publicly address this issue in very coded language, presumably because they are concerned about providing fodder for negative stereotypes.

3. Laws and courts that do not allow us to formalize our family relationships (or make the process expensive and time consuming).

4. And personal ties of friendship and community make it very hard to call out individuals when they are behaving badly.

Thankfully, our state allows second parent adoption, so for only $1,750 and countless hours of paperwork, we can be assured that even if I lost my damn mind and try to deny her rights as a parent, the law would acknowledge Badger as the full parent that she is to LB.  I'm normally a pretty "live and let live" kind of person, but I do think that as a gay community we need to have some sort of social sanction among lesbians who deny that a former partner is a child's parent.  What a cruel thing to do, not only to a mother, but to a child.  We need to take a page from our straight sisters and remind each other that "She may be a jerk, but she's still your child's mother."

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