Celebrating the first baby born in the new year is a media tradition. This year there was a new twist to the old tale in the Washington, D.C. area—the beaming parents were lesbians. The news was splashed across the front page of the Washington Post Jan. 2.
Helen Rubin, 33, gave birth to a baby girl at one minute after midnight in the new year, after 15 long hours of labor. Her partner of 12 years, Joanna Bare, 35, was at her side. The couple had expected a boy and had settled on a male name but they were not prepared for this gender surprise.
The pending birth had prompted the couple to move from Virginia to Maryland just one week earlier. It illustrated the legal problems that gays and lesbians face in creating families.
Virginia does not allow second party adoption, so the only way that Bare could have obtained legal rights and responsibilities in raising the child would have been for Rubin to give up hers.
'I really liked living in Virginia, but it's more important to be a parent,' Bare told the Post. 'We're not interested in any legal battles, we're interested in having a family that works—with two parents. That's why we moved.'
Even the conservative Washington Times got into the act with a favorable story. 'This child is going to have a traditional family. She'll have traditional grandparents on both sides, traditional aunts and uncles. This is our family,' said newly minted grandfather Howard Rubin.
'They are committed to each other in the same way I am committed to my wife and my wife is committed to me,' Rubin continued. 'Helen couldn't have a better partner to accompany her through life.'
The Post tackled the legal issues in an editorial the following day. It said, 'Virginia is persistently retrograde in how it treats the inescapable modern reality of gay families.'
''Family values,' in the term's strictest interpretation, is a fantasy. About half of American children don't grow up with their mother and father anyway. Lesbians will have children as long as there is a live maternal instinct and a nearby fertility clinic. Gay men will adopt. All that the Virginia courts can achieve by standing firm is to drive them out of the state.'
In late November the influential American Law Institute concluded a decade of study of family law by releasing a broad series of recommendations. It said sexual orientation should not be a factor in issues such as child custody and other matters concerning divorce. In most instances, domestic partnerships should be treated like marriage.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court has acted in that spirit. In December it ruled that a lesbian must pay child support for five children born during the course of a relationship with a woman, even though there was no formal second-party adoption of the children. It found the separated partner clearly acted as a parent and could not simply walk away from those responsibilities.