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How Legal Inequities Create Problems for Same-Sex Couples wi

Louisiana gay dad raises child; powerless as partner skips town with son

“Louisiana Gay Dad Raises Child, But He’s Powerless as Partner Skips Town With Boy.” This ABC News headline (July 18, 2012) describes what happened to Dale Liuzza when his relationship with his partner fizzled and his partner used his legal rights to take their son away. Liuzza and his partner’s son was originally conceived through a surrogate, using an egg donor; Liuzza and his partner decided to use a“mix [of] their sperm” to fertilize the egg because “we didn’t . . .care about the biology,” says Liuzza, aged 31, who resides in New Orleans. In fact, the couple did not find out who the biological father was until the men’s relationship fell apart. After Liuzza initiated a separation because of relationship troubles, his partner (according to Liuzza) sought genetic testing. Then, his partner determined that he in fact was the biological father and moved to Texas with their son, and then to Washington State.

"I showed up at school one day to pick [the boy] up and he wasn't there," said Liuzza, according to ABC News. "I called my ex and he was on a plane to Dallas. The school had no idea. My son had no idea. I had no idea." Now, Liuzza says that he sees his son once every two months—that’s six times a year.

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What can Liuzza do about this? Nothing. And Liuzza is far from alone. In more than 30 states, children in LGBT families are legal strangers to at least one of their parents. In Louisiana, Liuzza would have to be the biological parent or a legal adoptive parent to secure parenting rights; but second-parent adoption is not an option for gay partners in Lousiana (i.e., they cannot adopt their partners’ biological or legal child). 

Thus, Liuzza is a legal stranger to his child. He can’t, as he notes, “fight it in court,” because he simply has no legal rights to his seven year-old child—the child that he was the primary caregiver for during the first six years of his son’s life.

There are many, many other cases like Liuzza’s. Take the case of Michelle Hobbs, whose case was widely reported on just one year ago. In a major case to come down from the Ohio Supreme Court, it was ruled that Hobbs, who financially and emotionally helped her same-sex partner, Kelly Mullen, become pregnant and give birth through in vitro fertilization, could not be recognized as a legal co-parent after the relationship between the women dissolved. The court reached its position even though Hobbs was named guardian if something should happen to Mullen, and had various kinds of power of attorney authority.

LGBT parents, then, who are not legally recognized as parents, can lose custody or visitation rights in the event of the couple’s relationship dissolution—even in instances when that parent is the most suitable and reliable caregiver and has acted as a parent for the child’s entire life.

A newly released report provides an in-depth look at the kind of legal inequities that Liuzza is facing, and their implications for kids. This report, titled “All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT families” provides in-depth information about the implications of discriminatory state and federal laws, outlines the need for sweeping changes at both the state and federal level, and makes concrete recommendations to policymakers as how to better ensure legal protections for LGBT-parent families. The recommendations include:

Pass comprehensive parental recognition laws at the state level to fully protect children in LGBT families. State parentage and adoption statutes should allow joint adoption by LGBT parents, recognize LGBT parents using assisted reproduction, and provide avenues such as second-parent adoption and de facto parenting to allow children to gain full legal ties to their parents.

Legalize and federally recognize marriage for same-sex couples. Marriage for same-sex couples would help strengthen legal ties of the entire family, including those between a child’s parents and between the child and his or her parents. Married LGBT parents would be recognized as legal parents upon a child’s birth, and would also have access to joint and stepparent adoption. Federally-recognized marriage would allow accurate representation of LGBT families for the purposes of safety net programs, tax credits and deductions, inheritance and Social Security protections, immigration sponsorship and other benefits; and make it easier for LGBT families to obtain health protections, including health insurance, medical decision-making, visitation and family leave.

For more information about the report, go here. For more information about recent custody cases involving same-sex partners, go here.

Abbie Goldberg, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Clark University.

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