Flexing her knuckles, a light catches the jewels in the band on Stacy Stephens’ left hand’s third finger. The ring is an old symbol for an ordinary aspect of the American Dream: Marriage. But this particular ring doesn’t stand for an old-fashioned idea.
Instead, for Stacy, this ring stands for a barrier crossed.
Stacy, 42, remembers the day well. May 9, 2015 was the day Stacy and her partner Christina, 37, got their marriage license from the St. Louis County courthouse when certain counties in Missouri agreed to allow same-sex marriages before the federal ruling.
“We had waited for this moment our whole lives. Eighteen years. We couldn’t wait to go down there,” she said. “It was amazing. It was just so amazing to know that finally we were going to get to do what we had always talked about doing.”
But getting married before the official federal ruling has allowed for loopholes in the system. Because of these loopholes, there are new problems for the legally married couple.
Stacy was told by lawyer after lawyer that because she and her partner were married before the federal ruling, when only certain counties in Missouri allowed it, Christina would not be able to take her last name just yet. She was advised by her lawyer to return to a courthouse and get remarried, so her partner Christina would get her last name immediately.
“I’m still pissed off,” Stacy said. “I just wish they would have told me it would be this difficult.”
This would just cause further complications for the couple while they have already waited so long. Having to get another marriage license and start all over would just force them to spend more money on this. “They said how the laws are written, they would have to go in and change or adjust them. I just don’t understand it. The only thing I’m getting is why should it matter?” Stacy said.
Every lawyer has told the couple that if they would have waited until the federal ruling passed they wouldn’t be having issues. Stacy argues that no one told her that. She has tried contacting the governor’s office, who then tells her to contact the Social Security office. The Social Security office said they would send out paperwork for her to fill out to get approved for a name change. The office failed to send out the forms, resulting in Stacy having to contact them several times. “To have that excitement just ripped from us over something as stupid as this, it’s just frustrating,” she said.
Encountering a problem that seems at times both integral to one’s identity and seemingly unchangeable represents only one headache for the couple. Another concerns a milestone for many couples: children.
“When we first got together we talked about getting married and having kids. We never knew if we would actually be able to one day, but we always had kids names picked out.”
Zack was one of those names. It is now the name they call down the hallway for their now 5-year-old son. Through a sperm donor, the couple was able to have Zack. “[The sperm donor process] was a roller coaster for me. When you want something so bad like that, it can be tough,” Stacy said.
What makes the situation worse is that for five years now, Stacy has not been recognized as the legal parent of Zack, because she isn’t the mother who birthed him. “Lawyers keep saying they’re going to help with that too. One told me I had to track down the donor and have him sign over the rights. It’s so aggravating. He’s my son,” she said.
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