Mary Cheney’s pregnancy is old, old news by now. I haven’t waded into the discussion because I needed time to gather my thoughts, and because I figured by now no one would be talking about it. After all, James Dobson’s Time magazine column in response to Mary’s pregnancy has already been denounced by the researchers whose work he poached and misrepresented for his purposes. (True to form, Dobson’s followers have dismissed the researchers’ objections. And if evangelicals’ knowledge of the bible is any indication, it’s par for the course from people who are more used to just believing what they’re told than they are to employing critical thought. So, they probably won’t read the researchers’ work anyway.)
Then there’s the president, who can’t make up his mind what he thinks. Or at least can’t answer a simple question about whether the fact that he thinks Mary will make a fine mother ought to have any relation to how he addresses policies that will affect Mary’s family and the rest of us. That’s really just puts him in the same category as the Cheneys and a lot of other Republicans who love, accept, and privately support their gay and lesbian friends and family members, but have also accepted the anti-gay policies of people like James Dobson as part of the bargain for maintaining political power. But more about that in a bit.
Then I came across this post on Queercents, addressing some of the issues Mary’s new family may face, and finally realized I had one or two things to say after all. Besides, what better time of year for a post about a pregnant woman named Mary who’s “had no relations with man”?
The Queercents post addresses the issue of second-parent adoption, and includes a list of states that have approved such adoptions for same-sex couples via statute or court rulings, then proceeds to lay out what it means that Virginia — where Mary, and her partner Heather Poe, reside —
Queers around the nation heard the breaking news a couple of weeks ago about Mary Cheney’s pregnancy. John Aravosis had plenty to say about the topic. He writes, “They live in Virginia, where a new state constitutional amendment pretty much guarantees that Mary’s baby is screwed.”
… Virginia is missing from this list which is why it’s unlikely that Heather Poe will have any rights. Why should every state offer second-parent adoptions?
According to The Rainbow Babies, “Imagine that you and your partner decide to adopt a child, but only one of you can adopt her or him. Your partner becomes the legal parent. However, you begin to find that your lack of legal parental rights is a problem: you can’t pick the child up at daycare without a consent form, you can’t make medical decisions or even authorize life-saving medical treatments without an authorization form, and if you and your partner split up, you will have absolutely no legal right to custody or even visitation.”
“Even worse, if your partner should become incapacitated or die, you will have no legal rights to the child at all; despite the fact that you see yourself as the child’s parent, and he or she sees you as such, you will have no legal right to keep the child. Entire families have been torn apart for the lack of a second parent adoption.”
“Although many of these problems can be solved with the right paperwork – consent forms, authorization forms, custody agreements in case the parents split, and a will appointing the partner as the child’s legal guardian in the event that the legal parent dies – it takes a good deal of forethought and preparation.”
“A second-parent adoption removes the need for most of these precautions, as it gives both partners equal legal rights as the child’s parents. Should you and your partner split up, both of you have equal rights to custody and visitation; and should a medical emergency require it, both you and your partner will have equal right to make a decision regarding medical treatment for the child. Most importantly, second-parent adoption is better for your child, as it reduces the chances of losing one of his or her parents due to a legal loophole.”
When news of Mary’s pregnancy first broke, there was something that immediately bothered me about the “Mary’s baby is screwed” response. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but it was probably based on my own experience with adoption (the hubby and I adopted jointly, in D.C.) and the reality that in this country you can basically get as much justice as you can afford. And in Mary’s case, she and Heather can afford a bit more than some gay families in Virginia.
Around the time that we adopted Parker, another gay couple we know also adopted a son. They lived in Virginia, where second-parent adoptions for same-sex couples were prohibited (and still are for unmarried couples, which includes Mary and Heather). Fortunately, they could afford to do what some other families in Virginia have done, as described by this Washington Post article and by two lesbian couples in the Washington Blade: establish a temporary “residence” in a friendlier state and adopt there.
Sally Baird, an Arlington school board member and the first openly lesbian elected official in Virginia, has lived in the state with her partner Karen Foster for 18 years. The pair has two sons, the first of whom was born in Virginia six years ago, but the second was intentionally delivered in Maryland.
“When I was about to give birth to our youngest son, we did move to Maryland and we rented a house,” Baird says. While in Maryland, her partner adopted both sons. “We actually thought that we might well stay in Maryland.”
The couple found that they missed their friends and life in Arlington, however, so they moved back.
… COURTNEY ANDREWS, 32, moved with her partner to Virginia from Chicago in 2003. The two then moved to Maryland for a year after Andrews’ partner gave birth to twin boys.
“I wasn’t even going to set foot in the state of Virginia until I had my adoption papers,” Andrews says.
The two moved to California with their sons last year. The move, Andrews says, was partially an escape from Virginia and what they found to be an unwelcoming atmosphere, motivated on the one hand by the somewhat transient nature of the D.C. metro area and on the other by the state’s restrictive laws regarding gay rights.
But they moved back with a legally recognized second parent adoption. Albeit from another state, but Virginia doesn’t (yet) have a law on the books prohibiting the recognition of adoptions by gay couples in other states. (Oklahoma has tried that already.) It wouldn’t surprise me if Mary and Heather exercised this option too. And if they aren’t considering, I’d reference the recent lesbian custody case involving Virginia, and highly advise Heather to lobby for a temporary move and a second-parent adoption in another state.
Because the truth is Mary is a Cheney, and Mary’s baby will be a Cheney, but Heather is not a Cheney and that puts her in a different category. She has no legal relationship to Mary that the state of Virginia is bound to recognize, and she could end up having no legal relationship to the child she’ll raise with Mary. (Unless one of Heather’s male relatives is the donor, and if that’s the case they’ve decided not to announce that.) She doesn’t have the legal rights that, say, Michael Schiavo had, should something happen to Mary. And should something happen to Mary, Heather may well learn the difference between her and Mary, which is pretty much the difference between Mary and the rest of us.
Mary is, first and last, a Cheney — and more her father’s daughter than anyone might have guessed. Because in the end it doesn’t matter whether Mary gets it on with men, women, or any other living organism because she’s a Cheney. The Cheney family’s money and the Cheney family clout will always take care of her.
Because when you have enough money you don’t have to worry much about discrimination or having to deal with the consequences of discrimination. Mary Cheney will never be a Laurel Hester. You can count on that. You can also count on Mary and others like her to stand silently by while simultaneously empowering people like the Ocean County Freeholders to discriminate against gay families who happen on to have the political or economic clout of the Cheney family.
As far as Mary’s concerned, the Laurel Hester’s of the world are on their own. It’s not so much that Mary’s on the side of the bigots, or not on the side of gay families. It’s that she’s on her own side. Period. The rest of us are none of her concern.
Mary will be taken care of. So will Mary’s baby. And so will Heather, so long as she’s with Mary. And the Cheneys may assure Heather that she is a member of the family. So long as she has the Cheney name, clout, and money behind her via her relationship with Mary, she’ll be treated as a member of the family by anyone who “knows who she is” (or who her partner is). But if something happens to Mary or to her relationship with Mary, she’ll learn that after 15+ years together (and raising a child together), she has fewer rights than Kevin Federline as he heads into divorce court to face off against Britney as they end their two-year of marriage.
Federline may not have Britney’s money to bank on anymore, but he is her legal spouse and father (in the biological sense, at least) of her two children, thus automatically has more rights and protections than Heather does or will. For that matter, as far as the Dobsons of the world are concerned, he’s automatically a better candidate for parenthood than Mary or Heather, because he’s heterosexual. Never mind that Mary and Heather are unlikely to lock their kid in cage or “rent” him/her to a pedophile. The fact that they’re not heterosexual (unlike the parents in the two previously linked articles) makes them poorer candidates for parenthood than any heterosexual, barring any other considerations.
And how have the Cheney’s, and George W. Bush for that matter, dealt with the the reality of their relationship with Mary and the growth of her family on the one hand and their involvement with and service to a party that’s still to some degree owned and operated by the Dobsons of the world? By taking care of their own and ignoring most of the rest. Some this was reflected in the aftermath of the Foley scandal and the furor of how many closeted gay Republicans were working in various Capitol HIll offices.
It’s the habit of some moderate Republicans to quietly accepting and privately supporting their gay and lesbian friends and family, and quietly accepting or at least not challenging the anti-gay policies insisted on by their party’s considerable evangelical base. (After all, even Phil Santorum managed to tolerate a gay communications director in his office.) And it creates a kind of cognitive dissonance that seems apparent to everyone but them, as this Huffington Post piece points out.
But allies of Dick and Lynn Cheney were outraged.
Precisely because they understood its appeal to natural fairness, their roaring objections erupted all the more ferociously. They fed the maw of hate. These supposed defenders of the western tradition of natural law reacted like stereotypical savages confronted with violations of taboo. Their hate came down to a fear of arrangements they didn’t recognize, a primitive and irrational response to a blurring of boundaries they took for granted.
That’s why this little event in the second family matters. Dick and Lynn love their daughter. She’s an actual real person to them. They will stand by her, as they should, and the hell with ideology.
But what Dick and Lynn don’t get is that all human beings in the world are connected to the particular people they love in the same way. What the politics they represent ignores is the meaning of that particular, yet universal, love. That ignorance allows them to countenance the slaughter of innocents in the name of abstractions.
Among the things we seem to have lost in the years since that white kid made his stand is the ability, the imagination, the willingness to put ourselves into the skin of those who are not like us. I find it telling that Vice President Dick Cheney hews to the hard conservative line on virtually every social issue, except gay marriage. It is, of course, no coincidence that Cheney has a daughter who is a lesbian. Which tells me his position is based not on principle but, rather, on loving his daughter.
It is a fine thing to love your daughter. I would argue, however, that it is also a fine thing and in some ways, a finer thing, to love your neighbor’s daughter, no matter her sexual orientation, religion, race, creed or economic status — and to want her freedom as eagerly as you want your own.
I believe in moral coherence. And Rule No. 1 is, you cannot assert your own humanity, then turn right around and deny someone else’s.
In all honesty, I hope Mary and Heather continue to have a long and happy relationship, and that their child gets to grow up in a home with two loving, engaged parents. (Would it be to much to ask for those parents to be able to legally marry one another, so they can offer their child the benefits that go with that status as well?) But Heather would do well to take the advice that the director of Family Pride offers.
Get lots of sleep, go on lots of dates together, see a good movie, draw up your wills, powers of attorney, and health care proxies, drive the route to the hospital where you will deliver and, most of all, get ready for the biggest joy of your life.
And get a legal adoption in another state, as well as a birth certificate with both your names on it. Otherwise you may find out how easily you can lose the biggest joy of your life because of people don’t think you have a right to it, or any joy at all for that matter.