Ellen Buralli and Sherry Oliphant quickly made the transition from my neighbors to friends to a second family and pair of bonus moms to my kids. Their toddler son, Parker, is affectionately known as my sons' "little brother."
While expecting their second child, I was thrilled to find out that they had recently converted their civil union to marriage, now that same-sex marriage is legal here in Illinois. I figured things would be easier for them as same-sex parents.
I was wrong.
They may have the legal rights that come along with gay marriage, but parental rights?
There's still a long way to go to achieving equality.
Same sex marriage wasn't recognized in our home state of Illinois when Parker was born, so it made sense that Buralli adopted him. However, although she and Oliphant are legally married, Buralli still needed to adopt their newborn daughter, Presley. She explains, "Unlike a heterosexual marriage, our marriage is not recognized everywhere. If we are in a state that doesn't recognize same-sex marriage, as the non-birth mother, I have no rights when it comes to my children."
Illinois State Representative Greg Harris, a cosponsor of the bill that made same-sex marriage legal in our state, explains, "The protections, benefits and responsibilities of marriage may change or disappear when a state line is crossed. This is particularly important for families who travel or move to other states where full equality is not recognized. Children may not be recognized as being children of both parents, parents may be denied healthcare decision making, [or] hospital visitation rights."
I figured Oliphant would have it easier as the biological mother. I was wrong again.
It turns out, she had to give up parental rights of the babies she gave birth to in order for Ellen to adopt their kids.
Is your head spinning, too?
"As you would imagine it makes me extremely uncomfortable to have to give up my rights temporarily in order for my wife to gain parental rights to our children," she says. "It makes no sense. It's shocking to me that children are handed over to deadbeat parents every day, but we have to jump through ridiculous hoops just because we are two women — two loving, nurturing, capable parents that want nothing more than to raise our children."
As a mom in a "traditional" marriage, I can't begin to explain how much this angers me. I am thrilled that same-sex marriage is legal in Illinois, yet disheartened when people I care about so much have to go through this.
"Our marriage brings more rights and changes certain things from a legal standpoint, which we are thankful for," Oliphant says. "But obviously, more change is still necessary because we still do not have equal rights."
Buralli adds, "Our family shares the same struggles and successes as any other family. We work just as hard to provide a good home as any other family. We shouldn't have to work so hard or at all to be considered equal."
I couldn't agree more.
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