January 2011 Archives

January 13, 2011

Passport Applications to Recognize the Reality that Same-Sex Families Exist

Parents applying for passports for their minor children will find a change starting February 1. Instead of simply having spaces for "Mother" and "Father" to state their names, the forms will say "Mother or Parent 1" and "Father or Parent 2." The Washington Post reported last Friday that references to "mother" and "father" would be removed entirely, causing a fuss from conservatives. In response, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton apparently decided to include both a gendered and a gender-neutral designation for each parent. 

It's cool to see the federal government adjusting its most important identity document in this way. Every step the feds take toward accepting the reality of same-sex families makes those families' lives a little bit easier and brings us a little bit closer to full equality. Given the post-election reality of state legislatures, these small steps on the federal level may be all we get for a while. 
January 7, 2011

Extra Taxes on Health Benefits for LGBT Employees--Where Do We Stand?

There are many hidden costs to being gay, and one of them is that employees who work for companies that offer domestic partner benefits must pay taxes on the value of those benefits unless the partner is considered a dependent (not a very common scenario). A married employee whose spouse is covered on the company insurance plan pays no tax on the value of the spouse's benefits. 

Recently, Internet behemoth Google,  Inc. began to reimburse its LGBT employees for the extra taxes, and a few other large companies followed suit. A New York Times blogger now provides a chart showing corporate progress on this issue, with a promise to update it periodically. 
January 5, 2011

Ninth Circuit Asks California Supreme Court to Weigh in on Prop 8 Standing Question

At oral argument in January, the three-judge Ninth Circuit panel hearing arguments on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 (banning same-sex marriage) considered the question whether the proponents of Prop 8 even have the right to appeal. The proponents were appealing a Northern District of California ruling that held Prop 8 unconstitutional, but they were alone in doing so--both the then-Governor and the then-Attorney General of California declined to join in the appeal.

The question of standing has to be answered before the court addresses the constitutional issues, because if the proponents don't have standing, there's nothing to consider--the most likely outcome is that the case is over and Judge Walker's ruling stands. However, the Ninth Circuit judges decided that the issue of standing is one of California law that the California Supreme Court should answer, and they "certified the question" to the California Supremes--that's lawyer talk for asking another court to rule on something. 

The California Supreme Court must now decide whether it will accept the Ninth Circuit's request--most likely, it will do so. Both sides will submit more briefs, and there might be another round of oral argument. There's no required time frame for the Supreme Court to issue a decision, so this case will be significantly delayed compared to how long it would have taken if the Ninth Circuit had simply ruled on the issue. We can hope, however, that the Supreme Court will move quickly to help resolve an important issue in a case that involves the legal rights of thousands of LGBT citizens. 
January 3, 2011

North Carolina Supreme Court Voids All Second Parent Adoptions

In a shocking and destructive opinion issued on December 21, 2010, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that a non-biological lesbian mom who adopted the son born to her partner was no longer the child's legal parent--her adoption is void, and so is every other second parent adoption granted in North Carolina in the past. 

Yes, for real. Hundreds of North Carolina children went from having two legal moms to having only one, all as the result of the efforts of Melissa Jarrell. Jarrell isthe biological mother of an 8-year-old son who, until this opinion, was also the legal son of Jarrell's former partner, Julia Boseman

When Jarrell and Boseman split up, Boseman sought custody of her son, and Jarrell argued that Boseman was not a parent and had no right to custody. The basis for the argument was that the adoption should never have been granted, because North Carolina's adoption laws require that a legal parent give up rights to a child in an adoption unless the legal parent is married to the person adopting the child. In other words, unless the adopting parent is a stepparent, the legal parent can't retain rights. 

The Supreme Court agreed that the adoption should never have been granted, and that all such adoptions previously granted were also void from the outset. The horrible result for the other children of lesbian parents in North Carolina, as concisely described by Nancy Polikoff in her Beyond Straight and Gay Marriage blog, is that those children "now lose the economic and emotional security of having two legally recognized parents."  

The irony in this case is that the court still held that Boseman has a right to seek custody of her child under a "best interests of the child" standard, because Jarrell voluntarily created a family unit with Boseman and their son. This means that Boseman retains joint custody of her son, and the same is likely to be true for the other parents whose adoption decrees have become void. But because Boseman and these other parents are no longer legal parents, their children have lost the right to Social Security and other types of survivors' benefits, and may lose insurance coverage and other benefits. Nor will they be able to inherit from these non-legal parents in the absence of a will. 

In short, Melissa Jarrell failed in her primary goal, which was to keep Boseman from parenting their son. However, her selfish efforts to achieve that goal have harmed hundreds of North Carolina children in significant ways. 

Some other states that have faced this question of consent and termination of rights have ruled the same way the North Carolina court did (without voiding past adoptions), but then turned around and solved the problem with legislation allowing second parent adoptions. With a Republican majority set to take control of the North Carolina legislature, no one's too optimistic about this happening in North Carolina.

In case you are wondering how bad this really is, check out Nancy Polikoff's followup post here