It is a simple truth that when you belong to a group in society that has full rights, protections, and opportunities, it is difficult — if not impossible — to fully understand what life is like without those rights, protections, and opportunities. I mean, I know that as a white, college-educated, U.S. citizen, I have a lot of things going for me. I don’t like to think that I take any of them for granted, but in reality, I probably do, if only because I can’t really imagine what it’s like not to have them.
Such is the case with equal rights for the LGBT population in this country. I have wonderful dear friends who have known me and Unnamed Partner throughout our entire 10-year relationship, and who clearly think of us as “married” in every sense of the word. But when Unnamed Partner is unemployed and without health insurance, I am helpless to provide it, as my employer doesn’t offer domestic partnership benefits. This sometimes comes as a shock to my well-meaning friends. As does the fact that I work for a state University system, and if we were married, Unnamed Partner would be able to take advantage of tuition remission and work toward a degree. Everyone I work with has taken advantage of this benefit. Too bad I can’t.
Imagine, too, if we had children. Because guess what: we’re just like everyone else. Sometimes relationships work out, sometimes they don’t. That just got a little more complicated, too, as a court here in Maryland ruled this week to take away all visitation rights from a lesbian ex-partner who had helped raised the couple’s daughter. She was listed on the child’s school records — the other partner had crossed off the word “Father” and put her name and contact information. She had years’ worth of Mother’s Day cards from the daughter. Yet according to the court, this woman had no more rights than a nanny or au pair. She is now unable to see her daughter at all. From the Washington Blade:
“This is a disastrous opinion that will very negatively impact non-biological, non-legal parents, especially many who are in same-sex couples,” said Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland.
In its opinion, the high court acknowledges the lesbian, identified in court records as Margaret K., is a “de facto” parent because she helped raise the child during the time she was partnered with Janice M.
However, the judges say the Baltimore County Circuit Court “erred in granting visitation” to Margaret on the grounds that she was a “de facto” parent without first finding that Janice was an “unfit parent” or that other “exceptional circumstances” existed to justify the decision.
In other words, unless she can prove her ex-partner is an unfit parent, this woman cannot see the child she helped raise. What kind of a choice is that? Without equal marriage rights, we will always be forced to make these kinds of choices.
Marriage has nothing to do with religious beliefs and everything to do with civil rights.