February 2, 2010
Banning same-sex unions from being legally recognized is a curious business. Prop 8 supporters in California have tried to make the argument that such a ban is not discriminatory, and yet witness the effect Missouri’s ban on same-sex marriage has had on the lives of Kelly Glossip and his partner, Highway Patrol Cpl. Dennis Engelhard:
When Highway Patrol Cpl. Dennis Engelhard was killed in a Christmas Day traffic accident near Eureka, the agency described him as single with no children.
Gov. Jay Nixon called on Missourians to pray for Engelhard’s family, who “lost a beloved son and brother.”
Neither statement tells the whole story.
Engelhard, hit by a car that lost control in the snow, was gay. He left behind a partner of nearly 15 years who was not mentioned in his obituary or official information released by the Highway Patrol, although members of the agency knew about his sexual orientation.
If Engelhard had been married, his spouse would be entitled to lifetime survivor’s benefits from the state pension system — more than $28,000 a year.
But neither the state Highway Patrol pension system nor Missouri law recognizes domestic partners.
The combination of laws and restrictions combine to form quite a quandary: your partner can only receive your pension benefits after your death if you’re married, and you can’t get married because you’re gay. Read the rest of this entry »
February 9, 2009
Doctor: Is she your sister?
Willow: She’s my everything.
–Buffy the Vampire Slayer 5:19, “Tough Love”
Nearly a year ago now I spent a week in the hospital with my mother as she underwent cancer treatments. Every morning I went downstairs to retrieve a wheelchair with which I would deliver Mom to her appointments. Mom had introduced me as her daughter to just about everyone we encountered upon our arrival and afterward, and our relationship was accepted as a given. No one ever asked me what I was doing pushing an empty wheelchair into an elevator or walking to the food court by myself. I never had to prove my relationship with my mother – which was rather handy, considering that we have different last names and I don’t generally travel with my birth certificate.
I thought of that hospital experience I came across this story over the weekend. It is the sort of story that is becoming terribly, heartbreakingly, familiar:
As her partner of 17 years slipped into a coma, Janice Langbehn pleaded with doctors and anyone who would listen to let her into the woman’s hospital room.
Eight anguishing hours passed before Langbehn would be allowed into Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center. By then, she could only say her final farewell as a priest performed the last rites on 39-year-old Lisa Marie Pond.
Jackson staffers advised Langbehn that she could not see Pond earlier because the hospital’s visitation policy in cases of emergency was limited to immediate family and spouses — not partners. In Florida, same-sex marriages or partnerships are not recognized. On Friday, two years after her partner’s death, Langbehn and her attorneys were in federal court, claiming emotional distress and negligence in a suit they filed last June.
My knee-jerk reaction to this story was: this is why we need same-sex marriage. Upon further reflection, though, it’s clear to me that the situation is far more complex than that. I think the root of the problem really lies with a limited definition of family – generally restricted, as it was at Jackson Memorial Hospital, to “immediate family and spouses.” That definition excludes more than just long-term partners – what about, for example, situations in which a grandparent or aunt or uncle stepped in as a child’s primary caregiver, and that child is now an adult? If the (adult) child is in a car accident, shouldn’t that grandparent or aunt or uncle be allowed to see their loved one? Furthermore, what about step-parents, or people whose family aren’t related to them by blood or romantic relationships?
I also thought about identification in emergency situations. As a general rule, if someone says, “You have to let me see him; he’s my husband/brother/father,” do people at the hospital take them at their word, or do they ask to see some sort of ID? What if, as I alluded to before, the last names are different? If Janice Langbehn had just told the people at the hospital that Lisa Marie Pond was her sister, would that have solved the problem?
I appreciate that hospitals have these policies because they want to protect their patients (at least ostensibly). I don’t have any suggestions as to how hospitals could accommodate expanding definitions of “family” while still keeping patients safe and un-harassed (though that begs further questions: what if the patient is estranged from their immediate family? What if their spouse is abusive?). Still, I can’t help but feel that these policies – or at least their enforcement – have a judgmental feel to them, that hospital officials consider themselves the arbiters of what is and isn’t family. And it seems to me that the only people that ought to be making that decision are the family members themselves.
October 24, 2007
I have family (father, aunt, grandmother) in San Diego County. They were evacuated from their home early Monday morning. The house is tucked in among lots of other houses, so I would be surprised if it ended up burning, but the fact that the fires have gotten as close as a mile away is sobering, to say the least. I was just out there last month. Most important to me, of course, is the fact that my family members are safe — but once I made sure of that, I began dwelling on all that’s at risk. The house that is the closest I have to a house I grew up in that I can still go back to (the actual house I grew up in — from age 4 to age 16 — was a rental, and while I do think I might head back there someday and ask if I can just have a look around for old times’ sake, it’s not the same). The hawk I saw hop nonchalantly off a tree branch just beyond the backyard. A variety of familiar vistas.
And I think of a spot next to a gas station just a mile or two away from the house. It’s a location where day laborers congregate. Where have the day laborers gone? My father volunteers at Interfaith Community Services — where have the people who depend on those services gone? If you were already homeless before the fires, are you still allowed to go to Qualcomm Stadium? If not, what are you supposed to do?
I can understand the desire to compare the current CA wildfire season to the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Natural disaster, displaced people, an excuse for wingnuts to rant about god’s punishment, potential for governmental ineptitude. But it is rather like comparing apples and oranges in a lot of ways — or, as the Rude Pundit puts it, comparing apples and drowned people. This isn’t to say my heart doesn’t break for the people who’ve lost everything — of course it does. There are still people, friends from high school, for the most part, that I need to get a hold of, make sure they and/or their families are all right. And for the individual who is looking at the smoking rubble that used to be her home, the fact that things could be worse is cold comfort, I’ve little doubt. Still, apples and oranges.
One thing’s for sure, though: Glenn Beck can kiss my ass.
August 30, 2007
U2: Mothers of the Disappeared — Live in Santiago, Chile from the PopMart tour in 1998
Posted in honor of the International Day of the Disappeared.
May 22, 2007
An exaggeration, perhaps. Still, I found this editorial quite moving. It’s about a man who, together with his wife, adopted a six-year-old autistic boy. Other people question the choice, saying amazingly insensitive (not to mention classist, racist, and/or ableist) things like “God knows what that kid’s parents were doing when they conceived him;” “You two have such good genes. . . Why waste them?” and “Healthy white infants must be tough to get.” The whole thing is worth reading, but these paragraphs nearly had me in tears:
The boy who was still in diapers and said to be retarded when he came to live with us is now a straight-A student at our local middle school. He’s literally rewriting the common scripts of autism and “attachment disorder” (the broad diagnosis for the problems of abandoned and traumatized kids). These are hopeless scripts, unforgiving scripts in which the child can’t give back.
My son does, and others can as well. Recently, in response to my hip replacement, he typed on his computer, “I’m nervous because Dad has not brought me braces [his word for crutches].” I was just home from the hospital — wobbly, a bit depressed, in pain. To my question, “Why do you need crutches?” he responded endearingly, “You know how I like to be just like you.” My son was trying to make me feel better, taking on my impairment, limping with me.
Again, the whole thing is worth reading. [h/t to Jill at Feministe]
October 28, 2006
So… why, exactly, do people say that same-sex couples aren’t as qualified to adopt children as heterosexual couples?
From CNN.com: Mother guilty of killing, abusing boy, 7
LANSING, Michigan (AP) — A mother who claimed that her missing 7-year-old son had run away was found guilty Friday of his murder.
Lisa Holland cried quietly as jurors found her guilty of first-degree felony murder and child abuse in the death last year of her adopted son Ricky. …
Her husband testified that on July 1, 2005, he came home from an errand and found Ricky dead in bed, with vomit and traces of blood around his mouth, and his wife screaming she “didn’t mean to do it.”
He said that a week earlier, he had returned from military training in Virginia to find the boy with a cut on his head, listless and unable to walk. He said he didn’t take him to a doctor because he didn’t want a confrontation with his wife and thought his son would get better. …
The prosecution said Ricky likely suffered a brain injury a week or more before he died, and his parents let him die a slow death.
The Hollands became Ricky’s foster parents in 2000 and adopted him in 2003, the year after the parental rights of his biological parents were terminated because of neglect.
The couple also adopted Ricky’s three younger siblings and in addition had a child of their own.
Now, this is obviously an extreme case, and I know that for every horrible set of adoptive parents you hear about, there are thousands of wonderful, generous, loving adoptive parents. Still, how would it be harmful to increase the pool of potential adoptive parents such that parents (of any sexual persuasion) that might ultimately do harm to the children they adopt might perhaps, just perhaps, have less of a chance of getting to adopt children? Maybe I’m being too optimistic. Maybe 99.9% of adoptive parents who end up harming the children they adopt seem heaven-sent right up until they’re arrested. But I can’t help wondering…
June 29, 2006
By now many of my readers have already seen “family values expert” Katharine DeBrecht’s take on the new Superman movie. (If not, Shakespeare’s Sister has it here.) There’s little I can say about it that hasn’t already been said, but I did find one particular comment she made interesting: “Portraying Superman with an out-of-wedlock child and potentially breaking up a family is completely unnecessary” (emphasis added).
Hang on there. Breaking up a family? Let’s take a closer look at this, shall we?
I have not yet seen Superman Returns. My understanding of the pertinent plot points, though, is that Superman was gone for a few years, and in the meantime Lois Lane had his baby and got engaged to another man (note that that’s engaged, not married).
So, a consequence (unintended, I’m sure) of DeBrecht’s criticism is that she seems to be saying that a family can be made up of a woman raising her illegitimate child with a man who is not yet her husband. Is it just me, or does that seem to fly in the face of accepted conservative dogma of what actually constitutes a family?
My opinion, of course, is that “family” must be defined by the individuals in a family, and by them alone. It’s nice to think that someone right-wing enough to write a children’s book called Help, Mom! There are Liberals Under My Bed agrees with me, if only subconsciously.