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Small Talk: What marriage equality means to my family


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James

Small Talk with James Wendt

By Opinions Editor James Wendt

I have two moms, and when I was 14 years old, my mom, Barb, took my younger sister and I to Edward hospital for some doctor-ordered health tests. Upon registering with hospital administration, they informed my mom that she was not qualified to approve us for the tests. The hospital administrators explained that only our “real” mother could accompany us through our medical tests for the day.

Because of our unique family situation, my parents had taken measures that they thought would protect us from this kind of discrimination. My mom Beth carried my sister and I, and after we were both born, my other mom Barb adopted us. Under the eyes of the law, they would both be our legal parents.

Yet there the three of us sat, as they told Barb that she was not our mom and that she could not escort us on our hospital visit. After a phone call to my birth mother Beth, Barb was approved to “chaperone” us for the day, but we were informed that she would not be recognized as our parent for future visits. A phone call where the person on the receiving end identified herself as Elizabeth Wendt, but could have been anybody else in the world, held more standing than the legal status Barb has as our legal parent.

This is just one of the many challenges that my parents have faced as a same-sex couple in Illinois. For the 21 years they have been a couple, and the 16 years they have been parents, my parents have been denied the 1,138 benefits of marriage. These are benefits that opposite-sex, married couples often take for granted. Among these are legal protections, some of which my parents have managed to secure through other means and others the government still denied them.

In June of 2011, an act went into law that allowed same-sex couples to get civil unions, which afforded them some of the legal protections guaranteed to married people. Last year, my parents entered a civil union to assure themselves some of those benefits. Today, Governor Quinn signed SB10, which will allow same-sex couples to marry and ensures that Illinois will turn current civil unions into marriages if the couple desires, according to Naperville News 17.

Before these legal protections, my parents were legally vulnerable to many different injustices. Luckily, they are both legally our parents. Had they not taken that precaution and my birth mom passed away, my adoptive mom would not automatically be our remaining legal guardian, and we might be removed from our home. While my parents are both legally responsible for my brother, sister, and I, they were not legally connected to each other. Had one of them been in the hospital and incapable of making medical decisions, the other could not make those decisions for the one in the hospital. From an insurance perspective, my parents have had to carry separate health insurance policies for themselves, and Beth could not access the spousal pension benefits Barb earns from her state job.

Marriage equality in Illinois offers more significance to our family than just the legal benefits. Today, our state finally validates the love that my parents have shared together for over two decades. Today, our state finally recognizes the legitimacy of our family dynamic, and the government no longer bastardizes my siblings and me. Today, our state finally makes marriage accessible for the couples of tomorrow.

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9 Comments

9 Responses to “Small Talk: What marriage equality means to my family”

  1. Ms. Hitzeman on November 20th, 2013 9:22 pm

    Best wishes to your family, James!

    [Reply]

  2. Dominic Cichocki on November 20th, 2013 9:25 pm

    Hey, I graduated last year, but I still follow this paper (as I guess some know due to other comments) because i have friends that write for it. I have sometimes been disappointed, other times glad at what’s been covered. And the opinions taken by the paper.

    But this article is without a doubt the best this paper has ever put out, electronically or otherwise.

    Being a gay man who plans on having a family in the future, marriage equality has been issue that affects me too. Not as a present concern like your family, but as a future reminder. Up until a couple weeks ago, I thought the bill would be in congressional limbo for years. And all through then there would be the constant reminder that, for whatever reason, I am still seen as a second class citizen in this country. That when I do settle down with a man and adopt, our relationship wouldn’t be deemed as good as hetero couples. Not being able to get married frankly scared me when it came to wanting to have kids. I want them – but I don’t want them to think we’re any lesser for being two dads.

    With the passage of this bill, that fear has gone away a bit. I can get married in my home state, and I don’t have to fear putting my kids through the fear your family went through. But what if I move? So many states are still against it, that it’s still worrisome if we can get a national consensus without some federal law intervening. While I may now be treated better here, I still feel like a second class citizen. I’m just happier to be here than elsewhere.

    Marriage equality means a lot to me too, and I’m happy you wrote this article, James. In fact, I almost want to cry. I don’t know many others on the staff who could have written it so personally and with such feeling.

    So thank you. Thank you so much. For both sharing your story and I wish your moms the best of luck, man.

    [Reply]

  3. Noah on November 20th, 2013 9:35 pm

    Finally! some good news for Illinois!

    Great story James!

    [Reply]

  4. Joe Cassano on November 21st, 2013 7:12 am

    James, this is a phenomenal piece. I’ve read everything that you’ve posted and this one takes the cake. Your writing is incredibly personal and that’s what makes this article so perfect in my opinion. Props to you for having the guts to write about something like this. Keep doing what you’re doing man, your work is inspiring! I look forward to reading your next piece. Good luck James!

    [Reply]

  5. Mr. Martin on November 21st, 2013 10:21 am

    Well put, James. You do us credit.
    It’s about time, isn’t it?

    [Reply]

  6. Ms. Kraftson on November 22nd, 2013 9:21 am

    What a thoughtful and courageous piece! I am thrilled that our State now supports all families.

    [Reply]

  7. Kelly Billington on November 25th, 2013 4:43 pm

    I’m completely blown away to know this is written by a high school student. Not only is this wonderfully written but is written with wisdom and candor of a writer twice his age.

    Congratulations to you and your family!

    [Reply]

  8. Ben O'Meara on November 25th, 2013 9:40 pm

    James, I am so impressed with not only your writing skills, but how you write about this negative personal experience with such controlled emotion. I’m so proud of you and I love you.

    [Reply]

  9. B. Nierman on December 11th, 2013 8:05 pm

    Great piece. Well said.

    [Reply]

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Small Talk: What marriage equality means to my family