Between a Rock and an Unequal Place

Lesbians in North Carolina

By Betsy Fife Archer

Sometimes I feel guilty that I was able to adopt my son before we left Massachusetts. I wouldn’t trade the protection that adoption grants me, but sometimes I feel like I am not in the club. Let me back up a minute. When my son (M) was born, it became clear to my partner (S) and myself that we needed to change some things in our lives in order to be the best parents to this amazing tiny creature. I needed to get out of my job and work towards pursuing soul-fulfilling endeavors. S was all done with course work for her doctorate, making it easy for us to change locale. So, in June of 2011, when M was six months old, we left the security of the New England bubble for western North Carolina. The plan was to stay for a year in my parent’s in-law apartment, hang out with our boy, and figure out next steps somewhere along the way.

As our bank account began to run low and the job searching began, we found ourselves in the middle of a heart-wrenching decision: stay in NC, be near our families and lose all legal recognition as a couple or move back to Mass, retain legal recognition and the right to adopt future children and hardly ever see our families. Turns out, we really like being near our families. (Who would have guessed that outcome?) We were a three-hour drive from S’s family and a three-minute walk from mine, and it was great. We had a ton of help with our son from my parents, my mom in particular. We could pop down to the ATL for a long weekend easily. Massachusetts felt like a lifetime away.

After many rounds of tears and playing the “what-if” game, we decided to stay in North Carolina, near our families, so that our children will know their grandparents and uncles and cousins. S got a job at a college that offers domestic partner benefits, which is all we qualify for even though we married three days after marriage equality became legal in Massachusetts in 2004. This was a feat since, in the amazingly progressive little town we live in, only a handful of companies offer any kind of benefits to same-sex couples. We became part of an organization working towards marriage equality (Campaign for Southern Equality), so we started to feel engaged with our new community and like we had something to contribute to common goals. We started going to a playgroup for LGBT families. We started to settle in.

But as we started to settle in and meet people, it became clear just how much privilege we have, me in particular. There are many families in our new circles who have adopted children while living in North Carolina. This means one person adopts the child and the other parent has no legal rights to that child. There are also many couples where one of the women gave birth to their child. The non-gestational parent has no legal rights to that child and can’t get legal rights. In order for the non-gestational or non-adoptive parent to retain any sense of protections when it comes to her child, she has to sue her partner for joint custody, retaining separate legal counsel and going to great expense. When I adopted M, it was cheap by many standards. It took very little time and the judge and court clerk posed for pictures with us after it was all over. So, when I started to hear people’s stories about not having any legal ties to their children, I could agree about how scary it is and how messed-up the laws are, but I really felt such an overwhelming feeling of relief. And then I felt guilty. Relieved and guilty. I wouldn’t change having legal ties to my son. My guilt isn’t so strong to want that. But rights are what I want for every one, not just me. Time will tell what is going to happen with this election (please, oh please!) and when we will stop living in such a divided country where a few miles means the difference between rights and none. In the meantime, I kiss my boy on the top of his head and breathe out the guilt, breathing in the gratitude.

Betsy Fife Archer holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a Master of Social Work degree from Smith College. She has spent seven years as a therapist working with children, adolescents and families of all configurations in various contexts. She has presented to college audiences in Massachusetts and North Carolina around being a queer parent, being in a long-term relationship and working against unjust laws that make her marriage in legal limbo outside of the northeast. She is a founding member of YouthPride, a queer youth organization started in Atlanta in 1995 that continues to this day. Betsy continues to volunteer her time with the Campaign for Southern Equality, an organization based in Asheville North Carolina which serves to promote the “full humanity and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in American life and to increase public support for LGBT rights.” Betsy is also an active artist specializing in hand-hooked rugs, fine art embroidery and wedding photography. Betsy teaches fiber arts workshops across the south and photographs weddings wherever someone will pay her to go. Betsy lives in Asheville, NC with her partner of more than 15 years and their amazing toddler son. Betsy is working with her friend and fellow blogster, Charlotte Caponga-Amias, on a guidebook about becoming a queer, non-gestational parent. She and Charlotte blog at turkeybasterandabottleofwine.wordpress.com
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