I’ve talked at length here about why marriage equality is important. And for the most part, I’m fairly certain my regular readers agree with me. This isn’t for them. This is for them to share with their friends and family. This is for anyone who needs to go toe-to-toe with a friend or family member on why marriage equality is important.
It’s not the tax breaks. It’s not the insurance benefits. It’s not about big weddings or the ability to change our last names.
It’s about the children.
See, gay people want the same things straight people do. Find love, have a family, grow old together. But just like in straight relationships, things happen – people fall out of love; circumstances change; people go their separate ways. No harm, no foul, right?
I have a friend. She’s the sweetest, most honest, genuine person you’ll ever meet. I met her about 12 years ago. She was married to her wife (N) in a big ceremony, despite the lack of legality tied to it. She and her wife professed their love for one another in front of God and their families and friends. Not long after, a beautiful baby girl was born by way of N. My friend, A, was as much of a mother to their daughter as anyone could be. She woke for middle of the night feedings, changed dirty diapers, delighted in first steps and first words, and soothed her when she was sick.
A and N broke up. But their breakup occurred before California’s domestic partnership law included child custody provisions. It wasn’t until 2005, with the enactment of AB 205, that the Domestic Partnership law (originally enacted in 1999) conferred upon gay and lesbian couples most of the rights and responsibilities of legal marriage, including the right to child custody, visitation, and child support. (Continuing Education of the Bar). So when N decided to move 3000 miles away and take their daughter with her, there was nothing A could do about it.
Imagine. Your child. Miles and miles away, being kept from you against your will and little legal recourse to do a damned thing about it. You miss birthdays. Milestones. First days of school. Recitals. Soccer games. Years go by and you wonder if they even know how much you love them. It’s been years since you heard your child say “I love you,” or held their tiny little hand in yours, or comforted them when they were scared.
Marriage equality? Tell my friend it doesn’t matter. If she and N had been legally married, she would have rights to their daughter. Rights to see her, be a part of her life, and yes, responsibilities to help support her. Here is a woman who desperately WANTS to be a part of her child’s life, and through the deception and lies of an ex, is being forcibly kept from her child.
Parenthood isn’t about DNA. Parenthood is about who is there when it matters. She was there. And she would STILL be there if the law allowed her to fight for her daughter the way she should be allowed to.
Marriage? Forget your religious misinterpretations and your tradition and your “it’s the way it’s been for hundreds of years” and think of a 12-year old girl halfway across the country from a mother who has always loved her – who hasn’t been allowed to see or talk to her mother in 5 years. Think of a mother who has scrambled to exhaust every legal opportunity she can afford to fight for her daughter while battling an ex who does everything she can to keep her away.
Is this the message we want to send our children? That their parents only matter if one is a man and one is a woman? That their relationships with their parents hinge on the whims of an angry ex rather than the letter of the law?
In a few weeks, my friend will get the opportunity to see her daughter for the first time in 6 years. It may or may not be the reunion she is hoping for, that her friends are all hoping for her. My friend is tired, and hurt, and heartbroken. The fight is breaking her, and all she wants is to be part of her daughter’s life.
Marriage matters, and it’s not about whether or not you can understand how or why two women or two men would want to make a life together. The fact is, two women and two men make lives together all the time, whether you want to “endorse” it or not. And those relationships have children in them. Isn’t it time we tell those children that their parents belong to them? That they can count on us to make sure their parents take care of them, whether they stay together or not? That their moms or their dads are no less worthy of the rights and responsibilities that come with being a parent simply by nature of who they love? You may not be able to understand how a woman can love another woman, but surely you can understand the love a parent has for her child.
Today, in California, the Domestic Partnership law has given myself and H the rights that my friend so desperately needs. Across the country, gays and lesbians live in states like Colorado and Florida that afford no protection in the event a child’s parents split up. And it’s not just about relationships that break up. These states offer no protection in the event a non-biological parent dies – no survivor’s benefits, no social security, no rights to the parent’s estate.
Marriage matters. Gays and lesbians deserve better than second-class citizenship. In a world where we purport to tell our children to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” or live by the golden rule, don’t we have a responsibility to live by example?