Massachusetts was the first state to legally recognize same-sex marriage. But it now has the dubious distinction of being the only New England state that has yet to enact a law giving clear legal protections for LGBTQ parents and all others who conceive through surrogacy or the use of other assistive reproductive technologies.
When state lawmakers left Beacon Hill for the year, they left those much-needed protections, which would be enshrined in the Massachusetts Parentage Act, on their pile of unfinished business. In a sign of lawmakers’ utter lack of urgency, the Joint Judiciary Committees only got around to holding a hearing on the measure on Nov. 9, with just a handful of legislative days left in the calendar year.
Passing the bill should be one of the first orders of business when they return. LGBTQ families and others whose parental bonds are not based on biology have for too long had to endure the uncertainty of not having their rights fully recognized inside and outside of the state.
The legislation, which has bipartisan support, would create much clearer standards to establish legal parentage of children conceived through artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization with donor sperm, surrogacy, or other means. Parents in those circumstances could establish their legal relationship by voluntarily acknowledging and declaring the parental relationship instead of via formal adoption. It would also provide courts guidance on how to settle parentage disputes.
The pandemic has only underscored the importance of shoring up those family law protections. Under current law, parental rights of nonbiological children are only clearly recognized through an order of adoption issued by a court or some other legal designation. With courts and other municipal offices backlogged — if they were open at all — tasks as simple and vital as getting insurance coverage for children have involved extra layers of red tape.
Adoption can also be expensive. Adoption-related court costs and attorney fees, filing fees, and other costs can add up.
Forcing parents to adopt their own children also robs parents, many of whom have already endured the often emotionally arduous and financially draining process of conceiving a child through assistive reproductive means, of the dignity of starting their families on their own terms. Even parents who are present in a child’s life from the moment of birth are forced to adopt the baby before the state fully recognizes the relationship.
Many people may not recognize how discriminatory current parentage laws are, given that Massachusetts is known as a trailblazing state for LGBTQ equality.
“Marriage is so incredibly important, but doesn’t solve all the problems with discrimination,” said Polly Crozier, senior staff attorney for GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders.
This is especially true of families who venture outside of the state. Crozier pointed to a recent Idaho state court ruling involving the divorce of a same-sex couple who had conceived a child via sperm donation. The court held that the nonbiological mother was not the child’s legal parent.
“For LGBTQ families who are still facing discrimination across the country, you really do need to protect your family with a decree of adoption or something that is the equivalent,” Crozier noted.
Families have had to endure this delay in legal protections long enough. Sending the bill to the governor’s desk should be at the top of state lawmakers’ list of New Year’s resolutions.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.