LGBTQ families come in many configurations. All of them are worthy of recognition, respect, and protection, especially where children are concerned. Neither financial resources nor the manner in which a family is formed should be a barrier to legal security for kids and parents.

Major gaps remain, however – even in New England – in ensuring that LGBTQ families have easy, equal, and affordable access to parentage protections and particularly gaps in protections for non-biological, unmarried parents.

“We’re pushing policy makers and the courts to catch up with the reality of LGBTQ lives,” says Senior Staff Attorney Polly Crozier. “Our community forms families in many different ways: through marriage, adoption, assisted reproduction, surrogacy. We’re helping core societal institutions catch up with these realities so that people can be secure in their families and be there for each other and depend on each other in every way.”

We’re making meaningful progress on several fronts.

GLAD is currently collaborating to pass comprehensive parentage reform bills in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The proposed bills are modeled on legislation we worked to pass in Vermont and Maine to ensure that all families–including LGBTQ families–are treated fairly no matter how they are formed.

This legislation spells out clearly who can be a parent, how parentage is established, ensures that state parentage law is fair for LGBTQ families, and gives courts a way to resolve conflicts in parentage, among other provisions. Although the bills are tailored to the needs of each state, a key provision of each is expanding access to a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage (VAP). VAPs are an easily accessible administrative route to establish legal parentage at birth and have both parents listed on a child’s birth certificate. Each state must have a VAP process, and VAPs are accorded full faith and credit throughout the country.

VAPs have been a critical advance for LGBTQ families, and GLAD has been at the forefront of advocating for access to this route to parentage. For instance, in Massachusetts, which has long been a leader in recognizing and protecting our families, same-sex couples could not use VAPs to establish parentage until last August, after GLAD intervened on behalf of two unmarried same-sex couples with children. In both instances, the non-biological mothers had been told by hospital staff that they could not sign VAPs because the paperwork was restricted to opposite-sex couples only as a means of establishing paternity. Following GLAD’s advocacy, the state has updated its VAP forms so that they are now inclusive of all parents.

This is the type of advocacy GLAD will continue to do alongside local lawyers, families, and other advocates to educate lawmakers on these key LGBTQ family protections. We can’t say when these bills will pass, but we’re making sure they are central to conversations about our lives and the law in New England.

Separate from the parentage reform proposals, we are also working to pass bills in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to streamline the co-parent adoption process, which can be expensive, burdensome and inconsistent. GLAD is working with our partners to make it clearer and easier for families to complete co-parent adoptions, particularly in Rhode Island, where courts continue to require home studies and notice to sperm donors – onerous and patently unfair conditions when parents are adopting their own children.

“Family law issues are core to LGBTQ rights, whether we’re talking about equal access to marriage or vital protections for children of LGBTQ parents. GLAD has always led on family law matters, and I’m proud that GLAD continues to be on the forefront of securing such important protections for all families.”

This post comes from the Spring 2019 issue of GLADBriefs, which can be found in entirety here.