Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Adoption, Gay Marriage, and the Black Community

MY FRIENDS over at Jack and Jill Politics gave me the honor of front-paging a long comment on the connections between the entitled subjects. Here's what went down:

When we consider that our ancestors couldn’t have their marriages to each other honored because they were considered property and had no individual rights, and therefore, our families weren’t considered important enough to keep together when it was time for one of us to be sold to another master, one would think Black folks wouldn’t want to see anybody’s marriages go unrecognized by the state.

You might not know this, but there are lots of gay people who have no interest in this issue at all. While they don’t come out against it, they don’t support it and think gay people who do are just selling out to the majority culture.

Go figure.

I must admit that being involved in marriage equality wasn’t something on my plate years ago, either. Even though I was married in the eyes of God, I was perfectly fine with that and sought nothing more from the state. But as I’ve aged, my life experience as an adopted person and as an adult adoptee rights advocate raised my consciousness. You see, in most every state in the union, an adopted person who’s an adult has no right to access his original birth certificate. That is, the birth certificate the state impounded when the child was adopted and a new birth certificate was created to include the name of the adoptive parents. The birth certificate is a person’s legal DNA. I was adopted in the late 60s, during the time when everything around adoption was about shame. Adopted people know that their birth certificate is a lie — my mother did not give birth to me as my birth certificate says she did. It was important to my psychic healing to be able to see my original birth certificate after I found my birth mother, but I needed her permission to see it. A grown man needed the permission of a woman he may have never even met just to see a copy of what is rightfully his. All across the nation, grown people are treated like children by the state, like little pieces of property moved from one family to another, a move they had no say in whatsoever, and when we’re grown and we want to know where we came from, the state tells us it’s none of our business, and if we REALLY want to know, we need to get permission from some stranger we may never even want to meet or crawl before a judge on our hands and knees and beg the judge to open up our adoption file and our birth records just so we can see that piece of paper that includes our original identity, and if we’re lucky, it will help us heal.

If you can see a connection between this and our experience as Black people in this country, then you’re with me. If not, I don’t know what to tell you.

What does any of this have to do with gay marriage?

Read the rest...


Michelle said...

Hey Craig,

I don't participate over at JJP anymore, plus my questions to you are somewhat outside of the discussion there anyway, so will ask them here.

I continue to struggle with how I feel about marriage for me and my gf. Mostly I am not interested in it, but then the fear-based stuff related to practicalities and how this society can f*** with me/us gets to me.

So. First. This:

When a person has no recourse to force an undertaker to come and take a corpse out of their home because the survivor is not legally considered the next of kin despite their 30-YEAR RELATIONSHIP and the dead person’s next of kin is thousands of miles away and, because of Alzheimer’s, doesn’t even remember who the dead person is anymore, but she is the only person alive who, by state law, can force the undertake to remove the corpse from their houseI don't get this at all. It's not an area I have any expertise in, but here's where I get confused.

If a friend, no official relation, drops dead in my home, and there's the same situation you describe with the next of kin having Alzheimer's -- the undertaker won't take her/him away?

Put another way, if I were to drop dead at work and they couldn't get hold of whoever they define as my next of kin right away, would my body just lay there?

Is the next of kin thing so important that dead bodies just lay where they are and can't be removed until the next of kin consents? You can't call the paramedics at least, to get the body/corpse to a hospital as DOA?

(Well, and, this does have a connection to my relationship with my gf. My intuitive sense is I will die before she does and my preference would be to die at home anyway, so ....)

I am in the process of writing out my will and living will. Giving her health care power of attorney in the living will, and naming her executor and the one who gets anything I have, in my will, which has something in it about what I want done with my body (cremation).

I am trying to understand all of this.

Second, in the comments section you and Val are talking and she brings up civil unions and President Obama's stance.

You mention the thing about states and DOMA repeal, but from what I can see, you don't mention that the president supports "full civil unions and federal rights for LGBT couples" (quote from this page)

So in the comments, you wrote this:

The most obvious distinction is that federal law doesn't afford the same benefits to people joined in civil marriage and those joined in civil unions.One major question I have in relation to the same-gender marriage discussion is why marriage is such a huge focus as the path to correct the problems.

What I don't understand is why granting full federal rights for civil unions isn't an alternate path considered by the movement - taking it from the other direction. Making civil unions equivalent at the federal level to civil marriage. What would go missing from that, if anything?

Every time I bring this up with white activists I get this deeply ungrounded and lacking-detail ego-freakout about SEPARATE BUT EQUAL and BACK OF THE BUS that I experience as so dissonant that it actually hurts me to be in the room with it. I trust you know what I am referring to.

But I want actual practical grounded info on this. If the change comes from the other direction (federally making civil unions equivalent to civil marriages) why would that not be a path to consider? If you have anything to say about that here, I would be happy to read it.

(And for the record if anyone is reading this and doesn't know: I am a lesbian in a long-term committed relationship.)

Craig Hickman said...


Nice to see you.

The person whose experience I referred to was referring to the laws of his state. I don't know if those laws apply in every state, and I'm unsure what state he lived in at the time.

Bigotry is never rational and it influence behavior in the strangest ways.

I don't know what the law is in your state, though.

As for the civil union/civil marriage conversation, I'll have to think about it. Do more research, perhaps.

But if a civil union and a religious rite between heterosexuals, both referred to and accepted as MARRIAGE by all people, are sanctioned by the state differently than they are by religious institutions (for example, the Catholic Church won't recognized the heterosexual MARRIAGE of a Catholic and a Jew, but the state will), I'm not sure why we would want to create a separate category IN LEGAL LANGUAGE in order to confer the same rights to a SAME-SEX COUPLE who wishes to enter a MARRIAGE and have it sanctioned by the state and afforded all the rights, benefits, and protections of all other MARRIAGES sanctioned by the state.

At a gut level, that just makes no sense to me.

In the eyes of the state, marriage is a civil contract. Period. The ability to enter into that same civil contract, called marriage, which is exactly what it would be, should apply equally to all citizens no matter their race, gender, or religion.

According to the 14th Amendment, if you treat a group of citizens as a separate class in regards to a fundamental right -- and yes, the Supreme Court has called marriage a fundamental right -- then you are not applying equal protection under the law.

I'm leaving the president out of this for now. I responded to Val, but even as you pointed out, I wasn't comprehensive. I'm just going to leave him out of it for now.