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Taking ourselves seriously.

In the court battle over same-sex marriage in Hawaii, the state's attorney argued that continuing to ban such marriages would be "in the best interests of the children." But it's precisely for the sake of the children that strikes me as the best reason for lesbians and gay men to fight for the right to marry. (It's the only reason that interests me, in fact.) If our marriages were recognized, courts would be more likely also to recognize our stake in parenting--in particular, the claims of those lesbian and gay parents who have no biological ties to the children they are helping to raise. Until that happens, such parents will continue to find themselves in a precarious situation, one in which we are thrown back on our own ethics.

True, the straight world is finally noticing the baby boom that has been going on in the lesbian community for more than a decade. In November, for example, Newsweek magazine sported a lovely cover of Melissa Etheridge and Julie Cypher, two happy, expectant mothers--of one baby. But notice is far from tantamount to validation. Recent court decisions, which have taken children from their lesbian mothers and given custody to an estranged grandmother or to a father who is a convicted murderer, demonstrate all too dearly that there are still places in America where the judiciary considers homosexuals the lowest of moral pariahs. Obviously, it doesn't matter in those places that the American Psychological Association has issued a pamphlet saying that we don't harm our kids by being lesbian or gay. Judicial powers in many parts of the country still refuse to believe that we are capable of providing stable households in which to raise our kids or of modeling moral virtues for them.

Since those courts refuse to honor even the claims of a biological parent on her child if the parent is lesbian, there's not much chance they will take an interest in the claims of a nonbiological parent on the child she has been raising with her same-sex partner. So what happens in this lesbian baby boom if two lovers, after one of them has conceived a child and both of them have raised the child to a certain age, then separate?

Homosexual partnerships sometimes end in separation, just as heterosexual marriages do. But when heterosexuals who have children divorce, the parent who is not living with the child has a virtual guarantee of at least court-ordered visitation rights. When two lesbians or two gay men agree to raise a child together and then break up, the courts have not yet been much use in protecting the rights of the nonbiological parent. They have exhibited no understanding of the role a so-called "biological stranger" could have in parenting in a homosexual family. In the eyes of the law, our pledges to each other to be a family are neither serious nor binding.

The potential for injustice and heartbreak in our joyous baby boom is alarming. There are already a number of tragic cases around the country, such as that of Texan Lisa Fowler, who, with her partner of seven years, was raising a son conceived through donor insemination. Fowler was left without, even visitation privileges when the couple decided to end their relationship. To this point it is not dear whether the court will even agree to hear the case, since Fowler has neither biological ties to the child nor legal standing as a parent.

Perhaps the heterosexually dominated legal system will never be able to understand that a woman can provide her female partner with a loving environment in which she feels she can safely have a baby without a husband. The courts don't care whether two women made the decision together that they would raise a child or that they both changed diapers and prepared formula and provided the money for bassinets and baby food. The courts aren't sympathetic to our feeling that the formation of a partnership is like straight people's exchanging marriage vows, that our households are as much family to us as heterosexual nuclear living arrangements are to straight people. To them, we've created "pretend families," even when those families include very real children. How then can we expect the current legal system to take seriously the claim of a nonbiological parent that she is the child's "other mother" and that she has as great an emotional stake in her relationship with the child as its biological mother?

It is not surprising that when passion grows cold, rancor often takes over. Though our better, more dispassionate selves may wholeheartedly support decency and justice, it's just not human nature to want to be nice to someone who has reminded us that romantic love can be as finite as mortal life. And unlike heterosexuals, who can avail themselves of the legal protections of divorce, we can be as nasty to each other as we damn well please when we fall out of love--the law won't stop us.

Until the law recognizes our unions as marriages, we must invent ways to deal ethically with each other, to take ourselves and our relationships seriously even though society's institutions refuse us the dignity of seriousness. The challenge is tremendous. In the lesbians baby boom of the past decade, we've assumed the daring task of reinventing the family. Our failure in this endeavor will be disastrous if we cannot also invent the ways to honor our commitments to each other.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:homosexuals fight for recognition of same-sex marriages and parental rights
Author:Faderman, Lillian
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 4, 1997
Previous Article:Life is Not a Rehearsal.
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