Photo credit: REUTERS/Pilar Olivare
My girlfriend and I are planning to get married. We’ve been together four years.
I did not set up an elaborate proposal (Although I briefly daydreamed about a fictional concert where I would write a perfect note to Kathleen Hanna and ask her to bring me up onstage to propose).
I didn’t get down on one knee. She didn’t either. Neither she nor I bought or wants a diamond ring (I’m about as interested in diamond rings as I am in wearing fabulous skirts – that is, not very).
All that said, we finally admitted to each other that we want a wedding for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it’s a sincere commitment to each other and an opportunity to have a really nice party. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to secure our Wills, finances, and medical decision-making power either.
Let me be clear – I have no problem with more traditional weddings happening for other couples. Like everybody else, I’ve gotten a little misty when I hear a co-worker or friend talk about a proposal. I’m emotionally moved at weddings during all the parts where you’re supposed to be moved – the vows, the dances, the speeches. I don’t hate weddings at all, and I get that the drama of the wedding ritual can float a lot of people’s boats.
As a feminist and lesbian, I just never imagined myself being in one. It seems silly for me to go through motions that don’t really apply to our lives. Giving away the bride (To who? For what? Which one?). Wearing white (Queen Victoria’s fashion choices are not mine). Having a wedding party (It seems like an in-person version of what used to happen on MySpace where you could choose your Top 8 Friends to display, thereby making all of your other friends feel shitty). These things don’t make that much sense for any modern couple, but they really don’t make sense for most gay and lesbian couples, unless the theme of your wedding is “traditional wedding” and you’re acting out those roles and rituals for a dramatic effect.
Perhaps that’s part of the reason that there has always been a bit of backlash against gay marriage within the gay community, with some arguing that gay and lesbian couples shouldn’t just be aping the traditions of straight couples, or trying to “normalize” their relationships by copying codified rules that have traditionally rejected us. I would be on board with all of that if there weren’t the pesky little fact that marriage is tied to hundreds of of legal rights and safeguards for us as a couple, especially if we want to start a family. Plus, one could argue that exposing family and friends to public images of gay couples – and weddings are certainly some of the best heart-tugging relationship eye candy out there – does advance public perception of our relationships. It makes us real, it makes us human, it makes us relatable to the Chik-fil-a goers out there.
There’s no doubt the battle for same sex marriage has been a platform that’s helped bring other LGBT isssues to the stage, and advanced awareness of and understanding about same sex couples in a multitude of ways. Notably, the Democratic party has added same sex marriage to the party platform this year. That’s a HUGE deal, no matter how you feel about actually getting married. Similarly, President Obama explicitly supporting same sex marriage this year is a HUGE deal in the fight for gay rights and symbolic support (if not actual legislation). The past few years have been crazy with progress. And yet, just as LGBT couples did their own commitment ceremonies for years before Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, we’ve been starting families and raising kids all along, too.
By that I mean, the next step after marriage is kids, and a similar debate to that of gay marriage is beginning to materialize around same sex families within the gay community and in larger popular culture. Are we following in the footsteps of how straight families are formed, or are we forging new family structures that end up influencing straight couples? Is it annoying or amazing that the more visible gay families are, the more gay couples will be expected to start a family?
The New York Times recently ran a piece about a gay couple in New York who were feeling pressure to start a family, despite being vocal about the fact that they had no interest in having kids. With shows like The New Normal and Modern Family dominating primetime this fall, and the recent announcement of Jennifer Lopez-backed lesbian ABC Family show The Fosters, it’s no wonder same sex couples are starting to feel the same pressure straight couples feel after getting married. The difference, of course, is that not many people know how challenging starting a family can be for same sex couples.
My partner and I both have well-paying jobs, but we’re barely able to save for a vacation, let alone a baby. Aside from the general cost of having a child, we’ll have to start a couple hundy in the hole compared to a straight couple, with the gap widening the longer it takes for us to get pregnant. We can expect to pay about $200-400 for each IUI appointment and $600 – $800 or so for the cost of sperm plus shipping and storage each time we inseminate. Not to mention the legal fees for our second-parent adoption if we do get pregnant. If one of us has fertility issues, we’re even further up sh*t creek, as we most likely won’t be able to get insurance to cover our baby-making efforts. All this is to say that, unlike getting married, starting a family is a much, much different playing field from straight couples. It’s not just about semantics and traditions, it’s about navigating a minefield of potential setbacks, nail-biting worries, and hidden discrimination.
I won’t even go into the entirely different set of challenges for a gay male couple who want to have a biological child. (Basically, to have a biological child as a gay male couple, you have to be rich or go into a lot of debt. No joke.)
But what about adoption? That’s for everyone, right? In addition to the not-so-small cost of adoption, the uncertainty of getting a child or being subtly discriminated against, and the impossibility of international adoption, there’s that small roadblock of the 30 U.S. states that don’t support LGBT adoption* (Some of those states explicitly ban joint adoption by gay couples, but most stay silent, I guess hoping that if they close their eyes and stick their fingers in their ears, gay parenting will just go away). Foster care adoption is an even wilder landscape, with only 6 states explicitly supporting LGBT foster care adoption, and the majority staying stubbornly quiet on the issue (only two states explicitly prohibit LGBT foster adoption. Stay classy Utah and Nebraska!).
*Source: Movement Advancement Project.
It’s yet to be seen whether The New Normal will go into detail about how the gay couple depicted on the show can afford surrogacy, or if Modern Family will ever address any of thornier aspects of just how Cam and Mitch adopted Lily (they did touch on doing an open domestic adoption for their second child last season). All I know is that the victory of same sex marriage (which is still very much in process, and still very much tenuous – ahem – marriage amendments in Minnesota, Washington, and the one that’s already passed in North Carolina) will be quickly followed by the more serious (and necessary) need for LGBT family protections. Following the pattern of same sex marriage, LGBT family structures are entering popular culture, which means legislative battles won’t be far behind.
It seems as if each week a court case pops up with new and different verdicts about same sex families. Whether it’s a biological parent being able to take off with a couples’ child (leaving the non-bio parent with no legal recourse), children unable to be insured by their non-bio parent, or living with the threat of your parenthood being contested by a donor, homophobic grandparents, or an unsympathetic judge, new issues are cropping up every day that…uh…kinda need to be dealt with (Government, I’m talking to you here).
So I’m finally ready to get married. And I’m 99% sure we want to start a family (I wouldn’t be editing this site if I didn’t). I can’t help but be hopeful we’ll have made as much progress on safeguards for LGBT families in a couple of years as we have for gay marriage these past two. Until then, I’ll keep posting gay parenting success stories on It’s Conceivable for you guys to read.
Kendra is the editor of this site. She doesn’t talk about herself that much here because she doesn’t have kids (yet), but she’s going to try to do more of it anyway. She’s pictured here with her partner, Kelli, and her very cute niece, Addy.