Lesbian Couple Disqualified from Adopting Refugee Child

So, can a lesbian couple adopt a refugee kid through Catholic Charities of Fort Worth?  Funny you should ask.

When Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin, both attorneys and professors at Texas A&M University, learned that there were as many as 300,000 homeless or unaccompanied refugee children worldwide, they decided to adopt or foster one.   They reached out to Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, a federally-funded agency specializing in placing refugee children, and set up an interview.  During the interview, an employee told Marouf and Esplin that the agency only adopts to families who “mirror the holy family,” and because they were a same-sex couple, they would be disqualified. (Didn’t the “holy family” initially consist of an unwed pregnant teen? I digress.)

Lambda Legal filed suit on behalf of the couple, rightfully claiming that their equal protection rights under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution had been violated.  As stated in their complaint, “[t]here is no valid basis for the government to prefer different-sex couples over same-sex couples when considering or approving would-be foster or adoptive parents.”

No valid basis and no excuse.

Read more about the case and the complaint here:



Arizona: presumption of maternity upheld

The Arizona Supreme Court handed down an opinion recently finding a presumption of maternity for a married lesbian couple where the child was born during the marriage. This ruling applies the presumption of paternity for a heterosexual couple to a same-sex couple. This is what many believe the correct application of the law to be post-Obergefell. This question has not been finally decided in Texas, and a Beaumont ruling actually finds the opposite of this ruling – that the presumption of maternity does not apply to a lesbian couple.

The Arizona court examined the application of the constitutional protections from Obergefell in reconciling the paternity statutes. Their analysis follows:

Kimberly argues that the Court cannot interpret § 25- 814(A)(1) gender neutrally because doing so would effectively rewrite the statute, thereby invading the legislature’s domain. Instead, Kimberly contends that this Court must wait for the legislature to remedy this constitutional defect. This argument misperceives this Court’s constitutional role and responsibility when faced with a statute that violates the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

To place the remedial issue in context, it is useful to review some settled constitutional principles. The United States Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution is binding on state court judges, just as on other state officers. See Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1, 18–19 (1958). When the Constitution conflicts with a statute, the former prevails. Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137, 178 (1803) (noting “the constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the legislature; [and] the constitution, and not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which they both apply”); The Federalist No. 78 at 467 (Alexander Hamilton) (Clinton Rossiter ed., 1961). It is no answer to a constitutional violation in a pending case to assert that it could be remedied by legislative action. “The dynamic of our constitutional system is that individuals need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right.” Obergefell, 135 S. Ct. at 2605.

When a statute grants benefits but violates equal protection, a court has “two remedial alternatives.” Califano v. Westcott, 443 U.S. 76, 89 (1979). “[A] court may either declare [the statute] a nullity and order that its benefit not extend to the class that the legislature intended to benefit, or it may extend the coverage of the statute to include those who are aggrieved by exclusion.” Id. (quoting Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333, 361 (1970) (Harlan, J., concurring in result)). State court judges face the same remedial alternatives when a benefit statute violates equal protection. See Wengler, 446 U.S. at 153 (remanding remedial question to state court because “state judges are better positioned to choose” whether extension or nullification of a state benefit statute is more “consonant with the state legislature’s overall purpose”). This remedial choice is not confined to circumstances in which the state grants monetary benefits but instead applies to other statutory classifications violative of equal protection. See, e.g., Sessions v. Morales-Santana, 137 S. Ct. 1678, 1686–87 (2017) (concerning statutes conferring U.S. citizenship on children born abroad); Welsh, 398 U.S. at 361– 63 (Harlan, J., concurring) (concerning statute authorizing exemption from military service for conscientious objectors).

Which remedial alternative a court elects “is governed by the legislature’s intent, as revealed by the statute at hand.” Morales-Santana, 137 S. Ct. at 1699. In making this assessment, a court should “measure the intensity of commitment to the residual policy and consider the degree of potential disruption of the statutory scheme that would occur by extension as opposed to abrogation.” Heckler, 465 U.S. at 739 n.5 (quoting Welsh, 398 U.S. at 365 (Harlan, J., concurring in result)). Generally, the proper remedy is extension, not nullification. Morales-Santana, 137 S. Ct. at 1699.

Because § 25-814(A)(1) is now a constitutionally defective state-benefit statute, we must determine whether to extend the marital paternity presumption to similarly situated women such as Suzan or to nullify it altogether. Neither party here requests that this Court strike § 25- 814(A)(1). This is unsurprising because extension, as opposed to abrogation, is more consonant with the purposes of the marital paternity presumption.

For these reasons, we extend § 25-814(A)(1) to same-sex spouses such as Suzan. By extending § 25-814(A)(1) to same-sex spouses, we ensure all children, and not just children born to opposite-sex spouses, have financial and emotional support from two parents and strong family units.

Many lawyers interpret the status of the law for same-sex lesbian couples where a child is born during the marriage to require a Suit to Adjudicate Parentage as with other heterosexual couples. Most of the time we tell parents to do a second-parent adoption to be safe and establish legitimacy. But many experts in the field feel that this is an unconstitutional burden upon same-sex married parents that denies equal protection under the law.

Until there is a Texas case on point, it is still a good idea to cover all avenues just to be safe.

Read the opinion: http://www.azcourts.gov/Portals/0/OpinionFiles/Supreme/2017/CV-16-0266-PR%20Opinion.pdf

Laws that prohibit divorce from a valid marriage violate human rights

The United Nations ruled in August that an Australian law that prohibits divorce between same-sex couples validly married from another country to divorce violates international human rights obligations.

The case was taken to the UN by Fiona Kumari Campbell, who married her ex-partner in Canada in 2004, before the couple separated later that year. Dr Campbell wants to dissolve the marriage for personal and practical reasons, including having the option to remarry in the future and implications for overseas travel. However, as same-sex marriage is not legal in Australia, Dr Campbell marriage is not officially recognised and therefore cannot be subject to divorce proceedings. She cannot get divorced in Canada either, because she did not live there for at least a year.

The UN found that the differential treatment was discriminatory which the UN Human Rights Commission finds unacceptable.

See article: Same-sex divorce ban breaches human rights

Common law marriage for same-sex couples

I still get questions about how Texas’ informal (aka common law) marriage statute applies to same-sex couples prior to the date that the Obergefell opinion was released. Remember that Obergefell found that the provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act prohibiting marriage between couples of the same sex are unconstitutional, thus legalizing same-sex marriage.

The requirements for an informal (aka common law) marriage in Texas are 1) agreement to be married, 2) holding out as married, and 2) cohabitating in Texas. Once married, there is no “informal divorce” – the couple must proceed with a regular divorce proceeding under Texas law.

What happens if a couple performed the elements of a Texas informal marriage prior to the effective date of Obergefell? What if the couple was calling themselves marriage starting some time way before same-sex marriage was legalized, including behavior that checks off all three informal marriage elements?

The answer is – or should be – that the informal marriage statute applies to same-sex couples just as any other couple in Texas. The fact that Obergefell found the underlying law unconstitutional means that the law was void as if the law never existed. If the law never existed, then same-sex marriage doesn’t really have a “beginning” date. So, if a couple started acting like they were married, calling each other husband or wife some time back, acting married to all their family and friends, and lived together in Texas, then they may very well be informally married. An actual agreement to be married can be inferred from the conduct.

The real wrinkle comes if a couple met all of the elements of an informal marriage, but broke up some time before Obergefell and then moved on to another relationship. While Texas does not have informal divorce, if the parties are separated for 2 years then the law presumes that there was never an agreement to be married.

A few months ago, South Carolina affirmed this concept, finding that the Obergefell opinion applies “retroactively”. The result of the opinion was that a recently separated same-sex couple were common law married since 1987. See Can same-sex couples be common law married? (I think the word “retroactive” is imprecise, since a finding that a law is unconstitutional actually erases the law totally, but I’m being a little nit-picky here.)

Also, Pennsylvania upheld a common law marriage between a same-sex couple, rejecting a trial court’s ruling that it was “legally impossible” to form a same-sex marriage prior to the Obergefell ruling. See Court in another state recognizes pre-Obergefell common-law marriage between gay partners.


LGBT parents face unique legal issues




There are two common situations in which LGBT parents face custody cases. The first involves a time when a person enters into a different-sex marriage and has children, but later divorces and discovers that he or she is gay, lexbian, bisexual, or transgender. This situation comes about frequently and many LGBT parents have children as a result of hetero-sexual marriages. The heterosexual parent may try to gain an advantage in the custody situation by asking the court to consider the sexual orientation or gender identity of the LGBT parent. Many judges or jurors remain biased and could consider the LGBT parent’s orientation or identity as a negative factor in determining parenting orders.

The second situation in which LGBT parents face custody cases is when a same-sex couple decides to have or adopt a child together and then separate. Often, one member of the couple is the legal parent, and the other member of the couple has no legal relationship with the child. This presents unique legal issues that are not present in most custody disputes between heterosexual parents.

A parent’s sexual orientation should be irrelevant to parenting determinations, including custody and visitation, unless the parent’s actions are actually directly harming the child. The mere possibility that a child might experience future societal discrimination is not enough to establish actual harm. It must be shown that there is specific evidence of direct harm.

The legal rights of a “parent-like” relationship between a child and a person without a legal parental relationship with a child is not clear under Texas law. Many factors weigh in the consideration for whether such a person could obtain a court ordered relationship over the objections of the legal parent or parents. Such considerations include the quality and quanity of access between the “parent-like” person and the child, the amount of parenting control that is exercised by the “parent-like” person relinquished by the legal parent, and how quickly the “parent-like” person seeks to establish the relationship at the courthouse.


Same-sex marriage has highest approval rating in history

ss marriage trendGallup conducted their annual poll of Americans’ support for same-sex marriage. The results… 64% of Americans think same-sex marriage should be legal. This is the highest approval rating in US history. In 1996, when Gallup first conducted this poll, only 27% of Americans approved.

This year’s poll also revealed that, for the first time, a majority of Protestants support gay marriage at 55%. Of Catholics, 65% support gay marriage this year.

Among political parties, 74% of Democrats and 71% of Independents support same-sex marriage, while only 47% of Republicans favor it. However, the Republican numbers in favor have tripled since 1996, when they were at 16%.

Setting aside the question of the legality of marriage between gay couples, Americans support the legality of gay relationships at a level of 72% this year, up from 43% in 1977, the first year that issue was polled.

This poll was based on telephone interviews conducted in early May 2017 with random sample of over 1,000 adults across America. The margin of error is +/- 4%.

Will Obergefell expand the definition of family in the wake of expanding marriage?

ohio state moritzI ran across an interesting law review article from Susan Frelich Appleton out of Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law called Obergefell’s Liberties: All in the Family. The article joins the debate about whether the Obergefell case only protects liberty against the interference by the state regarding the right to marry (public liberty) or whether it can also compel the affirmative support or government action (private liberty). The article also explores the theoretical relationship between constitutional law and family law that the US Supreme Court’s liberty rulings have forged. Much of the article is an analysis and high level theoretical breakdown of the Obergefell opinion and cases relied upon by the Court for its opinion.

The conclusion of the article bears consideration in pointing out that the fear of many scholars in the wake of Obergefell was that there would be a trend toward “glorification of marriage” to the marginalization of other forms of family and relationships, inviting discrimination against nonmarital relationships. The author points out that decisions in Illinois and Michigan support this fear. However, to the contrary, it seems there is another scenario actually emerging where the expansion of the right to marry serves as a template for other relationships that could have private support obligations attached.

Constitutional protection of the relationship between nonmarital fathers and their children, once vulnerable (or even unacknowledged) under the “old illegitimacy,” shows how such expansion can occur and how such developments can facilitate neoliberal objectives. A more recent illustration can be found in some state courts that have extended parental status, including support duties, to partners of parents in the absence of biological, marital, or adoptive ties and have recognized both the financial and constitutional considerations at work in such situations. If this trajectory continues, those who have pushed for affirmative legal recognition of polygamy, of friendship, and of other intimate connections that could supply new private obligations just might succeed in their efforts.

The author questions whether society should pursue this bath in expanding the legal notion of family to provide expanding duties of support between nonmarried people, but acknowledges the conversation.


LGBT film Moonlight wins best picture

MOONLIGHT movie posterForget about all the other nonsense, let’s celebrate that an LGBT film won best picture at the Academy Awards! Moonlight presents the life of the main character Chiron and the struggles he faces with his own sexuality as well as the physical abuse that he receives as a result of it.

The movie begins in Miami when a Cuban drug dealer Juan finds Chiron, a withdrawn child, who goes by the nickname “Little”, hiding from a pack of bullies. Chiron continues to spend time with the drug dealer, but the drug dealer’s wife abuses him. Chiron asks Juan was is a “faggot” that he’s been called at school. Juan tells him it’s okay to be gay and not let people mock him for it.

In the second phase of the movie, Chiron juggles avoiding a bully and spending time with Juan’s girlfriend after Juan’s death. Chiron’s mother has become a crack-addicted prostitute. Chiron and a friend Kevin visit the beach and discuss their ambitions, then they kiss and explore their sexuality together. Unfortunately, the bully pressures Kevin to participate in bullying Chiron. Chiron takes revenge against the bully and gets arrested.

As an adult, Chiron begins to go by the nickname “Black” and deals drugs in Atlanta. Chiron reunites with Kevin after Kevin apologizes. Chiron and Kevin talk about their lives. The movie ends with Kevin holding Chiron in a tender embrace while they flashback to the night on the beach.

The movie is based on a previously unpublished play called In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. Filmed in Miami, Florida, the movie premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on September 2, 2016. The film was released in the U.S. on October 21, 2016, and has grossed $26 million.

Moonlight won Best Motion Picture – Drama at the 74th Golden Globe Awards, and was nominated in five other categories. The film received eight Oscar nominations at the 89th Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Moonlight became the first film with an all-black cast, the first LGBT film, and the second lowest-grossing film domestically produced to win Best Picture award. The film’s editor, Joi McMillon, became the first black woman to be nominated for an editing Oscar. Ali became the first Muslim actor to win an acting Oscar. The film was produced at a budget of $1.5 million.

First Openly Gay Family Court Judge in Texas

judge jim evansHouston attorney Jim Evans was appointed 507th Family Court associate judge on January 1,2017, making him the first openly gay man to serve as a judge in family court in Texas. “There are openly LGBT judges in the criminal and civil courts,” Evans says. “But this is a first for Texas.” In fact, he is the 12th openly LGBT judge in the state.

For the LGBT community, it is an important step for family courts to address deeply personal issues such as adoption, custody, property distribution, and child support for the LGBT community.

Judge Evans will be serving under newly-elected Democrat Julia Maldonado, who won 52% of the Harris County vote. The associate judge position is appointed by the district judge upon taking office to assist in handling the court’s caseload.

Evans ran as a Democrat for the 308th Family District Court in 2014. Having won the Democrat primary, he lost in the general election to the Republican candidate. During the campaign, the Houston Chronicle endorsed Evans saying, “A graduate of the University of Houston Law Center, Evans, 47, has a pastor’s compassion that comes from working as a Baptist minister, not to mention a master’s degree in religious studies. A personal experience of perceived discrimination against Evans and his husband in the family courts led Evans to run for a position on the bench. He brings his decade of legal experience to bear on his passion for more equitable courts.”

It was important to Evans to have an openly gay person on the bench because, he said, none of the Republican family court judges in Harris County would grant an adoption in a case where the prospective parent is an “out” gay or lesbian. He wanted to change the negative treatment that gays and lesbians received in the Harris County family court system.

Evans graduated from Houston Baptist University, majoring in Spanish and history. After graduating from college, Evans went to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth to earn a master of education degree. In2000, Evans entered the University of Houston School of Law, where he was in the top 10% of his class and selected to write for the school’s law review. He graduated law school in 2003.

In 2007, Evans came out as gay. A year later, he began pursuing his passion for family law. Then, he married his love William Flowers in 2010 in Connecticut.

See Wolf, Brandon, Houstonian Becomes First Openly Gay Family-Court Judge in Texas, Out Smart: Houston’s LGBT Magazine February 1, 2007, http://www.outsmartmagazine.com/2017/02/houstonian-becomes-first-openly-gay-family-court-judge-in-texas/ .

The number of LGBT identifying adults rises

lgbt flag picGallup did a survey in 2016 which shows that more than 10 million American adults now identify as LGBT, making 4.1% of the population LGBT in 2016. That’s up from 3/5% in 2015. Millennials, who are viewed as more open-minded and accepting of different lifestyles, are to be credited for the increase. Millennials, born between 1980 and 1998, identifying as LGBT rose from 5.8% in 2012 to 7.3% in 2016. On the other hand, the percentages among Generation X and Baby Boomers declined slightly. Even so, these numbers only reflect Americans who have come out as LGBT publicly.

See Gallup Poll In US, more adults identifying as LGBT

See related article More than 10 million Americans now identify as LGBT