Like many Hawaii families, Monique and Kaleigh DeSimone were gripped with anxiety when Hawaii imposed pandemic lockdowns last March.

Kaleigh learned she wouldn’t be allowed to bring her doula with her and would be expected to wear a face mask when she went into labor.

Having a baby during the pandemic is stressful for any family. But it was especially so for the DeSimones because as a queer couple, they were uncertain whether both would be able to establish parentage at birth.

A bill in the Legislature seeks to change that. House Bill 1096, introduced by Rep. Jackson Sayama, initially revised the state’s Uniform Parentage Act to allow people of any gender to establish parentage at their child’s birth. Currently, the state has a process for heterosexual couples but doesn’t clearly lay out one for LGBTQ couples so many end up in court.

On Tuesday, the House passed an amended version of the bill that instead would establish a task force on the issue. Rep. Bob McDermott, a Republican lawmaker who voted against legalizing same-sex marriage in Hawaii and unsuccessfully sued to prevent the state from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, was the only legislator to vote against the bill.

Kaleigh DeSimone, center son, Teddy DeSimone and right, wife, Monique DeSimone.
Kaleigh (left) and Monique (right) DeSimone, holding their child Teddy, are grateful they were easily able to establish parentage. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

McDermott told Civil Beat Tuesday that he believes the bill is actually necessary to update the law to reflect the realities of same-sex marriage in Hawaii, but he was insulted by the preamble which said the bill’s purpose was “to update existing parentage laws that reflect outdated, cisheteronormative concepts of families, parenthood, and parental rights.”

“I can’t even tell you the definition of ‘outdated cisheteronormative,’” he said. “It’s very pejorative so that’s why I voted no. I understand there’s all sorts of families, but I don’t believe my view is outdated.”

Republican Reps. Lauren Matsumoto and Val Okimoto voted yes with reservations. Okimoto said she had the same concern as McDermott.

“For me it’s kind of an attack on those who value traditional families,” she said of the “outdated cisheteronormative” phrase. “The intent of the bill still could have been there without being disrespectful to those who were valuing traditional families.”

Hawaii legalized same-sex marriage in 2013 after an emotional legislative battle with vocal opposition from religious conservatives, but some queer couples continue to struggle for recognition and acceptance.

“It’s the smallest things that make someone a parent.” — Monique DeSimone

Monique and Kaleigh DeSimone switched doctors twice during Kaleigh’s pregnancy after one physician kept asking, “Who is the father?” They noticed forms in doctor’s offices frequently assumed parents were heterosexual.

Most worrisome, as the parent with no biological relation to their son, Monique feared what might happen if Kaleigh died from a severe case of COVID-19 or childbirth.

“God forbid anything happened to Kaleigh, I just didn’t know where things stood,” she said. “I just don’t know if there’s any kind of precedent for someone to take this child from me.”

When Kaleigh gave birth last summer, the DeSimones were immensely relieved when The Queen’s Hospital honored their request that Monique be included as the second parent on the birth certificate and allowed them to establish both of them as their child’s legal parents at birth.

But Sarah Hamid, an advocate with the feminist advocacy group AF3IRM Hawaii, said not every couple is so lucky as the decision in Hawaii is left to hospital institutions without clear legal requirements.

Kaleigh and Monique hope HB 1096 is revised again so it does more than just establish a task force. Kaleigh described how as she recovered from birth, Monique held their son as he cried so that Kaleigh could sleep. Monique gave him his first bath.

“It’s the same, the love for your child. It’s no different,” she said in a phone interview last week. “It’s the smallest things that make someone a parent. We recognize it in our daily lives and legally we would like it to be recognized more regularly.”

How It Works

The measure passed by the House goes next to a Senate committee. Earlier this session, the Senate version of the bill stalled in the Judiciary committee led by Democratic Sen. Karl Rhoads. He told Civil Beat that he doesn’t have particular objections to the bill, rather, scheduling challenges prevented him from calling a hearing.

He saw the House measure was moving and decided to wait for that version to cross over. He said he expects to call a hearing on HB 1096 once it reaches his committee again.

The 2021 Legislature

One question is whether the bill will revert to its original intention or continue to call for a study of the issue.

Democratic Rep. Mark Nakashima is the House lawmaker who amended the bill to establish a task force. He told Civil Beat he was persuaded by testimony from the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Health that raised concerns about unintended consequences from the bill’s initial wording.

He said he supports the intent of making it easier for same-sex couples to establish parentage, but thinks that amending the whole chapter of the law that addresses the issue next year is the best way to achieve that.

Both the Senate and House versions of the proposals attracted significant testimony from LGBTQ  families and their allies and didn’t attract outright opposition in online testimony.

“Our laws simply have not kept up with advancement in medical technology,” said Caprice Itagaki, an attorney and owner of Fertility Connections Hawaii. “HB1096 is a first step toward more gender neutral terminology.”

She said it would eliminate “the need for couples to go to court to establish legal parentage of their child.”

An Expensive Process

If the Legislature moves forward with this change, Hawaii wouldn’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Cathy Sakimura, deputy director and family law director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights in the Bay Area, said that since 2016 at least seven states have revised their statutes to clarify that non-heterosexual couples may sign a voluntary acknowledgement of parentage at their child’s birth.

“This is really about access to rights and the ability to be respected as a family in the same way that every other family is respected,” said Sakimura, who is originally from Hawaii island.

Sakimura said that acknowledging parentage at the birth could avoid costly adoption fees.

“It’s also really important for lower income families who can’t afford to have a lawyer go to court and figure out what they need to do,” she said. “For unmarried parents, this is pretty much the only way they can get on a birth certificate without a court order.”

Kaleigh and Monique paid $1,400 for artificial insemination, and it worked on their first try. Monique, who works in the financial services industry, signed up for legal insurance through her company to have access to a fertility attorney.

Monique worried that adoption could cost tens of thousands of dollars and wanted to be prepared.

“Queer families and queer people generally have to work so, so hard to manifest our families into being. There’s no doubt that these children are loved and are wanted,” Monique said. “We work really hard to try to navigate these systems and we just want that love to be recognized and acknowledged the same way.”

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