Twelve and a half years ago, the love of my life and I promised to love and care for each other “until death do us part”. We had a lovely backyard ceremony with flowers and music. Our family and friends dressed up, brought gifts, and ate the delicious banquet of food and drinks we provided for them. It was fabulous! Sounds like a marriage ceremony, but here’s the catch…we were never legally married.
Why? We weren’t allowed to get married. It was and still is against the law where we live. You see, we are both women – female – xx chromosomes. That’s it. That’s the only reason we were denied this basic legal right.
In the United States of America, a legal marriage grants over 1,100 federal benefits and around 300 state benefits. So how has this made our lives different? What do we miss out on? What have we had to sacrifice?
In the beginning, we had to pay $300 to legally change our names. We then had to hire an attorney to create legal documents such as power of attorney and living wills in order to be able to make decisions for each other as much as legally possible.
Then we had children: boy/girl twins and then another boy. That was and still is the area that most concerns us about not having a legally recognized marriage. Our children are not legally both of ours! In the state we live in, we have no ability to grant each other legal custody of our biological children.
What this means is our oldest two – the twins, whom were birthed by me, are legally only mine. Our youngest son, whom was birthed by my would-be wife Kathleen, legally belongs only to her. She has no legal rights to the oldest two and I have no legal rights to our youngest. She cannot leave survivor benefits to the oldest and I cannot to the youngest. Her employer does not have to recognize the oldest two as hers for purposes of insurance or family leave.
Her military benefits (she’s in the National Guard) do not apply to our oldest two children (or me of course). Moreover, we had to have an attorney draw up powers of attorney granting us the ability to make decisions such as medical decisions for our own children and wills expressing our desires for each other to become legal guardians of our children in the case of one of our deaths.
Luckily, Kathleen works for a company that does provide her with insurance for her domestic partner (me) and the children of her domestic partner (our twins). We do have to pay federal taxes on these benefits though and we would not if we had a legally recognized marriage. Still, we feel it is a benefit that we are grateful for and hope that she never has to get a job with another company that does not offer that benefit.
The scariest of all scariest possibilities with not having a legally recognized marriage is if my beloved Kathleen should die before our children are raised. Beyond the immense grief of such an event, I legally don’t have rights as next of kin. Her legal family has the legal ability to make decisions and could fight for custody of our youngest son, despite our wills because judges have been known to overrule them in cases of gay parents. Of course, we assume this would never happen, but the fact that it is legally a possibility is frightening enough.
Kathleen is also the sole income provider in our family. I am not able to receive survivor benefits with social security, to draw on her social security or to receive her military spousal benefits. Nor could our oldest two children receive any survivor or military benefits. So I’ve just told her she can’t die. It’s simply not allowed. Of course she’s demanded the same request of me and I’ve gratefully obliged so far.
My sweet love and I have made a pact to always stay together and raise our children. We have agreed to make our relationship work no matter how difficult it may get at times. Beyond our personal reasons for agreeing to this is the real fact that we have no legal protection for our children if we did not. There are no laws to insure that our children are provided for by both parents.
There are no legal agreements as to custody or visitation. Her company would not provide health insurance to her oldest two children (our twins) anymore. There is no alimony or child support. Any money Kathleen provided of her own free will to me or our oldest two would not receive the tax breaks of alimony or child support for her or me. So we just won’t ever separate! That’s our plan and we’re sticking to it.
As you can see, there are real tangible legal and financial benefits to having a legally recognized marriage. There are over 1000 more that I haven’t even listed here! All of the extra expenses, legal hassles, worries and concerns for our children could have all been avoided if we were afforded the same legal right to be granted a $30 marriage license.
This is an original post to the World Moms Blog Human Rights column by Beverly Prince-Sayward from Michigan, USA. She can be found at psbev.blogspot.com.
Photo credit to the author.
Good grief! That sounds archaic and down right mean to me. I hope there are changes in law soon…and, PS, you look so happy together. 🙂
Thank you. We are really happy together. 🙂
Life just is not fair. That’s a fact!
If you got married in a country where your marriage is legal, would the USA honour the fact that you are, in fact, married? Our new South African Constitution allows for “same-sex” marriages to be granted the same benefits as any other marriage.
My brother is “gay” and so is one of my (female) cousins. They live in Italy and the Italian government is just as descriminatory as the American one! I get seriously angry that in this day and age discrimination still exists!
I pray that “the powers that be” will wake up and realise that people are people irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation! We all want the same things and deserve the same rights!
If there’s a petition to sign or anything else I can do to help the situation, just ask! Good luck!!
That is really great to know that South Africa recognizes same sex couples. Unfortunately, our country is quite behind in that area. 🙁
Do you not even have civil partnerships where you live? There is currently a major debate going on in the UK in order to decide whether or not to make gay marriage legal… it’s the religious groups that are creating issues, as always. Children is always my biggest fear – as you never know in reality if you and your partner will stay together forever.
No, we don’t have civil partnerships in our country at the federal level nor in our state at the state level. Some states do, but not ours.
I knew there were a lot of legal issues and rights that couples who weren’t legally married didnt receive, but I didnt know the extent of it. Seems like yo..u are making the best of what you can do anything for now, but I do hope the law changesso in your favor and you can legally be married and have all the good rights that come with it.
Just curious….could you get married in a state that does marry same sex couples and have it be recognized in your state? Have you considered moving to a state that will marry you? It stinks that you would have to consider a big move and uproot your family, but I think it would be something I would consider if I were in your place, so i was wondering what your thoughts about were on that.
Best of luck to you all and let’s hope the laws change in your favor.
Unfortunately, our state does not recognize same sex unions/marriage from other states. We have considered moving to another state where we could get the state recognition, protections, and benefits, but it is not very economically feasible at this time. Nor do we really want to have to move so far away. Thanks for the well wishes. 🙂 Hopefully our state will come around eventually. Even better will be when our country recognizes same sex unions and provides us with all the federal protections and benefits!
***Sorry for all the typos. Sometimes my phone has a mind of its own and adds words in when it likes.
What I love most about WMB is the eye-opening blog posts that cause me to really think about the world outside of my own. I can’t imagine loving someone – committing to someone – having children with someone – only to feel I am not the same as everyone else. I thank you for writing and sharing your story. One day at a time – one person at a time – we can all make a difference. Thank you –
🙂 I agree that WMB is a great venue for learning about others and their experiences in the world we all live in. I feel honored to be a part of it.
Thanks so much for sharing your story! My kids – who have friends, neighbors, and teachers with families in the same situation as yours – fundamentally don’t understand why same-sex marriages isn’t legal. This gives me hope that our laws will change sooner rather than later. Best wishes to you and yours! Jennifer
Thanks Jennifer. 🙂
I’m optimistic that as we all raise a new generation that does NOT discriminate, things will change. Hopefully, in the future, our current discriminatory practices will be viewed with the same disgust we feel for people who felt “entitled” to “own” others in the form of slavery!
Thank you for sharing with us. I agree with the comment above, you have allowed me a glimpse into a world outside of my own. I wish you all the best and hope that stories like yours will inspire us all to rally for the much needed changes.
Me too! I love how the Internet and places like WMB allow people to connect in ways that can change the world. At least, that is what I hope. 🙂
I’m so glad you wrote this post! When I read it, I felt so naive. Your perspective is so eye-opening — there is so much more that never crossed my mind. Well done!
Thanks Jen 🙂
Thank you for your post. It is absurd you and your wife can’t be legally marriage. Sending my best wishes to you and your family.
Thanks Julie 🙂
I recently wrote a post for WMB about supporting my kids in their future pursuits in love whether gay, straight or otherwise. I know they will have the support from home, but I worry more about the support they will have in society if they are gay. I live in WA, and gay marriage just became legal, but with every state beng different, it still makes me uneasy. Hearing your story only leaves me further frustrated. But I have hope for the future. Sharing stories about beautiful, loving families like yours has to shift mindsets and open hearts. It just has to! Thank you for this post. All the best to you, Kathleen and the kids,
I read your post Tara. Thanks for writing it; it was lovely. 🙂 I too hope for the best for our children. Thanks for the comment.
I loved your post and agree that same sex marriages should be legal in the US. I was raised by divorced parents and my mother has been in a same sex relationship for most of my life. If anything, it made me be a much more open minded person and far less judgemental. In my agnostic opinion, our country puts far too much of an emphasis on religion in matters like this. Church and state is NOT seperated.
I completely agree with you Margie.