When couples in Connecticut welcome a child into their family, the process often comes with legal complications and bureaucratic burdens for LGBTQ couples not faced by other couples. That unequal burden is the target of a bill in the legislature that would provide equal access to the security of a legal parent-child relationship, regardless of sexual orientation or marital status.
As the law stands now, an unmarried mother with a male partner can simply fill out a form in the hospital after giving birth to acknowledge the man as the father of their child for the birth certificate. An unmarried mother with a female partner cannot do the same. If the non-biological mother wants to have a legally-binding relationship with the child, she must adopt, a costly and expensive process that some LGBTQ parents also feel delegitimizes their parenthood.
If the mothers do not choose to complete the adoption process, it can create logistical challenges for healthcare, education, and other day-to-day aspects of parenthood. In the event of a separation, or death of the biological mother, a non-adoptive parent could be denied custody of their child.
“I’ve seen the impact questions of parentage have had on friends, and that fear and concern that they could be in a position to not have the legal decision-making authority or recognition in a healthcare or school setting,” said Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, D-Fairfield.
The legislation would give unmarried same-sex couples access to the same system heterosexual couples use to acknowledge the legal rights of a non-birthing parent.The Acknowledgement of Parentage, a simple form often filled out in the hospital after the child’s birth, is “equivalent to an adjudication of the child’s parentage by the Superior Court and confers on the acknowledged parent all parental rights and duties.”
The law would eliminate the need for second-parent adoption, putting Connecticut on par with states like Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and California, which have already passed similar measures.
The legislation sailed through the House 141-1, with only Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Granby, voting no. Anderson said he opposed the bill because he was concerned that the law was moved through the legislature too quickly and could “cause greater confusion for Connecticut families and their children.” On Thursday, the Senate approved the bill 35-0, will one member absent.
The bill would also secure the parental rights of married LGBTQ couples, because while Connecticut lets married same-sex couples become parents on a birth certificate, that does not confer the same legal parentage as an adoption. If the family moves to another state, they could lose parental rights. However, the court judgement of adoption, or the equivalent acknowledgement of parentage, is fully respected in all states.
Stephanie Ocasio-Gonzalez, a Bridgeport resident, testified in a public hearing that she was “horrified” to learn that her wife “wouldn’t be legally recognized as her parent nationwide unless she went through the long and expensive process of adopting her own child.”
“I lie awake at night worrying about what would happen to my family if, God forbid, something were to happen to me,” Ocasio-Gonzales said. “I urge you to pass this bill, and make Connecticut a state where all families are treated equally. Our children’s futures depend on it.”
State Attorney General William Tong also testified, noting that the bill would resolve constitutional concerns with current state law.
“The bill’s fundamental insight and motivation are constitutionally compelled,” Tong wrote. “Our state and federal constitutions will not permit discrimination against families and parents on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. That means our law must recognize and support people of all gender identities and sexual orientations equally in their efforts to establish parentage.”
Victoria Ferrara, a reproductive rights attorney who argued the Raftopol v. Ramey case before the Connecticut Supreme Court, which established in that a same-sex couple who had a child via a surrogate are the legal parents, is also a mother, who had her first child in Connecticut in the 1990s, before non-biological parents could adopt their partners’ children. At the time, Ferrara and her wife had to seek an adoption in Massachusetts.
“The stability of our family was important to us,” Ferrara said. “The whole purpose of this bill is about enhancing stability and security for all families in Connecticut.”