LGB parents face a number of legal inequities and confront a legal landscape that not only varies drastically by state but also quickly changes. Research has shown that some LGB parents and prospective parents have inaccurate knowledge about the laws relating to parenting. Drawing on data from 21 interviews, I ask how sexual minority mothers gain knowledge about the law. I found that people were very aware of the legal inequities they face and sought to become knowledgeable about the law before they had children. Sexual minority mothers reported using four primary methods to learn about the law: doing independent research, relying on friends, relying on LGBT organizations, and hiring an attorney. The method upon which they relied was shaped by class. Notably, people received conflicting and at times inaccurate legal information depending on the method upon which they relied. Throughout the process of learning about the law, parents experienced anger, stress, and fear. These findings shed light on some of the inequities that sexual minority parents face insofar as they must expend added effort to gain knowledge about the law. The findings can also help efforts to ensure that legal knowledge is disseminated effectively, which is especially important given how quickly the legal landscape for LGB parents is changing.
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Sexual minority parents raising children to whom their partners gave birth, like all LGB-parents, use many different terms to describe their parenting role, including non-biological mother, non-gestational mother, and non-birth mother (Aizley 2006) as well as terms that are not feminine gendered such as “mather” (Padavic and Butterfield 2011). Here, I use the term “non-biological” mother to reflect that in terms of birth certificates, the biological mother who gives birth is immediately legally recognized. Moreover, all of the participants used this language in the interviews.
For female same-sex couples who are married and living in Iowa, the current law is that both parents are able to be immediately listed on the birth certificate. The possibility emerged after the interviews had been conducted, following an Iowa Supreme Court Case decision (Mello 2013). Yet, even for these families, the non-biological parent is advised to create a legal tie to her child that does not rest on the recognition of the legal tie to her spouse.
At that point, their lawyer advised that they could either pursue this option or that they list both names on the birth certificate and then sue the state after it was denied. Although they decided to do the former, another couple did indeed pursue the latter route and the state Supreme Court ruled that parents in same-sex marriages both had to be listed on the birth certificate of their child (Mello 2013).
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I would like to thank Rachel Schmitz, Alexis Swendener, and Brandi Woodell for their research assistance, as well as Laura Hirshfield for her helpful feedback on an earlier draft. Finally, I am thankful for all the participants who were willing to share their stories and experiences with me. This research was financially supported by a Layman Award, awarded by the Office of Research and Economic Development at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The study received IRB approval (#20120812646) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
This research was funded by a Layman Award, awarded by the Office of Research and Economic Development at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The study received IRB approval (#20120812646) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. All procedures performed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
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Kazyak, E. “The Law’s the Law, Right?” Sexual Minority Mothers Navigating Legal Inequities and Inconsistencies. Sex Res Soc Policy 12, 188–201 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-015-0184-y