What Lesbian Moms Want for Mother's Day: Divorce
Alright, maybe "want" is putting it a bit strongly. But "need," unfortunately, is an accurate term. Yes, love is love, and yes, parents are parents, and yes, all families are different. But let's get beyond the bumper stickers and look at the hard, cold facts. Legal marriage would put my partner and I in our proper tax bracket when filing together and save our kids oodles of money a year for the college fund. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) reports (pdf) that the average family of four, including two lesbian parents, will spend tens -- even hundreds -- of thousands of dollars more than identical families with opposite-sex parents raising the children to age 18.
Although we don't even "believe in" legal marriage -- what business does the government have telling anyone, straight or gay, who can be in their families? -- we'd tie the legal knot in a hot minute if we could to save those thousands of dollars and pass them onto our children -- who didn't, after all, leap from the womb, asking to be adopted by queers.
Handy as marriage would be, what two-mom families -- perhaps especially the children of those moms -- need is divorce. Too many parents lose their children, and more importantly, too many children lose their parents, when the parents were not legally married and can't get legally divorced. Consider the case of the Seattle moms, who each bore one child and adopted the one the other bore. When Mom A became a conservative Christian and found a boyfriend at church, she fled with her biological child to Florida, hoping that the anti-gay family state would sever both Mom B's legal adoption of that child and her own legal adoption of her partner's biological child. The case is of interest to anyone involved in adoption -- one state certainly should not be able to sever the adoption finalized by another state -- but federally-recognized legal marriage between the women would have rendered adoption of each other's biological children unnecessary. All children born to a married couple are automatically the legal children of the mother's husband. If these women had been legally married, in all probability, a court would not have allowed Mom A to abandon her child by adoption nor to deprive her child by birth of her second mother.
Call me a cynic, but I am convinced that legal marriage is never more important than in the case of its failure. A legally arbitrated divorce is much more likely to produce a secure post-breakup life for the children of a failed couple than the best attempts of that couple to be civil and fair and keep the kids' interests first. Divorce provides court-ordered mandates to pay child support and to honor custody agreements. Some people -- legally divorcing or not -- can certainly be honorable about such things without a court order. But some can't. And some who can for a while may well drift out of good habits when other life circumstances change -- with a new relationship, for example, or a desire to move to a new place.
Don't get me wrong, legal marriage is not a panacea. Our society has been structured with patriarchal assumptions about families for a long time, and this has created a body of family law that is not always very family-friendly. Changes in adoption law, contract law, estate law, and many others would actually protect more people than simply opening marriage to same-sex couples. But as a stop-gap on the road to justice, access to legal marriage would put a lot of moms in a safer, more secure place -- and serve their kids immeasurably.
"All that you have is your soul." Tracy Chapman