Professors fight for marriage recognition


Cate Taylor and Amy Gonzalez were married in New York in the sumer of 2009. Their family never truly recognized the fact that they were gay, until a formal ceremony validated their relationship. After having moved to Indiana to accept jobs as professors at IU, they found their marriage would not be recognized by the state. Courtesy Photo Buy Photos

Sean Hayes plays in the background as two brides share their first dance. Their gowns glide behind them. For the first time, Cate Taylor and Amy Gonzales celebrate as a married couple.

“The wedding itself was really special,” said Gonzales, assistant telecommunications professor at IU. “It was this turning point in how a lot of our close family felt about us as a gay couple.”

The chaos of wedding planning was often amplified with confusion, disapproval and occasionally even hostility, they said.

“You’re both getting married? On the same day?” bridal shop owners asked Taylor and Gonzales — seemingly oblivious to their relationship.

After four years of dating, even the brides’ families still had their reservations about the wedding.

“(The wedding) totally legitimated our relationship,” said Taylor, assistant sociology and gender studies professor. “I don’t think there’s any way my family would have accepted us the way they accept us now without having done that wedding.”

Married in New York. Single in Philadelphia. With every change in landscape, their legal status fluctuated.

Taylor and Gonzales wed in summer 2009, in the midst of California’s gay rights battle.

In fall 2008, California’s Proposition 8 passed. It added an amendment to the state constitution that defined marriage between one man and one woman, but was overturned in summer 2010.

Legislative changes, state-to-state and even year-to-year, are ongoing factors in Taylor and Gonzales’ lives.

After legally being married in Massachusetts, the couple bounced around the east coast for their post-doctoral research, they said.  

“It’s a regular occurrence in our life that we’re trying to figure out how to navigate this maze of what it means to married, not married and now half-married,” Taylor said.

After two years on the east coast, they began looking for teaching positions. This commitment lent itself to other long-term planning, including family planning.

There are only 16 states that allow joint gay adoptions in which both partner is considered the legal parent of the child. This legality also affects decisions such as finding gay-friendly doctors.

“Anyone that’s dealing with you professionally but also in a very intimate way, you want to feel like they’re comfortable,” Gonzales said. “You just want to feel like you’re validated as a person when they’re helping you get through one of the most intimate parts of your life.”

In August 2012, both Gonzalez and Taylor accepted teaching positions at IU. They packed up and made their way to Indiana.

Although their adoption is legal here, their marriage isn’t. It’s not recognized by the state of Indiana as a marriage, by definition.

This makes events like Tax Day that much more stressful, they said.

Federally, Taylor and Gonzales are considered legally wed and receive tax returns as a couple. On a state level, each must file their taxes as single.

This has translated to Taylor and Gonzales spending thousands of dollars on lawyers and accountants to decipher the gray area.

“Even with all that money we spend we still don’t have the same legal protection as a married couple,” Taylor said. “People think that we can somehow approximate legal marriage and actually, you can’t do that. There’s certain privileges that the government gives heterosexual married couples, that there’s just no way to get them for same-sex couples.”

Indiana’s changing legislation is a constant source of stress for Taylor and Gonzales, they said.

The recent HJR-3 proposal could have drastically altered the couple’s family planning. If the second sentence had remained, banning any unions equivalent to marriage, it is possible it would also extend to adoption rights.

“You go somewhere because you know this right is available to you there but then you don’t know if that right is going to stay available to you,” Taylor said. “That uncertainty will not go away until we have marriage everywhere for all people.”

This uncertainty comes from the United States’ rapid change in legislation for gay rights. In less than 10 years, gay marriage has gone from being legal in only one state to 17 states. The rest of the country varies from acknowledging marriages performed elsewhere to constitutional bans on same-sex marriage.

Indiana is no exception to this inconsistency. Last week, a federal judge granted a lesbian couple from Evansville an emergency request for immediate recognition of marriage. The request was in response to one partner’s terminally ill status and is valid for 28 days.

This case is one of five legal challenges filed in Indiana last month. Since DOMA was repealed last year, more than 60 federal lawsuits have been filed nationwide.

This puts gay rights issues at center stage, a position that feels both exciting and overwhelming for couples like Taylor and Gonzales, they said.

“You can feel more empowered walking down the street holding hands but then you also feel like, oh someone’s also pissed off about DOMA,” Gonzales said. “Walking down the street holding hands shouldn’t feel like sticking my neck out, but suddenly it does. In both good and bad ways.”

Public approval of gay marriage has changed from 40 percent in 2009 to 54 percent in 2012, according to Gallup polls. Despite this change in public opinion, feeling that their relationship isn’t respected is still a constant anxiety for gay couples such as Taylor and Gonzales.

This lack of legal respect often transforms into a socially inhospitable climate, they said. Most LGBT hate crimes are aimed at gays who defy the gender normative — masculine females or feminine males. Taylor and Gonzales are white, educated, employed, feminine lesbians but they said this does not exempt them from hostility.

“It’s not always clear why it’s happening,” Gonzales said. “Maybe that person’s having a busy day or maybe it’s because I just referred to my wife. That’s the stress, the uncertainty around having to constantly navigate around other people’s potential prejudices.”

Although Taylor and Gonzales have said they found both the Bloomington and IU community to be overall welcoming and accepting, they still run into their fair share of pursed lips and disapproving stares.

“I think it’s kind of sad to be honest,” Taylor said. “This is the most important relationship of my life. I’m totally in love with Amy and I think we have a great relationship and we’re really happy. It’s just kind of sad to me that our relationship is not respected in the legal system.”

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