By Dana Rudolph
PQ: It comes as no surprise to me that most of the marriage plaintiffs now before the Supreme Court are parents. Marriage equality advocates have worked hard to transform “think of the children” from an argument against marriage for same-sex couples into one for it.
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on marriage equality on April 28 — which has gotten me thinking about my own twisty road to marriage and the importance of parents in moving equality forward.
In 2006, my spouse and I had been together for over 13 years and had a 3-year-old son. We were living in New York, which was not yet letting same-sex couples marry, but about to move to Massachusetts, where Helen had a new job. She was planning to stay in the Bay State during the week and drive back to New York on the weekends, where I cared for our son and got our house ready to sell — a process that could take several months. The problem was, her new employer had stopped providing benefits to employees’ domestic partners once same-sex couples could marry. The only way I’d have medical coverage was for us to wed — but Massachusetts was not yet letting out-of-state same-sex couples marry there.
We resolved this dilemma after a few phone calls and a town clerk who said that Helen’s letter of employment showed “intent to reside” in the state, which was enough to get us a marriage license. We then searched online, found a lovely, lesbian-friendly justice of the peace, and two weeks after Helen got her job offer, married in a Massachusetts park in the company of our son, my parents, my brother and his wife.
Still, our marriage came with an asterisk: “Void where prohibited.” We had no federal recognition until the U.S. Supreme Court’s Windsor decision in June 2013 that struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act. We still created a “dummy” federal tax form as “Married” in order to fill out our state form, then filed two “real” federal tax forms as “Single.” When we traveled to a state without marriage equality — Florida, say, where we took our son to Disney World – we had no confidence we’d be treated as a family. That uncertainty still lingers.
Did marriage then make any difference to us? Absolutely. I was strengthened knowing that I could go anywhere in our state (and now many others) and be able to get the same range of rights and services as any other family. More importantly, our son would never feel lesser or different for having unmarried parents.
It comes as no surprise to me that most of the marriage plaintiffs now before the Supreme Court are parents. Marriage equality advocates have worked hard to transform “think of the children” from an argument against marriage for same-sex couples into one for it. Back in 2008 during the Proposition 8 battle in California, marriage equality opponents tried to scare people by saying that marriage equality would require that students learn about homosexuality in schools (as if that were a bad thing). Prop 8 passed, and same-sex couples were blocked from marriage. By 2013, however, the U.S. Supreme Court wrote in Windsor: “(DOMA]) humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples…. (and) makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.” Variations of that argument have since been used in every other federal decision on marriage equality, bar one.
The exception is in the 6th Circuit, which ruled against marriage equality and thus precipitated its hearing before the Supreme Court. Now, as the 6th Circuit cases move to the Supremes, they bring with them a phalanx of plaintiff parents.
Ohio plaintiffs include three couples who gave birth in Ohio after donor insemination: Brittani Henry and Brittni Rogers, Georgia Nicole Yorksmith and Pamela Yorksmith and Kelly Noe and Kelly McCracken. The other couple, Joseph Vitale and Robert Talmas, live in New York City but adopted a son born in Ohio. In addition to marriage, they all want to be able to place both parents on their children’s birth certificates.
Their case was combined with that of three other Ohio plaintiffs, including David Michener, who had been raising three children with his late spouse, William Herbert Ives. Ives died unexpectedly shortly after their marriage in Delaware in 2013, and Michener is fighting to have their marriage reflected on William’s death certificate.
In the Tennessee case, two of the three plaintiff couples are parents: Drs. Valeria Tanco and Sophy Jesty, veterinarians with one child, and Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo, who are raising two children.
In the Kentucky case, two of the six plaintiff couples have children. Michael De Leon is the only legal adoptive parent of the children he is raising with Gregory Bourke. Randell Johnson is the only legal adoptive parent of the three sons he is raising with Paul Campion, who in turn is the only adoptive parent of their daughter.
In the Michigan case, plaintiffs April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse originally began their lawsuit not to marry, but to secure joint adoption rights of their three children, whom they had adopted separately.
Marriage is not the solution to all of our inequalities, but it is an important and highly symbolic institution. My own path to marriage was uncertain and rushed. It was not, however, as fraught with struggle and sacrifice as those of families like the above who are still fighting for it. They have my greatest respect for all they are doing to bring equality to their families and so many others.