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Feature: What is a parent?

By
MARCELLA S. KREITER, UPI Midwest Regional Editor

What constitutes a parent is the issue being brought before the Ohio Supreme Court in a case involving a lesbian Cincinnati couple and their six children.

The couple is seeking a court-ordered, shared-parenting plan and the request has ignited a storm of protest from a group of conservative state lawmakers as well as religious groups.

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Arguments were scheduled for Wednesday.

In a brief filed before the court, attorney David Langdon, representing conservative legislators, cautioned against expanding the legal definition of "parent."

"This would create a slippery slope that could render Ohio a haven for morally repugnant relationships," he wrote. "This court should be ever mindful that (the women) are trying to do through the courts what they cannot succeed in doing through the political process -- redefine the family in order to legitimize what has long been recognized in common and statutory law as deviant social behavior."

The case involves Teri Bonfield and Shelly Zachrist, who have a 14-year, live-in relationship. Bonfield adopted two boys and gave birth to four other children through artificial insemination. The couple has been trying to win a court-sanctioned, co-parenting agreement since 1999 to give Zachrist equal rights.

The case was dismissed at the juvenile court level and an appellate court said it was up to the Legislature, not the courts, to broaden the definition of "parent."

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Langdon represents eight Republican legislators who have been pushing a Langdon-written bill banning same-sex marriages. He maintains the case is a backdoor effort to legitimize such unions.

The women's supporters say, however, the case will give the court a chance to recognize how the family is changing, especially in light of advances in fertility.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, only three states -- Florida, Mississippi and Utah -- ban adoptions by same-sex couples. The Florida statute currently is under challenge in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Four states -- California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Vermont -- along with the District of Columbia explicitly permit adoption by both members of same-sex couples.

The rest of the states inhabit a gray area where state law can be interpreted either way.

Illinois is among the few states where the courts have actively expanded the adoption laws to include same-sex parenting to the point where such adoptions are almost commonplace, ACLU-Illinois spokesman Ed Yohnka said.

"The outcome has been that we have many, many children who are now living in loving homes where they're wanted," Yohnka said. "As a result of that, their lives have been markedly improved.

"I think what we see in some (other) parts of the country is there continue to be obstacles to parents adopting children based on prejudices regarding who those parents are and what their sexual orientation or gender identity is.

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"I think it actually is a reflection of bias people feel towards people who are different. There have been biases historically against adoptions by interracial couples ... because they might not understand them (those who are different) fully. It's basically fear, almost hatred, and bias that play out."

Among the groups supporting the women's case in Ohio is the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Law professor Susan Becker, who represents that group along with three other national public and mental health institutions that have filed briefs in the case, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer: "The strength of the country isn't from traditional heterosexual families. It is from families that love and care for each other."

Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a new policy statement supporting same-sex adoptions. The academy said research indicates children with parents who are homosexual have the same advantages and expectations as those with heterosexual parents.

"Denying legal parent status through adoption to co-parents or second parents prevents these children from enjoying the psychological and legal security that comes from having two willing, capable, and loving parents," the academy said.

It is estimated between 1 million and 9 million children are being raised by gay parents and that 8 percent of gay couples are raising children.

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"The notion of having gay parents is becoming more and more commonplace," Yohnka said. "It goes a long way to breaking down these stigmas."

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