Thursday, July 15, 2010

U.S. Passport Application Should Reflect All Families

U.S. Passport Application Should Reflect All Families

by Dana Rudolph

I got my seven-year-old son a new passport yesterday. I think I impressed our town clerk by putting down every piece of needed documentation right before she asked for it. Completed form, notarized document from his other mother consenting to the passport (since she was working and couldn’t be present in person), photos, original birth certificate, court order stating that we were both legal parents.

You want people who are on top of their documentation? Look for same-sex parents.

“We have to travel with this all the time, anyway,” I told the clerk, pointing to the birth certificate and court order. She shook her head in sympathy.

The only thing I hadn’t completed in advance was the place on the form where it asked for my son’s “Father’s Name” and “Mother’s Name.” Since he doesn’t have a father — but rather two moms and an anonymous sperm donor — this was a bit of a stumper.

I’m used to such wording, of course. Most forms we get from schools, doctor’s offices, and the like still have it, even here in Massachusetts, although some are starting to adopt the broader “Parent” and “Parent.” Usually I take matters into my own hand when needed, crossing out “Father” and writing in another “Mother.”

Passport agents can be picky, though, and I know crossouts are frowned upon. The town clerk was sympathetic, however, and made a special call to the main Passport Agency in Boston to see what to do. The answer was indeed to cross out “Father” and “Mother” and write in “Parent 1” and “Parent 2.”

No big deal, perhaps — but my son was standing there with me noting how this Very Important Piece of identity documentation did not acknowledge the existence of his type of family.

The fact is, the Department of State under President Obama and Sec. Hillary Clinton has been one of the leading federal departments in terms of supporting LGBT rights. It has said it will provide equal benefits to the same-sex partners and to opposite-sex spouses of foreign-service employees sent abroad, including diplomatic passports. Not only that, but a person in a legal same-sex marriage can now apply for a new passport using his or her married surname, and a transgender person can change the gender listed on his or her passport based on certification from an attending medical physician, without needing gender reassignment surgery.

I therefore urge the State Department to continue this positive trend and revise the passport form to say “Parent 1” and “Parent 2.” It remains accurate, but is more inclusive. Not that it is really arduous to cross out a word and put in a new one — but for our children who watch us do it, it is yet another reminder that our families are often marginalized. Allowing for the possibility of different types of families on a form like this also reminds people that we exist and that our presence is recognized by the State Department.

It may be a small change, not up there with employment nondiscrimination or marriage equality — but because it is small, there seems little reason not to make it happen. It would be another sign of acceptance — and perhaps a reminder to other agencies and businesses to revise their forms in the same way.

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