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Forms Over Substance

April 1st, 2010 2 comments

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A man walks into a government office (Social Security, in this case) seeking to have his adopted daughters’ new names recorded, and their social security numbers changed. Since the process itself was fairly smooth, this wouldn’t be anything to write about. But because the man in question had adopted the kids with his same-sex partner, he wasn’t about to get out of there without the requisite reminder of “the erasure of [his] existence,” to quote a great snippet from the Canadian Supreme Court.

Even though joint adoption by a same-sex couple is now permitted in many states, the federal government’s form is deaf to this development: The spaces for parents include one for “mother” and one for “father.” So the federal employee, seemingly a bit embarrassed, pointed out the obvious: one of these men would have to be listed as “mother.”  He suggested breaking the gender tie by counting the visual evidence in front of him: That man would be father, while the invisible one would be “mother.”

How do I know all this? To paraphrase Bart Simpson, “I was that man.” And while I professed indifference as to who would get to play mommy, I didn’t exactly put up a fuss when I was deemed “daddy.”  (This internal reaction could itself kick off a whole separate entry, I know. Of course the right move would  have been to have insisted on being “mommy,” but the guy was trying to be accommodating and I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable. How’s that for rationalization?) I fulminated uselessly about how it’s time for a new form, the employee dutifully agreed, and I was out of there.

Really, how hard would it be for a form to have two boxes for “Parent 1” and “Parent 2,” with each containing a choice of two boxes (roughly one for each gender) to be checked? Where’s the downside to this? It would be simple, easy to understand, and hard to argue with….

Except by zealous bureaucrats and their private-sector cognates whose central mission, it seems, is to decry every single move towards recognition of the reality of people’s lives. And there’s always the chance that every little bit of publicly sanctioned second-class citizenship contributes to keeping the closet chockful. I guess it was too much to hope that the Bush Administration would create a new form in its waning days, as it was too busy making other, more destructive changes – perhaps thinking that the economic meltdown would distract attention.

President Obama, I have a very small but symbolically important request that shouldn’t take much of your time….

This post was originally published on January 9, 2009.