Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Unintended Consequences: New York Lesbian Mothers and Kansas Conservatives

By the time I was a teen my father no longer practiced corporal punishment on me. He thought it was no longer effective on me and disrespectful to both of us. However one of his favorite sayings when he thought I (or anyone else regardless of age or relationship) was about to do something ill-advised was to throw up his hands and declare "You can do whatever you want to do. You're (almost) grown." Left unsaid was the sentence "But don't come crying to me when it doesn't work out, dummy!" I've adopted that saying and use it often. I was reminded of this advice while reading two stories concerning recent events in New York and Kansas. In each instance, policy changes that were implemented have proven to have some consequences which were either not fully anticipated (New York) or were the exact opposite of what was promised (Kansas). This doesn't necessarily prove that the policy changes were stupid ideas, though my bias would make me argue that's definitely the case in the Kansas situation. But it does show that before people make legal or policy changes they do need to think things through a little more carefully. Fewer people would get hurt and bloggers wouldn't have fodder for quick posts before devoting their undivided attention to their day job. Both stories showed that good intentions don't necessarily lead to good results.  Both stories also illuminated that liberals and conservatives can be equally dogmatic and/or have blind spots when it comes to certain base principles.

As we've discussed before when it comes to custody and child care disputes the only primary principle that the state generally adheres to is that the man is always wrong and must pay is that the best interests of the child are paramount and the biological parent(s) is (are) responsible for the well being of the child. There are a few exceptions to this insofar as biology but these exceptions are generally to the detriment of the man. In most states if you are a married man and your wife produces a child you are held responsible for the well being of that child even if you prove that your wife was cheating with the mailman. Too bad, so sad, you're the dad. On the other hand if you are a stepfather or boyfriend and your wife or girlfriend has children and you and she break up, generally speaking you won't have financial responsibility, custody or visitation to those children. You can seek it but it's not by any means guaranteed. You're not the biological father. You would have such responsibilities if you adopted the children. A lesbian couple in New York (or rather one half of a lesbian couple) discovered this the hard way when they broke up and the woman who was not the biological mother tried to obtain visitation/custody to the child which they had both parented.
The Marriage Equality Act, which New York State passed in June 2011, allowed Jann Paczkowski to marry her partner, Jamie, with the assurance that “the marriages of same-sex and different-sex couples” would “be treated equally in all respects under the law.” But when the couple separated and Ms. Paczkowski sought joint custody of the 2-year-old boy they were raising together, she discovered the limits of that assurance. On June 30, 2014, a judge in Nassau County family court ruled that Ms. Paczkowski did not have legal standing to seek access to the boy — because even under the Marriage Equality Act, she was not his parent. 
In his decision, Judge Edmund M. Dane acknowledged “inequity” and “imbalance” in the law, adding that if Ms. Paczkowski were a man in the same position, the law might point toward a different ruling. But in the end, he left Jann with no contact with the boy. The decision devastated Ms. Paczkowski, 36. “You can see how angry and upset I am,” she said on a recent afternoon, seated beside her court-appointed lawyer after a morning spent moving cars for an auction house. She had not seen the boy since a brief visit on Mother’s Day. Children born to a married couple are legally presumed to belong to both spouses; for those born before a marriage — like J. and numerous children born to gay parents before the Marriage Equality Act — only the biological parent is presumed to be the parent.
I am not sure that this is some bias against gay people. The law in New York did allow for non-biological parents to adopt the children of their partners. For whatever reason Jann Paczkowski did not do that. So since there was no adoption the state went with Jamie Lechner as the sole parent. Although gays can marry and have children biology only allows one of them to be the biological parent. Heterosexuals are much less likely to have this issue, by definition.  LINK
This can be "fixed" legally but the flip side is that the fix wouldn't just apply to gay couples, who are after all an overwhelming minority of all couples. If New York allows non-biological and non-adoptive "parents" standing in custody or visitation cases that would mean that every girlfriend, boyfriend or ex-spouse would also have standing to sue for custody or visitation in every single type of living arrangement. That might be less than ideal. Or maybe that is what people want. I can't call it. It would also allow biological parents to sue every single boyfriend, girlfriend or ex-spouse for child support. That is definitely a bad idea in my opinion. I mean if you live with someone for a year or so and then decide that it's not working out do you really want them coming after you for support for a child that is not yours? Or perhaps you discover that Mr. or Miss Right is really horribly wrong and a substance abuser to boot so you leave. Should they be able to assert co-parenting rights to your child when they are not the biological or adoptive parent?

Moving to the Midwest, the state of Kansas, under the leadership of Republican Governor Sam Brownback took a shift far to the right on both cultural and economic issues with results that so far, at least economically have been been just short of disastrous.
One of the basic ideas that animates supply side neo-conservative economics is that tax rates on the wealthy, capital and/or corporations are too high. What needs to occur is that the tax rates on these segments of society should be lowered. This will be good for everyone because the wealthy will be inspired to invest more and hire more, available jobs will increase and those nasty government busybodies will have less funding with which to harass decent God fearing Americans. Low taxes= high prosperity. Well Kansas tried that. It didn't work. Instead of budget surpluses, low unemployment and solid revenue streams Kansas finds its job growth lagging the nation's, a gaping hole in its budget that must be plugged and cuts in the state's bond rating which of course means that the cost to borrow money will increase. This is not exactly what Brownback promised when he and his supporters pushed through significant cuts in both income and sales taxes to the point where some people of lower means were paying more in sales taxes than higher income people were paying in income taxes. Prosperity was evidently not just around the corner. Trickle down economics once again failed to deliver the goods. Obviously though I suppose it might depend on what you thought the "goods" were. If your preferred response to gaping revenue cuts is to then cut public spending (i.e. education) even further than possibly everything is working according to plan. The thing is though is that even other Kansas Republicans are starting to admit that things haven't gone according to plan and are beginning to distance themselves from Brownback's agenda. Brownback and his ilk may have tacked too far to the right.
HUTCHINSON, Kan. — In his 40 years living in Kansas, Konrad Hastings cannot remember voting for a Democrat. He is the type who agonizes over big purchases, trying to save as much money as possible. He is against stricter gun laws, opposes abortion in most cases and prefers less government involvement in his life. 
But when he casts his ballot for governor in November, he plans to shun the leader of this state’s conservative movement, the Republican incumbent, Sam Brownback, and vote for the Democratic challenger. 
“He’s leading Kansas down,” said Mr. Hastings, 68, who said he voted for Mr. Brownback four years ago, when he easily won his first term. “We’re going to be bankrupt in two or three years if we keep going his way.” Voters like Mr. Hastings are at the heart of Mr. Brownback’s surprising fight for political survival. Most criticism of Mr. Brownback has centered on the tax cuts, which slashed individual income tax rates and eliminated taxes on nonwage earnings for nearly 200,000 small businesses. The most recent fiscal year ended with state revenues more than $300 million short of expectations. Based on decreased revenue from the tax cuts, the state’s nonpartisan legislative research department estimates that the budget will have to be adjusted by $1.3 billion, either through spending cuts or additional revenue, over the next five years in order to remain balanced.
Opponents of the governor have used this to stoke fears that he would cut vital services. Both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have downgraded Kansas’ credit rating.
People obviously have different ideas about abortion, gay marriage, gun control and so on but when you start messing with their money everyone tends to notice. States are generally required to have balanced budgets so if there is a shortfall either taxes must increase or spending must decline. Different political groups have different preferences for which choices should be made and that's fine. What's not fine is pretending that there is a free lunch. If you cut taxes, generally revenue is going to drop. There is a political class that is entirely invested in pretending that this isn't true but it is. Now the bill is coming due in Kansas.  Governor Brownback has a 7 point lead over his Democratic challenger, which is pretty close for a reliably Republican state like Kansas. Time will tell what political choice Kansans make but once again it should be obvious to people that trickle down economics is very good at cutting taxes on the wealthy, on capitalists or corporations. It is somewhat limited however when it comes to producing prosperity for everyone, all else equal.

What's your take on these two stories?

Do you think that a non-biological gay parent should be treated the same as a biological heterosexual parent?

Will Governor Brownback be re-elected? Are tax cuts the way to prosperity?

blog comments powered by Disqus