Why We Need to Legalize Gay Marriage
The Importance of Gay Marriage Being Legalized
At a very young age we are taught about consequences and how they affect us and others. Those consequences can either be positive or negative but soon we learn that everything we do in life has an affect in our lives. We are instructed to learn from the results of our actions, how they hurt us and others. In those early years of learning we are taught not to treat friends, family or those we love or have loved in hurtful ways, how to make sure that everyone is treated with kindness.
By keeping gay marriage not legal we are not taking care of people who are at a disadvantage in relationships. We are allowing those who have resources to choose to be deceitful, ruin and take advantage of the person they loved at one time. The fact that gay marriage is not legal makes persecution of another, legal. People are suffering and there is no law, no guidelines for them to turn to for help. They are just being told that since the law does not recognize them as a true marriage then one can do what ever they want to the other. Children are being affected by the power struggle as well. If one spouse has more money then custody, shelter, food all come into question and the children are the ones that suffer.
By legalizing gay marriage we are protecting everyone. We protect each other, our friends and family members who are out there in unprotected marriages. Children, grandchildren, all are being affected by the fact that gay marriage is not legal.
Below is a summary of a true story of a person who recently went through a separation. She and her children went from enjoying their lives and being productive people in the community to being able to make ends meet because of friends, family and welfare.
When Relationships Are Over
As I sit in the house with the children asleep and wonder how rent is going to get paid I find myself conflicted about my plans to write. For most of my life I have lived behind a few monumental shifts within our country and only participated as a witness, not as an active participant. The differences for me now are those two precious beings who are asleep in the next room. Somehow they too have now found themselves in the middle of a movement and they do not even know it yet. When they are adults and are able to put the timing together, I want them to hear from me that I contributed to change, to the process which needs to happen in order for change to occur. I want them to know that I did everything possible to create a happy, healthy and equal life for them.
Two years ago my ex-partner received a job offer for a suburb of Philadelphia. We had spent the year previous (2011) separated in CA. As we moved toward the possible move I sought legal counsel for what my options were concerning the children and I remaining in CA. I was advised that since I had been with the kids at home for the first three years of their lives and we had separated in CA that the following were my options. The kids, three at the time, could remain in CA and it would be my ex’s responsibility to find something nearby and not demand that we leave our community of friends and relocate. Since CA recognizes domestic partners legally as a married couple I would be eligible for five years of spousal support in the financial range of $900 to $1200 a month. Child support would range from $800 to $1000 per child.
This emotional and financial possibility would have allowed the children and I to remain where we had worked hard to develop a close community of friends and to remain with the surroundings which had made us so comfortable for three years. Financially it would give me the opportunity to remain home and work part time until the kids reached school age. Since I was eligible for spousal support I could also look for something which would start my new career since I had not worked since my ex had been ordained in 2006. Before that time I worked in the fields of family reunification and on a special 9/11 project for family permanency for children and their families affected by 9/11. While my ex was in rabbinical school the majority of the cost was on my shoulders as I was the only one employed full time. My financial assistance through school as well as being the supportive spouse and giving up my career when she was ordained, allowed me to be eligible for spousal support for five years.
As I approached my ex with the thought of the kids and I remaining in CA she would threaten to kill herself if I went through the court battle. She would go off her medication and be euphoric one moment and needing to call the emergency nurse on call with thoughts of suicide. I decided we should meet in mediation to see if we could come to an agreement. In the end the agreement was just verbal in front of the mediator whom informed me that we did not need to file anything with the courts since we had reached an agreement through mediation. The agreement was as follows. I agreed to relocate with the children to Philadelpia, PA with her paying $2000 a month for one year. We understood the $2000 would not be a permanent arrangement but only for the first year and then we would sit down again and discuss the next financial arrangement. The $2000 would allow me to remain at home with the children as we transitioned to a new home, new community strictly on our own. Her new congregation did not offer any support for the children and I as we moved or arrived in Philadelphia. I agreed with the agreement knowing the kids and I would be beginning a new life and we would have to make several adjustments along the way but everything seemed to be doable.
My community in Brooklyn came together and found the kids and I a place which was located in East Germantown, affordable and yet close enough to shuls, playgrounds and the Mount Airy lesbian community we should be able to find ourselves a new community quickly. The kids and I left CA early due to my ex having panic attacks and becoming increasingly more emotionally unstable. We drove across the country to our new home. They were happy for the first few days then they realized we were not going back, they would not be meeting their friends again for daily playdates. I worked with them on the remainder of the trip and when we arrived in Philadelphia. Quickly we began to make friends at the nearby playgrounds and we attended services at the Germantown Jewish Center. It appeared as though we were going to make it after all the transition. It was still hard, we still missed our friends but we began to cultivate the community around us. Soon our lives would change, forever a brit, a covenant would be broken.
Gay Marriage Inequality
In November 2012, five months into our first year in PA, I received a letter written on the back of some of her work paper stating she was paying the last of the current amount and until we each retained mediators she would determine the amount to give for support as it met her needs. At the time I had a few funds from my mother whom had distributed some of our funds the year previously. The funds would assist in keeping the kids and I afloat as we continue to move through the year, I could not however afford to attain a coach and attorney which is what my ex had stated she wanted. In our agreement, we had discussed not going through any legal conversations during our first year as we were adjusting to the new communities and new living arrangement. Our community in Brooklyn were standing by to assist the kids and I as we could not live off of the amount she had come up with. My ex, after ten years of being together, after signing a ketubah, which said we both would vowed to live a life in the image of the divine, the other parent to our two beautiful children decided $640 a month was enough for us to live. She offered no assistance with groceries, health insurance was being paid completely out of pocket through me since she felt her health insurance through her temple was too costly, and the kids and I were alone without an established community to comfort or support. Following a Shabbat when I inquired when would be my next Shabbat with the children and my ex responded by saying ‘if you want to spend Shabbat with them, get a lawyer and have them do it’, I asked our friends in Brooklyn for assistance with retaining a lawyer. The rabbi who married us along with congregants from the congregation we had called home helped the kids and I begin our fight for equality. Within the next few weeks we would learn that not all states thought all families were equal and we were strangers in in a world unknown to us without community.
My ex had a congregant represent her as a lawyer. Once she lowered the amount to an amount we could hardly survive she would make the statement that she was indeed paying the highest amount for child support in PA and that I had been taking advantage of her. Following my community in Brooklyn retaining an attorney for the kids and I was told that the amount she was choosing to pay was about half of what it would be if I was making $20,000/year. The rate for child support if I made $30,000/year (which is what I was earning when my ex and I met) would be a little over $800 a month. I was also advised by my attorney that since the agreement had been broken and my ex’s attorney stated they believed there was never an agreement that I could return to CA. I only had a few days remaining to make the choice. Often I reflect back on that moment and wonder if I should have made a different choice. At that time I felt my ex would come to a decision that would reflect that we had been together for over ten years, we had started a family together and I had supported her emotionally and spiritually as well as contributed to her financial stability during rabbinical school and her first two positions in the field.
Instead of leaving PA I and the children remained. Apposed to hearing how we would remain the likeness of the divine I heard through my ex’s attorney that we were never married so in fact, she did not owe me anything for the years we had spent together. My heart ached remembering the day we stood under the chupah in Brooklyn at Park Slope Jewish Center. That day had been so beautiful, despite the drama which accompanies such events. People celebrated with us that day and weeks, months and years to come. We had been the shul’s couple. We had met there, were the first lesbian couple to stand under the chuppah in the Conservative shul. We had been married. Although not legal in the eyes of the country we stood before our people and made a commitment and signed with witnesses that no matter what we would always treat the other with respect, dignity and caring. For months we waited and lived off of the kindness of friends, my landlord and rabbi’s discretionary fund. At some point my attorneys said they were running out of funds and would not be able to go to court with me. If I wanted to make my ex an offer they could wrap things up and we could move on from there at a later time as I began to have an income. I offered to take child support in the amount as if I was earning $20,000/year. I figured it would close to a part time job. Then my ex filed for full and permanent custody. For the next year I fought to keep custody of the children and keep the schedule we had prior to our separation and court battles the same.
During our discussions through our attorneys the kids and I had to figure out how to pay for insurance, get winter clothes (we had just moved from Sacramento,CA), and have food for the three of us. Not once did their other mom offer to bring groceries to the house. Food stamps were not available because we did not have a court order saying what she paid or did not pay. According to the food stamp office I might have been lying about not getting money. We did not qualify for medical assistance because in order to get it you had to let the one you had expire. Welfare figures if you find a way to pay for it then your not too bad off. After Obama passed the healthcare program we were immediately approved for medicaid.
Around Rosh Hashanah of 2013 we signed our agreements for custody and support. Although I should have felt closure I felt insecurity. The kids and I had just spent a nearly a year of struggles that will be felt for more than ten. For ever will it be printed in their memories that we stopped doing things fun, no longer were allowed to get treats from the store on a shopping day. Their snack choices were not as bountiful as any mother, Jewish mother would ever want for their children. They had to continuously give up, their friends in CA, our first home in PA and the everyday life we had started when we had arrived and began to create a place for ourselves. We lost our shul when we had to move out of East Germantown. My ex decided since the school was so inferior it would work in order to get the children out of my primary care which they had been in since birth. The home we rented had a beautiful garden, the kids still remember that home, how we just arrived one day after driving for a long, long time. Now it is part of a bad dream. The amount for child support went up to $1200.00/month. Of course she owed from the time we were involved in court but could pay it off in payments instead of the lump sum. My ex would not pay for half of child care, saying since she only had the kids ⅓ of the time then she should only pay that amount for child care. Finding employment following staying home with children is not the easiest of tasks. Explaining to the children why you have to be gone and why you cannot stay with them, especially during a time of upheaval is heart breaking. One of these years the kids and I will be able to return to those days of happy times. We will return to having friends and community surround us, to being able to buy food out instead of only what can be bought with food stamps. We will know what it is like to be able to visit Brooklyn since we can afford the tolls. We will return to those days.
I do not talk to the kids about how or why things have gotten so difficult. In time as they get older they will look back and wonder what happened, I think they will learn for themselves why things changed in our lives so much. How the law allowed an individual to dictate if we had really been a family in the first place. My hope is that when they look back to our history they know that I fought hard for who we were/are, for the family that we mourned the death of but was not recognized for having. I hope one day they can forgive me for living under the notion that we are all equals and would not cause malace to another. To forgive me for allowing hope to be so blinding.
When people read this I want them to understand that our lives need protecting. Our children need protecting by the same laws that protect others. There was and is no reason an adult or child should have to hear from their ex’s lawyer that since legally they were never married nothing about marriage or family applies to them. We are equal, we have the same pains, we mourn the loss of our relationships just as anyone else. We deserved, and other like us deserve to have a life without fear of loosing housing, food, custody of children or financial support.