Friday, January 20, 2012

Another Straight Gal for Marriage Equality

Last month, a married couple I know had to pay legal fees of $3000 for one spouse to adopt the couple's newborn child. This isn't one of those step-parent, blended family, post divorce situations. The couple, two women, had been legally married for years. One of them is their child's biological mother.

The other mom had to adopt their child to ensure she would have full parental rights in the event that the biological mom became incapacitated or died before their child reached the age of majority.

This is nonsense, of course. Old, patrician statutes in most states bestow full parental rights on a married woman's husband, whether he's the biological father of the infant in question or not. So why can't a gay spouse benefit from the same presumption?

I was shocked to hear the lesbian couple in question had to jump through extra legal hoops. Although perhaps I shouldn't have been.

Consider for a moment, three scenarios:

Case A: Married heterosexual couple, unable to conceive due to male infertility, use donor sperm and woman's own egg. She carries pregnancy. Live birth results. Husband listed on birth certificate as parent. No further action indicated. He has full parental rights.

Case B: One half of lesbian married couple becomes pregnant using donor sperm, carries pregnancy, live birth results. Wife listed on birth certificate in a state recognizing gay marriage must still adopt the child to have full parental rights, simplify eventual estate planning, etc. Cost runs about $3000 for the adoption, at least here in Massachusetts.

Case C: Unmarried heterosexual woman gives birth to her biological child. She names the father on child's birth certificate. He gets all the parental rights the law grants a married heterosexual man. No adoption/legal proceedings/out of pocket costs required.

Anyone else find this scheme fundamentally unfair?

Those who claim "civil unions" are every bit as good as marriage often argue that issues including custody, visitation and inheritance can be addressed through the creation and execution of legal contracts. Seven states and DC allow gay couples to marry. The other states should be forced to recognize these marriages under the U.S. Constitution's full faith and credit clause, but that issue will probably take years to settle in the courts. In the meantime the IRS doesn't need to give gay married couples any tax benefits reserved for married heterosexual folks. And there are some, particularly where incomes are unequal, or when it comes to the taxable aspects of dying, or if the gay married couple moves to a state without gay marriage and decides to divorce.

Gay couples and especially gay parents, even in places like Massachusetts, need to fork out a sort of second class citizen surcharge, in the form of legal fees, to make their rights whole. And while the Obama administration has refused to enforce the patently discriminatory Federal Defense of Marriage Act, his challengers love riling up the right wing base with all their silly "sanctity of marriage between and man and a woman" rhetoric.

Never mind that his two front-running challengers are the progeny of a polygamist and a serial cheater-slash-divorcer, who happens to call himself Roman Catholic regardless. But I digress.

Marriage equality isn't about the government forcing any church to bless any union its leaders find unworthy of their sanction. That's one of the many beautiful things about the first amendment: Any citizen has a right to join a bigoted congregation of his or her choice, without fear of government interference.

Marriage equality is about equal treatment in the eyes of the law. Obama's refusal to enforce the draconian DOMA statute isn't an attack on faith; it's a brave stand for civil rights.

The harpies who pander for votes by saying the "institution of marriage" suffers when two consenting gay adults make a public, legally binding commitment to each other have yet to explain why they believe such nonsense. Likely answer: xenophobia.

Yet we heterosexuals are free to marry and divorce as frequently as we can stomach doing so. We can run off to City Hall with someone we just met, tie the knot, inherit property, own things jointly, and attach parental rights. We can also change our minds and scrap the whole thing months, weeks, or even days later. Regardless of where we happen to be living at the moment the arrangement turns sour. No hoops. No strings.

Shouldn't all our fellow Americans have those same rights, no hoops to jump or strings to detach?


  1. Well said. When it comes down to it, marriage has just as much sanctity as the people involved grace it with, no more or less. What it has outside that scope is legality; and your friends, and mine, deserve to be legally responsible to their families. Isn't accepting responsibility for and to others the point of marriage in the first place?

    Peace, Mari