Families, Advocates Make Urgent Call For Passage of the Massachusetts Parentage Act to Protect All Children

Hearing before the Judiciary Committee highlights harms to children as Massachusetts remains the last state in New England to provide equal access to the protections of legal parentage no matter the circumstances of a child’s birth

November 9, 2021, (BOSTON) — Parents, children, children’s rights advocates, attorneys, LGBTQ and other family advocates spoke out at a hearing before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary today urging swift passage of the Massachusetts Parentage Act.

Karen Partanen, whose effort to secure her legal status as a parent to her two children required her to go all the way up to the MA Supreme Judicial Court (Partanen v. Gallagher, 2016), explained the negative impact the state’s outdated law has on her children and on families today:

My ex partner and I planned carefully to have our children and endured many fertility procedures which were so worth it to welcome our two children into our family. When our adult relationship didn’t work out and we parted ways in 2013, all of my fears were confirmed — outdated parentage laws said that I was not a parent. I will never forget the day I was holding my two year old and his little hands were pried off my neck as he was screaming for me. The next 3 years were a grueling custody dispute. My children couldn’t understand why Mommy wasn’t there anymore. Outdated laws that didn’t protect my children forced me to empty my savings, spend my entire retirement fund, and eat from a local food pantry to secure their equal rights through the courts. The SJC decision ultimately did change the law for my children and others. But we never should have had to endure that litigation, and the parentage statutes still aren’t updated. Children are still in limbo as parents try to understand and navigate the system. The Legislature must act to change that.

There are many paths to parenthood and many types of families in the Commonwealth, but Massachusetts statutes have not kept pace with modern science and the diversity of families, leaving children vulnerable. The Massachusetts Parentage Act (MPA), S. 1133/H. 1714, was introduced by Senator Bruce Tarr and Representative Kay Khan, and will update Massachusetts’ outdated parentage law so that it is clear, equitable, constitutional and provides legal protection for all children regardless of the circumstances of their birth.

Among other important protections, the MPA provides clarity on how to establish parentage for children born through assisted reproduction, surrogacy, and to same-sex parents who aren’t married. As the law stands now, children are not treated equally, with some having to wait six months or longer to establish their parent-child relationship.

“Under current Massachusetts law, many children have no clear path to establishing their parentage – the legal relationship to their parent or parents – something that is critical and fundamental to children’s security and wellbeing,” said Polly Crozier, Senior Staff Attorney at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders and a national expert on parentage. “Appellate courts in Massachusetts have been calling for the legislature to establish clear statutory guidance on parentage for over 20 years, because they understand, as do parents across the Commonwealth, that a lack of secure parentage hurts children.”

Another parent, J. Shia, shared a heartbreaking story of the harm lack of parentage protections can cause children:

When I was 19, my then girlfriend gave birth to our son, a child she and I had agreed to raise together. I was his primary parent for the first four years of his life until his birth mother ended our relationship and eventually broke off all contact between us. It was heartbreaking to me and to him. Soon after, I learned my son had been removed from his mother’s home and taken into DCF custody. I immediately reached out to DCF, but they did not view me as a parent. My son suffered while in foster care, and it took almost two years for me to regain custody through a permanent guardianship. My son is now a wonderful, happy 11-year-old, but I know that a guardianship can be revoked. I know how important it is to have a legal relationship with your child. If I had been a legal parent when DCF first became involved, my son would never have been in foster care, and he would have been spared that experience. There was no law to protect my son when our relationship was threatened, and no other child should have to go through that.

“The parents we work with put every ounce of love, commitment and courage they have into planfully building their families,” said Kate Weldon LeBlanc, Executive Director of Resolve New England. “After that struggle, many of them then face the pain and worry of not being able to secure their legal connection to their child. For just one example, Massachusetts has the highest rate of births through assisted reproduction in the United States, yet we have no clear statutory path for establishing the parentage of children born through assisted reproduction. That leaves children and families vulnerable, and it’s time for the Legislature to fix that.”

After decades of leadership on LGBTQ family equality issues, including being the first state in the U.S. to permit same-sex couples to marry, Massachusetts now lags behind every other New England state when it comes to providing equal legal protections for all children born in the Commonwealth. Similar reforms to those in the MPA, which is based on the Uniform Parentage Act of 2017, have already been adopted in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

For more information about the MPA and its impact, and ways to get involved, visit massparentage.com.