Tuesday, October 25, 2011

New report on LBGT families with children a must-read

Today the Movement Advancement Project, Center for American Progress, and Family Equality Council released the report, “All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families.” This is not just one more report on children of LGBT parents. It is, instead, the gold standard against which every other assessment of the needs of children of LGBT parents will be measured for well into the future. The report identifies three goals, each one of which receives lengthy treatment in a separate section: Goal 1: Securing stable, loving homes for children; Goal 2: Ensuring economic security for children; Goal 3: Ensuring health and well-being for children. The conclusion presents detailed recommendations designed to achieve these goals.

I have often complained in my blog posts about all the reports, press releases, speeches, testimony, etc that attribute the problems facing LGBT families, including the children in those families, to the unavailability of marriage to same-sex couples. This report does not make this mistake.

Beginning with the introduction, the report situates LGBT families within the context of other disfavored families. Noting that only 22% of households are married heterosexual couples raising their biological children and that only 59% of children live with their two married biological parents, the introduction notes that “unequal laws and social stigma harm not just the two million American children with LGBT parents, but also children in other family configurations, such as those with unmarried heterosexual parents.” It also criticizes government safety net programs that fail to support and protect children not living with a married mother and father. So from the beginning of the report, it is clear that the authors do not identify lack of access to marriage as either the primary problem or the primary solution.

In addition, after describing the number of same-sex couples raising children who are disadvantaged by their race, economic disadvantage, and bi-national status, the report makes clear that the needs of those families cannot be met only by looking at the LGBT angle of their lives. For example, in addition to LGBT-related immigration reforms, the report recommends a pathway to permanent residency and citizens for all undocumented immigrants living in the US.

Another strength of the report is its level of detail. I would almost call it mind-numbing detail, to the extent that it is difficult to absorb the volume of factual information and accompanying analysis in the report’s 115+ pages. (The authors prepared an abridged version, but it’s worth slogging through the full report). But anyone truly trying to understand the large number of public programs affecting “parents, “children,” and “families” – terms defined in maddeningly different ways – the report gathers everything in one place, from the school lunch program to public housing to various tax credits.

The section of the report on securing stable, loving homes for children does not address parenting in general terms, but separates five distinct pathways to parenthood – traditional conception, adoption and fostering, blended and stepfamilies, assisted reproduction, and surrogacy. For each, it discusses laws and policies that either block or facilitate establishing and maintaining parent-child relationships. This is the area of law I know the most about, and I did find a few technical errors or misleading statements, but a report of this magnitude that tries to present nuances rather than generalizations is bound to have small mistakes. For the most part, I was enormously grateful for the nuances; a decision from a state’s intermediate appellate court, for example, is not the last word on the state’s law, even if for the moment all trial courts are following it. It’s very hard to convey that when drawing a color-coded map.

Something I love and deeply appreciate about the report is its emphasis on defining family in functional ways. It makes numerous recommendations for basing economic policies, from eligibility for programs to ability to sue for wrongful death, on the functional parent-child relationship. Other strengths include acknowledging the significance of racial disparities and identifying what should be done to overcome them and naming the distinctive circumstances facing transgender individuals who are or want to be parents.

No single post can do this report justice. So consider this the first in a series.

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