News: Fleeing Discrimination

Lesbian couple moving from Ohio to protect child

Apr 20, 2005 at 2:06 pm
Matt Borgerding

Andrea Cosnowsky is moving to a less homophobic state.

Chalk one up for Ohio's anti-gay forces. They're one family closer to their godly Promised Land. Andrea (Andie) and Jane Cosnowsky are leaving because family values newly enshrined in the state's anti-gay constitution threaten their son's well-being.

"We're not coming back to Ohio," Andie says. "We're not coming back to Cincinnati."

Andie, 37, is toddler Jacob's guardian. Jane, 41, her partner, is Jacob's birth mother. Ohio's ban on gay marriage bars Andie from stepparent adoption, and she says Ohio doesn't allow second-parent adoption for heteros or homosexuals.

So the women are moving to a less homophobic state; they asked that it not be named. There, as adoptive second parent, Andie will be irrevocably on Jacob's birth certificate.

"Until then, I'm vulnerable and so is he and I don't want to live that way," Andie says. "We're leaving because we want to protect Jacob from what could potentially happen. ... It's not responsible to bring a child into the world and not protect him to the highest level that you're capable of."

If Jane were unable to care for Jacob, an elected Ohio judge might give him to Jane's family if it contested Andie's guardianship. That's a remote possibility, Andie says, but such a challenge is working its way through West Virginia courts now.

"It could happen," she says. "I'm not a gambler."

When they moved here in 2000, the couple knew about Cincinnati's unique anti-gay city charter. But, marriage wasn't their issue. They can live without it.

The second line in the 2004 anti-gay constitutional amendment "changed everything."

Scott Knox, a Cincinnati lawyer whose practice includes issues of gay and lesbian family life, confirmed the couple's understanding of the law.

Passed last fall as Issue 1, the constitutional amendment says, "This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage."

So much for adoption and Jacob having two parents in Ohio.

The amendment also threatens or undoes protections on which the couple spent thousands in lawyers' fees to approximate rights routinely granted by marriage.

Andie and Jane met as aspiring songwriters in Nashville. They became a couple about 10 years ago and came out publicly when Andie began her five-year preparation for ordination as a Reform rabbi at Cincinnati's Hebrew Union College (HUC).

They lived together in Israel, where first-year rabbinic students immerse themselves in Hebrew. When Andie's class returned to the United States, the couple neither hid their relationship nor became "in your face" lesbian activists.

As Andie recently told Beth Adam, the suburban Cincinnati congregation where she was rabbi, "Our hope was that, if we paid our taxes and were good citizens and neighbors, maybe people would see that we were just like them."

It apparently worked, Andie says, praising congregants, classmates, teachers and administrators at HUC and neighbors in Reading and Amberley Village.

HUC ordained Andie last year and created a fund-raising job for her. To protect Jacob, she's leaving a seminary and job she loved. Andie will be an assistant rabbi in their new community.

Jane is a convert to Judaism.

"It was important to me to tell Jane early on that if we were going to have a future together I wanted to have a Jewish family," Andie says. "Plus I knew I'd one day pursue the rabbinate, and having a non-Jewish partner would mean I would not be allowed to get into HUC."

Jane, who took Andie's family name to simplify Jacob's life, is a computer firewall maven, a "manager of engineering security" for a local firm. Andie says Jane's boss asked her to stay with the company and work from home when they settle.

Conversation keeps returning to Jacob.

"Both of us thought we wanted children," Andie says. "Making the decision about who should carry the baby was pretty easy. Jane always wanted to have a baby and I always didn't want to. Finally, when rabbinical school was almost finished, we realized that she was out of time and I was out of excuses."

Jane gave birth almost 13 months ago after artificial insemination.

Further children?

"We would love to give Jacob a sibling," Andie says. "It was our plan that we'd try again."

Under the contract with the donor service, "We have a few more tries left," she says.

To further protect any child Jane might bear and Andie would adopt, they opted for an anonymous sperm donor who signed away rights to any offspring.

"As long as we had the option to choose a donor, we figured we'd try to give the child the great opportunities to succeed in life, so we looked for a donor who was tall and has good SAT scores," Andie says.

Religion didn't matter; Jewish tradition says a child is Jewish if the mother is Jewish. Jane is Jewish. Jacob's father isn't.

But tall mattered. Both women are about 5-feet-9. Potential Jewish sperm donors were short. ©