Monday, September 26, 2016

In Praise of DeBoer vs. Snyder

Here's a confession. I may not be watch enough news or be politically active enough to write the blog I'd like to write. Since my beloved Jon Stewart left the Daily Show, I barely catch the news.

Two weeks ago, there were helicopter search parties outside our apartment building, and we didn't learn the full story for a full three days (until Monday morning). It turned out, it was an actual crazed shooter who fired over 50 bullets off on a Friday evening, in public places, leaving at least two dead.

It happened blocks from the apartment I share with Sonia. Given that, it's easy to see why I have trouble keeping up with the status of gay marriage in the U.S. (although it's easier since the Supreme Court weighed in), or the status of gay couples jointly adopting, a much murkier topic.

I recently went deep into a 2014 court case in which an unmarried lesbian couple, both nurses and state-licensed foster parents, had three children by adoption in Michigan. One partner adopted two of the children; the other partner adopted one.

"Unable to jointly adopt the three children, plaintiffs initially filed the instant action against the state defendants requesting that the Court enjoin them from enforcing section 24 of the Michigan Adoption Code...which restricts adoptions to either single persons or married couples."

They didn't want to challenge marriage equality originally; they wanted to challenge the law that said that two people who are not married could not adopt jointly. If they prevailed in that case, it would mean that a brother and sister could jointly adopt, or a mother and daughter could jointly adopt.

But marriage equality's time had simply come, everywhere at once. "The Court concluded the hearing by inviting plaintiffs to seek leave to amend their complaint to include a challenge to the MMA," which defined marriage in Michigan as between one man and one woman.
The state defendants, in support of their argument that the MMA has legitimate purposes, offered the following reasons for excluding same-sex couples from Michigan's definition of marriage: (1) providing children with "biologically connected" role models of both genders that are necessary to foster healthy psychological development; (2) avoiding the unintended consequences that might result from redefining marriage; (3) upholding tradition and morality; and (4) promoting the transition of naturally procreative relationships into stable unions.
The court case is a pleasure to read because, immediately after this list, the plaintiffs parade out expert after expert to refute the claims. It's beautiful.

Healthy Psychological Development
David Brodzinsky was the first witness. "He testified that decades of social science research studies indicate that there is no discernible difference in parenting competence between lesbian and gay adults and their heterosexual counterparts."

What did matter, according to Brodinsky, was:
[the] quality of parent-child relationships; quality of the relationships between the parents ... [t]he characteristics of the parent, the styles that they adopt, parental warmth and nurturance [sic], emotional sensitivity. The ability to employ age appropriate rules and structure for the child. And the kinds of educational opportunities that children are afforded is important, as well as the resources that are provided for the child, not only in the family itself, but the resources that, from the outside, that impact the family and the child in particular. And of course, the mental health of ... the parents.
From Brodzinsky's expert witness report:
Every major professional organization in this country whose focus is the health and well-being of children and families has reviewed the data outcomes for children raised by lesbian and gay couples, including the methods by which the data were collected, and have concluded that these children are not disadvantaged compared to children raised in heterosexual parent households. Organizations expressing support for parenting, adoption, and/or fostering by lesbian and gay couples include (but are not limited to): American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Psychoanalytic Association, American Psychological Association, Child Welfare League of America, National Association of Social Workers, and the Donaldson Adoption Institute.

The court's point-by-point breakdown of the defendants' main arguments is a quick read that will make you believe the legal system is working. Start reading on page 21 of the decision.

All were challenged convincingly on the basis of evidence, investigation and logic.

An expert, Gary Gates, came forward to point out that 5,300 children are being raised in the state of Michigan by same-sex couples. Each of these children has only one legal parent, leaving them in "legal limbo" if that parent dies or becomes incapacitated.

A historian (a historian!), Nancy Cott, testified that, "from the founding of the colonies through the early years of the republic, civil authorities regulated marriage to foster stable households, legitimate children and designate providers to care for dependents who otherwise would become wards of the state." Turns out, gay marriage would achieve these same ends, in our brave new world.

The court decision, written by Judge Bernard A. Friedman, reflects an understanding that preserving tradition is not an end in itself, nor is it justifiable when you are threatening the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens.

Six years prior, in May 2008, Michigan citizens voted that marriage remain between "one man and one woman." The decision addressed this, too, saying that some citizens' religious convictions were not sufficient to strip other citizens of equal protection under the law. And then:
As Justice Robert H. Jackson once wrote, [t]he very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.
In less than a year, the decision was reversed. Gay couples and their children in Michigan did not receive equal protection under the law again until the Supreme Court decision of June 26, 2015.

The names of the plaintiffs who hadn't intended to challenge marriage equality, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, will forever be attached to the Supreme Court case, the greatest civil rights victory of our time.

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