Friday night I went to temple with my friend Al at Beit Simchat Torah in Manhattan, the world’s largest LGBT synagogue. Al sings in the choir and often invites me when there’s a special choral service. He knows I love the music and enjoy dinner with him afterwards. But at this Friday’s service, while idly flipping through my prayer book, I read something that stopped me in my tracks:
“As a community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight Jews, we have experienced the ways in which LGBT families are erased from the Jewish Community and family life. Because of the way we love, some of us have lost our children or have been excused from their lives; many of us will never be legally recognized as the parents of children we have raised. Likewise, many us of are the children of parents who are not recognized. Yet, despite this, we know that our relationships are holy and our families are real.”
Over thirty years ago Beit Simchat Torah temple was established by people who felt the need to build a new temple community where they could be accepted for who they are. On Saturday mornings the place now teams with kids and their parents, a testament to what this temple has become.
Over dinner Al explained the words in the prayer book. He pointed out that if a gay person leaves a heterosexual marriage and tries to get custody of his children, he may fail—simply because of his sexual orientation. Many states, he also explained, still don’t recognize gay marriages; a child conceived within a gay union may not be considered related to his non-biological parent. Legally, it’s as though one of his parents never existed.
I was aware of all these realities before---I have helped gay and lesbian couples create families through adoption and third-party reproduction—but tonight was the first time I felt them so deeply within my heart.
I am a straight woman and when my husband and I divorced, the law supported our desire to have joint custody. No one blinked--there wasn’t the smallest hint of worry that I or my husband would lose our children because we were dissolving our marriage. Our children could not be “excused” from either of our lives.
My children never experienced a kind of family life where one parent was legally recognized and the other was not. In all kinds of places and under all kinds of circumstances, my ex-husband and I have the right to make decisions regarding our children’s welfare. Not so in many LGBT families. What does it do to a child to have one parent who is the “real” parent and the other who is not? What does it do to a couple where one partner has legal authority and the other is powerless before the law?
Today there are about a million LGBT parents raising two million children, often without the support of their faith communities, their families and the laws of their state. This is shameful.
In spite of this, most of these families are thriving. Perhaps the Beit Simchat Torah temple prayer book says it best: “…we know that our relationships are holy and our families are real.”
Carolyn N. Berger, LCSW, is Founding Board Chair of The American Fertility Association and Chair of the Adoption Advisory Council. She has a private practice specializing in Fertility, All Family Building Options and Adoption, with offices in NYC at NY Fertility Services, and in Westchester.