Motherhood…. It’s Not for Sissies
SC Same-Sex Couple finds Kindred Spirit in Fight for Marriage Equality
By Sheryl McAlister, a freelance writer based in South Carolina.
In Florida, a 60-something gay mother of a grown son watches and waits as voices on both sides of the marriage equality debate in South Carolina rise to a crescendo.
Georgia Hallman was a young, pregnant woman in the spring of 1988, living in Northern Virginia with her then-partner. The two women wanted to be parents and enjoyed the safety and support of a larger group of gay parents to help them navigate this fairly new concept of parenthood. They even represented the network of east coast lesbian mothers on a 1989 edition of The Phil Donahue Show.
They weren’t universally accepted. They did not, however, let that deter them.
Now 25 years later, Katie Bradacs and Tracie Goodwin are the central figures in a different – but similar – fight in South Carolina. The fate of Bradacs v. Haley rests in the hands of Judge Michelle Childs after the couple’s attorneys filed for summary judgment this week. It is both fitting and appropriate that the couple and their attorneys who took center stage — against all odds more than a year ago — are standing there once again.
In this particular fight for equal rights, so many have done so much for so long. Yet when all is said and done here, Teddy Roosevelt’s words ring true: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…”
Hallman understands what Bradacs and Goodwin are going through. And she’s rooting for this couple in South Carolina. Her fight started in the late ‘80s, when Bradacs and Goodwin weren’t yet teenagers. Same-sex marriage wasn’t even part of the conversation back then. The focus then was on artificial insemination and the potential risk of AIDs.
Since then, in vitro fertilization has become almost routine, while the issues of legality and protection of children seem to be as challenging as ever.
“We formed a group called Maybe Baby,” Hallman said of her friends in the Northern Virginia area. “Out of the 5 (lesbian) couples, three of us had children. We decided to meet a couple times a month to discuss key issues and concerns.”
They had experts in the areas of artificial insemination, genetics and psychology join them. They had specialists join them from across the country. They were hard core. They were serious. They were fearless.
But then again, if done correctly, motherhood is not for sissies.
“We talked a lot about how to protect ourselves if we did have a child,” Hallman said. “We wondered if psychologically our son would be hurt. We wondered how we would legally, as a couple, protect our child.
“We were fortunate to live in Fairfax County (Northern Virginia) where most people would be open-minded,” she continued. “But sometimes, in retrospect, we wondered if we should have moved to San Francisco.”
Bradacs and Goodwin live in a quiet, residential community in South Carolina’s Lexington County. Bradacs’ patrol car is usually parked in front of the house, and toys fill the garage. Just inside the front door, the room formerly known as the dining room, serves as a play room — well-appointed with the most fun and educational of toddler toys. Books and blocks take the place of fine china. Family photos line the walls.
On any typical school night, Tracie is in the kitchen preparing dinner, along with Katie’s mother Diane. Katie’s father is seriously ill, and they discuss ways to make sure one of them is with him every day. Their happy, well-adjusted toddlers are seated at the table eating green beans and chicken. Their 13-year-old son, Jordan, joins in the conversation and discusses his day at school.
He’s proud of his room and shows off his coin collection. He’s attentive to his siblings and respectful of his parents.
Soon after, the mothers take their twins upstairs for a bath and bedtime. Somewhere around 8 pm, they take a seat in the den, having barely eaten a bite themselves. A horse-sized Great Dane lumbers about.
This is the familial chaos that is their life together. This is what they fight so hard to protect.
And, apparently, this is what opponents of same-sex marriage are so afraid of.
In a brief item in The State recently, the South Carolina newspaper quoted US Rep. Jim Clyburn’s opponent Anthony Culler as saying with regard to marriage equality and same-sex couples “… these people are bullies, and now that they are winning, their true and hateful nature is much easier to see and hear.”
Wow. If he thinks the lesbian equivalent of Ozzie and Harriet is bad, perhaps a subscription to Netflix would broaden his horizons. I mean, Claire and Frank Underwood are deliciously scary. House of Cards, this ain’t.
A glimpse into the Bradacs and Goodwin family’s everyday life doesn’t quickly reveal the stress of the past couple years. They don’t spend – or have – a lot of time to complain. To conceive their youngest children, Bradacs’ fertilized eggs were implanted into Goodwin. The result: Bradacs is the biological mother, and Goodwin is the birth mother. Pretty much should be a distinction without a difference.
Common sense would suggest both mothers could and would make equal and lawful decisions regarding their children’s well-being. The law, however, said otherwise.
When the twins were born in 2012, their son suffered a stroke that left him in critical condition and in immediate need of round-the-clock medical and parental attention. He was moved quickly to another hospital, and Bradacs was instantly denied access to her son. She was denied access to information about his weakening condition. She was denied the ability to make medical, potential life-saving decisions for him. She was essentially rendered helpless by laws that make it completely impossible for certain parents to care for their own children.
The 32-year-old Bradacs, who has worked as a trooper for the SC Highway Patrol for three years, said: “I’m putting my life on the line every day. Shouldn’t I be entitled to the same rights as everyone else?”
When the opportunity came to stand up for those rights, they did. They talked with other couples, shared research and planned to move forward together. “The other couples in Columbia backed out,” Goodwin, 36, said. “We had to be willing to be the first.”
They talked about all they had lost in their fight for equal rights – jobs, reputations, friends, family members. They talked about the time spent fighting for insurance coverage, benefits and having to prove their fitness as parents. To no avail…
Hallman is both the biological and birth mother. Her then-partner and her son’s other mother altered the spelling of her name on their child’s birth certificate under the “Father” category. When they appeared on Donahue, an audience member stood up and asked “Why don’t you just pretend to be the aunt?”
As if the question itself weren’t offensive enough, the audience applauded.
The South Carolina case and controversy is all too familiar to Hallman, who recalled coming home after her family appeared on The Phil Donahue Show. This was back in the day before DVR and VHS, of course. “I was still out on maternity leave at the time of the show,” she said. “I remember wondering what the odds were that someone was home and saw the show. It was early in the morning.
“But, of course, people saw it. I was asked why I felt compelled to do the show. I had a very close colleague who never spoke to me again.”
Hallman said her then-partner answered the woman from the Donahue show audience by saying: “Because I’m not his aunt. I’m his mother, and I have rights, too. How can you deny me those rights?
“The audience got really quiet, and I think we got a boo. She was always more outspoken than I was,” Hallman said.
Outspoken or not, with both couples, their actions have spoken far louder than words. Neither couple sought the spotlight. Circumstances caused them to end up there. A personal desire to protect their children made it imperative. “If we had even had partnership rights in Virginia,” Hallman said, “it would have made it so much easier.”
More than a quarter century later, Virginia came through. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, struck down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban and said denying same-sex couples marriage equality “prohibits them from participating fully in our society.”
Hallman, who was 37 when her son was born, said: “You couldn’t even adopt your partner’s child back then. People were always asking us when we were going to move out of Virginia. I honestly thought Virginia, Alabama and Mississippi would be the last to allow marriage. I’m glad to see Virginia turned the corner.”
And so Bradacs, Goodwin and their attorneys — Carrie Warner and John Nichols — wait. They have done all they can to make the case for this couple and every other same-sex couple in South Carolina — who were married somewhere else or want to be married in the state.
“We didn’t do this for the publicity,” Goodwin said. “We never wanted to do news interviews or be on television. For us, it was always about our family. It was always about being able to take care of our family.”
Hallman’s son is grown now. According to his mother, he’s a great guy and making his way in the world as a 26-year-old man. She is no longer with her son’s other mother although the two remain close, and they continue to be very involved in their son’s life.
Hallman and her partner of 16 years live in Florida, and the ties that bind her to South Carolina and Virginia are strong. A native of South Carolina, she visits the area frequently.
Her advice to Bradacs and Goodwin?
“Be proud of who you are,” she said. “Make sure your children have a community of friends like them so they don’t think they’re alone. Children are going to be who they are.
“Things are going to change,” Hallman continued. “Just don’t give up the fight.”
For Bradacs and Goodwin… not a chance.
Copyright 2014 Sheryl McAlister.