It’s Ridiculous That Women Married To Women Have To Fight For ‘Paternity’ Leave

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meg and kate curtis pregnant same sex coupleSame-sex marriage is a thing now, finally, in more than half of the USA. So why is the infrastructure for dealing with insurance, benefits, and medical leave for same sex couples still so out of date? The wheels of governmental progress can turn mighty slowly sometimes, but they’ve got nothing on the gummed-up, bent-rimmed wheels of bureaucracy.

Meg Curtis, who works at a university in liberal bastion Massachusetts – you know, the state that’s had legal same sex marriage for a decade now – writes about her struggle to get a clear set of guidelines for her medical leave when her wife gives birth to their first child. I would call her employer’s Human Resources department’s handling of the situation impressive, because I think it must be really hard to be this clueless about lesbians having a baby together. From the time Curtis got the ball rolling by contacting HR about taking time off for the arrival of the new baby, she had to deal with:

  • Repeated confusion over her not being the one who’s pregnant (even while sitting in an HR rep’s office with the baby due in only a month) and multiple attempts to redirect her toward ‘maternity leave’ despite her repeated reminders about her unoccupied uterus.
  • Conflicting information about how many sick days she was allowed to use: 12, because she was having a baby! 5, because she wasn’t having the baby herself! No, wait, 12 because it’s her wife having the baby!
  • Not being informed of the existence of a paternity leave policy at all, despite that being what she originally asked for, until her wife was about to pop, and then having to apply for that, because ‘parental leave‘ apparently isn’t a thing that exists yet.

It sounds massively frustrating, and was probably fairly nerve-wracking as well, since Curtis only just received approval for her ‘paternity leave’. I’m glad Curtis and her partner did finally manage to wrangle approved time off from her employer, albeit none too soon before the baby is born, but it’s completely embarrassing on the university’s part that this was such a mess. And if things are this much of a hassle in Massachusetts, where marriage equality has already been around for a while, I can’t imagine what’s happening in the states who have only just gotten on board the Progress Train.

Employers in marriage equality states, get your act together. (And watch out, those of you in holdout states, because we’re coming for you next.) Same-sex couples are entitled to equal access to benefits, and part of that equal access entails not having to put in hours of detective work trying to figure out just how policies affect them, nor having to specially request the standard options that get automatically offered to different-sex couples. Yes, it’s great that marriage equality is enjoying such forward momentum right now, but the chime of wedding bells doesn’t mean we get to rest on our laurels: there’s plenty more work to do in terms of getting things right for same-sex couples.

(Image: Facebook)


  1. jane

    October 14, 2014 at 8:55 am

    It is rediculous that people have to fight for this, but it’s more complicated than it seems at first. Generally there are 4 different kinds of “parental” leave. 1. Saved sick days, 2. Short term disability, 3. Adoption, 4. Paternity. Part of the issue is that these come out of different pots of money. Saved sick days “belong” to the employee, but they are paid for by the company itself. Short term disability is paid for by an insurance company. Adoption leave is generally the same amount of time as medical leave and is given to the “primary care giver,” and granted at the will of the company, because that time doesn’t “belong” to the employee and it is paid for by the company. And paternity leave is generally granted by the company and paid for by the company, but is shorter than adoption leave.

    Since we’re not talking about insignificant amounts of time or money, it is important for the company to know what type of leave it is, but with same-sex parents, it’s sometimes difficult to know whether the company should be granting adoption or “paternity” leave. Additionally, if you start talking about adding extra time by taking “sick” or “vacation” days, it gets very complicated very quickly.

    That’s not to say that places shouldn’t have policies on the books to deal with this. Seriously, same-sex parenting has been around a good long time. Get it together people! But in many cases it’s not quite as simple as just “granting leave.”

    • PAJane

      October 14, 2014 at 4:28 pm

      Thank you for this explanation. 🙂

  2. Jennie Blair

    October 14, 2014 at 9:02 am

    This is ridiculous, if the employer offers paternity leave than the non pregnant partner should just be offered that. But what about 2 gay men? Does one get maternity leave and the other the short stack, or more likely one of them has to take an extended leave of absence or they have to pay for a full time nanny because neither is pregnant.

    • jane

      October 14, 2014 at 12:31 pm

      Yes, this is what often happens. Is it right? I don’t think so, but if maternity leave coverage is covered by disability insurance, then neither of those men became “disabled” by having a baby. Now, if there is an adoption policy in place, then whoever is the “primary care giver” would get to take time, but again, I think that’s a fairly antiquated notion, especially given that in most cases both parents go back to work. So basically the primary caregiver becomes the parent with the better leave coverage. Not exactly the best way to decide.

  3. Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

    October 14, 2014 at 9:16 am

    I honestly would have assumed that this would fall under adoption policies pretty easily. It’s not unusual for it to be considered a “partner adoption”, which would (I’d assume) qualify the individual for the same leave they would get if they were participating in a non-partner adoption…

    I hope that the system catches up soon. We are about to have a whole lot more equality up in here, I hope.

    • Rachel Sea

      October 14, 2014 at 12:52 pm

      Adoption policies may differ from paternity leave policies, because adopted children could be anywhere from 0-18 years old.

    • Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

      October 15, 2014 at 11:11 am

      Aye, but it’s all covered by FMLA. Which doesn’t guarantee pay, but you’d think that if there is already an adoption policy in place, they’d be able to apply it without much difficulty.

  4. Ursi

    October 14, 2014 at 9:19 am

    This is why gender-specific policies are so utterly useless.

  5. tk88

    October 14, 2014 at 9:32 am

    That’s not surprising, but like someone else said I don’t know why it’s so weird that she wasn’t pregnant–lots of people adopt! I can’t imagine how hard it is for gay male couples to get paternity leave. If anything I think both parents of any gender should be allowed maternity/paternity leaves back to back so the baby can bond with both parents and the first several months (or *gasp* year!) of the child’s life can be spent with parents instead of in daycare. That would also reduce costs of childcare. But that’s a dream that’ll take a decade or five to happen…

  6. Jen TheTit Whisperer

    October 14, 2014 at 9:43 am

    I have a brilliant idea: lets say if a person has worked say 37.5 hours a week for the last 12 months he/she gets, we’ll go conservative 6 weeks of parental leave if you aren’t birthing a child and conservative say 12 (because more would melt the faces off some people) if you actually birthed a child. And since you know you worked and contributed everyone can STFU about your “free time off”?

    • keelhaulrose

      October 14, 2014 at 9:54 am

      It is ridiculous how little we care about parental leave in this country. With Little One I had a semi-emergency c-section about 12 hours before Hubby was going to start one of his shifts. Shortly after LO had breathing difficulties. Hubby called work to say he wasn’t coming in, and their response? “You need to unless you can find a replacement”. While he should have been with me or our baby he was calling co-workers, begging someone to cover him.

    • Jen TheTit Whisperer

      October 14, 2014 at 10:21 am

      Well. That’s just awful. WTF is that? I’ve been very blessed that if there was an emergency. There was no questions asked. Just go, we’ll work out the rest later.

    • keelhaulrose

      October 14, 2014 at 11:31 am

      I think it’s a security guard company thing. They really don’t give a shit about their employees because it’s something pretty much anyone can do, and there’s always someone waiting in the wings who will start working ASAP and start at the bottom of the pay scale.

    • Ro

      October 14, 2014 at 5:28 pm

      Yep, I worked as a security guard in my early 20s. When I was having all my wisdom teeth removed I only arranged to take the day off that I was having them pulled. Once they pulled them, they realized that an infection had created a coin size hole from my jaw to my nasal cavity, they did emergency surgery. I still showed up at work the next day because otherwise I would have had to get it covered and I was too drugged up to deal with it. I was in incredible pain and half way through my shift my nose started to bleed and didn’t stop. I called my supervisor who had to come in and cover the rest of my shift. Hew gave me huge attitude even as I walked out the door with a tissue to my nose trying to stop the bleeding.

    • alexesq33

      October 14, 2014 at 10:27 am

      That is HORRIFYING and I really hope he got the coverage. I know most people (including myself) could not tell a boss to fuck right off – as much as he probably wanted to at that time….

    • keelhaulrose

      October 14, 2014 at 11:30 am

      He got it, and from what I heard the owner of the company he worked as a guard at (who contracted guards from the company he worked for) was really pissed off at the guard company to the point where they threatened to terminate the contract if something like that happened again. The family that owned that company also sent us a congratulations card with a little money. They were really awesome people, even if the guard company were a bunch of ass hats.

    • guest

      October 14, 2014 at 11:15 am

      Oh my… I think I would have told them I was busy with my baby and their breathing difficulties and my wife just out of surgery but that they could kindly call around as I would not be coming in regardless. How frustrating and ridiculous.

    • keelhaulrose

      October 14, 2014 at 11:27 am

      I think he would have if he wasn’t suddenly our only paycheck (I worked part time, so while I got leave, it wasn’t paid) and we had his college tuition to worry about. The last thing he needed was to job hunt during that horrible time, and luckily after three calls he got a co-worker who couldn’t come in, but offered to do the calling for him and found people to cover the next couple days until his whopping two weeks of ‘family leave’ could officially start.

    • Jessifer

      October 14, 2014 at 10:45 am

      In my province, they have “pregnancy” leave, which is 17 weeks for the one who actually birthed the child. Then there are an additional 35 weeks of “parental” leave where it can be split between either parent (of either sex). The 35 weeks are also available for parents who adopt.

    • Jen TheTit Whisperer

      October 14, 2014 at 11:18 am

      that is also acceptable.

    • ted3553

      October 15, 2014 at 2:41 pm

      Even in redneck alberta it’s simply parental leave. I can’t imagine why it’s so difficult for someone to understand that your spouse had a child so you’re taking leave as well.

  7. SunnyD847

    October 14, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Jeez, it’s been ten years and they still haven’t figured this sh*t out? Get it together, people!

  8. Lpag

    October 14, 2014 at 10:08 am

    Language matters. We need to start callin it family leave. Not only will it take away this sort of confusion, but we can also get the “parents always get special treatment” whiners on board. Maternity/paternity leave DOES imply special treatment. While family leave would likely still be used primarily by parents, it also suggests caring for an elderly parent or a dying sibling. This way everyone can see the benefit of the policy and not just nitpick on who is getting “something for nothing”.

    • jane

      October 14, 2014 at 12:29 pm

      Except there is a difference between “family” leave, “parental leave” and “maternity” leave in most cases. The key difference being that often “maternity” leave is covered as a medical disability (a la major surgery) rather than “vacation.” I think that family leave is HUGELY important (my place of work offers 5 days of it, and you bet I used them all when my husband had cancer) but I don’t think that we’re going to get away from the fact that sometimes this leave is medical and sometimes it’s not.

  9. alexesq33

    October 14, 2014 at 10:31 am

    My firm doesn’t have maternity or paternity leave – women have to use the state’s short term disability and FMLA can work to guarantee your job. It’s something like 60% of your salary. Very difficult to live on so most only take the 6-8 weeks post baby and men usually just use their vacation/PTO days, or nothing at all.

  10. Sherri

    October 14, 2014 at 10:48 am

    Ah, yes. The wife and I are going to start trying for a kid next year, and this is something that we’ve been sort of looking into. Fortunately, our company has parental leave, so that won’t be an issue. What will be the issue is that we’re pretty sure it isn’t paid, so we’ll have to hoard vacation/sick days to get some semblance of income during leave. Fun times.

  11. aCongaLine

    October 14, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    My state is awesome in so many ways… but it HAS to get it’s shit together with this stuff. seriously, MA. Get it together.

    I’d like to donate all the paternity leave that my husband didn’t use… at all. (had our last baby on a Saturday, he was back at work on Monday. I’m still bitter, lol.) She can have all 24 weeks of it. Where’s the time bank?

  12. Rachel Sea

    October 14, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    Everything is more complicated when you are in a same-sex relationship. I live in the second most gay area in the country, and I still have service providers who look at me like I’m an alien when I refer to shared fiscal responsibility with another woman. Utilities, contractors, nurses in the medical center where I went for infertility treatment, all at one time or another act like I have two heads because I have a wife and a hyphenated last name instead of a husband whose name I took.

    Every system in the world that knows my gender thinks my wife is a man, and vice versa, because at the end of the day all this shit it put together by a demographic that is around 70% mouth-breathing douchebros.

  13. Michael Weldon

    October 14, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    Any parent who doesn’t actually give birth (this lady, dads, those who adopt) to a new child should get the same leave. Why is this that hard?

    • PAJane

      October 14, 2014 at 4:30 pm

      Hell, while we’re at it, so should the people who DO give birth. We don’t have that guaranteed, either. Pathetic.

    • Michael Weldon

      October 14, 2014 at 5:52 pm

      True enough. The actual birth mothers deserve more time than anyone else IMHO as they need both medical recovery time and new parent time.

  14. PAJane

    October 14, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Bless the people who are on the front lines, figuring this shit out for everyone who comes behind them.

  15. 2Well

    October 14, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    My state has been judicially coerced into being awesome. One of our senate candidates hired a lawyer to explain why BINDING PRECEDENT isn’t really binding. He was arguing federal courts have no jurisdiction in the state (except they totally do on constitutionality questions.) Some people wanted to use nullification and declare that the federal courts have no jurisdiction in the state. Seriously.

    Really sad when a lawyer was using a situation in Idaho to make his very weak argument about how the question wasn’t decided rather than the actual binding case from Virginia. Did he forget NC and Virginia are both 4th Circuit? $400 an hour, with state money, to make possibly the second worst legal argument I’ve ever heard.

    Next up is employment discrimination, because that is still a thing.

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