Friday, October 26, 2012

Politics is as personal as ever, day 11: The Price of Progress

          So it's true, we don't actually need to achieve marriage equality to get rid of the you're-not-married tax.  And certainly there is some legislative way to extend Social Security benefits to "domestic partners" if that's what we the people demand.   There have been such attempts.  A bill that would have stopped the government from taxing employer paid domestic partner health insurance premiums died in committee last year.   It's conceivable that with the right leadership such a bill could pass fairly easily if it were allowed to come to vote.
          But here's the problem: there is a price to incremental progress.  Quite literally.  Because if the the federal government were to agree that "domestic partners" should be allowed tax free insurance benefits, then there would need to be some sort of domestic partnership license.  Which would be associated with a pile of paperwork proving our financial, if not legal, union.  And there would be a fee associated with this license of course.  And then, someday when equal marriage prevails (which it will, I assure you) there will be another stack of paperwork and another fee to pay so that my rights can be updated.
          Now this sounds petty.  It even sounds petty to me and I'm the one who's saying it.  But think about it.  Every time the government realizes  they've been discriminating against me all these years, I get to pay to advance my rights.  Sound too ridiculus to be true?  Here's an example:

          Nine years ago this week my partner, Darling Virgo, and I were out of state wrapping our arms around sweet baby Hot Shot for the first time.  We were elated to return home (home was Portland, Maine then) to find that a new legal precedent had been set while we were away.  At the time, only one member of a same-sex partnership could adopt a child in Maine.  But while we were off becoming parents, a State Supreme Court decision ruled that two-mom or two-dad families could file for legal co-guardianship.  It stopped short of two-parent adoption, but extended the same rights if we jumped through the extra hoops.
          And of course we were thrilled to jump through those hoops.  So we hired a lawyer to prepare our adoption paperwork (around $1000).  And then we hired her again to prepare the co-guardianship paperwork (another $1000).  And I'm pretty sure we were the happiest parents alive.
          Then guess what happened.  Four years later the State Supreme Court realized they'd been wrong.  Co-guardianship was not enough.  Crazy as it may seem, it turns out they'd been allowing the State to discriminate against all us gays for all those years.  I'm sure they were very sorry about the misunderstanding so they decided to make things right: two parents of the same sex could finally adopt a child together.
          Again we were elated.  Again we were so proud of our State and our Court.  And again we hired a lawyer to prepare the adoption paperwork.  This time the fee was more like $1500 because it was all new legal precedent and the probate judges would be wanting lots of proof that we were indeed both interested in legally attaching ourselves to the child we'd been parenting for four years.
          And the great news is, now we are Hot Shot's parents without question right?  Well, maybe.  I mean, now we live in Ohio where only one parent in a same sex couple is allowed to adopt.  That doesn't undo our rights, but it does make me nervous.  Because you just never really know how someone will interpret the legality of our family.
          So the point here, as I'm sure you can see, is that each time the State realizes they've been grossly discriminating against us, they don't say what I teach my children to say, "Oh, I'm sorry.  What can I do to help you feel better?"  They don't offer to refund the fees for all the legal protection we padded our family with to protect it from oppressive whims.  They don't offer us a freebee this time around since they are the ones who weren't ready to let us adopt back when we asked to.  No.  We are the ones targeted by the discrimination to begin with, and then, quite literally, we are the ones who pay the price of progress.  In this case, we paid to adopt the same child three times, and even still, are never completely sure if our family will be recognized.

          These kinds of examples are aplenty.  There's the legal paperwork to prove we are each other's powers of attorney.  There are the fees we've paid to register as domestic partners.  And then to have a civil union.  And then, finally, to marry, even though that marriage is not recognized.
         And of course I don't really expect the taxpayers to pick up the tab for this process.  But I do expect us, all of us, to remind this government of ours, there already is a legal status that provides couples all of these securities.  Our government already has a way of recognizing two people who depend on each other financially, make important legal decisions for each other, jointly raise children, allow each other to talk to the phone company about their account without signed consent.  It's called marriage.  We could change a thousand laws.  Or we could change one.  It's not hard to see which would be the most efficient and effective.
          I don't know that a second term President Obama will fight to end the Defense of Marriage Act or require the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages.  But I am encouraged by a Democratic Party fired up about equality.  They are, without doubt, the surest bet for monumental, rather than incremental, change.

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