Just when you thought the New Year was off to a good start, here’s a sad tale from the Midwest: A state in America has once again tried to fuck things up for a same-sex couple! But there’s a twist: this time, Kansas is also fucking things up for a straight cisgender white male! How dare you, Kansas!
Here’s what happened. A lesbian couple put up a Craigslist ad requesting a sperm donor in 2009. William Marotta replied to the ad. The lesbian couple and Marotta made a contract that ensured Marotta would give up all parental and financial responsibilities. The lesbian couple gave birth to the daughter, conceived from Marotta’s sperm. This is where it gets tricky. Kansas state law wouldn’t let both mothers have their names on the birth certificates. Only the biological mother, Jennifer Schreiner, is listed on the birth certificate. Schreiner and her partner, Angela Bauer, have eight children together. Schreiner has had to file as a single parent for adoptions, because although Kansas state law does not explicitly prohibit joint adoption for same-sex couples, there have been no cases of joint adoption to date.
Schreiner and Bauer parted ways in 2010. Bauer, who has been supporting Schreiner and their children, was recently diagnosed with a disabling illness and can no longer work. The couple applied for state services, namely health benefits for their children. That’s when the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) decided that two women couldn’t make a full family unit, and therefore couldn’t figure out a workable support agreement either. Because Schreiner was the sole parent for their child under Kansas law, the state decided not to collect child support from Bauer and instead request the name of their sperm donor.
Without the donor’s name, the state refused to provide health benefits to Schreiner and Bauer’s now three-year-old daughter. The state accused Schreiner of “withholding information” if she did not give them Marotta’s name. Bauer described conversations with the DCF as threatening and said, “One gentleman told me he wasn’t going to discuss anything with me because I’m not the parent or legal guardian… Therefore, I had no existence.”
“It’s my understanding that (Bauer) told the department of child services right off the bat, ‘I will be financially responsible for this’ and they in essence told her, ‘No, get lost. You’re not part of this.’ And when somebody’s willing to say ‘Hold it a minute, I’m the one who’s responsible for this’ and another agency says ‘No, get lost,’ whether it’s bureaucratic politics or something more than that — it’s a Republican state, yeah, I think it’s politics.”
The state welfare agency has now requested Marotta to pay child support for a child who is nothing more than biologically his. But what about the contract they signed? The state alleges the contract is null and void because the artificial insemination was not performed by a licensed physician. Under Kansas statute 23-2208(f), Schreiner had to have a licensed physician perform the artificial insemination. If you turn same-sex parents having babies into a medical procedure and not, you know, a very intimate act between two persons with the intention of having a family together, it’s way easier to pinpoint the parental rights, correct? Is that how this works?
The Kansas DCF spokesperson Angela de Rocha said the department is proceeding with the case only in the way that state law requires,
Speaking generally, all individuals who apply for taxpayer-funded benefits through DCF are asked to cooperate with child support enforcement efforts. If a sperm donor makes his ‘contribution’ through a licensed physician and a child is conceived, the donor is held harmless under state statue. In cases where the parties do not go through a physician or a clinic, there remains the question of who actually is the father of a child or children. DCF is required by statute to establish paternity and then pursue child support from the noncustodial parent.
The Kansas state department would rather not pay for health benefits for a three-year-old girl and is instead making a political statement by refusing to recognize Bauer as a legal parent of her own children. If they did acknowledge Bauer as the legal parent of her eight children, it would set a precedent for same-sex custody in Kansas and would piss off a lot of conservatives who refuse to recognize marriage equality.
This situation is just another infuriating example of exactly why America needs to make federal laws that include same-sex parents, so that rights are equal across the board and gaps in the system can’t be exploited. Marotta is a victim here because he did a good deed, giving a lesbian couple the chance to have a child together. Schreiner and Bauer are also victims because the Kansas DCF is telling them that they aren’t really this child’s (and their other childrens’) parents. Despite the fact that Schreiner and Bauer seem to be genuinely working together to try to make sure their children are supported, which is something many couples, both gay and straight, can’t say, they are being actively thwarted by the department that should be helping them. Kansas is assuming that naturally, only a male sperm cell and a female ovum ensure parentage, and in doing so, they’re hurting their parents, Marotta, and most importantly, the children.
Hopefully, Marotta will have the case against him dismissed. Schreiner and Bauer are supporting him, disgusted by the way the state is handling the case. Bauer said, “This was a wonderful opportunity with a guy with an admirable, giving character who wanted nothing more than to help us have a child… I feel like the state of Kansas has made a mess out of the situation.”