By Beren deMotier of Portland, Oregon. She is a Portland freelance writer specializing in social commentary and humor about life as a lesbian mother. Her book, The Brides of March: Memoir of a Same-Sex Marriage, was published this month. More info at berendemotier.com.
Three years ago, my wife and I married that windy Wednesday morning in Multnomah County with the hope of gaining legal equity with our straight married friends, celebrating our seventeen-year union by marrying in our church of choice, and receiving the hundreds of protections, privileges, and responsibilities the state of Oregon grants with the purchase of a marriage license.
The celebration was beyond our wildest dreams (and I finally got to walk down the aisle), but the equity and protections never came, as our marriage floated in legal limbo for a year before being annulled by Supreme Court decision to our sorrow and dismay.
But on January 1, 2008, because legislators passed
SB HB 2007, my wife and I will, after twenty years together, be eligible for those long awaited rights.
Not as same-sex marriage, mind you, the holy grail in the fight for legal parity, nor even as civil unions, a near-marriage status enjoyed by committed gay couples in Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut, and soon, New Hampshire. Our rights come in the West Coast form of domestic partnerships, a romance-free moniker both emotionally vacant and flat; you simply can't go out and get domestically partnered. It sounds like you've taken out a business license together designing home decor within the boundaries of the United States. It is a contract, and honey, we all know marriage is more than that.
However, this is a step in the right direction. Years ago, when domestic partnership registration was set up in our city, it came with nothing: no rights, no privileges, no responsibilities -- just a piece of paper in the long trail of documents proving we were more than roommates in case some bereavement-crazed blood relation, claiming consanguinity comes first, went after our joint assets or children when one of us died.
Now, state-sanctioned domestic partnerships come with teeth, and having looked into the horse's mouth, pretty good ones. A non-biological lesbian mother won't have to adopt her newborn when her spouse gives birth, paying for home study after home study before being legally declared the parent she's been since conception. Nor will we be able to dodge responsibility in the case of a divorce, since there will be, beyond a doubt, a legal relationship. And theoretically, we'll be able to care for, visit, make decisions for, and bury a loved one, when that time comes. Blood relatives won't need to be called before we can walk into a hospital room to bring flowers, kiss goodnight or say goodbye to a critically-ill spouse.
Our rights as a couple won't be equal with our straight brethren though: first, because they can travel across state lines unconcerned about their legal status, while we are legal strangers unless we are traveling up and down the West Coast or visiting Massachusetts or those few states that grant domestic partnerships or civil unions to same-sex couples (and won't ask us to pull the birth certificates out of the glove box to prove our three children are really 'ours'); second, because the lion's share of legal benefits come with federal recognition, which has been barred at the gates since the Defense of Marriage Act passed under President Clinton.
But domestic partnership is forward motion, and much better than another legal kick in the teeth, which opponents of same-sex marriage are likely writing up for the November ballot even now, as I dare to hope that, a little more than six months from today, twenty-one years and six days after falling in love, my spouse and I will be legally equal to any other couple under Oregon law, if under a less romantic and meaningful name.