Bring Ava, your camera and whomever you want to celebrate this with you. Dress for court and, finally, congratulations!
This was the email from our lawyer after letting us know that we finally had a court date for our second parent adoption finalization. “Is he joking?” I asked my partner Barb after reading it. Celebrate? Dress for court? Do we really have to put on nice clothes and go sit in a stuffy court room and have some random judge tell us that Barb can be a parent to OUR child? The child that we’ve dreamed of for years together? The child that we’ve put all of our hearts and souls and resources into creating together as a couple? The child that we’ve raised together for the past four and a half months?
You can drag me reluctantly to that court room if absolutely necessary (because I’m told that apparently we all have to be there), but I’m sorry, it will be no celebration. Why are we celebrating something that is rightfully ours? No one is doing us any favors here. Not the lawyer, not the social worker and certainly not the judicial system. We are just finally getting what should never have been in question in the first place — custody of our child!
When I discussed this with my brother he optimistically reminded me that we celebrate birthdays even though they are “rightfully ours.” He also said we typically celebrate things that took us a long time to achieve or were a challenge we had to overcome. Ok, right again, but for some reason I just can’t see this in a positive light. I think I’m just so frustrated with the fact that my partner and I had to submit mounds of extensive paperwork (including every address we’ve lived in for the past twenty years), be visited by a social worker twice (before and after our daughter Ava was born), get fingerprinted, get doctors’ notes for us and for Ava stating that we’re all in good health, take off work to meet with our lawyer on several occasions, and pay $5,000 in legal fees to comply with this ridiculously unjust legislation. And in case you are wondering, if the husband in a straight couple was infertile and the couple chose to use donor sperm to get pregnant, the husband would not have to adopt the child. He automatically has full parental rights. This discrimination is only against gay couples.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) not only defines marriage as between one man and one woman on a federal level, but also encourages individual states to change the definition in their own states’ constitutions, thus voiding all marriage benefits given in the state where the marriage was performed. My partner and I live in New York, where gay marriage is legal and because we are married, Barb’s name is even on Ava’s birth certificate. But even this isn’t enough to guarantee Barb full parental rights— unless we never ever leave the New York border. As soon as we enter any one of the forty-two states that doesn’t recognize our marriage, our whole family could be challenged.
For example, if we were in a car accident and I was incapacitated and Ava was injured, Barb wouldn’t be able to give the hospital medical authorization for Ava’s treatment and possibly even be barred from visiting her. If I passed away, Barb wouldn’t only be faced with the grief of losing her spouse, but could also face long drawn out legal processes to obtain custody of her own daughter. And if Barb passed away, Ava wouldn’t be entitled to any of Barb’s retirement savings, life insurance, social security benefits or pension (which I can’t get either, thanks to DOMA). Without adopting Ava, Barb could be turned away when trying to pick up Ava from school, daycare or camp, where special consent is required for pick-up by anyone other than a “parent.” The list goes on. So, in essence, the second parent adoption process is just one way to “DOMA-proof” our family. It is a necessary evil, at least for now.
Cut to a few hours later, when we return from court…
I’m happy to report that the process was smooth and pleasant and I have to say, we’re lucky to live in one of the “good” states. Where else would we happen to have a gay lawyer, social worker and judge? Before going, I was dreading the court proceeding, but it ended up that we sat in the court room making jokes and talking about how absurd the process is. And in the end we left, knowing that Ava is better protected and that we have an army on our side just going through the motions until we have a real reason to celebrate.