Parentage equality bill ready to surface in House

Rep. Sarah Peake speaks during a Pride Month flag raising celebration outside the State House on June 5.

Rep. Sarah Peake speaks during a Pride Month flag raising celebration outside the State House on June 5. Alison Kuznitz/SHNS

By Alison Kuznitz and Sam Doran

State House News Service

Published: 06-10-2024 11:49 AM

BOSTON — The House plans to vote on a parentage equality bill in June, which is celebrated as Pride Month, with Speaker Ronald Mariano calling it “an important set of rules and principles” for LGBTQ people that will address “archaic laws” governing how family units are defined.

Mariano made his announcement last week at a Pride flag-raising ceremony in front of the State House, and the crowd that jammed the Beacon Street sidewalk burst into applause and cheers as the Quincy Democrat said the House would take up the bill “within the month.”

“We have to straighten out the laws, the archaic laws, on how we determine the family relationships. And this is a first step. And it took an awful lot of work. This bill has been around for a while. There’s been at least six or seven iterations that I know of. To get the laws right — there are so many laws that it encompasses, and so many variables that have to be accounted for in this bill, that it took us an awful long time,” Mariano said.

The House gave the 41-page bill (H 4672) initial approval May 30 after it was released from the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. It is a redraft of four bills sponsored by a bipartisan, bicameral group — Sen. Julian Cyr, Sen. Bruce Tarr, Rep. Kay Khan, Rep. Adam Scanlon, Rep. Sarah Peake, and Rep. Hannah Kane.

The bill clarifies standards for who can be considered a parent through different paths to creating a family, including children born through surrogacy and assisted reproductive technology like IVF, according to the Massachusetts Parentage Act Coalition. Advocates say the bill ensures equality and protections for LGBTQ families, where partners in same-sex couples under existing law may need to adopt children.

Mariano said “we may not have 100 percent agreement” but “we have enough votes to get it out there and begin the discussion.” Gov. Maura Healey, the commonwealth’s first openly lesbian governor, and Attorney General Andrea Campbell have voiced their support for the legislation, as well as the Massachusetts Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning Youth.

Massachusetts has the highest volume of assisted technology births in the country, but the commonwealth’s parentage laws have not been updated in 40 years to reflect advancements in IVF and surrogacy, said Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the GLBTQ Political Caucus.

“We need to protect the people who become parents, regardless of how they become a parent,” Isaacson said. “In the LGBTQ community, by definition, always one of the parents is a non-bio parent. So we’ve got to fix these laws to protect our families because right now the state of affairs is so messed up we actually have to adopt our own children, which takes money, and it takes time, even if you have a bio parent in the relationship, which is a crazy system.”

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Isaacson added, “They actually send social workers into our homes to make sure we would be good enough parents, and that’s crazy. In 2024, that shouldn’t be happening still.”

Khan said she filed versions of the parentage bill in multiple sessions.

“I’m so really excited that it’s now going to go through,” Khan said. “I would just thank Speaker Mariano for supporting this.”

Peake said the bill has “been a long time coming.”

“It’s a very important bill for families in Massachusetts, and I’m thrilled it’s going to come out this month,” Peake said. “We’ve met with supporters, we’ve met with naysayers, we’ve compromised, we’ve changed language, we’ve worked closely with the Judiciary. This is a bill that’s had a lot of eyeballs on it, and I think for that reason, it’s an excellent bill.”

As Peake sees it, the bill represents the next step in Massachusetts history of protecting and strengthening residents’ civil rights.

“This is the right time to do it,” the Provincetown Democrat said, as she referenced her and Khan’s upcoming retirement. “And you know, Kay and I aren’t going to be kicking around next year, so this is our legacy piece.”

“Exactly,” Khan chimed in.

Mariano said that he did not notify Rep. Mike Day, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, that he would be announcing action for the Parentage Act at the Pride event. The speaker, joking about Day’s appearance, said, “or else he would have shaved.”

Day said the bill came about through a yearslong “deliberative process” with advocates “on all sides to make sure that we got the details right.”

“It’s a comprehensive bill that’s going to address one of the last vestiges of inequality in the law with respect to same-sex couples,” Day told reporters. “Those who hold themselves out and raise their children as parents will be recognized as parents through the bill.”

Mariano, asked whether he expects pushback on the bill from fellow Democrats, said, “We’ll see.”

“It’s like any bill — I can’t guarantee it,” Mariano said. “I don’t speak to everyone, but the folks that I trust who were making the decisions have said that there’s been movement, and there’s been some movement towards consensus.”

Isaacson said the bill would help “thousands and thousands of families,” including shielding those who travel outside of Massachusetts. If a biological parent travels to Florida and is killed in a car accident, for example, the other parent could lose access to their children, she said.

“Twenty years after we won the right to marry, it’s very timely that we now win the next right for our families, which is the right to protect our children so that they don’t have to lose one of their parents as a result of our parentage laws being outdated,” Isaacson said. “A lot of us thought that when we won the right to marry, that we had taken care of the child issue — we thought we were covered. We weren’t.”

In another big step for Pride Month last week, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts unveiled expanded care options and resources for LGBTQIA+ members, including a gender-affirming care program to help people during “reproductive health and gender-affirming care milestones.” The major insurer said members have access to an integrated clinical care team, designed to provide “personalized support and an advocate program that guides members to the right care that meets their needs.”

Most Blue Cross members can now also benefit from FOLX Health, a virtual provider with an emphasis on LGBTQIA+ health.

“Navigating the personal, emotional, and often confusing nature of the reproductive health and gender-affirming care landscape can be challenging,” Dr. Sandhya Rao, Blue Cross’ chief medical officer, said in a statement. “As demand for these services continues to grow, our job is to ensure our members have access to high-quality, equitable care and the resources they need to feel supported.”

Colin A. Young contributed reporting.