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The Right to Be Parents

The Right to Be Parents: LGBT Families and the Transformation of Parenthood

Carlos A. Ball
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The Right to Be Parents
    Book Description:

    In 1975, California courts stripped a lesbian mother of her custody rights because she was living openly with another woman. Twenty years later, the Virginia Supreme Court did the same thing to another lesbian mother. In ordering that children be separated from their mothers, these courts ruled that it was not possible for a woman to be both a good parent and a lesbian. The Right to be Parents is the first book to provide a detailed history of how LGBT parents have turned to the courts to protect and defend their relationships with their children. Carlos A. Ball chronicles the stories of LGBT parents who, in seeking to gain legal recognition of and protection for their relationships with their children, have fundamentally changed how American law defines and regulates parenthood. Each chapter contains riveting human stories of determination and perseverance as LGBT parents challenge the widely-held view that having a same-sexual orientation, or that being a transsexual, renders individuals incapable of being good parents. To this day, some courts are still not able to look beyond sexual orientation and gender identity in order to fairly apply legal principles in cases involving LGBT parents and their children. Yet on the whole, Ball's stories are of progress and transformation: as a result of these pioneering LGBT parent litigants, the law is increasingly recognizing the wide diversity in American familial structures. The Right to be Parents explores why and how that has come to be.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3931-0
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    In 1996, three years after a Virginia judge took her five-year-old son Tyler away from her so that he could be raised by her mother, Sharon Bottoms made the most difficult decision of her life: believing that Tyler had suffered enough and wanting to spare him further emotional turmoil, she told her lawyers to drop the custody fight.

    It had all started three years earlier, when Sharon told her mother Kay that she did not want the boy to spend time in his grandmother’s house because Kay’s live-in boyfriend had repeatedly molested Sharon when she was a girl. Kay, who...

  4. PART I. What Makes a Good Parent?

    • 1 Mothers on Trial
      (pp. 21-58)

      In the spring of 1970, Sandy Schuster, a thirty-two-year-old mother of four children, was attending a service at a fundamentalist church in Seattle when she was transfixed by the sight of a beautiful woman walking down the church’s aisle holding the hands of her two young sons. That twenty-eightyear-old woman, Madeleine Isaacson, taught Sunday school at the church, and after a few weeks, the two struck up a conversation that led to a blossoming friendship. It turned out that they had much in common—both were deeply religious, completely devoted to their children, and in unhappy marriages of eight years....

    • 2 Fathers Come out of the Closet
      (pp. 59-80)

      Like many gay men born during the first half of the twentieth century, Bruce Voeller married a woman in the hope that his feelings of attraction for other men would go away. Bruce, who had wanted to be a scientist since he was a young boy, graduated from Reed College in Oregon in 1956 and then moved to New York to pursue a Ph.D. in biology at Rockefeller University. After marrying Kytja Voeller in 1960, the couple bought a house in northern New Jersey and started a family.

      A year later, Bruce completed his studies and joined the faculty at...

  5. PART II. Who Is a Parent?

    • 3 Breaking up Is Hard to Do
      (pp. 83-114)

      Alison Davis and Virginia Martin met in the fall of 1977 and quickly fell in love. Seven months later, they bought a house in Poughkeepsie, New York, and moved in together. Two years after that, they started discussing the possibility of having children. After many long conversations, and after consulting with friends, relatives, and a therapist, the couple agreed that Virginia would try to conceive and that if a child was born, the two would raise him or her together.

      In the fall of 1980, the couple’s physician successfully inseminated Virginia using an anonymous donor’s sperm, leading to the birth...

    • 4 Donate Here, Parent There
      (pp. 115-142)

      When Sandy Russo was fifteen years old, she went to see a psychiatrist and told him she might be attracted to women. The psychiatrist laughed, told her not to be concerned, and asked her “to come back to me when you have six children.”¹ A quarter of a century later, and after two failed marriages to men, Sandy did have a child, one she conceived through self-insemination with the assistance of Robin Young, her lesbian partner.

      Several months after their daughter Cade was born in 1980, the couple decided to have a second child and that this time it would...

    • 5 When the State Discriminates
      (pp. 143-180)

      In 1984, Don Babets and David Jean, a gay couple living in Boston, asked a friend to contact the Massachusetts Department of Social Services (DSS) to inquire whether their sexual orientation rendered them ineligible to serve as foster parents. After officials assured their friend that it did not, the couple attended a six-week foster care training program. They were also visited at home several times by a social worker who interviewed them for hours on end.

      For most individuals, approval by the social worker after a home visit would have led to their certification as foster parents. But because Don...

  6. PART III. Can Transsexuals Be Parents?

    • 6 Gender Does Not Make a Parent
      (pp. 183-208)

      In 1981, shortly after doctors told Suzanne Daly that she was eligible to have sex reassignment surgery, she spoke to her eight-year-old daughter Mary about her transsexuality. Suzanne had a good relationship with her daughter and the child seemed to understand, after asking many questions, that her father would be happier living as a woman. Since Suzanne’s biggest concern was not how Mary would react, but instead how her ex-wife Nan would respond, she asked her daughter not to share the news of her upcoming operation with Nan so that she could later break the news herself.

      After high school,...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 209-214)

    Although this book has profiled many different types of parenting cases, all of them involved individuals who decided—either before or after they became parents—to live openly as lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, or transsexuals. It is likely that the path to parenthood for most of these individuals would have been considerably easier if they had chosen to stay in the closet. But to remain in the closet is to hide an important part of who one is; to lead a closeted life is, to some extent, to live a lie. And it goes without saying that good and effective...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 215-234)
  9. Index
    (pp. 235-238)
  10. About the Author
    (pp. 239-239)