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"Love has won!" the crowds chanted in June 2015 after the US
Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees the right to same-sex
marriage. But the triumph of love was not apparent when Alma Vazquez and Yadira
Arenas welcomed their first child in Florida months after same-sex couples won the
right to marry in the state. After giving birth to their daughter, Alma was
told that she would be the only parent named on the newborn's birth
certificate. Florida's Bureau of Vital Statistics refused to list Yadira as the
child's parent and informed Alma that despite her legally recognized marriage,
she would have to be listed as an "unmarried mother".
"I always dreamed of the moment when I would become a mother
with my spouse," Yadira told Equality Florida, which filed a federal lawsuit in
August 2015 on behalf of Alma and Yadira along with two other couples. "Instead
of being congratulated, I was told that I had to lie and say I wasn't married
because they wouldn't recognize my wife."
Beyond the humiliation and stigma of this experience, there are
serious consequences. A birth certificate is the first official document that connects
a baby with a family and is intended to represent legal relationships rather
than biology. Not having an accurate birth certificate creates logistical
problems with everything from making medical decisions to signing up for
daycare, as well as more dire repercussions if the named parent should become
ill or die.
In cases of adoption or surrogacy, a judge issues a birth
certificate listing both adoptive parents regardless of gender. And under
Florida law, when a child is born to opposite-sex spouses, the birth
certificate is required to list the mother's husband as the father of the
child, unless paternity has been otherwise established by a court.
So, how to explain this blatant discrimination against
"The state of Florida has not always been on the right side
of history," says Hannah Willard, Policy and Outreach Coordinator for Equality
Florida. "At the moment when a family should be celebrating, being told that
you and your wife are not really married, not really a family, that's
Willard believes that despite months of organizations urging
the Bureau of Vital Statistics to comply with the law, the continued resistance
lies in a fundamental belief that same-sex couples are different.
There isn't a moment that goes by that I'm not thinking of the harm my children—my newborns—may face because we aren't being treated like other families
Cathy Sakimura, Family Law Director at the National Center
for Lesbian Rights that is also representing the Florida couples, agrees that
there "really isn't a good argument" for Florida's refusal to treat same-sex
It seems reasonable to conclude that the state is making a
last ditch attempt to deny the full legal benefits of marriage to same-sex
couples, since it can no longer deny them marriage itself. Several other states
have also attempted to hold out on this issue. The Florida lawsuit follows similar
legal battles in Texas, Ohio, Utah, Nebraska, and Arkansas, where court orders
have been necessary to compel state officials to issue amended birth
Back in Florida, the other plaintiffs, Cathy Pareto and
Karla Arguello and Debbie and Kari Chin, are still waiting for the dignity and
respect the Supreme Court promised them.
"There isn't a moment that goes by that I'm not thinking of
the harm my children—my newborns—may face because we aren't being treated like
other families," Cathy told Equality Florida. "All I want to do is love,
protect and provide the best opportunities for our children. The state's
refusal to recognize that they have two parents and to list both of us on the
birth certificates is demeaning and hurtful."
"How can our son, who we planned for and loved even before
he was born, have only one parent on his birth certificate?" Debbie added. "What
would happen to him in an emergency, or if something happened to my wife, and I
am not recognized as his mother?"