November 4’s election elated, then deflated, our families like no other.
By Anita Rentaria • Photo by John Conroy
The most amazing thing has happened. The United States of America has elected Barack Obama as president. Not begrudgingly. Not reticently. Not haltingly. By a decisive, early, record-breaking, undeniable tsunami. A door that had never before been opened in this country is now flung wide.
I feel a new lightness in my chest. The air drawn into my lungs feels brighter, cleaner, fresher. The weather echoes my mood—bright, gorgeous, and cool. I smile more often and easier, but I cry more often and easier, too. The wonder of it overwhelms me several times a day.
There is so much hope for the future of our country, you can actually taste it. Hope tastes sweet. There is such pride that even today, I keep wanting to shake strangers’ hands, hug them, high-five them, as if it had just been announced moments ago.
There is more though. It was an absolutely crushing day as well. California’s Proposition 8 passed, Arizona and Florida followed Texas in passing constitutional amendments excluding us from marriage, and Arkansas voted to ban same-sex couples from fostering or adopting children. That one hurt so badly, it made my skin burn.
In 2006, my partner and I adopted our daughter. She was two when we started the process and three when it was official. She is biracial. She is beautiful and smart and sweet and funny. She came from a foster home of a same-sex couple, friends of ours who shortly after she was placed with them recommended we meet her and consider adoption. Her past included neglect and instability—ours was the fifth placement for her and she was not yet three.
Today she attends kindergarten at an excellent school. We live in a neighborhood with lots of trees and wide streets. Our house and property are sprawling, and she has her own room filled with toys, games, and stuffed animals. We attend a small, inclusive, and accepting church. She has had her passport since she was four and has been to Mexico and the Caribbean. She has an extended family of cousins, aunts and uncles, and her Nana, my mother. Because of our fortunate financial position, she has health insurance and sees her pediatrician and dentist regularly. She eats well—she loves fresh fruit and salads, shrimp and sushi, pizza and hot dogs. She has her own household responsibilities, so she makes up her bed and sets the table. She says “yes ma’am” and please and thank you, and she is learning to read. She loves SpongeBob Squarepants and Barbies and horses, and she was a princess again this year for Halloween.
In short, she is privileged, happy, healthy, and, above all, safe and well loved. And the kicker? We adopted her from Arkansas. Her foster parents were in Arkansas. We adopted her openly and as a couple. We had the support of her state-appointed lawyer and a wonderful judge in Arkansas who granted custody of her to the state of Texas so we could finalize with our adoption agency and our lawyer here. If we hadn’t done it in 2006, we could not have done it now. In fact, her foster parents, who cared for and loved her (and she wasn’t the only one), are now banned from caring for any other needy child; this in a state with tens of thousands of children in the system waiting for placement.
My partner and I will celebrate our seventh anniversary this month. We co-own our home, have joint household checking and savings accounts, and co-parent our daughter (she is the father on the birth certificate, I am the mother). My family is covered by my employer’s health insurance because we have domestic partnership benefits. We have the wills and powers of attorney that ensure we are legally bound no matter the circumstance, so we get to see each other in the hospital and can make decisions for the other if need be. We share responsibility for household chores, although I admit she is ahead of me there. We laugh, we fight, we depend on each other to navigate our days, our weeks, our lives. In short, we are married.
On Tuesday, November 4, Arkansas and California voted to prevent my family from existing. Millions of people voted to deny our very existence as a family. I cannot process it. Has anyone ever had so direct a vote against them in the country of their birth? Well, yes. And many of those people voted against me and mine. Is it because they don’t remember? Do any of those voters have any idea how it feels? Could they look me in the eye and tell me why my family does not belong in this country and that they feel so strongly about it they took action to pass amendments and initiatives preventing it? Who could explain to my five-year-old daughter their belief that she should not be allowed to have the life she has?
There can be no argument that our daughter is in a better circumstance than she had been before loving gay people came into her life. There can be no argument that my relationship with my partner is the embodiment of marriage. Passing laws that deny we are does not make us go away. I am saddened for the children of Arkansas who won’t have the future my daughter will have, for the door that slammed shut behind her as she left. It’s the same sound the couples in California who did marry now hear as the door slams behind them.
But if we learned one thing from this amazing Tuesday, it is this: doors that you never thought would open, can and do. In fact, now it seems impossible for it not to have opened. I wish it had been Tuesday for us. But I expect the day when ours, too, will open. I expect it.
Anita Renteria wrote about her experience as a Democratic National Convention delegate in our September 2004 issue. She is a past president of Greater Houston GLBT Chamber of Commerce.