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Colorado’s gay governor signs law helping LGBTQ parents overcome a child custody nightmare

Lesbian mothers with a baby
Photo: Shutterstock

Out gay Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) just signed a bill to help resolve a legal issue that denies same-sex parents the legal custody of their own children.

The bill, known as “Marlo’s Law,” was named after the child of Colorado House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar (D). When Esgar gave birth to her daughter Marlo using genetic material from her wife, Heather Palm, both women were surprised to find out that they had to legally adopt Marlo in order to have legal custody of the child they created together.

Related: GOP candidate claims Colorado’s out gay governor is secretly straight

In a February speech on the Colorado House floor, Esgar said, “[My wife] realized she actually has more rights to the embryos we still have frozen than she actually has to our daughter. Heather has to adopt her own daughter.”

The law, formally called H.B. 22-1153, helps streamline the adoption process for same-sex parents whose children were conceived by assisted reproduction. It allows LGBTQ parents to declare a “voluntary acknowledgment of parentage,” a statement of parental rights that has the full force of a court order.

The issue at hand affects LGBTQ parents in other states as well. In Oklahoma, a lesbian parent is fighting for custody of her daughter after a judge ordered for the parent’s name to be removed from her child’s birth certificate because she was the “non-gestational” partner. The child’s gestational mother and sperm donor are now fighting the non-gestational partner for legal custody of the child.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that married same-sex parents of children conceived by a sperm donor or birth surrogate should both be listed on the child’s birth certificate, just as is done for married different-sex couples who have kids the same way.

However, state laws and family court judges still treat same-sex parents like second-class citizens, forcing them to use additional time, money, and legal steps to gain legal custody of their children. Even if one state recognizes a parent’s custody, another may not.

One lesbian Coloradan, Megan Andersen, told the state senate that her wife had to get fingerprinted at a police station, undergo a state and federal child abuse background check, pay $1,567 in legal fees, and then appear before a judge to plead for the parental rights to her and her partner’s child.

“Passing this bill [will] remove those barriers while creating a safe and more dignified process … so that other families like mine don’t have to maneuver through these complicated, expensive, and demoralizing steps,” Andersen said according to The Montrose Express.

“Governor Polis’s signature on this bill is a significant step forward in ensuring the legal recognition of the parent-child relationship for children conceived with reproductive assistance,” said Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow in a statement.

“Modernizing the laws benefits many LGBTQ+ people in Colorado as they become parents and create families,” Warbelow’s statement continued. “By removing barriers to the legal recognition of parenthood, lawmakers are affirming families and providing greater security to children. We applaud Gov. Polis for taking action to support all Colorado families and celebrate this victory for the LGBTQ+ community.”

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