With a new law, LGBTQ parents celebrate recognition in Connecticut

MARK PAZNIOKAS :: CTIMIRROR.ORG

Gov. Ned Lamont signs a ceremonial copy of the Connecticut Parentage Act. Directly behind him are two key sponsors of the bipartisan bill, Reps. Jeff Currey, D-East Hartford, and Nicole Klarides-Ditria, R-Seymour.

Connecticut opened Pride Month on Tuesday with a ceremonial signing by Gov. Ned Lamont of the Connecticut Parentage Act, a bipartisan bill that provides equal treatment under the law to children born to same-sex couples.

More than offering legal certainty to LGBTQ parents and children, the new law modernizes outdated definitions and legal provisions pertaining to paternity and maternity and recognizes the changing medical, legal and cultural realities of what it means to be a parent.

Whether straight or gay, the rights of a non-biological parent in a couple that uses surrogacy or other means of assisted reproduction to have a child are clarified in the law, as are the rights of a surrogate who carries a child to birth under contract.

Without the law, the legal workaround for non-biological parents has been a so-called “second-parent adoption,” a cumbersome process that same-sex parents say was demeaning and should have been unnecessary.

Coming in a year of political and legal setbacks for the LGBTQ movement, the ceremony on the south lawn of the Capitol was striking: A diverse array of Democratic and Republican lawmakers, liberals and conservatives, stood behind Lamont and the other speakers.

“It is a true privilege to have so many allies in the General Assembly and in the building behind us today,” said Rep. Jeff Currey, D-East Hartford, one of three openly gay members of the legislature. “And it makes our caucus of three small but ever so mighty.”

The others are Rep. Raghib Allie-Brennan, D-Bethel, and Sen. Alex Kasser, D-Greenwich. The latter came out after her election in 2018.

“Everybody who is LGBTQ knows that it is not easy. And it is oftentimes something that makes us a target,” Kasser said. “We are shamed. We are shamed inside our own families. We are shamed publicly. We are harassed. We are humiliated. This happens every day.”

The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and by a vote of 141-1 in the House, with Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Granby, casting the only negative vote. It ends Connecticut’s status as the only New England state without a parentage act.

One of the featured speakers Tuesday was one of the bill’s primary drafters, Douglas NeJaime, a Yale Law School professor who resides in Guilford with his husband and their two-year-old son. Aside from teaching law, he is on the faculty of the Yale Child Development Center, working on the relationship between child development and the law.

He warned lawmakers at a public hearing in March that Connecticut’s parentage laws were unconstitutional and among the most outdated in America.

“They have failed to keep pace not only with constitutional developments but also with the way people in our state form families,” he said. “By limiting parentage on the basis of marriage and genetics, our laws leave many children without the security that legal parentage provides.”

To an audience that included his parents, NeJaime gave an updated and upbeat assessment Tuesday of how those laws fare after the passage of House Bill 6321, the parentage act.

“As someone whose research and writing has been dedicated to parentage law, I can tell you now that Connecticut has perhaps the most comprehensive, most inclusive and most child-centered parentage law in the country,” he said, smiling.

The audience whooped and applauded.

NeJaime said the new law makes parentage law gender neutral and ensures that same-sex couples and transgender parents have equal and ready access to a legal status as parent, even if they do not have a genetic connection to the child.

“An individual who consents to assisted reproduction with the intent to be a parent of a child would be treated by law as a parent,” he said. “Non-biological parents can secure their parentage at the moment of their child’s birth. In the hospital, they’ll be able to sign acknowledgments of parentage — a simple administrative form.”

Connecticut was an early adopter of gay rights, beginning with limited protections in housing and employment in 1991 under Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr., an independent. The legislature passed a same-sex civil unions bill signed in 2005 by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican. The state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2008.

Beth Bye, a former state lawmaker who is the commissioner of the Office of Early Childhood, used her own life to mark the passage of time and advance of legal protections. Bye recalled that when she publicly came out, she was an early-childhood worker with no legal guarantee of being able to stay in the field involving the teaching and care of children.

“Today, the governor thinks it’s appropriate that someone who’s gay lead the state’s Office of Early Childhood,” Bye said, turning towards Lamont.

Lamont, who supported same-sex marriage during his first statewide campaign, a run for U.S. Senate in 2006, nodded in recognition.

“The law can be complicated, but lead with your heart. And if you lead with your heart, you know what you’re doing is the right thing to do,” Lamont said.

After he spoke, the governor and others turned to watch the rainbow pride flag raised over the Capitol.

Janelle B. Smith

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