Monday, June 09, 2008

(this continues the posting of chapters from The Brides of March)

The $600 Date

Jannine and I blew $600 one day a couple years ago, to purchase as many of the legal protections that come free of charge with marriage as the law allows. We agreed, during an emotionally charged latte break afterwards, that we’d rather have been spending the dollars on a weekend for two in San Francisco, with the attendant romantic mileage you can get from that kind of investment (ka-ching, deposit into the emotional bank account). But, we are responsible spouses and mothers, so we went to our lawyer and blew our wad there.
It all started when Jannine was experiencing a rare case of don’t-want-to-go-to-work-itis. She’d been putting in long hours and enough was enough. Since it’s much more fun to play hooky with someone else, than to hooky alone, she talked me into blowing off my plans, and we had a gay film fest in the privacy of our basement while the children were safe at school.
Not a panting porn gay film fest (I’m notoriously porn-averse), but our own little two-fer: one mild, What Makes a Family, taped off cable for us by a friend, and one wild, Bound on DVD, which while not porn, is definitely salacious and fun. Gina Gershon is welcome in my basement any day.
It wasn’t Gina and her lawless biceps that had us scuttling off to a lawyer, though. It was What Makes a Family, a Lifetime Network movie starring Brooke Shields and Cherry Jones. It’s based on the true story of two women who fell in love, had a commitment ceremony, bore a child by artificial insemination, only to discover the biological mother has systemic lupus. When she dies, leaving the other mother without legal protection, the grandparents sweep in and take the child away.
While the story ends well after a tear-jerking plot line (there was a wad of used tissues by my feet), and Brooke is reunited with their daughter, it was a cautionary tale of why wills and powers-of-attorney are too important to delay.
We were both shaken when the movie was over, and even Bound couldn’t restore our equilibrium. We knew we needed to revisit the documents we’d made nine years before, when I was pregnant with our first child. They far from spelled out our current intentions.
Unlike the characters in the movie, who lived in Florida where same-sex adoption is still illegal, we are both the legal parents of our children. So, our lawyer assured us, the situation that occurred in the movie was virtually impossible. Virtually, he said. Sadly, there is always that shadow of a doubt based on the ever-changing tide of social acceptance. But, in the off-chance of our both going at once, we wanted some protection that a bereavement-crazed relative couldn’t take an end run and claim first custodial rights over our appointed guardian.
People do crazy things around death.
As illustrated in the movie. The biological mother’s parents had been so open, so welcoming; they embraced their daughter’s partner, until their daughter died. Then, she became “that damn dyke” and a bad influence on their granddaughter.
People do crazy things around illness, too, which is when those powers-of-attorney come in handy. The last time we shivered with fright after seeing a movie, it was If These Walls Could Talk 2, and if the second section with Chloe Sevigny playing butch turned up the heat, the first section with Vanessa Redgrave chilled us to the bone. Being turned away from the hospital because you are not “family” (as the Redgrave character is when her life partner becomes critically ill) is not something that died with the sixties. Without legal marriage, wills and powers-of-attorney are the only thing we have to place our partners first in line for decision-making and visitation should we become unable to speak for ourselves. Domestic-partner registration options are all very nice symbolically, but as our lawyer pointed out, they don’t do diddly under the law. *
While we have no reason to expect an irrational in-law end-run, and hope to live long and healthy lives, it would be wrong to leave any loophole unclosed, so we spent a couple of hours, and a bundle on the credit card, to protect the lives we’ve worked so hard to build.
Marriage would protect them even more.

*When this was written, domestic partner registration did do diddly except create a paper trail showing your intentions to stay together. The currest Domestic Partnerships available in Oregon do have teeth; they grant the same state rights and responsibilities that marriage provides to help protect families.

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