The substantial equivalent


This is Katie. Katie plays football on her school team in Washington. Her mom, Janice Langbehn, is very proud of her, and like every parent, remembers like it was yesterday when this big, tough, independent kid was so new and so tiny:

many of you all know we got the call to
come get katie when she was 26days old and Lisa picked her up from the
seattle office when she was 27 days old. I can still close my eyes and
picture her in the little strawberry onies outfit I had picked out. I
still can smell the baby lotion (at least the amount she didn’t eat)
that made her smell gorgeous. she’s so much bigger today. I received
an email from one of her football coaches and though I didn’t ask if I
could use his words – i’m going to b/c it just shows you the potential
anyone has – if they put their heart in the right place.

From Katie’s Coach – Hey, Katie could not have asked for a better
situation. My son, really enjoyed this season as well. This is his
3rd year playing tackle football. My son would rather be on an 0-7
team and play a lot versus being on a 7-0 team and play a little. My
son came home happy after every game (even when he hurt his shoulder).
He said this was his best year ever and he loved having Katie on his
team. She really held her own and we are so proud of her. The biggest
compliment paid to Katie was in our last game and it came from a
referee. He requested that I tell the “young man” on the right side of
the defensive line he is lining up off side. I immediately corrected
him and informed him of the fact she is a “young lady.” He stated he
was impressed. At this level of football it is more important to play
as many downs as possible. Katie really took advantage of this
situation. Had she been on a winning team with more players, Katie and
my son would have seen less playing time. I bet they would not be as

So there you go our little tiny girl, can hold her own, even missing
her one mom terribly. She’s made huge strides this year in school,
getting work done, paying attention and fostering her friendships. She
is like the rudder of the family – helps us stay the course. Sometimes
– many times it gets rocky or windy or scary – the our 3 amazing souls
that Lisa has left me to raise we find our way. I am beyond blessed to
having them in my life. The only thing that could make it complete
would be to have Lisa here witnessing it too.

Lisa was Katie’s other mom. Lisa died a little over a year ago. It was horribly sudden, a stroke. She was 39 and healthy, no one expected it to happen, especially not on a family vacation. The trip, a family cruise to the Bahamas, one of those “Rosie” cruises for GLBT families, was an anniversary celebration of sorts. Lisa Pond and Janice Langbehn had been together for 17 years. In addition to Katie, they had adopted two other kids, Danielle and David.

On February 18, 2007, they boarded ship in Miami and almost immediately after that, Lisa collapsed. She was taken toJackson Memorial Hospital. Imagine this: your healthy spouse collapsing on a family vacation, across the country from family and friends, your three kids and you watching helplessly as she’s put in an ambulance to go to a hospital you’ve never heard of. As bad as that is, it gets worse. 

At the hospital, Janice wasn’t allowed any information about what was going on with Lisa. She and her children sat in a waiting room with no word for three hours. Finally, someone called the social worker for them.

Dr. Garnet Fredrick, a
social worker, was very blunt in telling me that I was in “an anti-gay
city and state” and that I would need a health care proxy before I was
allowed to see my partner of nearly 18 years or know of her condition.
After getting his fax number I immediately called Kathy Bowen our
closet friend in Olympia who went to our house, found our legal
documents including our Power of Attorney, Living Will and Advance
Directive allowing me to speak for Lisa in the event she couldn’t.
Kathy went to our house within minutes of my frantic call, faxed our
legal documents to the hospital in Miami.

Three more hours with no information, no contact, no access to the trauma ward, then a neurosurgeon appeared and asked Janice for consent to place a pressure monitor on Lisa, and informed her that surgery might be needed. Six hours after arrival, this was the first contact Janice had with anyone on Lisa’s medical team, the first details of what had happened to her. The hospital had received the family legal work, had to ask Janice for consent, but Janice and her kids were still not allowed to see Lisa.

 Another hour passed before two more neurosurgeons appeared to talk
with me and Lisa’s parents who were listening in via my cell phone. It
was during this meeting that they initially said that one of Lisa’s
pupils was fixed and not responding but there may be a chance. Seconds
later, the surgeons got a page, stepped out of the family room and then
re-entered to say that both of Lisa’s pupils now were blown and she was
essentially brain dead and they would do the flow study in the morning
to confirm. It was only after this meeting that I learned that our Lisa
was essentially gone, that no surgery could save her brain from the
massive aneurysm. After the doctors left the room, I brought our
children in to tell them that their “other” mom had died and that she
was in Heaven now. I explained that we would keep her on a breathing
machine so that she could donate her organs so that others could live
just as Lisa wanted it.
More than one tragedy occurred that February day in Miami: I lost my
partner, my love, my life, our kids lost their “other” mom and what
makes all these tragedies more horrible is how I was treated by the
Social Worker and receptionist at that hospital in Miami by telling me
I couldn’t see Lisa nor make important decisions about her care. In
those 3 hours, desperate for information about Lisa, I paced and
watched other families being brought back into the trauma center, yet
my family waited, with no word about Lisa’s condition. Our children
Danielle, David, Katie and I all lost the ability to be with Lisa in
her last moments of consciousness, to hold her hand and to say goodbye
and that is something that can never be given back to our family. When
I finally was allowed to see Lisa it was with a Priest to perform her
Last Rites.

Later, Janice had to resort to getting Lisa’s death certificate from
the funeral home, as neither Jackson Memorial or the State of Florida
would respond to her repeated requests for the documentation, necessary
for the kids’ Social Security and insurance benefits paperwork.
Remember folks, Janice and Lisa didn’t even live in Florida. They were
literally just passing through

This past June, Lambda Legal Defense filed suit against Jackson Memorial on Janice’s behalf, seeking damages of $75,000. Linda Quick, president of theSouthFlorida Hospital
and Healthcare Association
, said she did not think Jackson broke any
laws or rules and chided the family for seeking money from a public

“Whether [Jackson] could have been more culturally sensitive, maybe. Do
the [the family members] deserve an apology? Probably,” Quick said.
“But that’s tax money they are trying to get.”

The reason I’m even telling this story right now is that, similar to
Prop 8 in California and Proposition 102 Arizona, Florida has an
“anti-gay marriage” initiative coming up for vote on November 4.
Florida’s version, Amendment 2, would amend the state constitution as

Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman
as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage
or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.

Confused? Not sure what “substantial equivalent” means? Join the club. The Florida Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Researchwarns that “(The Amendment) adds a new prohibition for unions that are ‘the substantial equivalent’ of marriage.
The amendment provides no definition for the phrase ‘substantial equivalent thereof,’ which lends to the
ambiguity of the wording of the proposed amendment. Depending on actions taken by the Legislature, the courts, and Florida businesses, financial
obligations between individuals are expected to change in complex ways that will probably
result in increased costs of providing public services and benefits in some cases and reduced
costs in others. If domestic partnership registries are deemed substantially equivalent to marriage, their termination could place registrants at risk of losing specified rights and benefits, such as those related to
health insurance.”

In addition to being seemingly purposefully ambiguous, Amendment 2
is completely unnecessary. Gay marriage is already illegal in Florida,
and it will still be illegal in Florida even if Amendment 2 is
defeated. Four, count ’em, four
Florida state statues make gay marriage illegal, made out-of-state visitor Lisa Pond’s last
day on earth even more of a nightmare than it already was for her wife
and their children, emboldened a hospital social worker to treat a
dying woman’s family with derision and disrespect.But bigots and homophobes aren’t satisfied with the current state of affairs:

Similar amendments in other states are being used to take away benefits
from public employees (Kentucky, for instance), and dissolve domestic
partnership registries used to provide health care benefits and
pensions (in Michigan).

Broward and Palm Beach Counties and the cities of Tampa, Gainesville
and Miami Beach, among others, offer Domestic Partnership Registries.
Most Florida universities and more than half of Fortune 500 companies
offer Domestic Partnership benefits. These benefits would be placed at
risk, if not outright abolished, if this amendment passes.

Every unmarried Floridian will be impacted by this amendment –
especially divorced or widowed seniors and public employees who, under
existing programs, can share some benefits such as hospital visitation
privileges and health care coverage without being married.

In addition to all that, Amendment 2, if passed, would likely be aneconomic gut punch to the whole state, not just the unmarried population. 

  • Amendment 2 could force private companies which offer benefits to unmarried employees to cancel or modify these benefits.
  • Amendment 2 could place Florida businesses at a disadvantage in the recruitment and retention of quality employees.
  • Amendment
    2 could result in legal actions against private companies which
    continue to offer benefits to unmarried employees – especially
    companies which do business or have contracts with the state or other
    public entities.
  • Amendment 2 could weaken efforts to build
    a stronger Florida workforce by banning Florida’s colleges and
    universities from offering benefit packages.
  • Amendment 2
    could damage employee morale in companies with significant gay, lesbian
    or allied employee populations or internal ‘affinity’ groups.
  • Amendment
    2 could hurt Florida’s economy by giving gay and gay-friendly tourists
    reasons not to come to Florida for the dozens of gay
    or gay-friendly annual events across the state

However much the financial impact of Amendment 2 is uncertain, it’s bound to cost Florida taxpayers quite a bit more than the 75 grand Linda Quick begrudges Janice Langbehn and her children getting. 

If there’s one story that the 2008 election year will leave us with, it’s just how hard that those on the wrong side of history, on the side of our “worst” history, are willing to fight, how far they are willing to go, how much sadness and wreckage they leave in their wake.

8 thoughts on “The substantial equivalent

  1. Oh!!! Virgo, that’s horrific!!!! I don’t understand WHY people are terrified of ‘teh gaii’?!??! What the hell does that have to do w/what they do behind closed doors? NOTHING. What the hell does it have to do w/how these fundies go to work everyday? NOTHING!!! What the hell does it have to do w/HUMANITY??? EVERYTHING!!! Why do these freakjob busybody so-called-Xtians INSIST on persecuting people for living a life that does not HURT anyone else?!?!?!? WHY!?!?!
    I am a single, straight female and I just don’t get it. These fucking sadist-fundy-whack-a-doodles truly get off from having the last word. I want to ask them: WWJDIHWG??? (What would Jesus do if HE was Gay???) I am sure their vacuous heads would fucking implode like a Nov. 1 jack-o-lantern.
    My heart goes out to Janice and her family, I wish them all the success in the world in being awarded their judgement and that this situation shames the HELL out of the hospital system and others that would have it so.
    Damn, WHY?!?!?!? WHY are so many humans so inhumane to their fellow humans when there is NO reason for it???? FUCK HIPAA if this is part of it – how do its “protections” matter when staff can take records home for transcribing (w/o permission) and leave them in their car for the taking??? (I had a former friend that had thrown patient records in her car for a whole weekend once…) Oh, but by golly, this woman could not be granted access to her spouse as she lay dying? (in most states, being together that long counts as common law in straight couples)
    I am just disgusted w/what this country has come to.

  2. Elspeth, it isn’t even What Would Jesus Do If He Were Gay; if you just asked the question, What Would Jesus Do, is there any doubt in anyone’s mind (Christian or non-Christian) that He would haveimmediately reached out to Janice and her family and brought them together with Lisa for Lisa’s last moments, and the red tape be damned?
    That people could claim to be followers of Jesus, who ate with prostitutes and tax collectors and known sinners, and choose to shun other people in His name is just mind-boggling.

  3. You are so right Nora! 🙂 (and I meant my WWJDIHWG? in general, I didn’t clarify that it wasn’t specific to this particularly wretched example of ‘xtian goodness and light’).
    Federally mandated equality for all genders across the board, no hold-ups. Why is that so difficult? Really?!?!?

  4. Truly awful. The rights of our brothers and sisters will not be barred forever. I hope history judges these bigots as harshly as we now judge segregationists and the politicians who pander to them.

  5. Virgo,
    You know, this is NOT why I’ve spent my whole life serving this country.
    And Elspeth – ask the fundies to prove to you Jeebus was NOT GAY. I mean, he never married and did nothing but pal around with “brothers” that he openly professed “to love.”
    Its what I do when they start their batsh*t craziness about “teh gay”.

  6. because the talibornagain don’t give a shit about jesus. gay is bad in the old testament. fair is fair. that taint fair.
    ALL are created equal.

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