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Courting Change

Courting Change: Queer Parents, Judges, and the Transformation of American Family Law

Kimberly D. Richman
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 278
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  • Book Info
    Courting Change
    Book Description:

    Winner of the 2010 Pacific Sociological Association Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship AwardA lesbian couple rears a child together and, after the biological mother dies, the surviving partner loses custody to the child's estranged biological father. Four days later, in a different court, judges rule on the side of the partner, because they feel the child relied on the woman as a psychological parent. What accounts for this inconsistency regarding gay and lesbian adoption and custody cases, and why has family law failed to address them in a comprehensive manner?In Courting Change, Kimberly D. Richman zeros in on the nebulous realm of family law, one of the most indeterminate and discretionary areas of American law. She focuses on judicial decisions - both the outcomes and the rationales - and what they say about family, rights, sexual orientation, and who qualifies as a parent. Richman challenges prevailing notions that gay and lesbian parents and families are hurt by laws' indeterminacy, arguing that, because family law is so loosely defined, it allows for the flexibility needed to respond to - and even facilitate - changes in how we conceive of family, parenting, and the role of sexual orientation in family law.Drawing on every recorded judicial decision in gay and lesbian adoption and custody cases over the last fifty years, and on interviews with parents, lawyers, and judges, Richman demonstrates how parental and sexual identities are formed and interpreted in law, and how gay and lesbian parents can harness indeterminacy to transform family law.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-7744-2
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 A Double-Edged Sword? Indeterminacy and Family Law
    (pp. 1-18)

    In 1999, an Indiana social worker petitioned to adopt three children, siblings, all of whom had severe disabilities and had been in foster care for most of their lives. The adoption was near completion when the children’s foster parents petitioned to stop the adoption of one of the children. They called their local pastor, rallied the community, and put pressure on the adoption board to disallow the adoption of the little girl by the social worker—and they were successful. The two boys were adopted by the social worker and were cared for by him according to their special needs,...

  5. 2 At the Intersection of Sexuality, Family, and Law
    (pp. 19-42)

    It is no longer novel, or open to serious controversy, that lesbian and gay individuals form relationships and exist as families, in varying degrees of visibility, across the United States. Even for those heterosexuals who may not personally know any (out) LGBT individuals or families, they most certainly are aware of their existence, thanks to increased visibility in popular media (such asWill & GraceandThe L Word) as well as to political discourse and public debate such as that over same-sex marriage. These relationships and families did not need public approval or legal recognition to form—even if...

  6. 3 Negotiating Parental and Sexual Identity
    (pp. 43-82)

    It is not common in public discourse that one would think to stop and determine what the definition of “parent” is—or, for that matter, what the definition of “gay” is. These seem intuitive to the average person, if not self-consciously considered often by him or her. At the same time, though, it is not difficult to crack this veneer of simplicity with just a few pointed questions or examples of the variety of sexual and familial configurations that exist in contemporary American society. Consider for example the fallout from the highly publicized scandal in the late 1990s at the...

  7. 4 Right or Wrong? The Indeterminacy of Custody and Adoption Rights
    (pp. 83-122)

    The historical, political, and symbolic importance of legal rights, particularly in American legal culture, is well known in popular consciousness and scholarly thought. Americans have seen the First Amendment right of free speech invoked in high-profile settings anywhere from the Berkeley student protests in the sixties to the gangsterrap genre of the nineties.Mirandarights, stemming from the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, have become ubiquitous through the popularization of television crime dramas such asLaw and OrderandNYPD Blue. These most common examples have something in common: the right to be leftalone. But what of...

  8. 5 Talking Back: Judicial Dissents and Social Change
    (pp. 123-152)

    How do most people come to understand what the law is and what it says? Certainly not by researching decisions handed down by appellate courts or by delving into the family code or penal code. The recent spate of sociolegal scholarship focused on narratives and storytelling, especially in everyday language and experience, adds a new twist on traditional legal analysis by decentering the privilege of official discourse, such as case law.³ Rather than relying on the “law in the books,” such scholarship focuses on both the “hegemonic tales” and the “subversive stories” of regular citizens interacting with the law.⁴ This...

  9. 6 Conclusion: Mastering the Double-Edged Sword
    (pp. 153-178)

    This book began with a story of exclusion, of a family relationship literally being judged out of existence by a set of decision-makers and mores that assumed gay male parenthood to be contrary to the best interest of a would-be adoptive child. This Indiana man was not alone in this respect; his fate is shared with Steven Lofton, Sharon Bottoms, and hundreds of other parents who were denied custody, visitation, or an adoption based on their homosexuality. While all but two states have eliminated unilateral statutory rejection of gay and lesbian adoptions, there remain few guarantees when it comes to...

  10. Appendix 1: Case Names and Citations
    (pp. 179-188)
  11. Appendix 2: Interview Questions for Attorneys
    (pp. 189-190)
  12. Appendix 3: Interview Questions for Judges
    (pp. 191-194)
  13. Appendix 4: Interview Questions for Parents
    (pp. 195-196)
  14. Appendix 5: List of Interviews
    (pp. 197-198)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 199-228)
  16. References
    (pp. 229-238)
  17. Index
    (pp. 239-266)
  18. About the Author
    (pp. 267-267)