This morning my wife called me from her cell phone on her way to work. We’d spoken earlier over breakfast, but she hadn’t yet imbibed her decaf coffee when I left for work. Kris loves her coffee. In fact, I once gave her an apron that reads, I drink all the coffee I want. At eight and a half months pregnant, she has embraced decaf. With gusto.
“I forgot to tell you,” she said via Bluetooth as she drove toward the gym she manages, “Happy February 1st!”
“Happy February 1st to you, too,” I rejoined whilst staring perplexedly at my computer screen.
“You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”
Kris and I have two anniversaries, and neither falls in February. One is our gay day, our “real” anniversary in October that marks our first date a decade ago, the other our wedding anniversary from June 2005. Queer people used to only ever have a gay day anniversary, back before gay marriage was legalized (in a handful of states and an increasing number of foreign countries).
Kris, who is my proxy memory, knows by now that trying to jog my faulty memory circuits (too many head injuries in soccer combined with a writer’s brain–I’m often lost in another, fictional world) can be an exercise in futility.
“The birth certificate,” she said. “Today’s the day you’re legal.”
And it all came flooding back. For those of you who don’t know, February 1, 2011, marks a sea change for non-biological lesbian moms in Washington State. For the first time here, the Washington Department of Health is issuing birth certificates that read “Parent” and “Parent” to state-registered female domestic partners. This means my name will go on our daughter’s birth certificate, whenever she decides to join us (37 weeks and counting…). From day one, I will be considered a legal, “natural” parent without even having to adopt my own kid.
Non-bio moms are parents like me–women whose female partners have given (or are about to give, in my case) birth to a child conceived with some variety of donor sperm. The country over, we are not recognized as legal parents to our own children without a costly second-parent adoption, in which the first parent (the bio mom, i.e. my wife Kris in our case) maintains her parental rights. In a traditional adoption, someone gives up their right to the child in question so that another person can claim that right exclusively. Second-parent adoptions used to be reserved for heterosexual step-families. In recent years, however, they have provided legal standing to non-bio moms as well as to gay male parents.
Before today, Kris and I were happy to live in a state where second-parent adoption was allowed. Not all states are that progressive. As of today, we’re being recognized in yet another way by our state government as a couple in a legal relationship that has “all the rights and benefits of marriage,” according to SB 5688, a state law passed in 2009. This was the bill that Washington voters approved in November 2009 in Referendum 71–the first time anywhere in the U.S. that voters approved a state-wide ballot measure to extend (rather than limit) same-sex relationship rights.
As I discussed with fellow writers Karin Kallmaker and Ashley Quinn this morning on Facebook, gay rights advances can often bring up mixed emotions. Kris and I were perhaps a bit spoiled because we attended Smith, a Sapphic-friendly liberal arts college, and moved to Washington in 2005 from Massachusetts, where we had legally married before a crowd of supportive friends and family. When it came time to vote on Referendum-71, I almost couldn’t bring myself to approve the measure that would guarantee Kris and me broader protections because the text read in part, “Registered domestic partnerships are not marriages, and marriage is prohibited except between one man and one woman.” By voting “Approve,” I was certifying that I agreed with the state’s decision to refuse to recognize my own legal Massachusetts marriage.
As we filled out our mail-in ballots, Kris and I discussed the issue at some length. I never intended to not vote–a step forward is a step forward, regardless of the referendum’s language. But as a writer, words are important to me, and I wanted it known to at least one other person that I objected to having to give my approval to discriminatory language in order to obtain the right to visit Kris in the hospital should calamity befall us, or the right to transfer property, or the right to equal health care benefits. But that’s a trade-off we LGBT folks routinely face in a country where our civil rights are decided piece-meal, voted on one county at a time, one state at a time.
Today, though, is a tangible reminder of progress, not just in Washington State but across the country. So here’s to the Washington Department of Health and their new birth form for Female Domestic Partners. This non-bio mom will be thrilled to have her relationship to her non-bio child laid out in black and white right from the start. After all, words do matter, and so do names. Unlike other lesbian moms before us, Kris and I won’t have to wait several months after our daughter’s birth for a local judge to rule on my parental worthiness. Like straight people, I’ll earn my parental rights the natural way–on the day my child is born.