Women

05.28.13

It Cost My Family $3K To Be Queer This Month

Even though gay marriage is legal in New York, it's far from equal, says Jen Abrams.

This month, my wife Katherine and I spent $3,000 to adopt the child we gave birth to. Even though we are legally married in the State of New York, Katherine's parenthood will not be fully recognized without this adoption.

Did you think marriage equality in New York State meant, you know, equality? Nope!

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) allows other states to refuse to recognize our marriage. Without the adoption, if we visited Edie's grandparents in Wisconsin, Katherine couldn't make medical decisions for Edie. She couldn't sign a release form for Edie to play at a play gym. If I were in a car accident, the state could take custody of Edie until her legal next of kin (my immediate family) arrived from Boston.

Pause to imagine that for a minute. I’m unconscious in the hospital. My wife is perfectly fine. But the state takes our daughter away from her mother and places her in the care of strangers because DOMA allows them to decide that that scenario is better for a traumatized infant.

But there are two cases at the Supreme Court right now that should solve that problem, right? And marriage equality will actually be equal? Wrong again!

Each of those cases addresses marriage equality in different ways, but even the broadest possible positive ruling on both of them will still allow states to determine on a state-by-state basis whether my marriage is in fact equal.

In order for Katherine to legally adopt the child we gave birth to, both of us must be evaluated by a social worker who visits our home to determine if we are fit to parent our own daughter. That evaluation includes questions about our religion and our plans for disciplining our child. Bet you’d find that conversation with a stranger holding a clipboard relaxing, right?

Pause to image that for a minute. I'm unconscious in the hospital. My wife is perfectly fine. But the state takes our daughter away from her mother and places her in the care of strangers.

Wait, you're thinking—both of you have to go through this process? Even though one of you carried this child in your own body for nine months? Yup. In New York State, the process for a second-parent adoption is the same as for a stranger adoption. Everyone who lives in the household where the adoption is taking place must submit to the evaluation. Even if one of those people threw up for nine months in order to create the child in question.

It gets better though—after that, Katherine has to be fingerprinted and background checked. Then we'll both have to stand in front of a judge who is empowered to say whether or not we are a family.

Think it stops there? Strike three. Last fall, we also had to spend another $1,500 to draw up powers of attorney, health care proxies, and a bunch of other documents to kind-of-sort-of duplicate the suite of rights that straight couples get for the cost of a $35 marriage license.

Yup. Marriage equality actually costs $4,500.

That makes no sense, right? Edie didn't think so either. Here’s the hilarious video Katherine made of Edie doing her 5-month-old best to explain it to you.

Katherine and I are thrilled to be legally married. I love being able to call her my wife. It was a total joy to get that marriage certificate in the mail. But the more we talk to people, the more we realize that people think marriage equality actually means equality.

It made us angry when we learned that we would have to adopt our own child. And it made us concerned for other LGBT families who can’t afford to do an adoption. Where would those families go for help? A little searching brought us to the LGBT Law Project at the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG). The LGBT Law Project at NYLAG provides free legal services to low-income lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community members throughout New York City. They provide second-parent adoptions, legal name changes, representation in employment matters, and much more.

We decided to turn our anger into a campaign to raise at least as much as we spent on the adoption for NYLAG. You can join us here.

Legal marriage in New York State was a fantastic, amazing first step. But we have a lot farther to go if we want to make marriage equality live up to its promise.