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.