As we near the end of LGBTQ History Month, let’s look back at the story of two moms who met in church in 1970, fought their ex-husbands and the courts, made a documentary, and were among the early public faces of same-sex parenthood, all before the decade was out.
The women, Madeleine Isaacson and Sandy Schuster, met at a Pentecostal church in Seattle. Isaacson was the Sunday school teacher of Schuster’s son. They were forced out of their church, even though Sandy herself had deep religious misgivings about a same-sex relationship. In June 1971, however, their love won out. They left their husbands and vowed “a covenant with God” to each other, People related in a 1979 article about them.
Their husbands fought to keep them from custody of their children. When a court finally granted the women custody, it was under the condition that they not live together. They set about trying to change public opinion, and a doctor at the University of Washington helped them get a grant to make a documentary, Sandy and Madeleine’s Family, in 1973. (See Nancy Polikoff’s Beyond Straight and Gay Marriage: Valuing All Families Under the Law, for more details and context.) The next year, a court lifted the restrictions on their living arrangements.
The moms and their children also appeared on the popular Phil Donahue Show, becoming perhaps the first same-sex-headed family many viewers had ever seen. They were visible in other media venues as well—and I encourage you to read the People article about them. Not only will you hear directly from the moms and some of their kids, but you’ll also note we’ve made progress in media coverage of same-sex couples. (“Neither woman assumes a male role in their relationship,” People found it important to tell us, for example.)
This pioneering family was willing to be visible and fight for their equality at a time when it was even harder than it is now. May we draw inspiration from them and give them our thanks in return.
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