Back in 1996 I was in college and Gateway 2000 had just delivered my first PC with its whopping $2,300 price tag. Unfortunately, paying $50 for a genealogy program wasn’t in my budget but paying $20 per month for AOL 3.0 on dial-up was Keyword: Irony.
I eventually stumbled across a stack of CDs at the Family History Center for $5 each called Personal Ancestral File. I decided to take the risk and 15 years later I was still using PAF because it was economical, stable, and able to do everything I needed.
The FHC was my first true encounter with the Latter Day Saints and I soon discovered that PAF changed the way I did genealogy because of its ties to Mormonism. Some of them were benign like the fields for LDS Ordinances and some were amusing like the pop-up when a wedding date came after a child’s birth. Admittedly the most frustrating one was my own fault, when I entered Catholic baptisms in the Christenings field and had to manually change all the entries.
I knew I would likely need to move away from PAF when it had not been upgraded in years, so the announcement that FamilySearch would no longer support PAF after 15-Jul-2013 actually came as a relief. I had fully expected PAF to be incompatible every time I upgraded Windows, thus forcing me to make a change. At least I could now do it on my own timeline.
After a little checking back in September 2011, I decided to simply go with Ancestral Quest. AQ is modeled on the most recent versions of PAF, so the learning curve would be quick and I didn’t even need to update the file format. I felt the added search and other features were worth the $30 investment and this maybe the singular time I could use the phrase “seamless upgrade” without being the least bit sarcastic.
But this year I began to see the limitations of my choosing AQ because it coincided with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). I was now unable to enter same-sex marriages in Ancestral Quest or PAF, so my previous ability to tweak the software had now reached a dead end due to religious ideology: Creating a custom event for baptisms is one thing; not being able to enter civil ceremonies without assigning an incorrect sex to one of the contracting parties is quite another.
I can appreciate the LDS position on not recognizing or performing same-sex marriages. I am Roman Catholic and Salt Lake City’s stance differs little from that of the Holy See at the Vatican. But this isn’t dogma, this is about the recording of civil ceremonies. Or actually not recording them to be precise.
I know the argument that’s coming next: Same-sex marriages cannot produce children, therefore they are not valid for genealogical purposes. Is that really the bedrock of why our software cannot record same-sex marriages?
We all have heterosexual marriages in our databases that never produced children. I’m certain there are genealogists who leave the adopted children of heterosexual couples out of their databases but I’ve never seen that issue argued. Regardless, “adoption” is an available option and AncestralQuest also records events from Circumcisions to Recipes, so apparently I’m not the only customer who purchased AQ with the intent of doing family history and not just blood-related lineages. And let’s not even bring up the old saw of “Momma’s baby is daddy’s maybe”.
Finally and most importantly, same-sex couples do have children via IVF, surrogates, and adoption. Simply stated, these are families with adults and children and stories and histories, just like all of the other individuals I work on and record. Except for the simple fact that I cannot record them just like everybody else.
When I began writing this article, I was confident that I would at least take a look at which genealogy software allowed same-sex marriages to be entered. I wanted to determine which software I would choose next that could allow me to do that, and also share what I found to aid others in similar circumstances.
Wikipedia has a table that compares features including same-sex marriages but it was far from exhaustive with many of the entries having question marks. I began to put together my own matrix in Excel based on the Wikipedia table that showed not only if same-sex marriages were allowed, but also where the company was headquartered. My hypothesis was that most software from Utah-based developers was Mormon and would not allow for same-sex marriages.
I soon realized my underlying logic was fundamentally correct—that genealogy programs with ties to the LDS do not allow for same-sex marriages—but Utah was not the defining variable. An often cited reason by companies not being to handle same-sex marriages in their software is because the fields in a GEDCOM (allegedly) cannot cope with them. Why wouldn’t a GEDCOM allow for same-sex marriages? It just so happen the GEDCOM format was developed by the LDS.
Digging further, I realized that GEDCOMs do seem to be more than capable of handling same-sex marriages. This is not a Boolean logic operator that IF your software supports GEDCOM files THEN it cannot support same-sex marriages. Rather it is the coding of the software that developers are unwilling to modify.
These are private companies and I believe in a free market, so they should be able to do whatever they want to do. It’s just not the same direction I’m headed, and it’s not difficult for me to see them changing their software at some point in the not so distant future, much as public opinion and state laws have and still are being changed.
So here I am, only slightly ahead of where I was when I this journey had begun with at least one same-sex marriage that I’m unable to record. I had thought that I was going to select The Master Genealogist (TMG) because other users stated it does support same-sex marriages. It also works directly to GENSmarts, my favorite research tool.
What I’m struggling with is that TMG only “supports” same-sex marriages. That still means a work around instead of a straight-forward entry.
Please share your experiences with recording same-sex marriages. Do you know of a software that allows a straight forward entry with tweaking or tricking it?
Footnote: I share a special kinship with same-sex marriages for a very simple reason. I would not have been allowed to marry the woman I love if I was born one generation earlier. My wife and I are not the same race and state anti-miscegenation laws specifically outlawed marriages between Caucasians and Filipinos until the Supreme Court required racial equality in all states 1967, with Alabama only amending their state constitution in 2000 with regard to interracial marriages.