Legalease please

The nice thing about being a queer (Iowa) married couple about to raise a child is that you can say things like “I was just at my lawyer’s office and…” or “Our lawyer told us…”

It’s sort of like being a big-time money launderer or someone with a massive estate and money tucked away in a dozen or so offshore tax shelters. Or it’s a bit like that time I stayed in a hotel for the first time alone. I was 18 and it was a Motel6. I felt uber-worldly and mature.

Of course, needing a lawyer to do what straight folks do all the time–have joint custody of their children, inherit money, share healthcare–is a also pain in the butt. And expensive. But I like to look on the bright side of things. So as I was saying, “Our lawyer…”

Her name is Sue Kirk and we went to see her yesterday to talk about “the proceedings” and how to handle “the paperwork” after Nico is born. In other words, we’re trying to get everything in order so I can become Nico’s legal parent as quickly as possible, and definitely before we’re shipped off to Texas.

As soon as we walked in her office, Sue asked when Marta was due. We said in May, and she said, “Oh shoot! I was really hoping there might be a decision before that. Then we could skip all this.”

I assumed she was talking about the U.S. Supreme Court decision and so, know-it-all that I am, I started in on how the DOMA case might not apply to us anyways given that we’re moving to Texas and blah de blah. Sue looked confused. Then she perked up, “No, I’m talking about the Iowa case, the Gartner one.”

Marta knew exactly what she was talking about. In Iowa, it seems, another gay couple has sued the state, this time arguing that, if married straight couples can automatically put both their names on a birth certificate when a baby is born to one of them, then all married couples should be able to do so, regardless of their gender. The Iowa Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of marriage equality four years ago this month, is now considering this case, basically an extension of that ruling.

I was a bit abashed at not having realized the case was about to be decided. Or that it even existed. But then I got over it and, once we got home, I went to the Internet. And dug up some more or less depressing news.

It seems that the Gartner case, even if passed, would do little for us–and it would do little for many queer couples with children. For two reasons:

1) It would only apply to couples who stay in Iowa. Because the Defense of Marriage Act is still in place and because states like Texas have marriage “protection” amendments to their state constitutions, any ruling on parentage that is linked to a state law acknowledging a legal union between same-sex couples would not be valid in another state, such as Texas, that refuses to acknowledge such unions. In order to be Nico’s legal mom everywhere, not just in Iowa, I would still have to go to court, with Sue Kirk at our side.

2) As attorney Nancy Polikoff points out in her superb blog Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage, the Gartner case also only applies to married lesbian couples. It’s the married part that, as Polikoff argues and I agree, is the problem here. Couples shouldn’t have to be married to be legal parents to their children. Some states now have laws on the books that allow parents to become legal simply by being parents, by consistently taking on the role of a parent, or as Polikoff says, in these states “functioning as a parent creates a presumption of parentage.”

Polikoff and others are part of a movement of folks arguing that, while marriage equality is important, the fight for it is a bit of a red herring. The assumption seems often to be that, if we win the gay marriage fight, we’ve won big time. That’s wrong for several reasons.

For one, marriage is essentially a conservative institution, i.e. a state sanctioned religious rite. So winning the marriage equality  fight has the unintended consequence of re-inforcing the importance of marriage as a legal institution. When, really, if we went the way of many countries in Europe, fewer people would be getting married, because it wouldn’t be necessary for tax and child-raising reasons. You could still get married if you wanted, but there would be no financial incentive to do so. For more on this go here.

More importantly, to me at least, the current fight for marriage equality has created an unspoken but clear hierarchy of normativity in the queer community. Married monogamous couples with children are the “most straight” of the bunch–and therefor the most accepted. It is people like them (like Marta and I) that the current fight champions. Not transgender people of color living in poverty, whose issues are still not addressed and whose lives are arguably worse because of the gay marriage fight, which has siphoned off money toward this one, narrowly focused legal causes. An article in the New York Times this Sunday pointed out that trans folks living in cities like New York are far more likely to be stopped by police and accused of prostitution than their straight counterparts. Violence against trans folks is also a chronic problem. Yet no one has a Facebook profile picture to represent that.

I’m not quite sure how I got off on this subject. Perhaps having to go to a lawyer got me thinking about the steps Marta and I must take in order to access the same rights that others have. And yet I can feel, especially in Iowa, how close we really are to mainstream. We got married. We’re having a baby. We’re oh so normal. Or at least we can go to court to make us (almost) legally so.

But in the queer community, a majority of people are still without that privilege. They don’t even have steps to take. I’m glad we’re so close to obtaining the same rights as straight married couples with children. But that doesn’t mean that we are at all close to gaining equality for queer folks everywhere. For that we’ll need a “my lawyer” for everyone. That way we can all be uber-wordly and mature. Or more to the point, we can all be “the same” under the law, no matter how fabulously different we are in the flesh.

2 thoughts on “Legalease please

  1. Wow–complicated stuff. And t’s cool you’re getting yourself educated. Brings to mind some of the complex grandparenting legaI issues. I can’t say anything useful about your situation, but when you move to Texas I’m hoping you’ll get into an ugly battle with your landlord–and then I can move into action and provide you with learned counsel.


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