January 16 2014
Do Lithuanian children in homosexual families have rights?

I’ve heard my mother talking to the lawyer that if my other mother died, I’d have to leave my room and go to an orphanage, to the other family or go back to my dad who I’m not even talking to.’ These are not fantasies, but a real situation revealing how unsafe a child growing in a homosexual family is.

Do Lithuanian children in homosexual families have rights?

I’ve heard my mother talking to the lawyer that if my other mother died, I’d have to leave my room and go to an orphanage, to the other family or go back to my dad who I’m not even talking to.’ These are not fantasies, but a real situation revealing how unsafe a child growing in a homosexual family is.

By Evelina Garnelytė, Akvilė Žaromskytė, Miglė Narkevičiūtė

There aren’t many discussions about this topic in the public space in Lithuania, as the society has a common understanding that there aren’t many homosexual families in Lithuania.Evelina, Akvile and Migle –participants of the Journalism Education Programme – decided to  investigate what the future holds for children from such families and what kind of problems they‘re already facing.

‘Oh, you’re in love – that’s great, we’ll have a wedding,’ this is how a five-year-old Mija responded when she got to know her mother Laura has a  girlfriend called Vaiva [all names are changed – authors].

‘Our society doesn’t even want to begin to think that homosexual couples already have children. This hurts the most – we have children and  we’d like to take care of them,’ says Ugne who together with her partner Jurgita, is raising a six-year-old Matas [name changed – authors].  Matas was born from her heterosexual relationship. He’s is seriously ill and is a frequent guest at various hospitals.

According to the Lithuanian law, families raising children with disabilities can get a state compensation for a car. Does Ugne and Jurgita’s son has the same right to get to the hospital with a car, or he’d have to use public transportation when his health condition worsens?

Matas is Ugne’s biological son. An agile six-year-old is seriously ill, but the boy is curious about people, he likes music and being in charge.

But things for his mothers are not that easy. Matas has to be taken to the doctors or stay in hospitals frequently. If the boy has to stay at the hospital longer, the only ones who can stay with him all night are either his mother, or other official family members. Because the civil partnership law still hasn’t passed– Jurgita can’t help – she has no rights to the son of her beloved woman.

Yet, there are some solutions: women can go to the notary and write a legal document officially allowing Jurgita to take care of the child. But it’s inconceivable that both women, being Lithuanian citizens, have to go extra miles to make sure their rights are met. ‘These things don’t happen in traditional families,’ assures Ugne.

The six-year-old also has a biological father, but, according to his mothers, the man is not taking care of the boy. ‘To tell you frankly, the father only shows interest in the kid once or twice a year. He exists, but the boy has rare opportunities to spend time with him,’ says Matas’ mother. She claims the dad knows nothing about Matas illness, he’s not aware of what kind of medicine and when the child takes. Therefore, if something happens to Ugne, or, in the worst case scenario, she dies and is not able to take care of her child; the custody of Matas would belong to the person who knows nothing about the boy. ‘It is absurd that if something happened to me, Jurgita wouldn’t be allowed to take care of Matas,” says his mother.

During a year and a half when a couple is together the boy got attached to Jurgita and recognizes her as a family member. ‘The boy is really devoted to her – if he hurts himself, it is Jurgita he runs to first, not me,’ laughs Ugne.

Theoretically, Jurgita has a chance to become Matas’ legal guardian. But the abundance of laws and all the confusion makes the women wonder who’d get the priority for custody – a biological family member, or a “stranger” who has been recently taking care of the boy? At the case of divorce of heterosexual family, children of certain age can choose who they want to live with. Would the same principle be adapted to a child growing in a same sex family, which, according to the Lithuanian law is not legally considered a family? What should Matas, who can’t express his wishes in words, because adults don’t recognize lesbian families and just won’t listen to him, do in such case? What would happen to him if something happened to Ugne? Would he have a right to choose who to grow up with?

Don’t see, don’t hear and don’t act – no problem?

Problems of the family don’t end here. According to the Lithuanian law, a family having a child with disability is allocated a certain amount of money to buy a car. However, the biological mother of Matas doesn’t have a driving license. Jurgita can drive, but legally she’s not considered to be a family member, therefore, they can’t get the compensation. ‘We had bought the car with our own money, so this situation is solved. On the other hand, a similar family whose financial situation is more difficult would not be able to solve it,’ says Ugne. The car is the necessity for this family because for the women in order to take care of the child, as they have to visit the hospital on a daily basis.

The little one also attends kindergarten, where the model of Ugne and Jurgita’s family is implied, but the women say they don’t feel any resistance. ‘I think they suspect we’re homosexual, but we have not faced any problems because of that. I can sign all documents and bills, there aren’t any disruptions when I come to pick up Matas as well,’ says Jurgita.

But what about the boy – isn’t he bullied by his peers? ‘No, he’s the coolest there,’ laughs Matas’ second mother. Ugne adds that everybody at the kindergarten is tolerant. ‘Nannies show interest in him, ask about him – they love Matas and don’t act differently with him. We have not met any obvious discrimination,’ assures Ugne.

The only thing that’s hurting these women is that the society is deaf to the problems of children growing in homosexual families. ‘It looks like they are asking us what do we want– if we want to make love, we should go and do it and not talk about it. But they don’t care that there’s way more to just bed relationships,’ says Ugne. Jurgita adds that the society thinks being homosexual is just about making love and do nothing else. ‘Nobody cares about the fact that we live, pay taxes, work, raise children and want to educate them,’ says Jurgita. She is sure that children are actually better-off in the same sex families. ‘It’s because such families are always under magnifying glass. They know that if something is not right, all institution will come rushing down.’

Two decades of self-lie

Before meeting Ugne, Jurgita had been married for 2 decades years. She had raised 2 children with her ex-husband. Her story defeats the myth that people learn to be homosexuals or that it comes from family. ‘Jurgita is from the family of 8 and she’s the only one who is homosexual. Where has she learned to be homosexual is still a mystery,’ ironies women.

Jurgita says the most difficult part is to acknowledge to yourself that you’re homosexual. ‘In the beginning you try very hard to be good to your husband and children. Living the ways others do you sort of build a perfect model. But when time passes you start feel guilty, as if you’ve used your husband in order to show you’re also living a ‘normal’ life. This inner conflict starts to burst outside, you start fighting with your partner, the kids feel this, they feel everything,’ says Jurgita. She remembers the families from the little town she’s from where violence is a common thing and adds: ‘Is it better to have a violent father who loves the mother only at those rare moments when he’s sober, or the two women who really love each other and there’s no breaking of dishes, fighting or head traumas? What is better for a child?’

Eight-year-old Mija: ‘I live in a wealthy family with two moms and a dad’

‘Oh, you’re in love – that’s great, we’ll have a wedding,’ this was the response of a five-year-old Mija when she got to know that her mother Laura has a girlfriend called Vaiva. She says it wasn’t easy for her to enter into little one’s life. ‘It’s evident that when someone new appears in her mother’s life, she naturally feels concerned,’ says Vaiva. But after three years, an eight-year-old girl now says she’s living in a wealthy family – she has 2 moms and a dad.

Differently from Ugne and Jurgita, the dad of Mija is taking care of her. Laura’s ex-husband lives in another city, but his connection with the child is not weaker. ‘Neither divorce, nor my appearance has made a great influence to their relationship, the dad is keeping a close relationship with the girl,’ says Vaiva and adds: ‘We’d be happy if not the hatred of the society.’ When asked if she’d like to live with mom and dad, Mija answers that ‘it would be the most fun for all of us to live in Sweden where my grandmother and dad would live in the same city as us.’

Mija’s family talks a lot about diversity. The girl explains diversity as ‘an opportunity to do what a person wants to do for real, when he or she can love whoever they want.’ The family says they had faced homophobia when Mija started going to school, where everyone “different” is looked at with suspicion. ‘We had to deal with teachers who don’t have enough knowledge about questions of sex and they don’t want to broader their viewpoint, try to understand sexuality in a broader context. I can only hope that understanding about the world and tolerance does not only come from school,’ says Vaiva.

Being only eight years old, Laura and Vaiva’s daughter has to lose years of childhood, grow up and learn to lie. Being self-conscious, Mija started to control and limit herself so she wouldn’t blurt she lives with two mothers. She’s sure – her friends would not understand. ‘It’s obvious the child is stressed to be in the environment where nobody can be totally honest.  She’s afraid to be rejected,’ says Mija’s mother.

As any other child, Mija has dreams and she’s thinking about her future. ‘When I was six, I realized I won’t fall in love with a girl and I am not planning on having children as well. But I love animals and I’d like to work with it,’ dreams Mija.

Who’s responsible for the violation of children rights?

Both Mija and Matas, who are now growing up in the country that does not guarantee them and their mothers the legal and social security, are already disadvantaged. The ‘second’ mother they love as much as the biological one is legally ‘invisible’ and can’t give them the security they need. Mija would like to spend the festival of the beginning of new school year with both Laima and Vaiva, but the latter can’t get the half day off work that legally belongs to all parents on that day. If these children get sick, the “second” mother won’t be able to nurse them. And these examples are just little episodes of problems that children face in our society.

When someone starts talking about the civil partnership law that would legalize same sex relationship or marriage part of the society is against it, the other part seems to be OK with it until such couples are not allowed to adopt children. While we close our eyes, little ones in our society grow up not feeling safe; they are bullied for being “different”.

Is this what the society, that says is fighting for children rights, is aiming for? The main argument against adoption into same sex families is the negative reaction of the society and possible bad influence to the child. But whose problem is it: the society’s that’s ignoring the “different”, or the most vulnerable citizens’ of Lithuania, who have the same rights to live, grow and mature in a true family?