Same-Sex Parents Still Face Legal Complications

5 05 2017

At gay pride marches around the country this month, there will be celebrations of marriage, a national right that, at just two years old, feels freshly exuberant to many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

But while questions of marriage are largely settled, same-sex couples who choose to have children still face a patchwork of laws around the country that define who is and who can be a parent. This introduces a rash of complications about where L.G.B.T.Q. couples may want to live and how they form their families, an array of uncertainties straight couples do not have to think about.

“There are very different laws from state to state in terms of how parents are protected, especially if they’re unmarried,” said Cathy Sakimura, deputy director and family law director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “You can be completely respected and protected as a family in one state and be a complete legal stranger to your children in another. To know that you could drive into another state and not be considered a parent anymore, that’s a pretty terrifying situation.”

Adoption laws, for example, can be extremely contradictory. In some states, like Maryland and Massachusetts, adoption agencies are expressly prohibited from discriminating based on sexual orientation. At the same time, other states, like South Dakota, have laws that create religious exemptions for adoption providers, allowing agencies to refuse to place children in circumstances that violate the groups’ religious beliefs

Alan Solano, a state senator in South Dakota, sponsored his state’s adoption legislation. He said he was concerned that if those groups were forced to let certain families adopt, they might get out of the adoption business entirely, shrinking the number of placement agencies in the state.

“I wanted to ensure that we have the greatest number of providers that are working on placing children,” Mr. Solano said. “I’m not coming out and saying that somebody in the L.G.B.T. community should not be eligible for getting a child placed with them. What I hope is that we have organizations out there that are ready and willing to assist them in doing these adoptions.”

But as a practical matter, lawyers who specialize in L.G.B.T.Q. family law say that in some areas, religiously affiliated adoption organizations are the only ones within a reasonable distance. Moreover, they say, such laws harm children who need homes by narrowing the pool of people who can adopt them, and they are discriminatory.

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Cathy Sakimura, the deputy director and family law director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. She cautions that, “You can be completely respected and protected as a family in one state and be a complete legal stranger to your children in another.” CreditPeter DaSilva for The New York Times

“There is a very serious hurt caused when you’re told, ‘No, we don’t serve your kind here,’ and I think that gets lost in the public discourse a lot,” said Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal. “There’s just this narrative that absolutely ignores, and almost dehumanizes, L.G.B.T. people. They’re missing from the equation here.”

There are a number of laws that can affect L.G.B.T.Q. families, from restrictions on surrogacy to custody, and the landscape is constantly shifting.

Within a single state, there can be layers of befuddling complexity, with certain rules in place that help gay families and others that restrict them. But even in states that tend to have friendly laws, life is more complicated for gay parents.

Alice Eisenberg and Anna Wolk live in Brooklyn, and they decided together to get pregnant. Ms. Eisenberg carried the child, and Ms. Wolk was an equal partner every step of the way. For legal reasons, the couple was married before their daughter, Olympia Bruce Lavender Wolk, was born, and both parents’ names are on the birth certificate.

Nonetheless, they are in the middle of doing a second-parent adoption.

The process varies from state to state — some states do not have them at all, instead offering stepparent adoptions — but in New York, the process is lengthy and complicated. Ms. Wolk must be fingerprinted and provide every address where she has lived, down to the month, going back decades. A social worker must do a home visit with the couple. The whole process will cost them about $4,000, they said, and could take a year to complete.

“We won marriage, and people thought the fight was over,” Ms. Eisenberg said. “But having to adopt your own child feels way more invasive, upsetting, disturbing.”

The Supreme Court has ruled that an adoption in one state must be honored in another, so even if a nonbiological parent is on the birth certificate — a right that stems from a recognition of the couple’s marriage — L.G.B.T.Q. family law experts strongly recommend an adoption, or some kind of judicial decree as the strongest protection.

“It seems both insulting and ridiculous,” said Ms. Sommer of Lambda Legal. “But sadly, the reality is, if you can manage it, you should do it.”



How to Be Healthy When Your Family Isn’t

5 05 2017

College students may be able to get advice from a registered dietitian within campus student health services. (GETTY IMAGES)

You can’t ask a 7-year-old to do the grocery shopping for a family.

Similarly, children’s “choice” of what they eat is largely made for them by parents – based on what options are brought into the home. Not surprisingly, research finds that children’s eating habits – the amount of fruits and veggies they eat, for example – are greatly influenced by parents’ own dietary proclivities. If parents care about eating well, their kids are more likely to eat well.

Likewise, whether parents prioritize physical activity – and if they’re active with their children – tends to be positively associated with children’s own activity levels. Parents’ caring about physical activity, higher exercise levels and encouragement of physical activity in kids is also linked to lower rates of obesity in kids. In short, parents’ and kids’ activity levels are closely aligned. “They’re very strongly correlated,” says Paul Veugelers, a professor of epidemiology in the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health and director of the university’s Population Health Intervention Research Unit, who has studied parents’ influence on kids’ health behaviors. “Parents are the role models for the children.”

Certainly families don’t live in a vacuum. Socioeconomic factors – whether a family grows up in poverty, which is strongly associated with how much education parents have – can have a huge impact, since less education is linked to poorer health choices. (Also, families with fewer resources may have more trouble affording healthy food and may have less access to parks in certain impoverished areas, among other disadvantages). So experts say it’s important to think in terms of environmental influences in the broadest sense, from schools and communities to society as a whole, particularly as an obesity epidemic has expanded the waistlines of kids and adults across the U.S. and in many places around the world.

However, at a most elemental level, the influence of the family on an individual’s well-being and choices remains strong, even as one gets older and leaves the home. “Families are central to how we eat [and] how we live,” says Marina Chaparro, a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in children and families based in Miami, and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Really parents shape a lot of our habits and are a key influence in how we grow up in general.”

So when it comes to changing kids’ health habits – like improving how a child eats – it’s always a family affair. “Although individualized kind of treatments can work, when we’re talking about children, really we need to focus on a family-based approach,” Chaparro says. “It’s going to be really, really difficult to see any kind of change, especially behavior change that is long-term when not all the family is aboard.”

But where young kids’ healthy – and unhealthy – habits are largely established for them by their parents, as children reach adolescence, begin to challenge norms at home and grow into young adults who leave the home, there’s opportunity to break from unhealthy family traditions. Of course, even when not living under the same roof, making changesthat run counter to how a person grew up to live well can prove a tall order.

“Change is hard,” says Emily Ozer, a clinical and community psychologist and a professor of community health sciences at UC Berkeley School of Public Health in California. So she recommends starting with small tweaks. For example, for all the talk about diet and exercise, one could easily forget the third pillar of health: sleep. Instead, make a goal to get adequate rest if you’re among the 1 in 3 adults the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates don’t get adequate rest. In addition to the overall mind-body benefits of getting at least seven hours of shut-eye (and some adults need more like eight or nine hours of sleep), being well-rested can reduce the likelihood you’ll eat more to get through the day or to stay up at night, plus boost energy to support physical activity goals.

Trying to break from an unhealthy family tradition, and not sure where to start? Consider seeking guidance from a professional. That could be talking to a trainer at a local gym to develop a workout routine, if you’re out of your element or don’t know how to maximize your sweat equity, or seeing a registered dietitian to develop a healthy eating plan you actually want to follow. For those in college, some campus student health services have registered dietitians on staff who will work with students – including those with diabetesor who wish to lose weight or simply eat better – to develop an eating plan, Chaparro says.

Remember, too, that just as your home environment may have contributed to your eating poorly or spending a lot of time on the couch when you were growing up, if you’re living on your own, you’re likely to have more say in creating an environment that better supports healthy living to reduce the likelihood of slipping back into old, unhealthy habits.

If you have a choice in where you live, you might pick a walkable neighborhood and perhaps even find an area with access to bike paths, Veugelers says, where you could pedal to work rather than driving.