A fully legal family vacation

A fully legal family vacation

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It seemed fitting that the day after marriage equality became law across the United States, my family and I went on vacation to Maine and Canada. As we bumped down the unpaved road to our first campground, I reflected that when we’d last been in Maine, in 2009, the state was in the middle of a referendum battle over marriage equality. Equality lost, and the future looked bleak, as the blow came only half-a-year after a similar loss in California. It wasn’t until a second Maine referendum in 2012 that marriage equality came at last to the Pine Tree State. A bumpy road indeed.

Unlike our earlier trip, when we had stayed in a tent, we were traveling this time with our new camper, a small, hard-topped home that we pulled behind our car. I’d been leery of getting one at first, but when the rain came down for two days in a row, I was grateful for its protection. Marriage is kind of like that, too — one may not need it to be able to set up a happy home, but it comes with certain benefits that one may appreciate, especially in tough times. 

As on our earlier trip, however, we still traveled with all our relevant legal documentation — marriage certificate, medical powers of attorney, son’s birth certificate and the court order naming us both his parents. I’d prefer to believe they are no longer necessary, but can’t quite convince myself that attitudes have changed so thoroughly. LGBTQ legal organizations are taking a similarly cautious (and to my mind, pragmatic) approach, still recommending that married same-sex couples do second-parent adoptions or get court judgments of parentage even if they are both on their children’s birth certificates (see marriageequalityfacts.org). Like the extra matches and first-aid kit we packed in our camper, we may never need them, but will be grateful for them if we do.

Our vacation was also a reminder to me of the many negotiations that make a marriage work, and of our connections to extended families. We bought the camper after many years of tent camping because my spouse had grown up with a camper, traveling in the summers with her school-teacher parents from their home in California to visit relatives in New Hampshire. She’d always wanted one for us. I finally agreed, although a camper to me felt more like a mobile hotel room than camping.

Still, I was pleased to be traveling north, regardless of accommodations. My own upbringing had included tent camping on the coast of Maine. Our walls at home were graced with photos by my father, a serious amateur photographer, of Down East coves and fishing boats. For me and my spouse, sharing our love of camping and of the New England coast with our son has been a way of reminding ourselves and him of where we come from, even as we help him prepare for his future.

In addition to Maine, we also ventured up to Canada’s Bay of Fundy, similar to Maine in its coastal views and dual mascots of lobster and moose, but distinctive for having the biggest tidal change in the world. This got me thinking. The tide is definitely in for the LGBTQ community after the Supreme Court marriage win — and I’m hoping it will raise all boats. The question is how to leverage more visible, married same-sex couples and their families for a positive impact on other areas of LGBTQ civil rights, such as adoption equality, parental recognition, employment discrimination and LGBTQ health-care needs. Can we also use progress on marriage to help further break down our society’s historical view of gender roles and gender in general, and reinforce the gains made by transgender people towards greater understanding and equality? Marriage equality may provide a needed lift if we don’t get complacent and don’t assume our voyage as an LGBTQ community is over.

Tides come in, but they also go out. I think the analogy stops there, however, for I don’t see us losing marriage equality now, despite some noise from a few opponents about trying to push through a bill in Congress to stop it, and despite the “religious-freedom” bills that a few states are using to try and refuse marriage and other services to same-sex couples. Although some people may choose to discriminate, I firmly believe that others will step up to compensate, like Toledo Municipal Court Presiding Judge Michelle Wagner, who recently said she will perform all weddings in her jurisdiction, after another municipal court judge refused to marry a same-sex couple.

As my family stopped at the border into Canada, which has allowed same-sex couples to marry nationwide since 2005, the guard was more interested in whether we were bringing any weapons into the country (we weren’t) than in our relationships. On the way back to the states, the guard looked at our passports and asked us how we all knew each other. “We’re family,” we said, knowing for the first time that the statement was legally true no matter where we crossed into the country. The guard handed us our passports, and we continued home, tired and sunburned, but equal. 

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