By Dana Rudolph
I’ve been married to my spouse for 22 years. Only nine of them have been as legal spouses, however, and until June 26, even that legality came with an asterisk: “Void where prohibited.” Our son was 3 when we wed and now remembers nothing but the equality we have in our home state of Massachusetts. He learned some time ago, however, that same-sex couples couldn’t marry everywhere, and used a word that he assured us he didn’t use often: “That’s stupid,” he said.
Does marriage define us as a family? Looking inward, only love does that. To the wider world, however, outside approval matters — and that is the importance of the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling. Our relationships now have the legal recognition — throughout the land — to match our self-made ties. Not that every same-sex couple will choose marriage, but now we all have the choice.
As a parent, I view the ruling first for its impact on my child and all of the other children of same-sex parents. For me, the best part of marriage equality is that it gives our children the knowledge that their families’ love is equal under the law. All that they learn about marriage — from happily-ever-after fairytales in kindergarten to seeing wedding photos of friends’ parents, to reading about marriage in the classic novels of high school English classes — now applies to their families as well.
Not that our children didn’t thrive without marriage equality. Study after study has shown that, as a group, they have been just as well-adjusted and happy as children with different-sex, married parents. They have achieved this through more obstacles, however. Imagine what they can do now, when one big obstacle has been removed.
Additionally, every young gay, lesbian or bisexual person, with or without same-sex parents, can know their same-sex relationships have the blessing of the highest court in the land and are no longer something shameful.
The victory isn’t just for our children, though. It was in many ways a victory of our children. Most of the plaintiffs in the winning Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case were parents. April and Jayne DeBoer-Rowse even began their legal journey seeking only to adopt their children, not to marry.
Beyond the plaintiff parents, the Family Equality Council and COLAGE filed a “Voices of Children” amicus brief in the 2013 Windsor case that struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, letting many more children of same-sex parents explain why they wanted marriage equality. This brief was cited by Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Windsor decision and referred to again in Obergefell. (The version of the brief filed in Obergefell was in fact co-filed with Kentucky teen Kinsey Morrison, who has two moms.)
Kennedy, writing in Obergefell, emphasized the role of children, saying, “Without the recognition, stability and predictability marriage offers, children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated to a more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples.”
Despite this emphasis on children, he then carefully addressed one of the leading arguments against marriage equality, that marriage is entirely about procreation: “This does not mean that the right to marry is less meaningful for those who do not or cannot have children. Precedent protects the right of a married couple not to procreate, so the right to marry cannot be conditioned on the capacity or commitment to procreate.”
Just because we can now marry in any state, however, doesn’t mean our families have achieved full equality. Lack of non-discrimination protections means that people can still be fired or denied housing in many states for being LGBTQ. Same-sex parents are still advised to do second-parent adoptions for the non-biological parent (or the parent who has not yet adopted), since parental recognition may not follow marriage in all states, LGBTQ legal groups have advised (see marriageequalityfacts.org.) Transgender people, in married same-sex relationships or not, are still in much earlier stages of legal recognition and social acceptance.
Most importantly, respect does not necessarily follow legality. Married or not, there are still places in this country where I would be afraid to hold hands with my spouse. Kids still get bullied for being LGBTQ. We still need more representation in books and other media of LGBTQ families in all our diversity — of family structure, race, religion, socioeconomic class and more.
LGBTQ families of color also remain at a disadvantage because of the systemic racism that still pervades our society. For me, as for so many, the marriage win was tinged with sadness because of the horrific shooting massacre at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina just days before. I am reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement that “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” Social injustices harm us all, make our nation less than it could be if we enabled all people to live, without fear, to their fullest potential.
My own son, upon hearing of the marriage decision, said that the win “means our country finally has some sense in it.” Let’s hope that good sense continues as we move forward to address the injustices that remain.