Lesbian Couple Prepares For Legal Marriage

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Gay and lesbian couples all over California are ready to tie the knot, legally, at last. But some of those taking out marriage licenses are already old married couples, complete with a mortgage and a baby. KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde dropped in on one such couple in the San Fernando Valley.

Parents: Ready for your bath? You ready for your bath?
Baby: Baba.
Parent: Baba.

Kitty Felde: It's Sonia Sussman's favorite time of day. The water's warm, there's a pair of rubber duckies in the tub, and her parents are there to give her a bath. Her parents are Tanya and Leah Sussman. The couple became foster parents about a year ago, and now they're adopting Sonia.

Leah Sussman: We named her Sonia after my great grandmother, and she has our last name, which is also my grandmother's maiden name.

Felde: Leah Sussman is a 36-year-old homemaker and college student. Her partner Tanya is 43 and works at UCLA. They first met 16 years ago.

Tanya Sussman: We met at a bar playing a video game. I think it was, like, cheap dollar beer night, kind of night, and we just talked, and we got along, and then we decided to go out.

Felde: The couple dated for a while, broke up, and then seven years ago, Tanya says they ran into each other again.

Tanya Sussman: In 2000, we were both getting out of longish relationships, and it just, I thought well, we'd get together and talk, since we're kind of going through the same thing, and we still had the chemistry.

Leah Sussman: We got married in April of 2002, (baby cries) by our rabbi.

Tanya Sussman: We had about 70 people there, dancing and partying and it was really beautiful, it was really beautiful and emotional for us. I felt very sure that this, I had found the right person, and this was going to be "it" for me.

Felde: But when Tanya and Leah mention "marriage," they wiggle two fingers in the air: Quotation marks. Again, Tanya Sussman.

Tanya Sussman: I'm tired of saying, you know, quote-unquote "married." It's like, I want to really be married. I'm tired having an asterisk by our relationship.

Felde: The women registered as "domestic partners" under California law. They file joint state income tax returns. Leah gets health insurance through Tanya's employer, UCLA. They bought a house together, they got a cat named Ripley together. And now with Sonia, their family is complete. But Tanya says something is missing.

Tanya Sussman: Everybody knows what married means, and not everybody knows what domestic partnership is. I mean, if you're a straight person, living a straight life, you probably have no idea that domestic partnership even exists.

Felde: So Tanya and Leah Sussman will be in West Hollywood tomorrow to apply for a marriage license and officially tie the knot.

Tanya Sussman: It means everything to be, to be, I guess like everybody else. It's like, you know, I grew up with the same idea that everybody else did: you know, I'm going to grow up, I'm going to find the person that I'm gonna fall in love with, we're gonna have a nice wedding and kids. And when I realized like, oh, I'm not really, I don't get to be part of that, then, you know, it's like, how, it's like, somebody put the brakes on my life.

Felde: Leah says it's been quite a year.

Leah Sussman: This is especially even more touching for us because my mother, who passed away in October, if she even knew that there was going to be a Democratic race between a woman and a black man, and that we'd be able to get married in this year, she would have just been thrilled.

Felde: But this pair of hardly newlyweds has advice for couples that might get caught up in the excitement of suddenly legalized same-sex marriages. Tanya says, go slow.

Tanya Sussman: If you marry somebody who's irresponsible with money, you could be acquiring a lot of debt. (laughs) And that's, you know, when I think of like, what's the worst part of marriage, is that you have to know who you marry and what kind of person they are. They could really take you for a ride.

Felde: Leah suggests taking off the rose-colored glasses.

Leah Sussman: You know, you have to be prepared for the fact that there are going to be downsides to it, and it's not going to always be easy. I think people nowadays just jump out of a relationship so quickly, with, well, just as quickly as they jumped into it, before actually realizing that this is just the way it is. I mean, that's truly what a marriage is.

Felde: Leah and Tanya say they're in it for the long haul. They've just bought a bigger house. Sonia's adoption should be complete this summer. And this week, the Sussmans can officially describe themselves as an old married couple.

[Baby crying]