TW: heterosexism, custody dispute
Let’s talk about how a lesbian couple is being sued for cohabitating in Texas. The logic behind this is that the father of at least one of the two children both of them are raising has the right to sue them for cohabiting together along with the child without being married. Such stipulations are common in many parts of the US as conditions for a divorce, so while this is a particularly public iteration of this phenomenon, the threat of this is a real issue that confronts many queer families.
To pick this apart, the problems here run deep. Cohabitation (widely defined as making a specific property the default sleeping space) is a comparatively odd issue to focus on within divorce papers. Even for male-female couples (who can easily avoid this issue by marrying), it seems like an arbitrary line to draw in the sand. While the ostensible point is to regulate who has access to the children as a means of protection, the policy seems designed to defer power to non-cohabitating legal kin at the expense of those who live with and potentially are more important if legally unrecognized within the household. As a protective measure, it only makes sense when assuming that pre-existing legal kinship is proof of having the best interests, and consequently should have de facto veto power over the introduction of new kin in their stead. It seems more interested in guarding recognized kins’ egos than their children.
(Just when you thought legal kinship norms couldn’t get anymore patriarchal, heterosexist, and cisnormative… from here.)
But to treat this as an issue that transcends heterosexist values and bigotry specifically towards queer families is to frustratingly miss one of the broader lessons here. The very existence of a shared social space is central to many conceptions of family in the United States – and the blatant attack on that for the Price-Comptons is consequently quite recognizable. But what about the nebulous issue of custody? Following a tragic or unexpected death, what if a non-biological mother is a more desirable candidate for sole custody than a distant, perhaps even former father?
Again, unlike male-female couples, same-sex or same-gender couples can’t easily transfer custody in cases of emergency to smooth out difficult transition periods for their kids. But, what’s more, in those often contested situations, queer parents often have their standing challenged not only for their lack of biological relationship with the children, but also for simply being queer.
In essence, there is no way of guaranteeing effective social protections for queer families without providing them means of establishing kinship, which male-female couples currently have easy access to. Dismantling onerous expectations of who can sleep where at what point is clearly a good idea, but ending the discussion there ignores the unique difficulties faced specifically by queer parents.