In the last decade there has been a rise n the number of lesbians and gay men forming their own families. Many do this through adoption, foster care, artificial insemination, and other means. Today, researchers have estimated that the number of children living with one gay or lesbian parent is six to fourteen million.
Some have described this current period as a lesbian and gay “baby boom”. However, lesbian and gay parents face many social and legal obstacles (Lambda Legal Defense and Educational Fund, 1997). In the past, most gay and lesbian parents lived secretive and protective lives. Not only did gay parents have to face his or her coming out issues and separation from spouse, but also face coming out to their children. Because more and more lesbian and gay families choose to have children, they are also more out about whom they are.
“This means that they are showing up in fertility clinics for information about attempting pregnancy, they are coming to adoption agencies stating clearly the nature of their family, they are going to attorneys for information on second parent same-sex adoption, and they are going to PTA meetings and little league games with the same enthusiasm as other parents” (Lev, 2002 p. 2). Many of the children parented by lesbians and gay men were born to them when they were in a heterosexual relationship or marriage. Often, when the child’s non-gay parent discovers the sexual identity of the other parent, he or she may attempt to limit their parenting roles.
Other challenges have been brought upon by other relatives or government agencies, thus causing prejudice towards gay and lesbian parents and denying custody and visitation rights (Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, 1997-2002). The child custody and visitation legal standards vary from state to state. For example, twenty-one states have granted second-parent adoptions to lesbian and gay couples. This enables the child to have the equal opportunity of having two legal parents, especially if one dies.
Today, the majority of states no long deny custody or visitation based on sexual orientation. Now, courts apply the notion “best interest of the child”, when it comes to deciding cases based upon this. Thus, one’s sexual orientation cannot be the basis for denying or limiting parent-child relationships, in most states (The American Civil Liberties Union, 1999). Although things seem to be coming along more and more, one’s sexual orientation may have drawbacks.
A few states, which rely on the myths and stereotypes, have uses one’s sexual orientation to deny custody, adoption, visitation and foster care. For example, Florida and New Hampshire have laws that forbid lesbians and gay men from adopting children. Some instances have shown how one’s sexual orientation is used to their disadvantage, such as in Sharon Bottom’s case. “In a notorious 1993 decision, a court in Virginia took away Sharon Bottom’s two-year old son simply because of her sexual orientation, and transferred custody to the boy’s maternal grandmother.
And Arkansas has just adopted a policy prohibiting lesbians, gay men, and those who live with them, from serving as foster parents” (American Civil Liberties Union, 1999, p. 1). Issues of parenting are not the only difficulties that gay and lesbian parents face. Others include the right to a legal marriage, which enables them to have the same rights and laws as opposite-sex couples. The Netherlands became the first to issue legal marriage to same-sex couples on April 1, 2001.
These marriage licenses are only offered to its legal citizens and residents. No other state or country in the world allows same-sex marriages. Although many churches marry same-sex couples, ceremonial marriages provide no civil laws and carry no legal benefits or responsibilities. Same-sex couples are considered to be legal strangers, thus, Federal laws regarding marriage does not cover them. It still remains uncertain when same-sex couples will be able to get a legal marriage license. Suits for legal marriages began in the United States in 1971 (Partners Task Force for Gay and Lesbian Couples, 2002).
Although same-sex couples remain in the fight for their rights to be legally married, one of the best rulings came from the Vermont State Supreme Court on December 20, 1999. Their final ruling stated that, “Same-sex couples must be .