Thursday, January 19, 2006

"Family values"

My son has epilepsy. Because of this, he sees a pediatric neurologist every few months and has to get the occasional EEG at the hospital.

Contrary to the typical stereotype, Daddy is the worrier in our family, not Mommy. While part of my job as "stay-home mom" is to take the kids to their various doctor's appointments, my husband likes to take our son to the neurologist so that he's very clear on what's going on with that. Because of this, I've been there maybe three or four times total while they know my husband very well.

Once when my son was due for an EEG, the hospital called to arrange the appointment. A few minutes after I hung up, the woman from the hospital called back, sounding kind of sheepish. "I'm sorry, but I have to ask: are you the child's mother?"

This caught me off guard, but I answered that I was.

"I'm sorry, but do you have custody of your son?"

I've never been asked such a question. My husband and I are our kids' birth parents and we're not divorced, so there are have never been any custody questions at all. I told her I was and she told me that the neurologist had told her my son didn't have a mother.


Apparently the fact that they hadn't seen me in a while, only my husband, gave them the impression he was a single parent. After all, MOMS bring kids to the doctor, not DADS, unless there is no mom. My son's paperwork also only had my husband's name on it.

It was a very weird feeling to have my relationship to my son called into question. Fortunately, it only took a phone call from my husband to straighten everything out and then a trip to the neurologist to fill out new paperwork. No harm no foul and we all had a good laugh over it, but for twenty minutes, I was not allowed to make health care decisions for my own son.

This past weekend, I met a woman who lives this every day.

She and her partner have a young son. He was born in California, where second-parent adoption is legal. The boy is her partner's birth son, but her name is also on the birth certificate.

Recently, they moved to Arizona and she told me about what a culture shock it was, coming to a state where two parents of the same gender cannot be recognized as legal parents. Once when her son had to take a trip to the emergency room, she rushed from work to go see him. When she arrived, they asked her relationship to the child.

"I'm his mother."

"Uhhhh... his mother is already in with him."

Okay, yeah, I get that this would be confusing and even amusing. At first. Twenty minutes later when they still wouldn't let her in to see her son, it's no longer amusing. It's outrageous.

This woman is the boy's MOTHER in every sense of the word that matters. She was there when he was born. She's been raising him. She takes care of him when he's sick and comforts him when he's sad. She plays with him and teaches him. Her partner recognizes her as the (other) mother of her child. The boy calls her Mommy. She calls him her son. These are the ONLY THREE PEOPLE whose opinion on the issue matter. It is no one else's business. And yet, somehow we're supposed to be proud of our "family values" by denying this woman the right to make decisions for her son. By denying a frightened child in the emergency room both his parents, we're "putting children first." By making it so that when one parent is too emotional to want to deal with the hospital paperwork, the other is not allowed to step in, we are upholding "good morals."

I'm furious. The more stories she told me, the more furious I became. This is just so wrong in every sense of the word. What we are doing to families by insisting they can't be families unless WE say they are is nothing short of immoral. We're stealing from this child and we're stealing from his mothers--BOTH of them. And we're calling that "pro-family."

Shame on us.


At 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent writing and storytelling here. --adam schenck

At 12:16 PM, Anonymous econopodder said...

As you can see from this front-page story in today's Washington Post, Virginia voters are almost certain to face a referendum in November on a "gay marriage ban."

I'm upset about this, and ready to call somebody to find out what I can do to oppose it, for what little good it'll do in this state. I don't have much to offer as "credentials," in that I'm single rather than married, and hetero rather than gay. But on this issue, I just don't get it. I do usually try, on public policy issues, to understand the other side's point . . . and on this, I just don't.

At 3:13 PM, Blogger Bad Methodist said...

Being straight and single is not a drawback. Straight allies are really important, just like the whites fighting for civil rights were important and men fighting for women's rights. The fact that you're single can offer a really different perspective, too.

I'd see if you can find a GLBT community center in your area or a local group affiliated with the Human Rights Campaign or PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Any of these should have information on how to get involved. As smart and articulate as you are, you'd be a great asset.


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