March 22, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 60°F


Local gay couples cope with legal uncertainty

Sybil Conrad waited 10 years before she was able to marry her college sweetheart. Though she and her partner would have preferred to have been married earlier in their relationship, marriage was not a legal option.

Instead, Conrad, assistant director of the Campus Center at Ithaca College, was married in October 2008 to her partner Kim in California, where same-sex marriage was legal. The couple flew their family, including 4-year-old son Dobbs, to California, where they had a ceremony on a hiking trail surrounded by waterfalls and trees. On candy M&M’s, they had printed, “Ten years and 2,973 miles later.”

But the honeymoon did not last long for the couple. On Nov. 4, one month after Conrad’s wedding, California citizens voted on Proposition 8, a proposal that could ban same-sex marriage in the state. According to a Field Poll study, approximately 52 percent of California citizens voted in favor of Proposition 8. The California Supreme Court is expected to rule on the status of Proposition 8 this spring.

Until then, same-sex couples already married in California do not know what their future will bring.

“We are, essentially, in limbo about our marriage,” Sybil said.

Sybil said, however, she and her partner took the necessary precautions years ago when same-sex marriage was still not legal.

“We didn’t know we’d have this opportunity to get married,” she said. “So, we already started thinking about our family and protecting ourselves.”

Sybil carried their son, and after he was born, Kim legally adopted him as the second parent, making both women the legal parents of the child. The couple also saw a lawyer to discuss each other’s medical proxy and living wills.

California was joined by Arizona and Florida on Nov. 4 voting to change the laws to define marriage only between a man and woman. Same-sex marriage is only legal in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Lis Maurer, coordinator of LGBT Education Outreach Services at the college, said after Proposition 8, she received an overwhelming amount of student reactions.

“Students want to know what their rights are,” she said. “They may not want to get married, but they want to know they have that option.”

Maurer, who was legally married to her partner in the 1980s in Canada, said Proposition 8 was the first time she could remember so many students passionately responding to an issue.

“This is the first time they are aware of something being taken away,” Maurer said. “Whereas I remember driving back from Canada and waving out the window saying, ‘Thanks for the rights.’”

Sophomore Kevin Fish said he was disturbed by Proposition 8. He said he grew up in a large, traditional Irish-Catholic family in the Boston area that always viewed marriage as being between a man and woman.

When Fish came out in the open about his sexuality last semester, he said his views on marriage began to change.

“There shouldn’t be a strict definition on who can marry who because as cliché as it sounds, you can’t help who you fall in love with,” he said.

In New York state, same-sex couples are only allowed commitment ceremonies. On May 14, 2008, Gov. David Paterson said all marriages performed in Massachusetts, California, Canada and Connecticut will be recognized in New York, but a same-sex marriage cannot be performed in New York.

In the months before his wedding, Brandon Barile and his partner searched for the perfect banquet hall, church and their first song to dance to as a married couple. On the day of the ceremony, they stood in the First Unitarian Church in Ithaca and exchanged traditional vows and rings. Afterward, a limo drove them to have their pictures taken at Cayuga Lake and to meet guests for the reception.

“It had all aspects of a traditional wedding,” Barile, a staff member of the college, said. “Minus the gown.”

Though Barile, his family and friends all call the Aug. 30, 2008, ceremony a “wedding,” in the legal sense, he is not married. Because Barile and his partner, also named Brandon, wanted a location that did not involve excessive traveling for their family, they chose to remain in Ithaca and have a commitment ceremony.

“New York state says you can call yourself whatever you want,” he said. “So, I’m calling myself married.”

But Barile said his partner and he are unsure of how to legally describe their relationship now that they want to adopt a child.

“We don’t know if we should check the single box and do a single-parent adoption,” he said.

When they finally adopt their child, Barile said he and his partner will legally marry in Massachusetts.

“You find someone, you get married, you have children,” Barile said. “It’s not conforming to the heterosexual lifestyle.”

Defining their relationship in true legal terms is just one issue facing same-sex couples. Same-sex couples also face the challenge of not knowing how society will accept them.

At their ceremony, Barile said he and his partner danced to their song, “Better Together” by Jack Johnson, for only 15 seconds because they did not want to make guests uncomfortable watching two males slow dance.

“We knew some guests were only coming to say they supported us,” he said. “They still felt weird, so we didn’t want to make it even more awkward.”

Meanwhile, Fish said he struggles with wondering whether or not he will one day wear an engagement ring and if calling his future partner his “husband” will be acceptable.

He said he and his boyfriend are usually mistaken for friends rather than a couple when they are out in public.

“We stopped to look at rings at the jewelry stand in the mall recently, and the saleslady came up to us and asked what we were getting our girlfriends for Valentine’s Day,” he said.

Fish said he hopes when he marries, his marriage will be legal and acceptable in society.

“I want a traditional life,” he said. “I just want to share it with a man. It may be different than others, but I’m not hurting anyone.”