Stefanie Frank had two weddings: One at Terrace on the Park in Flushing Meadows Park with 120 guests, and one in a state where it was legal — Connecticut.
Now expecting twins, Stefanie and her partner, Sarah Frank, are among a growing number of gay couples facing legal and financial hurdles due to restrictions that both state and federal government place upon their relationship.
“It’s very stressful to tell people we’re married and have them question it,” said Sarah, at the Forest Hills apartment she shares with her wife. “We are constantly having to explain that yes, we are really married. We are no different than you.”
Despite President Obama’s refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, same- sex marriage is only permitted in five states and in Washington, DC Many more states offer civil unions or domestic partnerships. New York recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states, but when paying taxes, married gay couples in New York see none of the benefits extended to their heterosexual counterparts.
1n 2010, same-sex couples were only allowed to file taxes jointly in nine states. The health coverage that Sarah has as Stefanie’s domestic partner and wife is taxed as if it were income, and Stefanie, the non-biological mother of the soon-to-be-born twins, had to fill out “a Bible’s worth” of paperwork, just to ensure that she would not be stopped from taking the children to a doctor’s appointment. If one of the women were to die, under current federal tax code, she would be charged to inherit her spouse’s estate.
“I am not trying to change anything about anyone else. I am just trying to get what everybody else has,” said Sarah, who volunteered to be interviewed as part of a recent push by New Yorkers United for Marriage to introduce state legislation which would permit same-sex marriage.
Gov. Cuomo expressed his support for marriage equality in a video message on Monday calling the issue “a matter of fairness and equality.”
“It is not a question of religion or culture but a question of legal rights and government policy,” Cuomo added.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently added his voice to the debate, penning a supportive op-ed with Republican Theodore Olson, the former U.S. solicitor general. The pair wrote that civil unions were an unacceptable solution, inviting and encouraging unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children.
“I am going to keep fighting,” said Stefanie. “We think about history and there was a time when black people and white people couldn’t get married, and now they can, so we’re next.”
Despite her optimism and recent gains made in the fight for marriage equality, the Franks have experienced disappointment.
In 2009, a marriage equality bill failed to pass the state Senate, dashing the hopes of gay and lesbian couples across New York.
State Sens. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) and Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) both voted against the bill, along with every Republican in the Senate. The legislation was defeated.
Since then, Huntley and Addabbo both said they are willing to discuss the issue to best represent the views of their constituents.
In his video address, Cuomo suggested those in favor of gay marriage call state representatives to make their voices heard. He said a marriage equality bill will be introduced in the Senate when he is certain it will obtain enough votes to pass. A bill was introduced in the state Assembly this month.
Opposition is mounting and this month, state Sens. Ruben Diaz Sr. (D-Bronx) and Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn) introduced legislation which would void in New York same-sex marriages legalized in other jurisdictions and recognized here since 2008.
Opponents believe marriage should be between a man and a woman and claim that extending marriage rights to gays and lesbians would harm society and devalue the institution of marriage.
Though many business leaders have suggested that allowing gay marriage could be extremely lucrative to the state by preventing couples like the Franks from taking their wedding business elsewhere, Diaz, an ordained minister with a lesbian granddaughter, continues to hold rallies against it.
Regardless of what happens, the Franks will be welcoming a baby girl and a baby boy into their home in October and they couldn’t be more thrilled.
Sarah is about to finish college and Stefanie teaches special-needs children in Brooklyn.
While some of their challenges are unique, Stefanie said most are the typical things that come with marriages, including the in-laws — “My mother isn’t the problem of course. I guess that’s why it’s odd that we are considered so different.”
Stefanie said the biggest problem in her relationship (in addition to lack of marital recognition) was difficult to overcome. “Did she tell you we are in a mixed marriage?” Stefanie asked. “I am a Mets fan and she is a Yankees fan.” It was the first day of the subway series.
Aside from these challenges, the Franks are fortunate to have the support of their families. Their nephew recently educated his kindergarten class about gay rights, challenging his teacher when she said that only a man and a woman could get married.
At her school recently, Stefanie teared up when a male fellow teacher who has a wife and kids chastised one of his students for insulting another by calling him gay. “‘I could be gay,’” she recalled the teacher saying. “I felt comfortable, like I didn’t have to hide who I am,” Stefanie said.