In the comments to an earlier post, an Alas reader asks, in essence, what is the purpose of marriage?
In my opinion, the purpose of marriage is to allow people to form new families, and to have our new families recognized by society. This is beneficial for adults (who get the security and benefits of choosing their own family – from the moment of marriage on, one’s spouse is universally recognized to be one’s closest family member), and for children (who get the security of growing up in a legally and socially acknowledged family).
Of course, lesbians and gay men aren’t allowed these benefits – and neither are their children.
Over on the Family Scholar’s Blog, Elizabeth Marquardt wonders why “almost all of the pro-SSM opeds writers I’m reading, and the activists I’m seeing on TV and hearing on the radio, are gay men” rather than lesbian mothers.
My suspicion is that the reason the media publishes more male opinions on same-sex marriage is that the media publishes more male opinions, period. (But aren’t women more involved with same-sex marriage than with other issues, you might ask? Well, I might answer, it’s not as if we see more female voices op-editorializing on poverty or the minimum wage – issues that, statistically, involve women more than men).
In any case, since Elizabeth is interested in reading more lesbian voices on this issue, I recommend she begin with this essay, originally published by Lady Sisphus’ livejournal. (Because I know most readers don’t follow most links, and because this essay needs to be read by as many people as possible, I’m reprinting the entire thing here).
I am a widow. The law doesn’t say so. My tax form doesn’t say so; neither do any of the countless forms that I fill out that include marital status say so. But every time I check off the box that says single I want to scream and white it out and write, “widow”. But I am a Lesbian who has lost her female partner so in most places I am not accorded the status of “widow”. When it came time to settle my partner’s estate, I was a class D beneficiary — no relationship what so-ever-a roommate, a friend, the lady next door.
It does not seem to matter that we lived in a monogamous loving relationship for 31 years or that we co-parented 3 wonderful children. It does not seem to matter that those children have severe developmental disabilities and although they are now legally adults I continue to be a single parent — what am I thinking-we were each always single parents!!! Our home, our cars, our belongings-the law said that they legally are separately hers and mine so I will pay taxes on half of all we owned.– after all I am not a legal widow anymore than I was a legal wife or a legal co-parent.
Backing up a few years: You shouldn’t have to lie when you are in a committed relationship, but when the law doesn’t legalize or even recognize your union, sometimes you are forced to do so. While the courts here in New Jersey now allow second parent adoption of children of partners in same-sex relationships, it was not always so. We had to adopt our sons as single parents, making us in effect 2 distinct households. I will never forget the day one of our sons needed to be hospitalized-the one who bears my partners surname. I was at home alone with him. Good thing Pat and I looked somewhat alike in a poor photograph-I wound up taking one of her employee Ids with me, said I had forgotten my license in the rush as a friend had driven us up, and was very glad for once for his limited speech and that he called me “Ma”!
Our lives forever changed in June 1999 when Pat was diagnosed with Bulbar onset ALS, one of the faster progressing forms of Lou Gherigh’s disease and simultaneously but coincidentally with breast cancer. I quickly found out that while I could take a personal unpaid leave of absence with the approval of my direct supervisor, I was not entitled to government protected family care leave. We were fortunate that Pat was able to work for eight months after her diagnosis and was able to stay at home alone in the house for a few more months with a lot of modifications and adaptations to our house and family routine. I went to work with my cell phone turned on volume loud, and my heart and head in both places at once. When the time came that she needed my care and love 24/7 I took that leave of absence. Not only did I lose my salary, we had to pay premiums for 2 separate family cobras in order to maintain our health insurance. Cobra is a lifesaver, but don’t let anyone ever tell you that it comes cheaply. Everyone still had to eat and the bills still had to be paid. I don’t have to tell you what happened to my bank account during those 9 months.
We had wonderful compassionate doctors who did not question or ask proof that I was Pat’s “sister” and allowed me to be there and sometimes stay over-night in the hospital. We had signed POA and medical POA forms for each other and had living wills, so all of those combined got us through the hospital legalize. But you know what-when the person you love can barely be understood and is dying no one needs extra layers of stress, second guessing, and underlying fears that someone in authority has the ability to keep you out of her room or out of medical decision making. Had her parents been alive they would have had that power. A hospital administrator could have done the same-all for the lack of a legal document.
- There is a common misconception that with proper legal counsel, domestic partners can obtain for themselves most of the necessary protections offered by society to married couples by combining the necessary wills, POAs, property deeds , trusts, etc. When it came time to settle her estate I learned a very hard lesson about some of the protections to which a legal marriage entitles spouses-protections that are denied to partners in equally committed unions.
- Let’s start with the house-our home. -50% of the current value of our house, property, & furnishings were subject to both Federal and State inheritance taxes. I wasn’t selling it- the kids and I continue to live there, maintain the house, and pay taxes.
- We had a car, RV, and towing vehicle, all registered in Pat’s name, as I did not drive at the time. Half of the cost of each came out of my paycheck but I had no way to prove that-and I paid taxes on 100% of their market value. We were not selling those either. The kids love camping.
- We had some CDs in both of our names-the bank informed me that in jointly held cds, the first to die is considered the owner and the co-owner a beneficiary-taxed again on 100% of their face value.
- Bank accounts that we held jointly had 50% of their value frozen until the estate was settled and all taxes paid-a process that took a year and of course that 50% was subject to inheritance taxes.
- I was very fortunate that I was named beneficiary of Pat’s pension-but that too came with inheritance taxes on the total amount of the pension that had to be paid up front. The Pension will come as an annuity over a 10-year period.
- Her IRA and personal bank account were all taxed on 100% of their face value.
- It was very fortunate for us that when Pat’s illness forced her to retire she was able to purchase a conversion life insurance policy which we took in spite of its very high premiums. 65% of that life insurance was needed to pay the inheritance taxes-most of which were on unliquidated or yet to be realized assets.
All of this talk about cold-hard cash! I suppose it makes me sound like a money hungry bitch — but please remember that our 3 sons have special needs and will need my support and nurture for many many years to come. We were a family — socially, spiritually, blessed with children, fully committed to each other until death do us part. Death did, and in the eyes of the government it never existed.
One of the nicest things that happened to our family recently was that the lawyer I consulted to set up special needs trusts for the boys suggested appealing to the court for an adult-adoption/second parent adoption of our oldest son. It was expensive-had to have a separate court appointed attorney represent my son in addition to my attorney-but it was wonderful when the Judge said to my son in words he only vaguely understood “When I sign this paper, what has always been true in fact ,will now be true by law, – that you are all one family.” I am sure that Pat was our witness from Heaven and cosigned it with her love.
This is what the same-sex marriage debate is all about: the equal right to form a family. Lesbians and gays – and their children – need the same right to form recognized families that straights take for granted.
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