Till Court Do Us Part 

Six tales of marital bliss and cruel disappointment.

Page 2 of 9

William: We had been paying $250 extra a year for the last eleven years. That's almost $3,000! How many other ways are we made to pay more because we're not benefiting from the advantages of marriage? Like when we rent a car, our relationship is not recognized, therefore we have to pay money for an additional driver. Or we don't get the family rate for AAA. All these little ways that we're reminded constantly that our family is not recognized. If one of us were to die, what happens then? Johnny is not eligible for my Social Security. I'm not eligible for Johnny's. That's wrong, because if one of us were to die, one of us is going to be a single parent and we're going to need as much assistance as possible. To deny us that because we happen to be two men instead of a man and a woman is outrageous.

Johnny: We feel that we're pioneers in terms of gay dads. Alameda County has a really high concentration of gay dads -- I'm talking about out gay men who have made a conscious decision to form families together without women as primary caregivers in their children's lives. That's a pretty new phenomenon -- when you said "gay dads" twenty years ago, you were really talking about guys who had been straight and married and had gotten divorced and were still parenting.

William: Or it was gay men having children with lesbians and doing some of the coparenting. People are not used to men parenting, period. Much less two men being together and then being parents. At Zach's school, I went in one day to pick him up and like five kids come running up to me like, "Does Zachary have a mom?' And I smiled and I said, "You know, Zachary is very lucky, he has two dads.' So the kids were like, "I want two dads!" A couple of months later, they started to press a little bit more. They were like, "How was he born?" So then we talked about adoption. But a lot of the kids' parents were like, "I didn't know what to say to my child." They get sort of thrown off by the two-dad thing. We wound up writing this letter to the school basically saying, look, it's adoption. Every adopted kid's story is similar: They grew in a woman's tummy and then they came to live with another family. It seems like if marriage for gay men and lesbians were socially sanctioned, we would have gone through a lot of this already. It really does add an additional burden to our kids as well, because kids are asking questions and we have to help them figure out how to explain it. And then when you have to explain that we can't even be married, in a social way, it sort of knocks the legitimacy of our relationship down a notch.

Isobel & Angela
Isobel White, 36, senior policy associate
Angela Dawn White, 33, human resources analyst, photographer
Years Together: 4

Isobel is nine months pregnant with the Berkeley couple's first child. The baby was conceived through a known sperm donor, a longtime friend who will act as a "super-uncle." Because Angela is not the child's biological parent, she will adopt, but it won't be final until four to six months after the birth. In the meantime, Angela has no parental rights. The couple tied the knot six days after learning Isobel was pregnant.

Isobel: We laugh sometimes about how many different attempts we've made to get married. We registered as domestic partners in June of 2001 and then in September 2002 we actually had what our friends called the most traditional "nontraditional" wedding in history.

Angela: She had five bridesmaids dressed in matching dresses, a big white gown.

Isobel: We had a minister.

Angela: We did the hora. It was ab-solutely beautiful, just the most awesome wedding you can imagine. Really our friends and family acknowledged that that's when we got married. But of course we didn't have a lick of legal rights as a result of that.

Did the City Hall vows feel any different?

Isobel: Definitely. The words were so...

Angela: ... historic.

Isobel: They were these words that we had heard ever since we were kids.

Angela: Those words you hear your entire life, in every movie ... and I have never been a part of that. I never imagined it as a kid that I was ever going to have that. So it was so incredibly powerful to hear somebody saying them, and they were saying them to me.

How does the lack of official recognition affect your lives?

Angela: This is our baby, we're married, this is our home, this is our family that we're creating, yet I have to go through a pretty extensive process to become considered this baby's parent. I have to do a domestic partnership adoption. We trust the donor, but until he signs parental rights away and I adopt, I don't have any rights at all. And we have to fill out special paperwork to be sure that I can make decisions for our baby and make decisions for Isobel if something was to happen to Isobel in the hospital. That's not all a given like it would be if we were married.

For a married heterosexual couple, nobody ever questions whether that man is the father of that baby regardless of paternity. He gets to put his name on the birth certificate as "father" from day one. I don't get to put my name on the birth certificate. You have to leave "father" blank or say "unknown" or put little dashes. And then we go through the adoption process and have to file to have a new birth certificate printed. It's really cool that we do get to do that eventually, but that's not really going to safeguard us if we're traveling, for example, or if there's any kind of question. I'll need to have those adoption papers with me. Not copies, the originals.

Isobel: Angela has some family in Oklahoma. Oklahoma just passed a law whereby they don't recognize same-sex adoptions from other states. They're the first state in the nation -- and hopefully the only state -- to do this. If we go to Oklahoma and something were to happen to me, we would not be guaranteed that Angela would be able to care for the child.

Angela: I wouldn't be considered a parent.

Isobel: And this could be if the adoption's been valid for years! We do feel lucky to live in California at the time that we do. We have friends in Arizona, two women, and the nonbiological mom will not be able to adopt the child. It is illegal in Arizona for a same-sex couple to adopt. A lot of people have worked really hard to achieve rights in California that are desperately needed. There are some couples who feel like, c'mon, this is about love, this isn't about paperwork -- we don't want to have to fill out hours of paperwork that other people don't have to, or for whatever reason they don't go through with the adoption process. But there have been several really significant court cases this summer in all of which the nonbio mom has lost. If the couple has split up there have been absolutely no rights going to her. Not that we're going to split up, but we have to think about it. As a friend of mine says: You owe it to the child to give her as many parents as she can have. So that's what we're going to do. We want it to be abundantly clear to everybody in the world that we are in a loving, committed family relationship and that a child born in this relationship should be both of ours from the moment she is born. And that's not the case right now.

How did marriage change your daily life?


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