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Despite marriage progress, gay couples face big hurdles to parenthood

John Makely / NBC News

Jenna Glazer, left, with her wife, Elise Bacolas outside family court in Brooklyn. The couple was celebrating Glazer's adoption of their 5-month-old daughter, Maya, whom Bacolas gave birth to through artificial insemination. The couple married last year on July 24, the day same-sex marriages became legal in New York.

NEW YORK -- Jenna Glazer had long waited for the moment she would legally become the second mom to her infant daughter, Maya, erasing any uncertainty about her ties to the child she had with her wife.

That day came in mid-July, just before Glazer marked the one-year anniversary of her wedding to Elise Bacolas, Maya’s other mom, on July 24, when same-sex marriage became legal in their home state of New York.

After a few minutes before a family court judge in Brooklyn, the adoption was approved, and a beaming Glazer held up Maya in the air as loved ones offered congratulations and cheers. No longer would the name of Maya’s second parent be blank on her birth certificate.


“It’s the same thing like with marriage, you know. We were committed for 12 years, but being married felt differently,” Glazer, 40, said through tears outside the court in mid-July. “The minute that she was born, I thought that she was mine, but it feels really nice. It feels really nice to have it final.”

The couple is one of many across the country who are raising some 2 million children in same-sex households, according to advocacy and research groups. But though the path across the marital threshold is easing for same-sex couples, they are still facing a complex route to parenthood.

For lesbian couples, donor insemination is one option, though potentially expensive, while for gay couples, some choose surrogacy, though that can cost more than $100,000 and is clearly allowed only in some states, advocates and researchers say.

With those challenges, the more common way to become a parent today is through fostering or adoption, but some states explicitly ban same-sex couples from doing so, said Laura Deaton, policy research director at the Movement Advancement Project, a think tank focused on the LGBT community.

“The complexity and the difference in state law is what renders LGBT parenthood very uncertain and challenging,” Deaton said. Even states geographically next to one another, such as Iowa and Nebraska, “couldn’t have laws that are farther from each other in terms of how they define marriage and family.”

Twenty states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to obtain stepparent or second parent adoptions (which is what Glazer did), according to the American Civil Liberties Union. 

But in at least one state where they don’t, North Carolina, the existing legal parent would have to give up their parental rights for an adoption to occur. Same-sex couples are suing to overturn that ban

Courtesy of Statia Grossmam

Jenna Glazer , left, and Elise Bacolas with their daughter Maya when she was two days old.

“Many of our families carry huge packets of paperwork with them any time that they travel so they have their powers of attorney for each other, so that they have their guardianship papers or adoption judgments,” Deaton said. “Most families don’t think twice about proving that a child is theirs, but LGBT families are constantly in fear that they are not going to be able to do so.”

Deaton said her organization had found that the tough impediments to becoming parents for same-sex couples hadn’t dictated where they live. But Glazer, a director at a nonprofit helping young women with breast cancer, and Bacolas, a senior project manager at an online marketing firm, said they couldn’t imagine leaving their supportive corner of Brooklyn, where they recently joined a play group for same-sex families.

“... we hope for people to see that progress is going to happen whether they like it or not, and that it’s really time to stop thinking that it’s OK to discriminate against people,” Glazer said. “People are going to have families whether people agree with it or not. We’re going to love each other whether people agree with it or not. And instead of creating divisiveness and discord and anger and hate … be a part of a positive change.”

The couple is hoping that the shifts in attitudes toward same-sex families will come nationwide before Maya can understand the differences, and recent polls show that may already be taking place.

A Pew Research Center survey published Thursday found a steady increase in support for allowing gays and lesbians to adopt children, from 38 percent in favor in 1999 compared with 57 percent opposed, to 52 percent in support in 2012 and 42 percent against.

“In many ways divisions in views about gay adoption mirror those of gay marriage,” Pew said in its analysis. “People who believe that gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry legally also tend to believe gay and lesbians should be allowed to adopt children. And people who oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry often also oppose allowing them to adopt.”

Support for same-sex marriage has continued to grow, too. In May, a Gallup poll found that 50 percent of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal and bestow the same rights as traditional marriage, compared to 48 percent who don’t. It was the second time in the poll’s history that a majority of Americans supported same-sex marriage.

The Supreme Court is also expected to take up one of the few cases that have made it through the lower courts, where judges have separately ruled that California’s ban on gay marriage and denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples are unconstitutional.

But supporters of marriage between a man and a woman have vowed to continue to push for constitutional amendments that define marriage as such. They recently won such a vote in North Carolina in May, bringing to 31 the number of states that ban same-sex marriage, and are campaigning to overturn same-sex laws in Maryland and Washington.

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At the Bacolas-Glazer home on a recent evening, the couple alternately tended to Maya, who babbled and smiled often, and later watched her on a night-vision monitor after putting her in her crib as they talked about their path to parenthood.

On their first try at donor insemination a few months before same-sex marriage became legal in New York, Bacolas became pregnant. They began the adoption process when Bacolas was six months pregnant, and had to go through a home evaluation with a social worker, submit to a background check and supply letters of recommendation and good health (Glazer, a three-time cancer survivor, had to get a letter from her oncologist), among other things.

Though second parent adoptions are allowed in New York, making it less difficult compared to other states where it is not, it still was not a simple process and showed their commitment to having a child, the couple said.

“You have to go out of your way to create this family, and that just goes to show how much we want it and how much we fight to get here should speak volumes to the fact that we want … to have a family and we are a family,” Bacolas, 40, later said outside the court.

Jerry Ruotolo / Courtesy of Jerry Ruotolo

Glazer and Bacolas on their wedding day on July 24, 2011.

The couple said they hoped that such heated and hard discussions they hear in the national discourse today about same-sex families would soon be a thing of the past, or take on an increasingly positive tone, as Maya grows up. 

“When she is old enough to understand the news, if this discussion is still going on, I think it’s difficult not to take that personally. I don’t want her to grow up thinking that there’s something wrong with her family or that she has to be worried what if something happens to one of her mommies,” Glazer said. “I really hope she doesn’t have to hear it and feel that her family isn’t as good as another family because ... we are and she’s lucky, she’s got two parents who love her.”

Comments? Questions? You can email the reporter at miranda.leitsinger@msnbc.com