Nel's New Day

May 13, 2012

Happy Mother’s Day to All Unmarried Parents

This column is dedicated to my partner of almost 43 years who was as much, if not more than, a mother to my biological son and to all the unsung parents, LGBT and heterosexual, who lack recognition for their parenting by the federal government.

Today is Mother’s Day. After almost a century and a half of its celebration in the country, the day has become the second most expensive one, following only the Christmas/Hanukah holidays in midwinter. Few now know that Julia Ward Howe proclaimed the first United States Mother’s day as an international day to celebrate peace and motherhood, calling on mothers to protest the futility of war. Now the day, which grosses retailers above $16 billion, mostly means flowers and brunches and maybe breakfast in bed for the woman who works hard the rest of the year.

Because of federal law, many parents cannot be considered as mothers and fathers because they are not married. According to estimates, between 2 million and 2.8 million children under the age of 18 in this country are being reared by lesbian and gay couples. Twenty-four percent of female same-sex couples and 11 percent of male same-sex couples are raising children, and 38 percent of transgenders in this country identify as parents. Millions of heterosexual couples with children are not married. The percentage of children born to unmarried parents who live together, both same-sex and different-sex, jumped 83 percent since 2002.

The lack of federal marriage equality means that same-sex couples cannot be married even if they want to make this choice. After President Obama’s statement last week that he approved of marriage equality, the Respect for Marriage Act, which would nullify the Defense of Marriage Act banning marriage, may get some impetus but will take a long time to pass with the current political climate.

Until 1996,  the United States recognized legal marriages conducted in any state. After Hawaii considered marriage equality in 1996, the U.S. Congress passed DOMA, which forbids the United States from recognizing same-sex marriage. The Respect for Marriage Act was first introduced in the House of Representatives almost three years ago and then debated in the Senate Judiciary Committee last fall.

At that time Huffington Post published this letter by Alan Shayne, co-author of Double Life with his partner of more than 50 years, Norman Sunshine:

I’ve been with my friend, partner, lover, comrade, spouse (I don’t like the word “husband,” because it seems to imply that I’m his wife, and that is hardly our story) for over 50 years. We’re told that only 50 percent of all marriages last that long, so we’re among the lucky ones. We were married in 2008, when Massachusetts made it a legal option — and our home state of Connecticut now recognizes it. If the federal government recognized same-sex marriage, when one of us died, the other would get health benefits, his partner’s social security and a big break on inheritance taxes. But we undoubtedly won’t be alive when the country finally endorses same-sex marriage, even though everyone seems to think that that is an eventuality. At the moment our recognition as a married couple in our state has benefitted us only in reducing our AAA dues.

None of us, except the people who’ve caused the situation, can be unaware of the confusion and misery that young people are going through today. Not only is the economy rotten, but the moral standard of our once-great country seems to be on the skids. How can any of our young people be expected to believe in meaningful, productive, loving lifetime relationships when 50 percent of all first marriages end up in divorce? Add to this the fact that gay couples are treated as lesser citizens, and they might be tempted to ask, why not whoop it up and never grow old? As long as we are not allowed to marry, we will not be equal to the rest of our compatriots and will be regarded as less than they, or, in some cases, as freaks. This is the reason for bullying and teenage suicide — we are being looked down on with the endorsement of the federal government.

It is bad enough that same-sex couples who have been together for years have no tax advantages, still may have to show powers of attorney to accompany their partners into hospitals, cannot keep their lovers from being deported if they are undocumented and won’t inherit without losing half of the money they may have saved together. But the moral issue is worse. Until same-sex couples can be married legally, they will never be given the equal respect and treatment that our country promised its people and which our founding fathers hammered into the Constitution. We have to remember that we should all be given the same advantages and rights regardless of race, religion or sexual preference. It’s just one of the building blocks that will show the world that we’re a great, just, free, democracy where all people have an equal share in government.

There’s one other very serious aspect to defeating DOMA. As it stands, setting homosexuals apart encourages homophobia and all the people who would like to get rid of gays, whom they consider sick or degenerate, or, worse, a danger to their communities. If people are equal, it’s more difficult to turn some of them into scapegoats. Everything should be done to stop the uneducated hate in our country. Think for a moment what would happen if everything created by homosexuals in the history of the world were removed by the delete button on that great computer in the sky. Do we want to live in such a world? Then for God’s sake, get rid of the Defense of Marriage Act, which is already declared unconstitutional, and let us all be equal and free in “the land of the free.”

Double Life shows the changes that same-sex relationships have changed in the past half century from the belief that homosexuality is a disease to the present time when over 77 percent know someone in the LGBT community, a percentage that is almost double that of 20 years ago.

Shayne and Sunshine’s autobiography describe how Shayne first tried to “cure” himself through analysis and then stayed closeted from public knowledge during his career which culminated in becoming the president of Warner Brothers Television.

Starting his career as a freelance illustrator in New York, Sunshine evolved into a painter, media consultant, and Emmy Award winner. Their reflections of working to maintain a relationship through the changes of bigotry since 1958 is poignant yet entertaining.

Over 40 years ago, a friend said she wondered what old LGBT people look like. Double Life gives that view. Although Shayne and Sunshine didn’t have children, they are a family—like millions of the rest of us.

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