Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Anti-Gay Legislation and the Real-Life Families of Gay Parents: A Case from North Carolina

I said yesterday I had a story to share.  And so this morning, I'd like to tell it:

My friend Mollie* has a niece living in North Carolina who is married to another woman.  The couple cannot legally marry in the state of North Carolina.  But one of the two women is the daughter of an Episcopal minister, and he solemnized their marriage.

Mollie's niece Julia and her wife Sally chose North Carolina as a place to live because it's homelike to them, since Julia grew up in Tennessee and Sally in Virginia.  It also has a section of counties known for their high educational levels and general tolerance and affirmation of LGBT human beings, the research triangle region in which they live.

Julia teaches at a church-affiliated college known for its commitment to social justice and support for gay rights.  Sally is also a teacher, in whatever is the equivalent of a charter school (the term we use in Arkansas) in North Carolina.  Like Julia, she enjoys strong support among her colleagues.

Several years ago, the couple had a son.  Julia bore the baby via artificial insemination.  A year or so ago, they chose to have another child, a daughter, with the father of their first child as the father of the second.

Under North Carolina law, both children belong legally to Julia.  When the son was born, Julia and Sally were concerned that Sally adopt him, so that she had legal rights to make decisions about his healthcare and about all sorts of other matters, in cases where these decisions might have to be made.  North Carolina law permitted this to happen, and the adoption occurred without a hitch.

Then came the 2010 elections in which many parts of the South, including North Carolina, roiled by the election of a black president in 2008, swept into office a ragbag lot of religious-right activists calling themselves tea partiers. The composition of the North Carolina legislature changed, and preposterous legislation like the legislation decreeing that the seas cannot rise off the coast of the state came down the pike.

As did the constitutional amendment the state passed this past May, inscribing anti-gay prejudice in the state constitution (see here, here, here, here, herehere, and here).

And the upshot of the religious-right-as-tea-party takeover of the North Carolina legislature, as far as Julia and Sally are concerned?  After the birth of their daughter, when Sally tried to adopt the daughter as she had previously adopted the daughter's brother, she and Julia suddenly discovered that legislative changes have been made--not to mention the marriage amendment--that now outlaw Julia's attempt to adopt her son's sister, her wife's daughter.

She has legal adoption rights for one of the family's two children.  She is denied legal adoption rights for the other of the two children.  As they are fully aware, this sets them up for serious problems if the daughter suddenly becomes ill and Julia, who alone now has legal right to make medical decisions on behalf of their daughter, happens to be away from home or incapacitated at the time.  Or if something should, God forbid, happen to Julia, leaving Sally to raise the two children . . . .  

And why tell this story?  I think it's important for people to hear it because we often talk about gay marriage and gay families as if we're talking about abstractions and principles removed from real life.  But these abstractions and principles--and the social attitudes and legislation in which they result--affect real people and real human lives.

And they sometimes cause intense suffering to real human beings.  To parents struggling to do their best for their children.  To people faced with heart-breaking choices about whether to pull up stakes and try to find a more humane place in which to live, when the laws of their community or state suddenly shift in a way that informs them that they and their children are no longer fully welcome.

After I heard this story, I suggested to a friend of mine in North Carolina that someone or some group should start a website with the title, "Thinking of Moving to North Carolina?  Think Again."  That website could chronicle stories like Julia's and Sally's, so that educated, creative people, who characteristically choose to relocate to places in which prejudice and discrimination don't rule the roost, can know precisely what they're getting into if they consider North Carolina for their new home.

And so that gay and lesbian people and families headed by same-sex parents can know the kinds of frightening legal complications that may well ensue for them in a state that has chosen to inscribe anti-gay prejudice in its constitution and has elected a legislature full of bigots who claim God and the bible as the warrant for their bigotry--as my state of Arkansas just did in the 2012 elections.

*I've altered the names of principals in this story solely because the friend who shared it with me didn't explicitly authorize me to re-tell it, though she also didn't ask me not to repeat her story to anyone else.  In re-telling her story, I also do not want to create any difficulties for her niece and her niece's wife and children--and this is another reason I've shifted their names.

The graphic: a tweet from Rev. Bryan Fischer, head of the American Family Association, in August calling for an "Underground Railroad" to kidnap children from households of gay parents.

No comments: