Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Pondering the "legalities"

As I read more about the joys and trials of getting pregnant, the birth of the child, and parenting the child through his/her life, I am seeing more and more of the challenges being a two mom family can have. I was reading blogs last night of several two mom families that had problems with 2nd parent adoption by the 2nd (i.e. non-biological) mother. It got me to thinking about the challenges Wendy and I face as not only just a lesbian couple, but in particular as a lesbian couple who intends to raise a family together.

Here's just a few things you may or may not know:
1) While I am fortunate that my company's insurance plan allows me to have "domestic partner" insurance coverage for Wendy, the monthly insurance payment to cover her is considered imputed income to me. What this means is that the money it takes to cover Wendy's add-on premium to my insurance is first given to me as additional income. That income is then taxed. Then the money is withdrawn and used to pay the premium. So what, you may be asking? Well, let's do the math: each month let's use $100 as the extra amount of income that I'm given to cover the premiums for Wendy. That $100 is taxed (at my full tax percent which is around 30% or so). This means that over the course of a year, I receive $1200 of additional income which "costs" me $360 extra dollars in taxes. Still...$360 is not too bad for a whole year of insurance, right? But consider this, if Wendy and I were legally married (like my straight co-workers), the insurance premiums for my spouse are not considered imputed income. In other words, my male co-workers who carry their wives on their insurance pay absolutely zero. Fair? I think not.

2) As the non-biological parent-to-be, I have absolutely no rights to a) make health-related care decisions for Wendy in the case she can't (not only during her pregnancy, but ever) b) to our unborn child and its care before or after birth c) may not be able to become the "legal" adopted parent of our child if we happen to have our adoption petition heard by a judge who doesn't like the idea of 2nd parent adoptions. I read about a two mom couple who actually had to move their county of residence so that their adoption petition could be reviewed by a non-prejudiced judge. This part scares me a little bit because we live in Washington County. My lawyer told me that she didn't think it would be a problem, but it might be a little more dicey than if we lived in Multnomah County. If, however, I was a male (any male at all), then there would be no prejudicial roadblocks that could possibly come up when I attempt to adopt our child. Fair? I think not.

3) When the baby is born, I want to be able to cover the child on my insurance plan (just like I mentioned doing for Wendy above). Well, since Wendy is covered, she will have full maternity benefits, etc throughout her pregnancy and also to basic post-partum services after the birth. The child will be covered prior to birth under the terms of Wendy's maternity care. But, here's the kicker....once the child is born, I have 30 days to legally adopt the child. If my adoption doesn't happen within that 30 day period, the child is no longer able to receive insurance coverage under my policy. This is due to the fact that I have no legal tie to the child. So, I have to have all my legal ducks in a row so that on the day our child is born, I can simply sign the paperwork and hopefully have my adoption petition presented to a judge and approved before our 30 days are up. If the process takes longer than 30 days, our child is uninsured and any medical costs we incur will be fully 100% billable/payable to us. Our neighbors just had a baby and Heather showed us a copy of the hospital bill. It was some huge amount around $19,000 (if I remember correctly). But, because of insurance coverage, all they pay is the deductible of a few hundred dollars. Imagine if, heaven forbid, something happened to our child that required medical care on day 31 and the adoption hadn't completed yet. Even just a few days in the hospital could cost thousands of dollars. And it would be that way just because we were a two mom family and not a straight family. Ethan, Jeff & Heather's new little boy, is automatically covered...no papers to sign, no adoption process to go through...no questions asked. But...not for us. Fair? I think not?

4) Schools, churches, day care facilities. All these institutions may have prejudicial bias against same-sex parent families. Unlike straight couples or single parents or even mixed race couples (at least here in the Pacific Northwest this is true), same-sex parents often have to be very cautious about interviewing the directors/administrators of these facilities to make sure they will not harbor prejudice or allow such prejudice to be tolerated towards our child and our family. Some same-sex families I've read about in, you guessed it, the South, have unknowingly placed their child into a school or child care facility that openly disparaged 2 mom or 2 dad families and even went so far as to call the families and the children of those families "abominations". Even families who have abusive parents are tolerated, and even ignored to the detriment of the children, while loving same-sex families face judgement and attack. Fair? I think not.

I suppose it's time to come down off my "Fair? I think not" soapbox, but it truly gets my dander up (as my mom would say) to think of the possible challenges we may have to face as same-sex parents. I'm not sure if it's my maternal instincts already kicking in, or what, but I've never been an activist or in any way outspoken about the "cause" of gay rights. But the thought of my child and my family being treated as "less than" any other family is quickly sending me into a wave the flag, sing the chorus, march on the picket line frame of mind. When I think of a sweet, innocent child who Wendy and I are lovingly and thoughtfully working towards bringing into our lives, I feel a pull to stand up and speak out for the injustices that face any same-sex parent out there today. It's easy to stay quiet and just let life flow when the flow doesn't really effect you in some material way. But...when the effects of prejudice and judgement against who I am and how my family looks is based simply on the fact that we are a same-sex parent family, my tolerance goes out the window.

In the end, I don't know where all this will lead. We may find our road free of potholes as we drive along it...that is my deepest prayer. But, if we do hit a few bumps I hope that I will rise to the challenge and do what I can to either re-pave over the rough spots or find a new and better road to travel on that keeps our family safe and always standing firm in the fact that we are, and will always be, a f-a-m-i-l-y.

- Karen


Ethan Barry's Momma said...

Thank you for bringing these issues to light. As a "straight couple", you are right, Jeff and I have never had to even blink an eye at such issues and it's definitely not fair. One positive about OR though is that you will be able to quickly adopt your precious baby (I KNOW it will happen). Jeff's cousin and his partner live in FL and legally, they both can't adopt a child. Only one of them can be the adoptive parent unless they want to go and live in another state for six months which isn't an option for them b/c of their jobs. It is just wrong. They would be great parents too.
Our positive thoughts and vibes for a smooth road are with you always.
H and family

revrose said...

Thank you for your measured and concerned analysis of your situation prior to being in it. I know both mother and child will be well cared for. Blessings, the "almost grandma".

M said...

Thankfully my wife and I live in Vancouver, so we don't have to worry about any of what. As soon as the baby is born, she can be registered as 2nd parent, no questions asked. I really hope it will be the same everywhere in this lifetime, but it's so hard to keep optimistic when things like Prop 8 happen.