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Wednesday, 30 June 2010

In Vermont, 10 Years of Civil Unions

It is now 10 years since the start of legal recognition for same sex unions in Vermont, just 11 years after a comparable start in Denmark. For a time, both Vermont in the US and Denmark internationally were seen as remarkable exceptions: idiosyncracies in that were unlikely to be emulated in more mainstream states and nations. However, after some initial delay, and increasing number of others followed, and even upped the game. 

MONTPELIER, Vt.—When Lois Farnham and Holly Puterbaugh were joined in civil union 10 years ago Thursday, some of their friends didn't come for fear they'd lose their jobs, and the church asked that plainclothes police officers attend the ceremony in case there was trouble.
A decade later, Vermont and four other states—Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Iowa, as well as the District of Columbia—have instituted full marriage for same-sex couples, and the Burlington couple say many people view their relationship as "ho-hum."
Vermont was the first jurisdiction in the country to offer most of the legal rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples. Massachusetts instituted full same-sex marriage in 2004 in response to a state court's order. Last year, Vermont's Legislature became the first to approve full marriage for those couples without a court's prompting.
"At the time, civil unions were so radical," Farnham said this week. "Now it's the fallback, conservative issue."

What has been remarkable in recent years though, is how quickly, after the slow beginning, the idea has spread. In Europe, almost all countries have or are planning some form of provision for same sex partnerships, and seven have already upgraded to full marriage, with more on the way. In the US, early progress towards marriage equality was meet with a strong political backlash, but even here progress has been substantial and is accelerating.

Marriage Equality & European "Human Rights"

When two Austrian men, Mr Schalk and Mr Kopf, took their pursuit of the right to marry to the European Court of Human Rights, there were some hopes that this could mark a turning point for marriage equality across Europe. When the court turned down their application, the obvious response was one of disappointment. However, that would be too simplistic. The verdict was narrow, and not even necessarily final. Although the court left decisions on marriage equality to national governments, they did emphasize the importance of recognizing al families, including queer families, on an equal basis. As the Guardian explains, this may not have been the final decision on marriage equality for Europe, but it is an important landmark along the way:

"The right to marry remains subject primarily to national and not European law, but an Austrian couple have nudged the Council of Europe's 47 states closer to a consensus"
         Last week, the European court of human rights ruled unanimously that there was no obligation on states to recognise same-sex marriage. At least, not yet. Because hidden within the ruling are two significant findings that make it almost certain that one day the court will rule in favour of a right to have same-sex relationships – including marriages – recognised in law. The case is also notable for a bizarre intervention by the UK government, arguing against a right – to recognition of civil partnerships – that it had itself introduced at home.

Two Austrians, a Mr Schalk and a Mr Kopf, argued that the right to marry, set out in the European convention on human rights, requires states to recognise same-sex marriage. The court rejected that argument unanimously, stating instead that the right of men and women to marry is subject to national laws. The court relied on the fact that only six of the 47 European states recognise same-sex marriage (in fact, seven countries now do, with Iceland the latest). In this approach the court showed once more that on issues it calls "morality" it normally follows states, rather than leads them, an approach which those who accuse the court of "interfering" too much would do well to consider.
However, the court did state clearly that the right to marry does not apply only to persons of the opposite sex. The EU charter of fundamental rights – accepted by all EU states — guarantees the right to marry, deliberately excluding any reference to gender. This should mean that in those countries that grant access to marriage for all couples, any distinction between same-sex and heterosexual marriage would be arguable discrimination under the convention.   

(Read the full report at the Guardian)

Iceland's Gay Wedding for PM Sigurdardottir

In Iceland, legall recognition for same sex marriage has taken effect. I wonderful symbolism,
Johanna Sigurdardottir,the country's PM, was one of the first to tie the knot. She is now not only the world's first lesbian or gay PM, but also the first to have experienced for herself a gay wedding.

From the BBC:

Johanna Sigurdardottir, named as Iceland's prime minister on Sunday, is the first openly lesbian head of government in Europe, if not the world - at least in modern times.
The 66-year-old's appointment as an interim leader, until elections in May, is seen by many as a milestone for the gay and lesbian movement.
Up until now, if a gay man or woman has been prime minister, they have done their best to conceal the fact.
Iceland, however, has different standards for equality. When Sigurdardottir became PM, her sexuality passed almost unnoticed. When the gay marriage legislations was passed by parliament, it was accepted unanimously. 
What is really historic about this new cabinet, says Skuli Helgeson, the general secretary of Ms Sigurardottir's Social Democratic Alliance, is not the fact that its leader is a lesbian, but that for the first time in Icelandic history it boasts an equal number of men and women.

The Social Value of Gay Marriage

The standard pseudo-religious argument against same-sex marriage is that "conventional" marriage between a man and a woman offers value to society that same sex marriage does not. Quite the most impressive counter to that argument, written by a straight woman, is "Why Gay Marriage is Good For Everyone" which I found at "Casaubon's Book "on Science Blogs.

In Wisconsin last week, a court ruled that a lesbian mother who had been a stay-at-home mom to raise two adopted children with her partner, had no status as parent because only the other mother could be recognised in law as an adoptive parent. ("In Wisconsin, Not All Parents Are Equal"). It is to find ways around complicated legal difficulties such as these that so many queer families are forced into complex, sometimes imaginative, legal solutions of their own.


Introducing her piece, Casaubon writes about two Washington men who fell in love during WWII, and finally wed after a "62 -year engagement". ("Wow, What A Long Engagement That Was") But this is not just a cosy, feel-good romantic tale - although it is that, too. Along the way, as these two men aged after decades sharing their lives, they realized that in the absence of  the legal protections offered by marriage, they would need a plan of their own - so they settled on adoption!

When Henry was 69, he legally adopted Bob, who was 70. It gave them legal protections, offered an advantageous inheritance tax rate and made the pair into a family.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Scottish Adoption Agency WANTS Gay Parents

The Scottish Adoption Association has told gay couples not to be put off by the "very negative publicity" surrounding the issue of same-sex couples adopting children. The publicity in question is believed to relate to the complaints of the grandparents of two Edinburgh-based children who were adopted by a gay couple.

According to Margaret Moyes, Chief Executive of SAA, many disillusioned couples have withdrawn from the process because of the negative messages abounding in the Scots media. One couple, Ms Moyes claimed, actually withdrew for that very reason. She said, "I am really keen to make sure we get the message out that there are lots of children waiting for adoption, and we need to find parents from as wide a group of people as possible."
(Full Report At Pink News)

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Adoption Vote in New South Wales

Marriage and adoption equality have not yet become big political issues in Australia as they have in the US, but that is beginning to change, with increasing public pressure and clear support from the small Green party. On adoption however, their could soon be progress in the state of New South Wales.Independent MP Clover Moore has introduced a bill approving adoption, and Premier Kristina Keneally has specified that she will permit legislators a vote on"conscience", removing the issue from control by party whips. Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell is also allowing a conscience vote for the same reason.

The prospects for success look good:
In a parliamentary inquiry conducted last year, a majority found that the Adoption Act should be amended to allow gay couples to adopt. Faith-based adoption agencies would still have the right to exclude prospective parents who are gay, so long as they refer them to an agency which will assist.
This follows the lead of Western Australia and the ACT which already give gay couples equal access to the adoption process. Even in Tasmania gay couples can adopt a child related to one of them. In every state gay couples can foster.
The bill will be debated in late August. Watch this space.

What is interesting to me in this is that in addition to support from the two party leaders, children's charity Barnardo's is also supporting the move, and for the same reason, "the interests of the child". (In this, they are following numerous other children's charities in the US and UK, who have also argued that children's interests are best served by opening adoption to applications from gay men and lesbians.

In their commentary on the move, the Sydney Morning Herald has the headline, "Thinking men and women need clear conscience on gay adoption". More than clear consciences are required - clear thinking is also wanted.

In all the struggles for adoption rights, nobody has ever argued for the "right" of all gay men and lesbians to adopt: only for a right to be considered as eligible. In every adoption, prospective parents are carefully vetted for their personal suitability, both in general, and each particular child. To argue that all gay men and lesbians are unsuitable purely on the grounds of orientation is as ludicrous as it is to argue that all heterosexual couples are suitable merely because they include both a Mom and a Dad. It is self-evident that at least some heterosexual couples are not suitable - which is why many of the children are up for adoption in the first case. It is reasonable to assume that at least some same sex couples are eminently suitable, on the basis of the quality of the love and he care that they are able to provide. Research based evidence, in study after study, has shown much more: that as a group, same sex couples are able to provide care at least as good as opposite sex couples. In some respects, some studies have even suggested that they do better. This is why Barnardo's, and several other agencies, are clear that they support applications from gay and lesbian families.

The "interests of the child" demand that to provide the best possible parents, the pool of eligible applicants should be selected as widely as possible. Then let the personal characteristics of the applicants be the deciding factor, not an arbitrary demographic.

In arguing that the interests of the child demands two opposite sex parents, the Catholic church, and church adoption agencies, are ignoring the evidence of research, of the demands of reason, and even of their own practice - many church agencies will approve single parents. They are not in fact arguing for the interests of the child, but only the interest of defending their own misguided doctrines.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Rally For Equality Law in Argentina

The Argentinian Lower House has already voted in favour of an equality law, which will allow for both the legal recognition of same sex marriage, and also gay adoption. The measure must still pass the Senate, where passage is not guaranteed. Senators are currently touring the country to try and take a sounding of the national mood, arguing that pressure in favour of equality is coming only from the metropolitan elites of Buenos Aires. To counter this activists are now taking to the streets in rural cities as well.

From On Top Magazine:

Thousands Rally For Gay Marriage In Argentina

More than 4,000 people rallied Thursday in Cordoba to urge the Argentine Senate to approve a gay marriage bill, various media outlets reported.
Demonstrators marched on the Plaza de la Intendencia, where they held banners, chanted slogans and listened to speeches in favor of making Argentina the first Latin American country to legalize marriage between two members of the same sex.
The bill was approved in May by Argentina's lower house, the Chamber of Deputies (la Camara de Diputados). The Senate General Law Committee reviewing the bill has taken its gay marriage debate on the road, with stops planned for the cities of Salta, Tucuman, San Juan and Mendoza. The four-city tour runs from June 14-28. The full Senate is scheduled to take up the bill on July 14, a Wednesday, where the measure faces an uncertain future.
Argentine President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner has said she would not block the measure from becoming law, if approved by senators.
Lawmakers in favor of gay marriage also spoke at the rally.
“Today nobody can say the existence of same-sex couples is abnormal,” Cordoba National Deputy Paula Cecilia Merchan told the crowd. “We are fighting, and I think we will ensure that the law is approved, so that these couples are recognized in the same way heterosexual couples are. In that sense, I think this fight has more to do with reality and cultural and social conditions.”

Friday, 25 June 2010

In Wisconsin, Not All Parents Are Equal

In Wisconsin, adoption by same sex couples is not recognised. Gay men and lesbians may adopt, but only as individuals. So when lesbian couple "Liz" and "Wendy" adopted two Guatemalan children, only one of them could be legally recognised. The couple decided that Liz, who went out to work as the breadwinner, would be named as legal parent, while Wendy stayed at home to provide child care. Years later, when the couple split up, Wendy wanted to have her status as parent legally recognised.

Now, she is the one who stayed at home, and provided the bulk of day to day care. In most divorces, judges are more likely to grant child custody to the mother, on the reasonable grounds that she is the one (usually) who has provided greater day to day care, and is likely to have a stronger emotional bond with the kids. Other things being equal, similar reasoning in this case would have led to a preference for custody going to Wendy. Other things though. are not equal in queer families, and an appeals court in Wisconsin has rejected Wendy's claim. Not only does she not get legal custody, in Wisconsin, she has no legal status as parent at all.

The high profile political battles for equality are over marriage equality (and in the US,  DADT, and ENDA). It is important that state by state in the US, and country by country elsewhere, we continue to push also for legal recognition of adoption rights, as single people or as couples.

A Wisconsin appeals court has ruled that despite being a stay at home mom for years a wisconsin woman is not considered a parent to the two adopted children she has been raising for years.
The court ruled that only the woman's former partner is their parent since the adoption was done in her name. Court records only refer to the women as Wendy and Liz. Wendy and Liz had been together for 7 years when they decided to adopt their first child. They adopted a second in 2004. Wendy quit her job to stay at home with the children. Liz was named as their legal parent so the children would be covered under her health care plan. Under Wisconsin law same-sex couple cannot adopt children together.
The couple ended their relationship in 2008 and agreed  to an informal co-parenting agreement. Wendy petitioned for legal guardianship to protect her rights to make legal and medical decisions for the children. After originally agreeing to the guardianship, Liz changed her mind and objected.