When It Comes To Inclusion, Other States Should Take Note Of Mass.Gov
In a little over a month, my wife, Dinushka, and I will celebrate ten years of marriage. As a couple, we’ve weathered many storms, just like any other couple. We’ve even gone to couples therapy – twice. I often joke that if something ever happened to my wife, I would not get married again. It’s so much work, in every single way: from trying to decipher another’s body language, their ever changing likes and dislikes, negotiating life’s big decisions together, like buying a house and having a family. But I love my wife, and she loves me, and we like each other most days too.
At the time we began dating all those years ago, we were in all the feels of what a new relationship could be like: the nervousness, the cuddles, the dates, the drinking of an entire bottle of wine over dinner, the meeting of our respective family and friends, the sex, all of it all the while we were establishing our little space in our little gay world. Words like “inclusivity,” and “gay marriage” were buzz words, what all the cool kids were doing at the time — and there weren’t many cool kids then. The those that were, were usually the gay ones, fighting for other gays, like us, helping to forge a world where we were all deemed equal.
Practicing inclusivity isn’t simply about changing laws (though it’s about that too), but it’s about follow-through. It’s about language and normalization. It’s about action. It’s about recognizing my family of five as equal, and my wife and I as parents deserving of the same rights and support from our state of residence and our government.
So the fact that on the Massachusetts’s government’s page, there is an example — recognizing an LGBTQIA+ couple, nonbinary Ty and their spouse — as parents is huge.
This is definitely something to be celebrated, but Massachusetts should not be the only state doing this. Other states should too, because our families exist everywhere, 365 days of the year.
Even before Dinushka and I met in-person in 2007, I told her that I wanted kids. In fact, we began our relationship with a child I was in the process of adopting even before I met Dinushka. By email number three, she knew I wanted more kids, and that I wanted to give birth; this was one of my non-negotiables. If she decided to be with me, she was also committing to having another kid. In 2011, we got married. In 2014, we tried for another baby. And what we got, thanks to our in-vitro fertilization (IVF), were two babies! My wife almost lost her marbles when we got to hear and see them on our first ultrasound when our doctor confirmed what the blood test alluded to — there were two babies growing in my belly.
Fast-forward, and by seven months, we were trying to figure out the logistics of it all: birthing plan, childcare for our son while we were in the hospital with the babies, which diapers to choose, strollers, how many clothes to buy (or over buy), and so much more. But we had the added worry, as a same-sex couple, of thinking about things other couples — hetero couples — take for granted, like whose name will be on the birth certificate, or who will get to take FMLA to be home, or who will get adequate leave.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), signed into law in 1993, provides a level of job security that we all have the right to, no matter our sexual orientation or what our familial structure looks like. FMLA provides families (and parents especially) with unpaid leave, a guaranteed 12 weeks under law. Outside of those 12 weeks, it’s up to individual employers (and states) to what is granted. In the state of Massachusetts, for instance, anyone who works in the state is eligible to take up to 26 weeks of paid leave — six months to be with your family, what a gift. Every state can use its own discretion when deciding how much time to give new parents, so that’ll always be something that’s up for debate. What should not be debated is who is allowed or eligible to; same-sex parents/couples need to always be included.
The story of how same-sex couples fought for equal rights is exhausting to understand, but necessary to know to see how far we still have to go. In 2004, San Francisco became the first city to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples (in defiance of California state law). That same year, a judge in New York State deemed same-sex marriages illegal. In 2008, California, Arizona, and Florida, in a voter supported ban, said that same-sex marriages could not be recognized in their states. Voters and state governments were divided, questioning our right as same-sex couples to be included in the very governments and societies we worked, lived, and built our families in.
In 2011, President Obama declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, and between 2011-2013, a handful of states legalized same-sex marriage. It was not until 2013 that the language in the FMLA laws changed to be more inclusive of same-sex families. It was not until 2015 that same-sex marriage was legalized in all 50 states. And thanks to the brave souls in the cases which helped to bring inclusivity to all gay families all those years ago in Supreme Court cases — Obergefell v. Hodges and the United States v. Windsor — it is only now, in 2021, that we’re beginning to see our families truly reflected in inclusive language … in Massachusetts (thank you)!
Paid family and medical leave provides peace of mind for families to be able to stay home and show up for both their spouse and their child, whether birthed by them or adopted. Do you know what it’s like to be denied entry into the delivery room with your partner because you’re a same-sex couple or because you don’t fit the mold of what a “traditional” couple looks like? The fact that we might be discriminated against during our birthing experience crossed our mind while I was getting prepped in the delivery room for my c-section, my wife pacing back and forth on the other side of the door running through various scenarios, increasing her anxiety level. Hetero couples don’t have to fear being denied entrance to seeing their children’s birth and being by their partner’s side for support.
All of the what-ifs ran through my wife’s head: “What if they don’t see me as a parent?” or “What if they forget that I am out here?” or “What if they think Nik’s here alone because I am not a man?” While we felt confident and happy with our decision to choose the hospital we gave birth in, as a same-sex couple (and for us, two women of color), we constantly carry worry with us and that list of “what if’s” is forever growing.
But when a couple from the LGBTQIA+ community can show up on a government’s website in this positive way, like Ty and their partner, it’s a small victory for all of us. By using language that includes types of families that don’t fit into the traditional cis-het mold, we take one little step closer to being just as accepted in all facets of life. Let’s keep winning this game of equality, equity, and inclusivity, not only in word but in action and law.
Thanks, Massachusetts, and to the other 49 states — let’s get your asses moving here to follow suit. Language matters, we matter, and our families do too.