Gay couples find joy as parents

January 03, 1995|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,Sun Staff Writer

Betsy Cohen remembers the days when she and other lesbians taunted heterosexuals with the words, "breeder! breeder!"

Times have changed. Ms. Cohen now has a child of her own, as does Ann Pongracz, her partner.

The Baltimore couple is part of what many gays and lesbians call the "Gayby Boom" -- the growing number of births and adoptions by homosexuals, who are forging long-term partnerships and becoming parents through artificial insemination, surrogate motherhood or adoption.

At home, Ms. Cohen is "Mommie" and Ms. Pongracz is "Momma." Their household -- two women and two children -- never has had a "daddy."

If in the past homosexuals accepted the social edict that to have children you had to be married or at least be in a heterosexual relationship, then those conventions are beginning to change.

"In the last five years, as members of the gay community have developed a more positive self-image, they have begun to have better confidence: They know that they, too, can be good parents," said Marla Hollandsworth, a University of Baltimore law professor who has written articles about gays creating families.

The spurt of births and adoptions has been accompanied by a sprinkling of court cases -- a reflection of the legal system's struggle to accommodate the notion of homosexual parents and the nontraditional families that they are forming. Among these cases are:

* In Wisconsin, the state Supreme Court upheld last summer a lower court's denial of a woman's petition to become the legal second parent of her female partner's child. The court ruled that, unless the biological mother relinquishes her legal rights to the child, a second individual not married to the first cannot simultaneously adopt the child.

* In Massachusetts, in 1993, the state Supreme Court allowed two women to adopt, saying that it was "in the best interests" of the child. One woman is the child's biological mother; the other is the mother's domestic partner.

* In Washington, D.C., the Superior Court denied a petition last year filed by two gay men to adopt a child. One man is already the child's legal parent. The court ruled that under the law, multiple unmarried individuals may not jointly petition to adopt a child. The case is being appealed.

While some courts try to establish parameters for these nontraditional families, others are dealing with their occasional disintegration.

In New York, California and Mew Mexico, "there have been cases of couples who are breaking up. It's a very tragic state of affairs as courts try to figure out what to do," said Tim Fisher, director of the advocacy group, the Gay and Lesbian Parents Coalition International.

"In most cases it is a disaster for the nonbiological parents."

Only two states, Florida and New Hampshire, have laws expressly barring homosexuals from adopting children. In Maryland and elsewhere, issues of adoption by gay couples have been decided state by state, court by court -- sometimes in a contradictory fashion.

"The current laws were drafted to grant adoption by married couples and single heterosexuals. Those same laws are now being interpreted by lawyers and judges in different states to include other types of relationships including lesbian and gay families," said Baltimore attorney Lina Ayers, who is a lesbian and specializes in civil rights.

The desire to have children has led gays and lesbians to develop variations on the traditional model of the family.

Baltimorean John Glorioso, for example, is gay and -- through artificial insemination -- is the father of two children, each of whom has a different mother. The mothers are long-time partners.

The women, who declined to be interviewed, are members of Mr. Glorioso's church.

One Sunday, they approached him and asked if he would consider helping them have a child. He was surprised, but not hostile to the idea.

"I am happily gay. I had never entertained the idea of having children, but I've always liked children," he said.

After meeting with the women several times and comparing philosophies on topics such as parenting, religion, morality and education, Mr. Glorioso, who is 38 years old, decided that he liked the two women and the idea of having a child.

The three adults signed a document in which they agreed that Mr. Glorioso would have visitation privileges, no financial responsibilities and never would make any other legal claims to the child.

"Basically we agreed that the two of them would be parental figures. I would be acknowledged as the father. But who knows if [the agreements are] binding -- there is no legal procedure to recognize this," said Mr. Glorioso, a pharmaceutical technician.

The relationship among the three adults worked so well that they decided to have a second child and to forgo the written agreement.

"It works for us, but we don't make any claims for anyone else. It couldn't have worked out better," Mr. Glorioso said.

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