It was either Drew Carey or his TV boss who observed that gay people should have the same right to ruin their lives with marriage as straight people, and for three weeks gay couples have flocked to San Francisco City Hall to exercise this newfound right. ... Just kidding! Bottom Feeder doesn't really view marriage so cynically, but he didn't want to waste a good line, and besides, he hopes to marry a gay woman one day.
Anyway, it's a delight to see the institution of marriage -- the leading cause of divorce -- embraced so enthusiastically by those previously engaged to their "alternative" lifestyles. Among the newlyweds are Berkeley's notorious and fabulous dyke pornmakers, Shar Rednour and Jackie Strano, who have been described as "fringe of the fringe." The thirty-something duo and their production company, S.I.R. Video, specialize in pornos featuring authentic-looking lesbians -- yep, that includes butch dykes in UPS garb -- not the Howard Stern lipstick-lesbians of mainstream porn. Three years ago, the genre-tweakers got a nod from the industry when their double-feature, Hard Love and How to Fuck in High Heels, won an Adult Video News award (the Oscars of porn) for Best All-Girl Feature. The videomakers also do turns in front of the camera themselves. Maybe you recognize them from their other conceits: Shar is the platinum-blonde author of Femme's Guide to the Universe, Jackie the cowboy-shirt wearing butch who fronts local hard-rock band the Hail Marys.
Like a lot of couples who got hitched chez Gavin Newsom this past month, Shar and Jackie were already living as a married couple. They had an old-fashioned commitment ceremony eight years ago at Black & Blue Tattoo in Frisco where each got her ring finger inked at the same time. This time around, their nuptials weren't so elaborate, but Shar admits to feeling different following the legally sanctioned ceremony. "Now if I say, 'My wife went to go pick up some vegetables,' I'm just making a short statement," not a political statement. (And, yes Shar, while showing off S.I.R's latest release, Talk to Me Baby: A Lover's Guide to Dirty Talk and Role Play, you also can say: "That's my wife up there playing with her strap-on.")
So why in the world would a pair of porn-world rebels do something so rooted in patriarchal tradition? Pretty much the same reason as any other gay couple. "We want the same rights as everyone else," Shar explains.
Of course, whether they attain all those rights depends on whether the courts declare the recent gay weddings legit. But for the sake of argument, let's assume they do bless the unions. That should mean the missus and missus will both have full parental rights if they bear children while hitched, right?
In fact, the recent marriage marathon underscores what is already a problematic situation for lesbian couples with kids: Normally, only one partner in a sperm-donor pregnancy can be the biological mother, and if the relationship goes sour, the gene bearer holds all the cards in a custody battle.
Shar and Jackie aren't yet mommy and mommy, but they hope to be in the near future. As Jackie understands it, both partners should have the same parental rights of any married person. But while most family law experts and gay legal advocates Feeder spoke with agree with Jackie, one prominent local divorce lawyer with extensive experience in lesbian parenting battles disagrees.
Over the past fifteen years, Berkeley attorney Carol Amyx has successfully represented several biological moms who wanted to deny their former lesbian partners custody or visitation privileges. Three of her cases have resulted in published decisions by the state appeals courts that established precedents for future cases. This track record hasn't made Amyx the most popular gal; gay-rights groups have regularly backed the ex-lovers of her clients in the hopes of expanding parental rights for gay couples.
"I'm not not on the lesbian-rights side," Amyx explains, "I just have a different view of lesbian rights."
In her view, lesbian moms have the same rights as all parents to raise their biological children as they see fit -- even if it means shutting out their ex. She grouses that her clients' ex-partners want all the benefits of being a parent (custody and visitation) without the responsibilities (child support payments). To those activists who have likened lesbian custody battles to African-American civil-rights battles, Amyx retorts that blacks didn't pursue civil rights by suing each other.
As for the legal issues, Amyx argues that it's biology or adoption that determine who the parents are. In other words, she says, you can't marry into parenthood -- legally, at least. "The fact that you are associated with the parent," Amyx reasons, "doesn't make you a parent."
Nonsense, says Prof. Joan Hollinger, a family law expert at UC Berkeley's Boalt School of Law, who describes Amyx as "nasty in court." According to Hollinger, if a child is conceived during a marriage, there's a legal presumption that the other spouse is the parent. Not only that, Hollinger says gay couples won't even have to get married to clarify their parental rights. Next year, sweeping domestic partners legislation -- signed by Gov. Gray Davis before he got recalled -- goes into effect. The law will give registered same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as straight married folk. Hollinger predicts that lawyers like Amyx will start losing business come January 1.
Amyx counters that people like Hollinger are reading into the law what they want to see, not what it actually says or doesn't say. It's silent on the question of parental rights of same-sex couples, Amyx says, adding that the Legislature would still need to pass a law explicitly saying that a child conceived during a marriage or domestic partnership is presumed to be the child of both partners. Right now, the state family code applies to children conceived during a marriage between a woman and a man who is not sterile or impotent.
With legal experts of this caliber disagreeing so strongly over the law, gay couples planning on having kids might want to take every precaution possible. So, Shar and Jackie, perhaps y'all might consider a second-parent adoption just in case.
In the meantime, ladies, good luck on your next outrageous project: Feeder hopes to be buying Jackie a maternity cowboy-shirt in the near future.
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