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Family Issues

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Published: Tue, 24 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0400

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Colombia Sees First Gay Polygamous Marriage. Sort Of.

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 12:45:00 -0400

Last year Colombia became the fourth country in South America to legally recognize same-sex marriages. Now three men are trying to push the boundaries of the law further by getting a marriage including all three of them recognized as a singular family: a gay polygamous or polyamorous relationship. If the authorities legally recognize their marriage, it will be a first for Colombia. But that's a big "if." Western reporting indicates that the three men have signed legal papers with a lawyer in Medellin in an attempt to establish themselves as a family with inheritance rights. That's not the same as saying they are legally married, and Google Translate's version of the original news coverage from the Columbia-based Semana doesn't clear up the confusion. It's clear they've submitted a notarized document declaring themselves a family. It's unclear whether it's legally enforceable and whether a court will recognize it. We do know they can't be punished for polyamory, and that may be driving some ambiguous reporting. Colombia struck down its laws criminalizing polygamous relationships in 2001. That's not the same as legally recognizing polyamorous marriages as valid. It just means you can't be arrested and imprisoned for it. These men aren't the first same-sex trio to try to seek out legal recognition. They aren't even the first in South America. Three women in Brazil made a similar effort in 2015, hoping to define their family as they wanted and to raise their future children together. If this is the future of marriage, it's worth exploring how it aligns with a libertarian philosophy of self-rule. Instead of the government telling citizens what kind of families they're allowed to have, these people are going to the government and essentially saying, "We're going to decide what our family looks like, thank you very much." As one of the men in the Colombian relationship put it, "We wanted to validate our household...and our rights, because we had no solid legal basis establishing us as a family." This is a form of freedom of association, and it should be encouraged. To the extent that the state should play a role in defining a family, it should focus on intervening in cases of harm or abuse, and overseeing the various legal matters that result from having government involved with complex matters such as inheritances and the guardianship of children. While polygamy does raise complicated legal issues, they're not unresolvable. In Reason's "Open" issue, published in 2015, family lawyer Diana Adams discussed ways to open marriage to a variety of nontraditional formations, including polyamory. As it stands, she noted, the lack of legal recognition for polygamy certainly doesn't stop people from trying to hammer out ways to make contracts work: Three-way marriage is not legal in the United States. To create parity between three partners, I've divorced happy couples so that their third partner wouldn't feel left out of the marriage, with the burden of fewer legal rights and protections. I've also helped triads decide whether any two of them should get married strategically to protect a partner's parenting rights, health insurance, or immigration status. This triad might go on to have a polyamorous commitment ceremony that is as elaborate, expensive, or deeply felt as any wedding but not legally binding. If a triad wishes to share finances or buy a house, we can create a three-person cohabitation agreement. It would include all the factors that make a two-person cohabitation agreement valid and binding, with the intention to set them up for stability that would keep them out of court, but also to create a document that I hope would be enforced by a court to clarify that a three-person cohabitation agreement can be binding. My clients are advised that depending on their jurisdiction, the courts may refuse to enforce the contract. Read more here. Same-sex couples used to have to jump through similarly absurd legal hoops to define their families in such a way that the government would respect them.[...]

The State Wanted to Treat Her Like a 'Handmaid.' She Fought Back

Wed, 03 May 2017 14:15:00 -0400

When Tamara Loertscher was a teenager, radiation treatment left her unable to produce thyroid hormones, subjecting her to depressive spells and fatigue when she wasn't on medication. The condition also made it difficult to impossible for her to become pregnant—or so she thought. But at age 29, Loertscher found herself facing a positive pregnancy test. The timing was bad, to put it mildly. Earlier that year—2014—Loertscher lost her job, leaving her unable to afford the thyroid medication. Depression kicked in, and then a methamphetamine habit. She began using meth two or three times a week to "help her get out of bed in the morning," as she put it. She also sometimes drank alcohol or smoked marijuana. After the first pregnancy test, in early July, Loertscher "cut back" on the drugs but didn't quit entirely, according to what she told hospital staff. Loertscher would later contend that she didn't believe the first pregnancy test was accurate. But when a second test, taken on July 30, showed the same result, Loertscher "believed for the first time that she might actually be pregnant." Two days later, she showed up at the Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Mayo Clinic Hospital in pursuit of an official pregnancy confirmation, thyroid medication, and "psychiatric care," according to court documents. She also wanted confirmation from a doctor that the baby would be OK despite her hypothyroidism and prior drug use. A urine test revealed that she was indeed pregnant—about 14 weeks—and also showed "unconfirmed positives" for marijuana and meth. Loertscher told the emergency room doctor that she wanted to stop the drugs, take care of herself, and have a healthy baby. She willingly signed herself into the Mayo Clinic Behavioral Health Unit that evening, and the next morning met with a psychiatrist, to whom she stressed that the drug use had been before she knew she was pregnant. The good news was that the fetus seemed fine, a Mayo obstetrician confirmed. Nonetheless, two days later, while Loertscher was still (voluntarily) hospitalized, a Mayo clinic social worker contacted local authorities to report that a pregnant woman had tested positive for drugs. What followed was a scene right out of The Handmaid's Tale, the 1985 Margaret Atwood novel turned 2017 Hulu series in which women are broadly discriminated against based on sex, with a certain subset relegated to a birther caste (the handmaids). In one scene from the new series, handmaid Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) is brought before a court on charges of being a "gender traitor," or lesbian—charges the state has already determined apply, and to which she can proffer no defense. As in the show, Loertscher was only summoned before government adjudicators once they had already decided she was guilty and knew how they planned to deal with it. Her request for legal representation was ignored, even while her fetus had been appointed its own attorney. Eventually Loertscher would wind up in solitary confinement, denied prenatal care, all in the name of protecting her unborn. But this tale has a happy ending: last week, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin sided with Loertscher. "Cocaine Moms" and Kangaroo Courts Loertscher's plight was enabled by Wisconsin's Unborn Child Protection Act, passed in 1997 in the midst of "cocaine mom" panic. An amendment to the state Children's Code, it stipulated that "unborn children" at any gestational age could qualify as a child in need of state protection if the "expectant mother's habitual lack of self-control in the use of alcohol beverages, controlled substances, or controlled substance analogs, exhibited to a severe degree, [poses] a substantial risk" of harm to the embryo or fetus. "Anti-abortion organizations used popular but scientifically disproven myths about pregnant women and cocaine use to lobby for a law that purported to protect 'unborn children,'" said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of the National Association for Pregnant Women, "but in fact subverted maternal and child health and deprived[...]

Polygamists Singled Out Again in Utah

Wed, 05 Apr 2017 07:28:00 -0400

Under Utah's previous polygamy law, marriage to more than one person—bigamy—was a felony offense punishable by up to five years in prison. A new measure (HB99), signed into law by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on March 28, doesn't change that. But it does tweak the definition of bigamy and add enhanced penalties for people who commit other crimes in conjunction with plural marriage. The change stems from a lawsuit filed by Kody Brown and his spouses, who starred in the popular reality-TV series Sister Wives. Kody is legally married to his first wife, Meri, and "spiritually married" to three other women. After Utah police began investigating the family, in 2010, the Browns moved out of state to Nevada. They later filed a suit alleging that Utah's bigamy law is unconstitutional, as it doesn't merely prevent people from having multiple state-sanctioned marriages but prescribes what people can call their private relationships and how they can practice their faith. After all, a married couple in Utah can legally bring in myriad long-term lovers to live with them. A polyamorous triad can all live together and be in a joint relationship without state interference. But the moment participants in such arrangements refer to more than one relationship as a marriage, they are suddenly committing a felony. If it isn't unconstitutional, it's at least incredibly silly. The Brown family was initially victorious in their legal challenge, with a federal judge ruling in their favor in 2013. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled in 2016 that the Browns had no standing to challenge Utah's law, since they had never actually been prosecuted for bigamy. The Browns appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has declined to hear the case. This year, Utah lawmakers decided to double-down on the state's bigamy statute. Under HB 99, bigamy becomes a second-degree felony if a defendant is also suspected of fraud, domestic abuse, child abuse, sexual assault, human smuggling, or human trafficking; as such, it's punishable by up to 15 years in prison, in addition to any penalties for those separate offenses. Anyone fleeing from abuse in a polygamous relationship is now immune from bigamy prosecution. The law also changes the definition of bigamy by removing references to gender, making it now applicable to women with multiple husbands or same-sex polygamous relationships. And it requires both cohabitation and "purport[ing] to marry" someone when either you or they are already married for bigamy to be committed; before only one or the other was required. There are thought to be about 30,000 polygamists in Utah. What will the new law mean for them? Probably not much, according to The Salt Lake Tribune: Polygamists and some sympathetic attorneys have said HB99 will be unconstitutional if it's applied to consenting adults who choose to live as such a family. Joe Darger, who has three wives and was the most vocal opponent of the bill, has dared prosecutors to charge him. Darger doesn't think that will happen. After Herbert signed the bill Tuesday, Darger said the goal of HB99 appeared to be to keep polygamists silent by making their lifestyles a crime. "This is more for persecution than it ever is intended for prosecution," the polygamist said. The Utah attorney general's office and every county attorney who has been asked has said his or her policies are not to prosecute families like the Dargers. Assistant Attorney General Parker Douglas testified to the Legislature that prosecutors are concerned with polygamists who commit fraud and abuse. In other words, lawmakers seem to know the statute could be unconstitutional but say cool because they don't plan to actually enforce it against anyone but bad people. We've heard similarly from Donald Trump recently with regard to deportations. It hasn't held true for immigration enforcement, however, and it's unlikely to prove true for Utah polygamists. Sure, law enforcement might not go looking for ordinary polygamists to prosecute, but it provid[...]

Quiet Liberal Victories at the Republican Convention

Thu, 21 Jul 2016 15:25:00 -0400

If you want to see how far along a social transformation has gone, you'll learn more by paying attention to the things conservatives accept than the things radicals propose. When Pat Buchanan spoke at the Republican national convention in 1992, his address was received—rightly—as a thumping culture-war broadside. But consider this passage from it: Then there was the legal secretary that I met at the Manchester airport on Christmas Day who came running up to me and said, "Mr. Buchanan, I'm going to vote for you." And then she broke down weeping, and she said, "I've lost my job; I don't have any money, and they're going to take away my little girl. What am I going to do?" My friends, these people are our people. They don't read Adam Smith or Edmund Burke, but they come from the same schoolyards and the same playgrounds and towns as we came from. They share our beliefs and our convictions, our hopes and our dreams. These are the conservatives of the heart. Working mothers once were met with widespread disapproval. But by 1992, a fiery jeremiad by the year's most prominent social conservative could casually complain that a mom had lost her job, and then embrace her as a "conservative of the heart." Not because Buchanan was some sort of closet feminist, but because this was a battle the feminists had won. As I've watched this year's GOP's convention, I've been listening for little moments like that—quiet signs that what once was unusual is now acceptable. And I've found them. Take Michelle Van Etten, the multi-level marketer who spoke last night on behalf of Women in Business for Trump. At one point, she recalled her 20th high school reunion: The girls I went to school with, they were driving BMWs and they looked like Barbie. I was 30 pounds overweight, a stay-at-home mom, and driving a minivan. I decided at that point I needed a change, and I began to dream again. (applause) I took a leap of faith and decided to open up my own home-based business. And what I realized, when you go after a dream, you are gonna have to learn how to fail forward and never quit. (applause) I also learned that I had to level up to become the type of person I wanted in my business. After two years, I was able to retire my husband after 28 years in the DOD. Today, my husband, he stays at home with our children and he homeschools them, because I will not subject them to Common Core. (big applause) So here we have not just a working mother, but one who resented her old status as a stay-at-home mom—and who now is married to a stay-at-home dad. And no one seemed to blink at what once would have been an avant-garde way to organize the household. Instead they whooped it up in shared revulsion for Common Core. Then there was this moment in Ted Cruz's speech: Freedom means religious freedom, whether you are Christian or Jew, Muslim or atheist. Whether you are gay or straight, the Bill of Rights protects the rights of all of us to live according to our conscience. That got a huge amount of applause, as you'd expect from a socially conservative crowd. The underlying idea, after all, was that people with religious objections to gay marriage should not be compelled to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies. But think about that sentence: "Whether you are gay or straight, the Bill of Rights protects the rights of all of us to live according to our conscience." There was a time when you wouldn't expect a major presidential candidate in either party to allude favorably to gay people's freedom of conscience. Now a leader of the Republicans' conservative wing wasn't thinking twice about it. You measure social change by watching where conservatives draw the line. And gradually, outside the spotlight, that line keeps quietly moving.[...]

RNC Platform Opposes Gay Marriage Recognition While Making Case for It

Mon, 18 Jul 2016 19:35:00 -0400

The 2016 Republican National Convention Party platform is out, folks, and has a lot to say. As Reason previously noted, internal efforts to try to moderate the party's platform on gay and transgender issues failed, and if anything, what is in the 2016 platform feels just even more aggressively opposed to whatever is currently being pushed within the LGBT agenda. I would like to highlight the platform's positions on gay marriage recognition because I want to make an important point: This platform is not promoting the libertarian "get government out of marriage entirely" concept in any way, shape, or form. The platform very much wants the federal government to be involved in marriages, until federal officials do something they don't like. On page 11, the platform has a whole short section titled "Defending Marriage Against an Activist Judiciary." The section describes the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges to mandate same-sex marriage recognition across the country as "lawless," and that it robbed "320 million Americans of their legitimate constitutional authority to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman." Note the strange wording on that sentence there that assumes a certain outcome (and also includes children among the number of people who would be voting, but anyway). The platform calls for the ruling to be overturned and to leave the matter to the states. So one might think logically, consistently, this would be a platform that opposes federal involvement in policies related to marriage, wouldn't one? Federal government is currently deeply involved in policies and benefits that are connected to whether participants are married or not. But no, the RNC platform is fine with federal involvement in marriage to extent that it validates their positions on what a marriage should be. On page 31, the platform begins a lengthy segment on "Marriage, Family, and Society." It declares "natural marriage" to be between a man and a woman, but then goes on to talk about all the important regulations and policies that should be focused on encouraging stable families: "Its daily lessons — cooperation, patience, mutual respect, responsibility, self-reliance — are fundamental to the order and progress of our Republic. Strong families, depending upon God and one another, advance the cause of liberty by lessening the need for government in their daily lives. Conversely, as we have learned over the last five decades, the loss of faith and family life leads to greater dependence upon government. That is why Republicans formulate public policy, from taxation to education, from healthcare to welfare, with attention to the needs and strengths of the family." It goes on a little further: Children raised in a two-parent household tend to be physically and emotionally healthier, more likely to do well in school, less likely to use drugs and alcohol, engage in crime or become pregnant outside of marriage. We oppose policies and laws that create a financial incentive for or encourage cohabitation. Moreover, marriage remains the greatest antidote to child poverty. The 40 percent of children who now are born outside of marriage are five times more likely to live in poverty than youngsters born and raised by a mother and father in the home. Nearly three-quarters of the $450 billion government annually spends on welfare goes to single-parent households. This is what it takes for a governmental village to raise a child, and the village is doing a tragically poor job of it. Remarkably, after presenting all this evidence that married households are more stable and benefit children, the platform immediately pivots and declares that this is all evidence that the government should only recognize heterosexual marriages. This makes no logical sense. This is not an argument against same-sex marriage recognition. It is the exact opposite. When you put these two sections together, what you end up seeing is an argument tha[...]

Divorce-Law Reforms Pass Florida Legislature, But Women's and Lawyer's Groups Urge Governor to Veto

Tue, 29 Mar 2016 08:05:00 -0400

(image) Florida lawmakers are attempting to reform the state's divorce laws, but they face opposition from the state bar association and women's advocacy groups. A bill that recently cleared the state legislature and is headed to Republican Gov. Rick Scott would enact a slew of alimony and child-custody law reforms, including ending permanent alimony, providing judges with a new formula to use in determining alimony payments agreements if a receiving partner starts making more money or gets a new "supportive" spouse, and declaring that all child-custody decisions should start with a presumption of equal custody.

The measure, Senate Bill (SB) 668, is similar to alimony-law reforms vetoed by Scott in 2014. But the wording of that bill could have allowed the retroactive altering of existing alimony settlements; the new proposal has corrected this. It's a child custody section of the measure that is now causing trouble. The Florida Bar Association's Family Law Section opposes the establishment of any baseline legal presumption in custody cases. It's "urging the governor to veto Senate Bill 668 because on several levels it's problematic," Maria Gonzalez, chair of the Family Law Section, told the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

"It does not serve the best interest of the children, any presumption," she said. 

[...] Gonzalez said the lawyers object to another provision that requires a judge to file written findings on the child-sharing plan. She said such findings could result in public court records on the intimate details of family life.

"All kinds of very specific, detailed findings will now unfortunately have to be included in a final judgment," Gonzalez said. "And that is detrimental to families. It's not in the best interest of children to have a final judgment air all of the family dynamics in written findings."

Advocates of the reforms say family lawyers' worries are unfounded. Despite the presumption of equal custody, judges will still have discretion to deviate from this based on array of individual circumstances.  

"Behind-the-scenes lobbying is expected to be heavy on Scott's final decision," the Herald Tribune reports

The Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) has also been opposing the divorce-law reforms, calling them "anti-family" and "bad for Florida women." In a Facebook post urging people to get in touch with the governor's office to oppose SB 668, Florida NOW called the custody-sharing part of the reform package an "egregious injustice." 

Libertarian Family Values

Sun, 27 Mar 2016 06:00:00 -0400

Hayek's Modern Family: Classical Liberalism and the Evolution of Social Institutions, by Steven Horwitz, Palgrave Macmillan, 313 pages, $120 For the economist Friedrich Hayek, there are two sorts of institutions: designed ones, which have a blueprint in place from the moment of creation, and organic ones, which do not. Change in the first sort of institution (sometimes described as "top-down") is typically managed by a designer and happens in big chunks; change in organic ("bottom-up") institutions tends to be unplanned and gradual. The National Football League is top-down: If the rules committee decides it would be a good idea to allow a 2-point conversion after a touchdown, the game changes accordingly. The English language is bottom-up: No planner decreed that "verily" would disappear and "I can't even" would emerge. The family is the second sort of institution. It arose organically and has evolved over time, but not according to any central plan. In Hayek's Modern Family, Steven Horwitz of St. Lawrence University tries to understand the family's evolving structures in terms of the functions the institution serves. While Horwitz's primary training is as an economist, his work draws also from history, social philosophy, and constitutional law. His conclusions may confound both progressives and conservatives. Conservatives, he writes, typically "believe that the family is an institution under attack by the culture and by public policy." As a result, they position themselves as defenders of the "traditional family" and lionize "family values." Yet the institution these conservatives see themselves as defending—"a married, heterosexual family with children where dad is the primary earner and mom the primary caretaker of the household"—isn't as traditional as they suggest. That model, Horwitz shows, was historically contingent, predominant for only about 20 years after World War II, and culturally nonuniversal. Marriage itself, far from having been "always" the union of one man and one woman, has changed in a variety of ways. As the joke goes, my daughter said she wanted to be treated like a princess, so I made her marry someone she doesn't love in order to strengthen our alliance with Prussia. The joke works because we're so used to thinking of marriage in terms of romantic love between moral equals that we lose sight of the fact that many other "traditional" arrangements have been dominant at different times and places. So too with families in general: For most of human history children were economic investments, either in the sense implied by the joke or in the sense of creating labor power. Wives once were essentially property, traded from the father to the husband. The phrase "modern family" in Horwitz's title may prompt some people to think of the sitcom of that name, in which an extended family includes such conservative nightmares as a remarried divorcée, a gay couple with an adopted daughter, and a heterosexual couple in which both spouses work outside the home. But "modern family" also refers to structures conservatives generally appreciate, such as a small number of cherished children who are not expected to enter the full-time work force until age 18 or older, and a marriage based on committed companionship. In short, conservatives aren't defending the traditional family so much as they're romanticizing a very narrow slice of time. In the process they're ignoring Hayek's insight about the evolutionary nature of social institutions. As Horwitz puts it, conservatives are failing "to distinguish between the form families take and their ability to function." It is the function that is key, and this evolves over time as well. If Horwitz's defense of the family's changing form challenges conservatives, progressives may be taken aback by his discussion of those changing functions. The cultural shifts that progressives generally regard as good—marriag[...]

Do Pot and Pregnancy Mix?

Mon, 23 Nov 2015 00:01:00 -0500

Since 1985 cigarette packages sold in the United States have carried four rotating warnings from the surgeon general, including this one: "Smoking by Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury, Premature Birth, and Low Birth Weight." Since 1989 the labels of alcoholic beverages have included this government-mandated warning: "According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects." Last week the American Medical Association (AMA) proposed a similar label for cannabis products:  "Marijuana use during pregnancy and breastfeeding poses potential harms." The proposed warning represents a concession to political reality by the AMA, which opposes marijuana legalization but seems to recognize that pot prohibition is inexorably crumbling. The AMA's wording is notably milder than the warnings for tobacco and alcohol—appropriately so, since the evidence that cannabis consumption during pregnancy can harm the fetus is less clear than the evidence that smoking and heavy drinking can. In any case, providing information about marijuana's hazards is surely preferable to the punitive moralism of the war on drugs. The latter approach still prevails in most of the country, as illustrated by what happened to Hollie Sanford and her baby girl, Nova. After Sanford gave birth at Cleveland's Fairview Hospital on September 26, Nova was snatched away from her because the newborn's first stool tested positive for a marijuana metabolite. Against the recommendation of county social workers (who are usually the villains in stories like this), Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court Magistrate Eleanore Hilow decided the drug test result by itself justified separating Nova from her parents. They were not reunited until November 9, after a judge overruled Hilow. Sanford used cannabis tea to treat morning sickness and severe sciatic nerve pain while she was pregnant with Nova, as she had when she was pregnant with Nova's brother, Logan, who is now almost 2. Her research convinced her marijuana was a safer choice than the painkillers she had been prescribed, and she may be right about that. The Food and Drug Administration puts opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone in Category C, meaning "animal reproduction studies have shown an adverse effect on the fetus and there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in humans," although "potential benefits may warrant use of the drug in pregnant women despite potential risks." The evidence concerning marijuana's effects on fetuses is likewise mixed and incomplete. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, whose raison d'etre is highlighting the hazards of illegal intoxicants, says "research in rats suggests that exposure to even low concentrations of THC late in pregnancy could have profound and long-lasting consequences for both brain and behavior of offspring." It adds that "human studies have shown that some babies born to women who used marijuana during their pregnancies respond differently to visual stimuli, tremble more, and have a high-pitched cry, which could indicate problems with neurological development." NIDA also notes that "children prenatally exposed to marijuana are more likely to show gaps in problem-solving skills, memory, and the ability to remain attentive." But it admits that "more research is needed…to disentangle marijuana's specific effects from other environmental factors, including maternal nutrition, exposure to nurturing/neglect, and use of other substances by mothers." That's a crucial concession. While animal studies can be carefully controlled to exclude alternative explanations for a given outcome, their results are not necessarily relevant to humans. Studies with human [...]

Using Marijuana During Pregnancy Does Not Make A Mother Unfit

Fri, 20 Nov 2015 09:29:00 -0500

(image) Last week Hollie Sanford, the Ohio woman who was separated from her newborn daughter because she drank cannabis tea to relieve pain and nausea while she was pregnant, was reunited with her baby after a judge overruled the magistrate who ordered the infant's removal. This week the American Medical Association proposed a warning label for marijuana products cautioning expectant mothers about the potential risks of consuming cannabis. In my latest Forbes column, I consider the evidence behind that warning and its relevance to the decision that Sanford made:  

Since 1985 cigarette packages sold in the United States have carried four rotating warnings from the surgeon general, including this one: "Smoking by Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury, Premature Birth, and Low Birth Weight." Since 1989 the labels of alcoholic beverages have included this government-mandated warning: "According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects." This week the American Medical Association (AMA) proposed a similar label for cannabis products:  "Marijuana use during pregnancy and breastfeeding poses potential harms."

The proposed warning represents a concession to political reality by the AMA, which opposes marijuana legalization but seems to recognize that pot prohibition is inexorably crumbling. The AMA's wording is notably milder than the warnings for tobacco and alcohol—appropriately so, since the evidence that cannabis consumption during pregnancy can harm the fetus is less clear than the evidence that smoking and heavy drinking can. In any case, providing information about marijuana's hazards is surely preferable to the punitive moralism of the war on drugs.

The latter approach still prevails in most of the country, as illustrated by what happened to Hollie Sanford and her baby girl, Nova. 

Read the whole thing.

Polyamorous Brazilian Trio Joined in Civil Union, Say Same-Sex Unions Paved the Way

Fri, 06 Nov 2015 15:50:00 -0500

(image) Three Brazilian women in a polyamorous relationship were joined in a civil union last month, and plan to fight for legal recognition of their arrangement. The trio, who wish to remain anonymous, "wed" in the presence of a notary public in early October, though Brazil's anti-bigamy law bars them from formal marriage, along with the legal privileges that it grants.

Registering a civil union in Brazil simply requires establishing that applicant share an address and a bank account.

Attorney Fernanda de Freitas Leitao said the threesome's union "is not just symbolic," however, because it defines "how they intend to have children." The women, described by AFP as "a businesswomen and a dentist who are both 32 and a 34-year-old office manager," plan to start a family soon. "We want to enjoy the same maternal rights that everyone else has," one of the women said.

While Brazil is a heavily Catholic country with a growing Evangelical Christian population, polyamory is actually not uncommon in popular culture there, with poly relationships showcased on two popular telenovelas and a reality TV series right now. And in 2012, a man and two women became the first Brazilians to pledge their love in a three-way civil-union ceremony.

A 2003 law in Brazil led to legal recognition of same-sex unions, and later marriages. In 2011, Brazil's Supreme Federal Court sanctioned same-sex marriages by pronouncing that all current marriage laws must apply equally to opposite- and same-sex couples. And in 2013, the Justice National Council passed a resolution saying that notary publics, who proceed over marriage proceedings in Brazil, cannot refuse to perform marriages for same-sex couples.

Leitao asserts that "all the principles and fundamentals" of the 2011 ruling "can also be applied to polyamorous relationships." If his clients seek privileges like the ability to declare joint income for tax purposes or join a healthcare plan together as spouses, he told AFP, "they could obtain them—and I think they will."

Magistrate Snatches Newborn From Mother Who Used Cannabis Tea for Pain Relief

Tue, 03 Nov 2015 08:13:00 -0500

Before she gave birth to her daughter, Nova, at Cleveland's Fairview Hospital on September 26, Hollie Sanford used cannabis tea to relieve severe sciatic nerve pain. Her research convinced her marijuana was a safer choice than the painkillers she had been prescribed, and she may be right about that. While there's little evidence that consuming marijuana during pregancy harms the fetus, the Food and Drug Administration puts opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone in Category C, meaning "animal reproduction studies have shown an adverse effect on the fetus and there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in humans," although "potential benefits may warrant use of the drug in pregnant women despite potential risks." But Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court Magistrate Eleanore Hilow, who ordered Nova's separation from her parents because the baby and her mother tested positive for a marijuana metabolite at the hospital, does not seem interested in what science shows about cannabis and pregnancy. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that Hilow rejected the recommendation of county social workers, who are usually the bad guys in cases like this. Cuyahoga County Children & Family Services (CFS) asked for "protective supervision," meaning a case worker would keep an eye on Sanford and her daughter to make sure the baby was in no danger. But the county said separating Nova from her parents would be harmful to the newborn.  "There is no need to remove this child from her parents in order to protect her," an assistant county prosecutor wrote in an October 23 motion. "At this time, removal would only serve to disrupt the bond the child would develop with her parents during this important period in her life...Rather than protecting the child, removal may be more harmful to her both in the present and in the future." Hilow was unmoved by that argument. Fortunately, Sanford's cousin agreed to take care of Nova to keep her from being placed with strangers in a foster home, and Sanford is allowed to visit Nova at her cousin's house. "It's outrageous," attorney Joseph Jacobs, who represents Sanford and her husband, Daniel, told The Plain Dealer. "The decision has no basis in law or science. There was no harm done to this child other than the removal from her mom and dad." Jacobs told WJW, the Fox station in Cleveland, that the hospital should not even have performed the drug tests, since the baby was born "very healthy and alert," the Sanfords did not consent to testing, and they are not on public assistance or covered by Medicaid, programs that require drug screening. Nova's urine tested negative for marijuana, but her first stool tested positive.   A CFS spokeswoman said Magistrate Hilow, who works under the supervision of Judge Thomas F. O'Malley, has made a habit of ignoring the agency's recommendations. "We are disappointed that this jurist regularly makes rulings disregarding the agency's professional opinion and the opinions of other professionals in the courtroom, include guardians ad litem and other child welfare experts," she said. "We will continue to work with this family, which is committed to reunification." Sanford said she used marijuana to relieve morning sickness and other symptoms when she was pregnant with her son, Logan, who is almost 2. Like Nova, he tested positive for marijuana at birth, resulting in a call to CFS, but no one attempted to kidnap him. "I hope if marijuana is legalized people will open their eyes a little more," said Sanford, who is rooting for the marijuana initiative on Ohio's ballot today. Update: In a follow-up story, The Plain Dealer reports that Hilow's unilateral decisions to remove children from their parents' custody are "often appealed and overturned." One case in which Hilow was[...]

Sanders: 'When a Mother Has a Baby, She Should Stay Home With That Baby'

Wed, 14 Oct 2015 00:32:00 -0400

Here's the thing: What Bernie Sanders meant to say in yesterday's CNN debate was that he believes the federal government should make it easier for women to choose to stay home with their newborns, if they so desire. But here's what Bernie Sanders actually said:  Every other major country on Earth, every one, including some small countries, say that when a mother has a baby, she should stay home with that baby.  Which is what we call a Kinsley gaffe—where a politician accidentally reveals a truth he did not intend to admit. Because as well-intentioned as family leave policies mandated by the federal government might be (and they are undeniably wildly well-intentioned), there's a negative consequence that doesn't get talked about too much: There can be a blurry line between government subsidizing something—whether though regulation, transfer payments, or tax breaks—and requiring that thing. A nudge can become a shove if you're not careful. Take generous Germany, for instance, where a good chunk of maternity leave is actually mandatory—not just for employers to provide, but for women to take: By default, expectant moms are expected to stay out of the workplace six weeks before giving birth, and many don’t even know that they have a right to keep working past that deadline if they state it explicitly to their employer. They are not allowed to work during the two months after giving birth; this portion of the maternity leave is mandatory to protect women against pressure from an employer. After that, she has a year of leave available to her at 65 percent of her salary and job protection for another three years. At least partially contrary to the original goal to make life better for working moms, however, the policy seems to have spawned a constrained and judgmental culture around working women's parenting choices: The amount of maternity leave available also seems to put pressure on German women to stay home longer than might be good for their careers. A German friend returned to work before the first year of government-subsidized parental leave was up and was frowned upon when she took her eight-month-old son to daycare.... Being able to take a lot of time off lowers the pressure on society to create adequate child-care options that the government has guaranteed by law but that are nevertheless still not available in many German cities. (Feel free to substitute "lowers the incentive for companies to get into childcare business" at the top of that last paragraph to get the same effect in a more market-oriented scenario.) Advocates of federal family leave policies, like Sanders, tend to lean progressive. Which means they need to grapple with the fact that pushing for family leave can wind up wrenching open that wage and opportunity gaps they're so desperately trying to close. In countries with big maternity benefits, mothers are (often) more likely to stay in the workforce, but are also more likely to get pulled off the management track and into dead-end jobs. The New York Times tackled this issue in a story last May pointing to several new studies that look at the before-and-after in countries that have increased benefits. In Chile, a law requires employers to provide working mothers with child care. One result? Women are paid less. In Spain, a policy to give parents of young children the right to work part-time has led to a decline in full-time, stable jobs available to all women—even those who are not mothers. Elsewhere in Europe, generous maternity leaves have meant that women are much less likely than men to become managers or achieve other high-powered positions at work. The Spanish example is particularly illuminating:  Spain passed a law in 1999 giving workers with [...]

Cato Institute Supports Sister Wives Family's Challenge to Utah Polygamy Law

Tue, 01 Sep 2015 07:30:00 -0400


The Cato Institute is rallying behind a challenge to Utah's anti-bigamy law from the family that stars in TLC reality series Sister Wives. In an amicus brief filed with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the think tank agreed with the polygamous Brown family that prohibiting people not just from legal recognition of plural marriage but from identifying so socially and religiously is an unconstitutional violation of free speech.

"In Utah, one can promise love to someone in addition to one's spouse," the brief states. "One can share one's home and create a family with someone in addition to one's spouse. But one cannot, under penalty of criminal law, call this other person one's wife or husband, or otherwise express that one is religiously or spiritually married to more than one person. This happens because Utah defines criminal bigamy... to include saying 'I do' in a wedding ceremony, or saying 'that's my wife' about someone one lives with, even when everyone knows that the marriage is not legally recognized."

While Sister Wives star Kodi Brown is only legally married to one woman, he claims a "spiritual union" with three others. Together, Kodi and the "sister wives"—Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn—have 17 children.

"Because the potential sentences are quite severe (five years for each of the women, and up to 20 years for Kodi), the Browns took preemptive action, filing a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Utah's law," explains Ilya Shapiro, a Cato senior fellow in constitutional studies and editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review, in a post on the Cato blog.

A U.S. district court agreed with the Browns, holding that because the law criminalizes "spiritual cohabitation," i.e. religious recognition of plural marriages without seeking state-sanctioning, Utah's anti-bigamy law was "facially unconstitutional," violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The state is now appealing. The court will hear arguments in the case, Brown v. Buhman, this fall.

Cato's amicus brief, filed together with First Amendment scholar and Washington Post blogger Eugene Volokh, urges the appeals court to uphold the district court's ruling. Utah's bigamy statute "criminalizes speech that creates intimate associations between consenting adults, and communicates freely chosen religious and moral values," it states. "The bigamy statute thus restricts protected and valuable speech because of its content, and is therefore presumptively unconstitutional."

"Telling people you're married, even if it isn't legally true, isn't the kind of harmful speech any government has the right to censor, let alone criminalize," adds Shapiro. Make no mistake, this case "involves speech—not conduct—that the state doesn't like."

Whether governments should legally recognize plural marriage is irrelvent here. The Browns aren't seeking state recognition, merely the right to call themselves a married quintuple without criminal prosecution and punishment.

A Baby with Five Parents? It's No Big Deal

Wed, 05 Aug 2015 10:31:00 -0400

(image) Over at Vice there is a story about the impending birth of a child in the Netherlands who will be cared for by five parents. Basically, the child will be born into a blended family consisting of a legally married lesbian couple and a legally married gay male couple, who also share their lives with a third guy. The biological parents are one of the women and one of the guys (anonymous), but all five want to share responsibilty for the child's upbringing.

As Vice reports:

"Five parents with equal rights and responsibilities, divided across two households—those are the terms of the agreement that we all signed and had notarized," says Dewi. They had to do this because, legally speaking, the Netherlands isn't quite ready for multi-parenthood just yet. A child can still only have a maximum of two legal parents and, in a marriage, those parents are usually the biological mother and her husband or wife. However, the biological mother is also allowed to appoint someone else as the second legal parent.

So the birth mother is designating one of the gay guys as the second legal parent. This sounds all very novel and socially advanced, but as it happens several U.S. states already have set up procedures to legally recognize multi-parent families. For example, California passed such a law in 2013. As the Los Angels Times reported:

Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) said he authored the measure to address the changes in family structure in California, including situations in which same-sex couples have a child with an opposite-sex biological parent.

Other U.S. jurisdictions that recognize multi-parent family arrangements include Delaware, Louisiana, Maine, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia.

In any case, mazel tov to the happy pentad in Holland.

That Time George W. Bush Offered to Officiate a Lesbian Wedding

Tue, 26 May 2015 11:45:00 -0400

(image) The big news about same-sex marriage this past weekend was Ireland's vote to legally recognize such unions. But while that may have been a milestone, it wasn't really a surprise; the polls predicted the outcome far in advance. The gay-marriage news that made me do a double take was buried in a parenthetical comment near the end of a Boston Globe dispatch from Kennebunkport:

Some mornings, [Jeb] Bush drops into H.B. Provisions, a cozy general store owned by Bonnie Clement and her wife, Helen Thorgalsen (George H.W. Bush made international headlines when he attended their wedding in 2013; George W. Bush offered to perform the ceremony but had a scheduling conflict).

Wait: Was this widely known? Not the part about George H.W. attending the wedding—he did indeed get the media's attention when he served as an official witness that day. I mean the part about George W. offering to officiate. If that's true, that's a milestone of another kind: not the sort that marks a social revolution, but the sort you see when a change that once sounded revolutionary doesn't feel all that radical anymore.

Just nine years before that ceremony, opposition to same-sex marriage was a central part of Bush's reelection strategy. No, it probably wasn't the issue that put him over the top; and yes, he's less constrained in private life. Still. Time, it does move quickly.