Monday, July 18, 2011

A Devoted Mother

My friend Beth is a divorced, remarried mother who happens to be gay.

However, according to her home state of Virginia, because Beth is gay, she's not divorced, she's not remarried and she's not even a mother.

In the eyes of the law in Virginia and much of the United States, Beth's eight-year live-in relationship with Donna was not and could not be a marriage. As such, Beth and Donna's painful break-up was not a divorce. And Beth's actual marriage to her current spouse, whom she wed in 2008 during the window of time that same-sex marriage was legal in California, doesn't exist. (California still recognizes the marriage even though new same-sex weddings are on hold while a challenge to the law moves through the courts.)

But worst of all, the law says that Beth is not a mother to the baby boy she and Donna adopted while they were together because, since Virginia allows single-parent adoption but not gay adoption, Donna is their son's only legal parent.

Regardless of what the law says about her as a parent, Beth loves her "non-son" unconditionally.

Beth adapted her career in order to be her son's primary caregiver. When she and Donna broke up, Beth fought to have a shared custody agreement (albeit a non-binding one) and bought a home near her ex's so the child wouldn't have to change schools. She now maintains a commuter marriage with her California-based spouse so she can remain in Virginia as a parent to a child the state says is not legally hers
and, as such, has no legal rights to or obligation toward.

The danger of the situation is that Beth is unable to, among other things, claim her child as a dependent, provide health insurance to him under an employer plan, authorize medical care. Beth can also lose her child, and he her, if Donna decides to sever their
again, non-binding parenting agreement or move to Timbuktu. (I'm not saying she would actually do either.)
It doesn't seem right that a deadbeat dad who conceives and abandons a child has more legal parenting rights than Beth does and that, according to the law, all that's really required to be part of a legal parenting couple is to be heterosexual.

If love and a personal, unwavering commitment is what makes a person a parent, Beth is a super parent. She won't abandon her child, even if the law says she can.

I'm sharing Beth's story here because she just wrote a thoughtful essay
"Same Sex Divorce: Another Reason for Marriage Equality" for AARP.org. Please read it if you have time.
 

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