Rachel Dabney clutched 14-month-old Griffin and wept as Judge Yolanda Tanner declared her “fit and proper” to be one of his moms. It was a long and uncertain road to get to Baltimore City Circuit Court, Family Division, but once Rachel and her partner Amy Rice arrived, it was over in just a few short moments. Dabney was now a parent in the eyes of the law.
While Rice and Dabney, who cannot be legally married in Maryland, had been together since long before Rice gave birth to twins Henry and Griffin, 14-months-old and Sawyer, 3, Dabney’s status as a mom in the state of Maryland was that of “legal stranger” and she had no parental rights.
Lesbian couples with children do not enjoy the same civil liberties as heterosexual families and their world is often a minefield of legal morass. If Dabney had to take one of the children for a doctor’s appointment, she would need a permission slip from Rice allowing the children to be examined. The couple even has to be careful where they vacation.
Lisa Pond of Lacey, Wash. suffered a brain aneurysm while on the first day of a cruise out of Miami, Fla. with her partner of 18 years, Janice Langbehn and their three legally adopted children. Langbehn brought suit against Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital when she and the children were not allowed to visit Pond for 18 hours while she fought for her life. Langbehn had a friend fax health care proxies and a durable power of attorney and even presented the children’s birth certificates, but the hospital ignored the legal papers and instead granted Langbehn just five minutes with Pond while a priest administered the last rites.
I made pictures of this wonderful family in court and the celebration that followed while on assignment for The Washington Post.
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has said in campaign messages that he is in favor of Maryland legalizing same-sex marriage in large part because of the legal parental status it affords to the partner of the birth mother. O’Malley encourages a vote in favor of same-sex marriage “for the kids.” The issue is up for referendum in next month’s Maryland general election.