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Annette, two mommies, and me

Annette Bening’s face says it all. Every beautiful, hard-earned wrinkle is shown in extreme close-up as she realizes that her spouse of two decades has been having an affair. Bening’s gestures are subtle; the sense of betrayal is profound.

It is a heart-breaking and universally human moment from the recently released film, “The Kids Are All Right.” But for those of us in same-sex relationships it should also serve as a shocking reminder that in 21st century America, this oldest of all wounds could not only cost us our marriages, it could cost us our children.

Bening’s character lives with her two kids and her female partner, played by Julianne Moore. Each woman gave birth to a child conceived with sperm from the same anonymous donor. The veil of anonymity is lifted when the donor enters the family’s life after the kids, now 18 and 15, locate him through the sperm bank. Moore’s character cheats on Bening with the donor -- an implausible twist in an otherwise uncomfortably and comically honest movie. The characters never discuss the politics of same-sex marriage or two-parent adoption. We aren’t told whether the women are married, whether they are registered domestic partners or whether they have cross-adopted the kids. We do know that they live in California, a state that has long provided robust legal protections for same-sex couples.

But what if the women split up and -- like many straight couples -- could not deal civilly or fairly with each other? What if they lived in a state that refused to recognize their relationship? What if they hailed from a place that had not allowed them to establish a legal relationship with their non-biological child? What if they lived in a jurisdiction where the claims of a sperm donor might trump the rights of a person who has been a devoted parent but has no biological connection to the child?

These possibilities are horrifying, even for those of us in loving and stable long-term relationships. I’ve spent the past 28 years of my life with the same woman. (I often tell her how lucky she is; she knows better.) We’ve shared slow dances in the living room, vacations with in-laws, diaper duty, mortgage payments, the loss of loved ones, cheap wine, fine food, car pools, weepy graduations, and an inordinate number of “The Office” and “Scrubs” re-runs (our teenage sons’ current favorites). We have survived our share of doubts, although nothing like what Bening encounters. Yet our relationship means nothing under the laws of most states. And in most I would be viewed as having no legal relationship with our sons. My sons.

We’ve talked about getting married, especially now that it’s legal in D.C. And we probably will, even though it would not carry the force of law where we live. But part of me resents having to jump through hoops to have my three-decade marriage recognized. If we “tie the knot” now, what have the past 28 years been?

Marriage laws don’t just recognize relationships and bestow certain rights and responsibilities on the parties. They also protect spouses -- and kids -- when things go wrong. And “things go wrong” in gay relationships as often as they do in straight ones. One would hope that strong, loving relationships of all types could endure such setbacks. But if they can’t, the pain felt by the Annette Benings of the world should not be compounded by the fear that all that you have built, all that is meaningful could be taken away in a flash because the law does not recognize that you exist.

By Eva Rodriguez  | July 29, 2010; 11:03 AM ET
Categories:  Rodriguez  | Tags:  Eva Rodriguez  
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Thank you for opening this important discussion - again. There is nothing more heartbreaking to me than to see the rigid, unsympathetic rules most of us live by coming between any two people who love one another and suffer separation or loss that compounds their grief because they have no legal standing. Let's face it, marriage is really an artificial construct that was developed by the ancestors. They saw it as a way to maintain the legitimacy of (male) children and property transfer. Most ancients did not marry - that was a ceremony limited to the wealthy class. During pioneer times a couple was recognized as "married" if they were living together - they committed to one another. Their churches recognized them too - or - you joined a church that did. Now we overlay a legal standing to this commitment and call it marriage. As you can see I am not dogmatic about what the Bible - old or new, has to say about this. Furthermore, being married in a courthouse is a non-religious ceremony recognized by the State and the State ignores "What God has joined together let no man put asunder." If one were following the strict rules of the Bible, there would be no divorce as well no matter where or how you were married.

Posted by: susanwhiteaker | July 29, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

This issue is neither complex nor new. It is one that exists for countless couples who choose not to get married and have children. It does not matter that you are gay, lesbian or not.

I have a male friend who lived with a formerly married woman with two children. His very close, fatherly relationship with those children depended on his on-going relationship with the woman. They have since gotten married, but he has not adopted the children. So if he were to divorce this woman, he would have no relationship with the children.

Even though this is not on all fours with your relationships, there are other similar relationships -- grandparents who have no rights on their grandchildren.

So whether you are gay or straight, married or not many of these issues cannot be resolved at a legal level; they are private issues that need to be addressed privately between the parties involved.

This story isn't even new to gay couples. After the Canadian Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, they needed to legalize divorce for the same couple.

Posted by: krush01 | July 29, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

From a lawyer's point of view, marriage is a relationship where the two partners acquire rights with respect to each other's property, mutual agency, and rights with respect to any offspring, in return for obligations of sexual fidelity, which third parties are required to treat as an economic unit, and which can only be dissolved by a court that determines the former partners' post-dissolution rights with respect to property and children. There's no intrinsic reason why that relationship shouldn't be open to any two people.

Posted by: jhirschhorn1 | July 29, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

jhirshorn1 wrote:

From a lawyer's point of view, marriage is a relationship where the two partners acquire rights with respect to each other's property, mutual agency, and rights with respect to any offspring, in return for obligations of sexual fidelity, which third parties are required to treat as an economic unit, and which can only be dissolved by a court that determines the former partners' post-dissolution rights with respect to property and children. There's no intrinsic reason why that relationship shouldn't be open to any two people.

From a lawyer's point of view marriage should be defined by what society decides is best for marriage. It is not up to lawyers to define marriage, but they are to use the definition provided by a given society. The definition of marriage is a public policy issue, within the bounds of a state constitution, not a legal issue .

Now, access to the legal benefits accruing to married people is another issue-a separate issue.

Posted by: captn_ahab | July 29, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Don't worry,
As I wife I have no rights to my share of my spouse's income being quarantined in calculating fair child support for a child of adultery ( disguised as an ART conceived child) in CA. My husband agreed to be a known sperm donor to a married woman, who treated him as a sperm donor for over 8 years and then when she couldn't make her ends justify the means anymore or get her Ex-husband to pay anymore for her choices to be a Babymama by choice ... Both of their deliberate and fraudulent actions had the long term affect of alienating the absent by design sperm donor along with his wife and extended family, as the husband was the presumed parent under CA Law.
The State does not protect my marriage rights to property. I am just collateral damage for another woman's adulterous procreation choices. Whose pregnancy was intentionally meant to harm my civil rights and marriage relationship on purpose. She ebven falsified a birth certificate with NO consequences, when to do so is a felony act.
I have no legal recourse against her actions except for the nuclear option of divorce.
In the eyes of the law my marriage my rights don't exist if another woman invades it. DCSS is a corrupt agency who oppresses my rights and says... I have no rights to exemptions for money judgments (debts) that I am not liable for. The child support agency went so far as to say it was despicable that I try to claim a spousal exemption for marital income. I should get a job to pay for this other woman's procreative choices, but the BABYMama need not prove her income sources, expenses, or GET A JOB.
Also It would be inappropriate for me to be a "step parent"...As the state sees me as a threat to her WELLBEING !
LAWlessness is rampant. I have to duct tape my head concerning the insanity of what has happened. This other women even held my husband's sperm hostage in a sperm bank for over 2 years. None of this mattered to some crazy judge who disreaged CA paternity laws because she subjectively , didn't like the outcome if she followed the law.
Read more about this at

Posted by: thespermdonorswife | July 29, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

To those of you using the Bible as a weapon against homosexuality, you are wrong. Homosexuality is not a sin. The Bible is constantly being taken out of context to support anti-gay views. Scholars who have studied the Bible in context of the times and in relation to other passages have shown those passages (Leviticus, Corinthians, Romans, etc) have nothing to do with homosexuality. These passages often cherry-picked while ignoring the rest of the Bible. The sins theses passages are referring to are idolatry, Greek temple sex worship, prostitution, pederasty with teen boys, and rape, not homosexuality or two loving consenting adults.

Thats why Jesus never mentions it as well. There is nothing immoral, wrong, or sinful about being gay. Jesus, however, clearly states he HATES hypocrisy. If you preach goodness, then promote hate and twist the words of the Bible, you are a hypocrite, and will be judged and sent to hell. Homosexuals will not go to hell, hypocrites will.

Posted by: shadow_man | July 30, 2010 2:55 AM | Report abuse

For those of you claiming homosexuality is a "lifestyle", that is a false and ignorant statement. Homosexuality is not a choice. Just like you don't choose the color of your skin, you cannot choose whom you are sexually attracted to. If you can, sorry, but you are not heterosexual, you are bi-sexual. Virtually all major psychological and medical experts agree that sexual orientation is NOT a choice. Most gay people will tell you its not a choice. Common sense will tell you its not a choice. While science is relatively new to studying homosexuality, studies tend to indicate that its biological.
Gay, Straight Men's Brain Responses Differ,2933,155990,00.html

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that homosexuality is not a choice. Sexual orientation is generally a biological trait that is determined pre-natally, although there is no one certain thing that explains all of the cases. "Nurture" may have some effect, but for the most part it is biological.

Posted by: shadow_man | July 30, 2010 2:59 AM | Report abuse

The National Library of Medicine pubs confirm that sexual orientation is natural, biologically induced in the first trimester of pregnancy, morally neutral, immutable, neither contagious nor learned, bearing no relation to an individuals ability to form deep and lasting relationships, to parent children, to work or to contribute to society.

From the American Psychological Association: homosexuality is normal; homosexual relationships are normal.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Asociation and American Psychiatric Asociation have endorsed civil marriage for same-sex couples because marriage strengthens mental and physical health and longevity of couples, and provides greater legal and financial security for children, parents and seniors.

America's premier child/mental health associations endorse marriage equality.

Posted by: shadow_man | July 30, 2010 3:00 AM | Report abuse

This was taken from another poster that shows why we need to legalize gay marriage. If you don't feel for this person after reading it, you simply aren't human.

"I am not sure what our President thinks of this dicission but coming from a poor family and knowing what discrimination is all about I would assume he would not care if "Gays" have equal rights. The whole reason why they are asking for rights to be considered married is from the same reason why I would be for it. My own life partner commited suicide in our home with a gun to his heart. After a 28 year union I was deprived to even go his funeral. We had two plots next to each other. But because we did not have a marriage cirtificate "(Legal Document)" of our union his mother had him cremated and his ashes taken back to Missouri where we came from. That is only one example how painful it is. His suicide tramatized me so much and her disregard for my feelings only added to my heartach. That happened on March 21 of 2007 and I still cannot type this without crying for the trauma I have to endure each day. Oh did I mention I am in an electric wheelchair for life? Yes I am and it is very diffacult to find another mate when you are 58 and in a wheelchair. "

Posted by: shadow_man | July 30, 2010 3:01 AM | Report abuse

The American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the National Association of Social Workers state:

"There is no scientific basis for distinguishing between same-sex couples and heterosexual couples with respect to the legal rights, obligations, benefits, and burdens conferred by civil marriage."

Thus, mental health professionals and researchers have long recognized that being homosexual poses no inherent obstacle to leading a happy, healthy, and productive life, and that the vast majority of gay and lesbian people function well in the full array of social institutions and interpersonal relationships.

The research and clinical literature demonstrate that same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings, and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality.

The longstanding consensus of the behavioral and social sciences and the health and mental health professions is that homosexuality per se is a normal and positive variation of human sexual orientation.

Posted by: shadow_man | July 30, 2010 3:09 AM | Report abuse

Well, everybody knows that health is a very important now. There is a famous proverb “Health is above wealth”. Nobody would deny the importance of its meaning. Some factors that can cause wrinkles: Sun’s UV rays - Too much exposure to the sun can cause wrinkles and sun spots. Smoking - Smoking has a negative effect on the skin. It affects its ability to repair its self from damage. Stress - Stess can affect the well being of a person. This is exactly why it is so important to only choose collagen creams that are made with all natural and organic ingredients. Good creams make face healthy. Reality is, it is indeed a part of everyone’s life. We will all age. Just because aging if part of the natural order of things does not mean we must accept what the years (and exposure to the environment) have done to us. You can dwell on different ideas about it, which I may not know but as much as possible, I would want to continue maintaining a young image.

Posted by: juliacamper2010 | August 4, 2010 3:38 AM | Report abuse

Health is a very disputable question. There is a famous proverb “Health is above wealth”. Nobody would deny the importance of its meaning. This is exactly why it is so important to only choose wrinkle collagen creams that are made with all natural and organic ingredients. Surgery, injections and chemical peels now belong in the past. Good creams make face healthy. It is safe to say that your health depends on your attitude to yourself.

Posted by: juliacamper2010 | August 4, 2010 3:40 AM | Report abuse

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