___Single ___Married __Divorced ___Separated
Name of Spouse:_____________
My stomach tightens. Oh great. It's that question again.
There's always that tightening of the stomach. Who wants to know? What are they going to do with the information? If I answer it one way, I'll be a liar; if I answer it the other way, everyone will think I'm a liar. But today it's just a doctor's office, and it's just a demographic form. The question isn't monumental. I check "Married" and start writing down the name of my spouse: J-O-A-N (space) C...
I am a married woman. Joan and I were married in Escondido, California on July 3, 2008. It was the third time for both of us. The first attempt, in 1999, was not legal. The second one, in 2002, was a "registered domestic partnership," which in 2004 took on most of the responsibilities of marriage, but calling a house cat a mountain lion don't make it one. July 3, 2008 fell smack in the middle of the period between the California Supreme Court's decision on In Re Marriage Cases (S147999) in May and the passing of Proposition 8 in November of that year. Hence, we're married. The Supreme Court said so, and the federal courts that have addressed the question since have not said anything different.
Still, there's always that question. I was married in California. I now live in Texas. In 2005, the Texas state Constitution was amended--by the voters, bless their hearts--to prohibit marriage between members of the same sex, or any status similar to marriage, like, say, a civil union (got one of those too; collect the whole set!). There's a case pending in front of the Texas Supreme Court, but it's complicated and I won't go into it here.
I don't try to be married when I file my taxes. The Federal Defense of Marriage Act, though it may crumble, and soon, prevents that sort of thing. Besides, we get better returns if we file separately. Lots of married opposite-sex couples without kids do the same thing, so I don't really feel like that's a cop-out. So I check "married" on doctor's office forms, driver's-license renewals, applications for loans. I got into a squabble with the benefits guy who administrates our work 401k about this, and I forget who won, but Joan's the beneficiary, at least. The ultimate question is how far I can push it.
Because I'll tell you what I want to do. It's a little secret. Lesbians everywhere probably do this, or want to do it. They probably film themselves doing it and sell the tapes on e-bay. I want to (dropping voice to a whisper) quitclaim our house to ourselves as a married couple.
I know. I feel so dirty.
It's a small thing. Real estate agents and lawyers do it every day. All it means is that the house is owned by a unit (the couple) instead of two units (two single persons). If one of them dies, the couple unit still exists; it's just down to one person, and that one person keeps the house. It means that if one of us drops dead, long-lost relatives we've never met are less likely to come crawling out of the woodwork in search of a free house. Or half a free house, anyway. Technically, we have what's called "joint tenancy with right of survivorship" which is supposed to be the same thing, but owning the house as a married couple is more secure. More cozy. More legally binding. Less paperwork, too.
Yes, there are other options. We could draw up wills declaring each other the executor and sole heir. (And have.) We could form a trust (probably the logical next step). But I don't understand why we have to do that when other people, married people, have those things conveyed upon them simply by being married. I'm married. Why can't I have them?
But I don't think I can push it that far. More to the point, I don't think I want to be the test case to find out if I can push it that far. Being legally married enough to own real property as a couple would be legally married enough to make a county recorder someplace say, "I don't have the authority to do that." Which would inevitably draw media attention. I don't know why anybody would want to be a test case. I want someone else to be the test case.
Some people, including about a third of Texans, feel, for religious or other reasons, that same-sex couples shouldn't be "blessed" with legal recognition. I get that. Well, I don't get that, but I'll say I get that, just so I can get to my next point. Putting aside the religious question for a moment, let's consider just a smattering of some of the very practical problems that the lack of legal recognition causes for people like me:
No Social Security or other benefits if my partner dies, including survivor benefits for any kids we might be raising that aren't biologically hers.
Unless she specifically designates me on her 401k (which she has), her ex-husband (of nearly 20 years ago) has a greater claim to the fund if she dies before retirement than I do.
We can't apply for joint credit as a married couple, refuse to testify against our spouses in court or get the "married" discount on our car insurance.
30 states don't allow both parents in a same-sex couple to adopt the kids. Six states ban adoption by gay couples. A couple with kids can run into trouble if they so much as travel to one of these other states.
Same sex partners are not considered "next of kin" for quite a few things, including hospital visitation, funeral arrangements and health insurance.
Same sex couples have to pay inheritance taxes. Married opposite-sex couples don't.
I could go on, but you get the idea. It's not just a question of a state-sanctioned stamp on the forehead. It's serious, it's all-pervading and it's every area of life.
And it's my house, people.
I love my house.