I was introduced to the concept of legitimacy when I was very, very young.
I was born in May 1968; and, according to my mother, she and my father were married in October 1968. For years, until I understood how the calendar worked, she was able to convince me that because October comes before May in the school calendar, she and my father were most certainly married prior to my birth.
This was accepted lore until I one day sat down and figured it all out. Having felt duped and not a little embarrassed that it took me so long to discern the truth, I was compelled to find out why . . . why it was so important to maintain this illusion, why it was worth lying to a child?
So I asked. And she replied: “I didn’t want the world to know you weren’t legitimate.”
This didn’t make sense. What could this possibly mean, I thought. What makes one person legitimate and another not? I mean, here I was–flesh and blood and clearly thinking critically about all this. How could I possibly not be legitimate? I am here.
Fast-forward a decade-and-a-half. Staring out at the Atlantic Ocean from the deck of the Block Island ferry, my future mother-in-law by my side, she and I talked at length about my upcoming wedding to her son. She asked if we would consider getting married in the Catholic Church, and I found myself wandering back to 15 years before, wondering if her son’s and my plan to be married by a Justice of the Peace at a restaurant did not strike her as legitimate. And I ask: How could our marriage be anything but legitimate? Nineteen years later, we are still here.
As parents who formed their family through adoption, we are often confronted by the concept of legitimacy–what constitutes a real family. When people ask if we know our children’s real parents, meaning their birth parents, we are continually struck by the fact that, in the eyes of some, we are not legitimate parents. And yet our eight-plus years as parents have brought the trials, the tribulations, the sleep deprivation, the worry, and the love that all parents know. How could we not be legitimate parents? Ask our sons and I think they would tell you otherwise.
As we contemplate the intersection of having a child out-of-wedlock, not marrying in the Church, parenting through adoption, and the right of same-sex couples to marry, the parallels are many and, for me, the connection visceral. At the root is this misguided notion of legitimacy–what is and what is not legitimate and who gets to decide.
I certainly don’t know who gets to decide. But having been on the receiving end of individuals and institutions that think it’s them, I can tell you it’s not. Or it shouldn’t be. I am obviously no less a human being because my parents were not married when I was born. I am no less my husband’s partner because we were not married in the Church. And I am surely no less a mother because we adopted our children.
And no two people who love one another and want to commit to a life together are no less, no less legitimate than any other couple. Period.