Nearly 20 years ago, Massachusetts led the nation on equality for LGBTQ couples. But today we have fallen behind every other New England state when it comes to ensuring our laws provide equal protections for families. Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut have all adopted reforms based on the 2017 Uniform Parentage Act, which ensures parentage laws protect all children regardless of the circumstances of the child’s birth — but Massachusetts has yet to act.
As parents who have experienced the harm, stress, and worry of being denied legal family security, we are urging the Legislature to pass the Massachusetts Parentage Act this session to provide equal access to legal parentage for all our children.
We were co-plaintiffs in the landmark Supreme Judicial Court case Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, decided 18 years, on Nov. 18, 2003. That groundbreaking case set us and thousands of others on the path to recognition and security through marriage equality and made Massachusetts a model for the nation. But in 2021, our state laws still provide no clear path for establishing parentage for children born to LGBTQ parents and many others. Massachusetts has no comprehensive protections for children born through assisted reproduction and surrogacy, and our core parentage laws are not inclusive of LGBTQ families. As a result, rather than be protected at birth, some children have to wait six months or even longer to establish a secure legal relationship with their parents. That leaves too many children and families in Massachusetts vulnerable.
Long before Goodridge, in 1993, we were part of another landmark case before the SJC when we successfully petitioned to jointly adopt our daughter. We had been together for 13 years and planned together to start our family. Maureen gave birth to Kate in 1989, and we both did the daily, loving, hard, wonderful work of parenting her. Like other parents, we read to her, tucked her in at night, and did all we could to make sure she was healthy and safe.
In Kate’s eyes and in our eyes, we were her parents, no doubt about it. In the eyes of the law, though, only Maureen had a relationship with our daughter. The law’s structure limited how we could care for Kate — for instance, health insurance and certain financial benefits could flow through only one of her parents. And it meant Kate would be at risk if something were to happen to Maureen.
When Kate was 4, we finally had the opportunity to change that, by adopting our own daughter. Despite the fact that we planned for her together and had both been an equal, daily part of Kate’s life since her birth, we had to be evaluated by social workers and undergo the scrutiny of a home study. While the eventual peace of mind it brought to our family was absolutely worth it, the process was long, at times nerve-racking, and invasive.
For Kate at the time, the completion of the adoption changed little in her understanding — we were already her parents, after all. To us, it meant we could focus more time on parenting instead of constantly worrying about what might go wrong. And as Kate grew up, that security of knowing we were clearly established as her legal parents, that we were a family in the eyes of the law and no one could change that, made a tremendous difference.
We’re honored to have been part of the early work to secure legal protections for LGBTQ families — access to marriage and access to adoption. But the fact is, nearly three decades later, parents like us still have to go through the difficult and sometimes costly process of adopting their own kids. And children like Kate are still left at risk because of gaps in our laws.
The legal, financial, and emotional security that comes with having a legal parent-child relationship is in the best interest of all our children. And that legal connection should be established as close to birth as possible, without delay. The Massachusetts Parentage Act will update Massachusetts law to provide clarity for everyone, eliminate costly and lengthy delays in establishing parentage, and protect all children, regardless of the circumstances of the child’s birth.
Massachusetts families have waited too long for full equal access to family protections. It’s time for our state to once again become a leader in family equality by passing the Massachusetts Parentage Act this year.
Maureen Brodoff and Ellen Wade were plaintiffs in the landmark Goodridge case that made Massachusetts the first state in the country to allow same-sex couples to marry, as well as in a 1993 landmark adoption case, Adoption of Susan, also before the SJC.