Does My Same-Sex Couple Status Make My Family Different Than Yours?
By: Heather Somaini
I remember talking to my mom years ago about the importance of legalized marriage for same-sex couples. She had a hard time discerning the difference between a civil union and marriage. If we had the same rights, who cares what they called it, right? The problem was then and still is today, that society sees the two very differently. When it comes to same-sex families, this issue is of the utmost importance.
I asked my mom a question. If she had to prove that she was married to my dad, could she? She wasn’t sure and only after a good bit of thought, she sort of maybe remembered where their marriage certificate was. I explained that in the event of a tragedy like a car accident, if she were asked who the comatose man with her was and she replied “my husband”, no one would question her from that moment forward. She would be the person responsible for his medical care, the person who would make all decisions for him and be allowed to be with him at all times. At no point would she have to “prove” that she was his wife and de facto decision maker.
If Tere and I were in that same tragic accident, I would not be given the same benefit of the doubt. I mean, it’s possible in New York or Los Angeles that paramedics would believe me initially but at some point, someone is going to want to see a legal document saying that I have authority to make decisions for Tere if she were in an incapacitated state. But most likely, in any other part of the country, I would be required to not only prove my relationship to my spouse but also my children. I would be required to show and prove that I had Tere’s Medical Power of Attorney and even if I did all of this, I may not be allowed to see her or make decisions on her behalf. Depending on what state we’re in, it could be much worse.
It’s not fair to require some families to carry “papers” but that’s what we do. None of us wants to be caught in the wrong state without any rights. The first document we got and always travel with is the kids’ birth certificates. As a gay parent, it’s your first line of legal defense. It is proof that they exist and that you are their parent.
I remember being so prepared for that trip to the birth certificate office at Cedars Sinai Hospital. I had all the paperwork filled out including the most important document – our Certificate of Registration of Domestic Partnership. In California in the Spring of 2007, they were required to put me down as the second parent but I expected a bureaucratic mess. I arrived in that small office with one new dad in front of me. They explained what he needed to do to claim paternity for his child. It was sort of funny that we were both doing the same thing since I would also be listed as “father” on the birth certificate.
It was my turn and I was prepared to explain my situation until I was blue in the face and I was listed on the birth certificate. The woman looked at my paperwork. I waited patiently, anxiously. She asked a couple of questions. I mentioned that I had our domestic partnership documentation and began to pull it out of my file. She waved me off and said “I believe you.”
Really? That was it? My big civil rights fight was reduced to “I believe you”? Maybe we really were moving ahead in the world. Or then again, maybe I live in the second largest city in the country and they had seen a few families like ours. And they just didn’t think anything about it.
I always travel with copies of the kids’ birth certificates with us, and we’ve never once needed them to prove parentage. We have used them a couple times to prove their age but that’s about it. I guess at the end of the day, our family isn’t much different than anyone else’s. Isn’t that the way it should be?
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