I was heartened to see Friday’s statement by Attorney General Eric Holder announcing that the federal government will recognize same-sex marriages happening in the states affected by the Supreme Court’s recent decision not to review three federal appeals court’s rulings that overturned marriage bans for same-sex couples.
Beyond Holder’s action itself I was struck by the words he used to explain the move:
“The practical consequences of the Court’s decision are profound for families throughout the nation. Within hours of the decision, same-sex couples in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin were able to have their unions recognized in the states where they live — to stand with their partners, and with their children, as loving and committed families with the full protection of the law.”
The attorney general’s inclusion of families and children went right to the heart of the matter for gay dads like me and the millions of other LGBTQ families I represent in my leadership role at the national organization Family Equality Council. Holder validated all of our efforts to amplify the lives and the stories of the children who are impacted by the level of recognition their parents are afforded under the law.
Through our “Voices of Children” amicus briefs, we have put children’s testimonials directly before judges in cases from the landmark Windsor and Perry cases in 2013 to the recent Fourth, Seventh and 10th Circuit decisions to both of the recent Ninth Circuit rulings in Idaho and Nevada and the one just this past Friday morning in Arizona.
Our arguments center on the vital need to safeguard our children because all families deserve to be valued and treated equally. And federal judges have taken notice. During oral arguments in the Proposition 8 case in 2013, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy referenced our brief as a key example of the unfairness of the law. In August of this year, Judge Richard Posner shined a bright spotlight on our brief during Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals arguments before he authored the opinion ultimately overturning marriage bans in Indiana and Wisconsin.
Posner — a Republican and Reagan appointee — questioned attorneys arguing to keep the bans, saying:
“Did you read the amici curiae brief of the Family Equality Council? … It has a great deal of rather harrowing information about the problems created for children and their parents in the case of same-sex couples not being allowed to marry who have adopted children — how they feel when they grow up, how what happens when one of their parents dies.”
The Seventh Circuit went on to rule in favor of marriage equality, and the decision undoubtedly came in part because we exposed the court to the concrete harms that children face when their parents are denied equal protection under the law. Anna Frackman of Wisconsin shared her story in the brief before the Seventh Circuit:
“Frackman says that her ‘family lacked the advantages and protections that marriage affords,’ explaining that ‘[a]mong other things, my parents had to pay significantly more in taxes and for insurance premiums on separate plans. If one of us needed to be in the hospital, we were not even guaranteed the right to be with our loved ones while they were scared and in pain.’”
Frackman’s story is one of thousands of similar stories and it illustrates urgent need to remedy the nation’s current patchwork of laws affecting our families. In concluding his statement about federal recognition for same-sex marriages in all of the recent jurisdictions (now there’s a total of 32 states and the District of Columbia) where marriage is now legal for same-sex couples, Attorney General Holder seemed to agree:
“The steady progress toward LGBT equality we’ve seen — and celebrated — is important and historic. But there remain too many places in this country where men and women cannot visit their partners in the hospital, or be recognized as the rightful parents of their own adopted children; where people can be discriminated against just because they are gay.”
These comments sum up our mission. We have much work to do. We are grateful for Attorney General Holder’s support and look forward to working on behalf of all LGBTQ families until we achieve legal and lived equality nationwide.
GABRIEL BLAU is the executive director of Family Equality Council, an organization that connects, supports, and represents the 3 million parents who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer in this country and their 6 million children.