The U.S. federal government, along with state and local governments, have a way of reminding us that our families, headed by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer expressing/questioning parents or heads of households, are simply not part of the norm of our society. For example, when flying into the U.S. after traveling abroad for a pilgrimage with my partner, passengers are given claim forms to fill out. When it gets to the “number of family members traveling” part, I just freeze, remembering that in the U.S. the relationship my partner and I have formed over 15 years is not considered a legitimate “family,” given the rules established by the federal government. So, we each fill out our own form as if we were two individuals and not living in a partnered relationship. I am lying on this piece of paper.
Likewise with our federal and state taxes: there are ways in which we can file that declares some joint properties, but we do not file as a singular household as my former wife and I used to do. The tax advantages or option to filing as a married couple are not made available to those of us in partnered relationships.
And, now with the U.S. Census form, I am reminded again that we don’t necessarily fit the neat boxes provided on the form in declaring our relationship to the U.S. government. While not debating on who is “Person 1” or “Person 2,” I filled in as “Person 1.” Then the tricky question came at the top of “Person 2” section: “Husband or wife; biological son or daughter; adopted son or daughter…Other relative; Roomer or boarder; Housemate or roommate, Unmarried partner; Other nonrelative…” The word “Partner” does not appear on the U.S. Census form, the term that we use most often when referring to each other. And, we’ve lived long enough together — through thick and thin, good days and periods of great challenge — that filling in the spot “Unmarried partner,” is not adequate, to say the least.
After looking at the National Gay Lesbian Task Force “Queering the Census” information, along with other various websites, I took the bold, brave move and marked “Husband or wife,” knowing that in our relationship we play either role with each other any day of the week. After all that we have gone through in life together, we are, for all sense and purposes, married. Like other legally married couples we share expenses for the upkeep of the home; we date each other from time to time; we take our dogs out for walks in the woods; we care for both of the children who have grown up in our midst and show character traits of the three adults in their lives (including their mom). We argue and fight (hopefully fairly) in our relationship and enjoy practicing tender acts of forgiveness toward the end of day. Having grown up with heterosexual parents, surrounding myself with heterosexual couples and families in my work as a pastor, “husband and husband” best represents our relationship.
The rightness of marking “husband and husband” for our status was exemplified on Easter Sunday, when my son, his mom and my partner and I enjoyed a simple, delicious dinner meal. Wine was flowing, the ham, asparagus and potato salad, accompanied by apple pie alamode (vanilla ice cream), was acclaimed as a “hit,” and the practice of love entwined in the conviviality of the conversation was infectious. We were, and are, living the life of a family, no matter how others may define it. With no previous role models, we are making “family” up as we go along. Regardless of the governments’ claim forms, taxes, and census, we are truly a family. : :
This piece appeared in the April 17, 2010-April 30, 2010 print edition.