Thursday, April 4, 2013

Home Is Where the Law Is?

For the past week or so, I have had this insatiable urge to write and get back in the habit of posting here more regularly.  This is for a couple of reasons.  First, I'm a little afraid people will stop following the blog if I don't, you know, blog.  More significantly, though, I feel I should somehow weigh in on the Supreme Court cases involving DOMA and Prop 8.

And for the past week or so, I felt I had nothing to say on the subject.

Obviously, I have many reasons to care how the Court rules in both cases.  And I do care.  It's just that, regardless of the ruling, my everyday life will stay the same.  Danielle and I will continue to be a strong and happy couple.  We will keep curling up beside each other with books every night, and she will, without fail, ask me to play with her hair.  We will have breakfast out on Saturdays and wake up at the same ungodly hour on work days.  The SCOTUS rulings will neither keep us from making up ridiculous song parodies on an all-too-regular basis nor prevent us from growing veggies in raised beds over the summer.  The stuff that makes us us?  Those little moments won't change a bit.

The paradox here, of course, is that while little will change, Supreme Court rulings in favor of gay marriage could change everything.  In a mere instant, we could go from being second-class citizens to having the full spectrum of rights straight citizens enjoy.  That the fate of this emancipating instant is in the hands of only 9 people is terrifying.  Talk about feeling vulnerable!  Potentially, our fears about the big moments of our lives could dissipate.  We wouldn't have to worry about whether or not the wishes outlined in our living wills and final wills would be respected.  Child custody issues?  Gone.  Inheritance taxes?  Buh-bye.  Worries about insurance?  Nope, we're totally covered.  Granted, big moments like surgeries, the birth of children, and, well, death don't happen often.  However, these often are the moments when we are at our most fragile and exposed.  It is unconscionable that the law would step in for a swift kick in our direction at the very time we're already down.

Even with these weighty issues in mind, I couldn't think of anything substantial to add to the gay marriage debate.  Yesterday, however, I found my activist panties.

Apparently, I'd left them in the car.

One of my good friends and I were driving around and making easy conversation about the future.  Work, babies, school; the usual stuff.  I was telling her about how Danielle and I would eventually both like to enroll in PhD. programs to further our careers and increase our job opportunities.  Danielle could start school as early as next winter, at which time we could potentially have a baby.  So, Danielle could be working and going to school while I would stay at home with said bebe'.  For as far back as I can remember, I have wanted to stay at home with my children for the first few years of their lives.  Ages 0 to 3 are the most crucial years for brain and language development; moreover, they are the prime years for cuddles and general cuteness.  Plus, I am an early childhood specialist, so infants and toddlers are kind of my thing.  Add to the mix that there is little access to quality childcare in our small community, and staying home becomes a no-brainer.

And it won't be at all possible.

You see, in our state and most others nationwide, second-parent adoption is not an option.  This means that in same-sex unions only one parent has custody of the shared children.   Because I will be the biological mother of our first child, Danielle will co-parent this baby without enjoying any parental rights.  She cannot have custody, sign school permission slips, make medical decisions, nothing.  Obviously, this leaves her in an extremely precarious position.  I could, in theory, skip town and take the baby with me, leaving her with absolutely no recourse.  (This really, really won't happen.  We have already promised each other that, in the unlikely event we do break up, we will not be assholes when it comes to the kids.)  While such worst-case scenarios simply won't happen (invoking "No Assholes" rule here), Danielle's lack of parental rights puts a heavy monkey wrench in our plans for me to be a stay-at-home mom.  Because Danielle won't legally be the parent of our child, our child can't be covered under her insurance.  Since Danielle and I aren't legally married, I can't go on her insurance either.  So, if I choose to stay at home, the kiddo and I will either be uninsured or extremely underinsured through some hyper-expensive private insurance policy.  Because of some politicians' "family values," then, this mother can't stay at home with her little baby because she will have to work to stay insured.

Are you finding your activist panties right about now?  Your ticked-off boxers?  Your enough already thongs?  (Oh, who am I kidding?  Nobody wears thongs.)

Unfortunately, as the conversation in the car continued, the topics did little to assuage my need for activist panties.  My friend asked if Danielle and I had given any more thought to moving to another, more gay-friendly state.  I have.  I do.  Honestly, I think about it all the time.  Staying here makes no legal sense.  Why would I pay taxes in a state where I'm not welcome and my family is denied legal protections?  What in the world would keep us from catching the first flight north?  What keeps us tethered to this place?

The heart, apparently.  Legal considerations aside, we love where we are.  We bought our first home almost three years ago and have put much time, sweat, and creativity into making it our home.  We will shed buckets of tears when we have to leave this house.  Besides, we have the most incredible friends here, friends who have encouraged us, comforted us, and planted themselves firmly in our corner.  They've helped us paint the exterior of our house, brought us transplants from their gardens, accompanied Danielle to the doctor for one of the baby tries, offered up their trucks on countless occasions, and shared many, many, many meals with us.  (We heart food.)  While I am confident we'd make new wonderful friends in the event of a move, I can't imagine leaving the extended family we've created right where we are.  And speaking of families, Danielle and I currently have a three and a half hour drive to visit either set of our parents.  It is my family value that my children be raised an easy day trip away from their grandparents.  I don't want to see relatives once or twice a year or have to fly on an airplane with young children any more than necessary.  Also, I'm secretly afraid my mother might just move in with us if she doesn't get enough of a grandbaby "fix".  (Sure, she loves living with my dad, but he doesn't have chubby cheeks and is terrible at babbling.)

Although I'm not exactly a typical Southerner, I know that in my bones I am a Carolina girl.  I have traveled widely and lived in South Texas and Washington, D.C.  While I enjoyed navigating the D.C. metro system and still crave the breakfast tacos of the Rio Grande Valley, I always get a catch in my throat when "Carolina in my Mind" starts to play on the radio.  James Taylor's voice reminds me of my father, of standing outside looking at the stars, of breathing fresh air from wide open spaces.  The song makes me think of roots and tradition and where I come from.  I dream of rocking my baby while crooning, "Can't you see the sun shine?  Can't you just feel the moon shine?"  Truly, I feel "a holy host of others standing around me".  Although I consider myself to be a reasonably articulate person (Hey, I used "assuage" in this post.), expressions like "might could" and "fixin' to" roll out of my mouth as easily as words from my GRE study book.  This place flows through my blood, anchors my soul.  How could I possibly uproot myself?

So Danielle and I are left with impossible choice.  Do we leave the place and people we love in order to provide our family with important legal securities?  Do we stay here and leave ourselves and, more significantly, our children vulnerable to the whims of the law?  The Declaration of Independence promotes the values of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".  Yet, in our case, these purportedly inalienable rights appear to be multiple choice.  We can move to another state and instantly be granted more liberty or we can stay where we are and pursue happiness in the midst of our family and friends.  I sometimes make a big deal over trivial choices (Where should we eat tonight?  What should I order?  Red wine or white?  Which movie should we watch?), but this decision matters.  And I genuinely do not know what to do.  And I resent that my family has to wrestle with this decision at all.  And it gets my activist panties all in a wad.

Come June, the Supreme Court can choose to nullify this dilemma, to lift a huge burden from our lives.  It is a truly thrilling, deeply exhilarating possibility.  I'm trying not to get my hopes up, and I know that if now is not the time, the time is still coming soon.  The tide is turning, and momentum is on the side of justice for all.  But if the Court could cut down on some wait time, well, I would be very grateful.

It would be heaven to stay up at night worrying about silly things.  What should I eat tomorrow?  Red wine or white wine?  (A perennially tough one!)

I'll take those choices any day.

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