Dave has a post up over at Adamant Sun about receiving news that his sister got married, and it pretty much sums up what probably goes though the minds of a lot of gay couples every time they get a wedding invitation in the mail, or hear news of a family member getting married. I know it goes through mine. And it goes something like this.
I love her dearly and am glad for her and wish her the best, but it doesn’t go unnoticed that she can exchange vows and automatically be granted access to 1,000 federal benefits, rights and privileges, and over 700 state benefits, rights and privileges even though she’s not planning on starting a family or anything, and here we are with a 3 year old, and we can’t afford health insurance, we’re not guaranteed anything on a federal level and my daughter doesn’t get the basic protections and stable support systems for her home that other families (or simply other couples get).
She knows I love her dearly and wish her only the best, and mean nothing by this, beyond the fact that I just think it’s not fair that my family cannot have what she can. I won’t get spousal Social Security like she will and if something happened to Toney, I would definitely need financial help because I have a child. My sister would automatically get it, and she is self sufficient and has no kids in the house (except through this coming fall/winter). You know what I mean?
Boy do I ever. Of course, it would be considered "bad form" to respond to a wedding invitation or news of a loved-one’s recent marriage with the realities Dave laid out in his post, even with people whom we know "get it" when it comes to the rights and protections our families do without. I can’t speak for Dave’s sister, but I’m willing to bet she "gets it," due in no small part to her brother. But we can’t always assume our friends and family "get it."
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with my sister several years after I came out to her. She’d been supportive since that event, and I’d kept her abreast of my activism on gay & lesbian issues. It happened once while I was visiting home that we started talking about marriage and I mentioned that I, of course, couldn’t legally get married.
She was astounded. I had to spell out for her that I could stand up in any church or other venue and exchange vows with a male partner, but that those vows would afford us none of the rights and protections afforded heterosexual married couples, from hospital visitation on down the line. She was still astounded. Even now, with all the legal documents we’ve had created, we have maybe 3 or 4 of the 1,049 right federal rights and protections based on marital status, and none of the state-relalted benefits because we live in a state without domestic partnership or civil union.
Maybe we need to be having these conversations with our friends and family, bad form or not, because the people who know and love us and our families may have a visceral grasp of what’s at stake. Raising a family is a bit like a high wire act, and those 1,049+ rights and protections function as a kind of safety net when the wire gets wobbly and a family is thrown off balance by illness, loss, etc. Gay parenting is no less a high wire act. The difference is that not only are we often working with out a net (or with a net full of gaping holes), but it’s often the equivalent of a high wire act working without a net over, say, the Grand Canyon.
We need to make sure the people who actually give a shit if we fall understand just what’s at stake if, sans net, a good strong wind comes along midway over the Grand Canyon.