In one of my earlier posts, I wrote about how my husband (Stewart) and I believe that we made legal history in Georgia when we obtained a pre-birth order from a state court judge there stating that, even though we are two men and only one of us is a biological parent of Max, both of our names may be listed on Max’s birth certificate. I went on to write that while the Georgia Vital Records Department fulfilled that order, we were disappointed to discover that they would not alter their form to reflect our family structure and insisted instead on listing Stewart as Max’s “Mother”! While Georgia may have a ways to go in this area, I am pleased to report that the U.S. State Department is finally starting to catch on that its forms wrongly assume that all families are structured the same way – i.e. the “straight” way.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently ordered the State Department to change the wording on all applications for U.S. passports issued to children. The designations “mother” and “father” will be replaced with "mother or parent 1" and "father or parent 2". (Interestingly, the government originally intended to eliminate the terms “mother” and “father” altogether and just use “parent 1” and “parent 2”; however, backlash from conservative groups caused the government to retreat slightly and compromise with the “or” formulation that I mention above). The State Department website explains the purpose behind the new terminology: "These improvements are being made to provide a gender neutral description of a child’s parents and in recognition of different types of families.” The gender-neutral passport applications will be rolled out next month.
Why is this important? Because while for most families applying for and receiving a passport is what it should be -- a forgettable bureaucratic chore -- when that process serves as an official reminder to you and your child that your government does not recognize your existence, and instead turns your “papa” into your “mama,” those documented lies aren’t so easy to pass off and ignore. Childhood for everyone is full of uncertainty and anxiety. There is no reason the government has to encourage our family structure to be an added basis for that. So any time that the government removes an official imprint of “otherness” stamped onto our family, that is a big positive in and of itself -- even if there isn’t also an immediate and concrete benefit resulting from the change, since we are not planning to go anywhere outside of the country with Max anytime soon.
And of course many more than just our family will benefit from the government's thoughtful announcement. “The updates remove significant challenges for the two million children being parented by lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) parents,” said Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of Family Equality Council, which led the effort to change the forms. So I applaud them, and the State Department, for this small but important step in making passport applications as boring for us as they are for most of you.