Queer Parents and Advocates Testify to Update Connecticut Parentage Laws

Queer Parents and Advocates Testify to Update Connecticut Parentage Laws
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Connecticut remains the only New England state that leaves children born to non-biological, non-marital parents wholly unprotected in its parentage laws. Queer parents, legal and medical experts, advocates, and others testified today in support of a bill that would change that.

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Why Connecticut Parentage Laws Need Updating

Current Connecticut parentage laws treat unmarried, nonbiological parents as legal strangers to their children. They also do not recognize the genetic parent as a legal parent in same-sex couples who use reciprocal IVF (one person’s egg, carried in the other’s womb) without an adoption or court order, and do not offer clear protections to all involved in the surrogacy process.

The Connecticut Parentage Act (CPA; HB 6321) would give nonbiological, unmarried, and same-sex parents clear ways to establish their parentage; set standards to protect parents, child, and surrogate in families formed through surrogacy: and remove gender-specific language from the parentage laws. The CPA, like similar parentage legislation in several other states, is based on model legislation by the Uniform Law Commission, a non-partisan body of state lawmakers, judges, scholars, and lawyers. Last year, a similar bill had a favorable hearing before the Joint Judiciary Committee—four days before the session shut down because of COVID-19. Today, in a new hearing via Zoom, the committee considered this latest attempt to modernize the state’s parentage laws.

Professor Douglas NeJaime of Yale Law School (and also a queer dad), who has led efforts to pass the bill, told the committee that Connecticut was “an extreme outlier” among neighboring states, as all other New England states plus New York have updated their parentage laws to better protect all families. “We know that children do best when their relationships to their parents are legally recognized and secure,” he said. “Yet many children in Connecticut are deprived of that security.”

GLAD Senior Staff Attorney Patience Crozier, who was formerly a family law attorney and is also a nonbiological parent, testified that, “Nothing is more foundational for a child than the security of the parent-child relationship.” She added, “The status quo leaves children truly vulnerable, and this is particularly true for children of LGBTQ parents.” She noted that Connecticut has the second-highest rate of births through assisted reproduction in the country, along with a history of leadership on LGBTQ issues, but current law means that “children are unable to be protected in their most precious relationships.”

Hugh Taylor, chair of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at Yale School of Medicine and president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, put it succinctly: “Connecticut laws do not reflect the ways we build families today.”

Acknowledgements of Parentage

Birth certificates are evidence of parentage, but they do not establish parentage.

Among other provisions, the CPA would allow both married and unmarried same-sex couples, like different-sex couples, to file a simple Acknowledgement of Parentage form to establish a legal parent-child relationship at the time of a child’s birth, without needing a home study or court hearing. NeJaime asserted that under federal law, “the Acknowledgements of Parentage is required to get full faith and credit from other states. That is why same-sex couples in our state would no longer need to adopt their own children.” He explained that while married same-sex couples can both be put on their children’s birth certificates, “birth certificates are evidence of parentage, but they do not establish parentage,” and so they do not get full faith and credit from other states.  (This is why even married same-sex couples have long been advised to do second-parent adoptions even if both parents are on the birth certificate. An Acknowledgement of Parentage form would in theory alleviate the need for second-parent adoptions—but for more about them, see my piece from last August.)

The Impact on Real Families

We are real people and we are here.

The most powerful testimonies of the hearing came from Connecticut queer parents and their children. Stephanie Ocasio-Gonzalez, who is raising a son and daughter with her wife, said she works in the medical field, and COVID-19 has heightened her fears about what would happen to her children if something happened to her, the biological mother. Her wife is on the birth certificate, but that might not always be recognized as proof of parentage. Their son is hers from a previous relationship, but her wife has no legal connection to him, even though the birth father has no part in his life. The CPA would not only secure her wife’s relationship with their daughter, but would provide a process by which she would be legally seen as a de facto parent to their son. “We are real people and we are here,” she told the committee. “Our children’s lives and well-being are the most important thing to us.”

Ashley Taylor, a police officer in Bridgeport, is expecting a child with her fiancée Adriana, after several attempts and a miscarriage. It’s “unbelievably stressful and exhausting” to go through the process of assisted reproduction, she said, and COVID-19 has made her even more fearful about their child having only one legal parent. While they plan to marry, she stated that they shouldn’t have to do so in order to both be legal parents. The CPA, however, would allow them to file a simple form to establish Adriana’s parentage from day one. As police officers, she said, they put their lives on the line to keep their communities safe, and “All that we ask in return is that Connecticut law recognizes our family as legitimate and deserving of respect as any other family.”

Exclusive parentage law sends a message that children like me do not belong.

Malina Simard-Halm, a member of COLAGE, the national organization for those with LGBTQ parents, testified that 25 years ago, “my dads persevered in the face of laws that saw them as unfit to be parents.” When she was born, the men had to go through “a grueling legal process” to give her the protection of both parents. Nevertheless, she said, “Because of my dads, I have grown up in a family that has shown me the meaning of love.” She spoke of the fears that many children now live with if they do not have legal ties to both parents—that they could be separated from a parent in the case of conflict or tragedy, and that in an emergency, the parent could not be there to make decisions for them. “Exclusive parentage law sends a message that children like me do not belong,” she asserted. “The families whom this law protects are not asking for special treatment…. They’re asking to be allowed to participate as equals in perhaps the oldest and happiest activity: to care for and love their own children.”

Emily Pagano and Rachel Prehodka-Spindel spoke with the committee as their toddler sat (or rather, squirmed) with them. They used reciprocal IVF, but Emily is the child’s only legal parent. Rachel is now pregnant and due in June with twins also conceived through RIVF; she will be their only legal parent when they are born, and Emily will not be able to add them to her health insurance. Senator Alex Kasser, one of the bill’s sponsors, told them after their testimony that hopefully the law would pass before the children’s birth in June.

Several other parents, legal experts, and reproductive medicine professionals also testified for the bill, as did Connecticut Attorney General William Tong. Tong told the committee that he thought it was a “no-brainer” and opined, “I think it’s required by law.” Connecticut’s parentage laws are not up to date and “do not conform” with the state’s civil rights laws protecting LGBTQ people and others, he explained.

That’s a strong endorsement—but a lot of effort is still needed to get the bill passed by the full legislature and signed by the governor. To learn how you can help, visit the website of the We Care Coalition that is spearheading the effort for its passage.

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