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Calhoun

The Calhouns are a hard-working gay Georgia family who refuse to accept anything less than absolute equality.

The Calhouns are your typical gay American family. When they realized the people behind BeyondMarriage.org were advocating that gays "move beyond" the subject of marriage equality and focus on other forms of relationship recognition, Rob and Clay Calhoun channeled their frustration into a heartfelt letter to the group:

Dear BeyondMarriage.org supporters:

We are the Calhoun family from the Atlanta, Ga., area, and we are writing to you in response to your group's "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision for All Our Families & Relationships" statement.

We are a two-daddy family, Rob and Clay, with two beloved children: our daughter, Rainey (age 3), and our son, Jimmy (age 7 months), both of whom we jointly adopted from the same birth mother in an independent and open adoption at birth. We've been a couple for 14 years, since we were ages 23 and 24, and from day one we've been family, adoption, and marriage equality activists as a couple and family. We met and fell in love as street activists in 1992 in Queer Nation/Atlanta, fighting the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain's bigoted practice of firing LGBT employees. We've always been street activists for LGBT equality and HIV/AIDS, and we always hold hands and show affection in public, regardless of what some in the heterosexual world say or think (all over the country, very few queer couples did this in the past like we have, and very few couples do this even today). We've been involved in several human rights struggles, as they are all crucial, such as fighting racism, sexism, homophobia, and other "isms" (including discrimination against the deaf community, as Rob is hard of hearing).

We got married as husband and husband in 1993, but the government did not recognize our wedding (though we were able to take the same last name legally). When legal marriage finally became available, we married in Massachusetts in 2004 (though the state of Georgia still does not recognize us as being married, yet). We always knew we wanted to have a family with children, but first we wanted to be a couple for at least 10 years and enjoy being in our 20s and early 30s as a couple. Then we were ready, and we are so incredibly fortunate to have the two most wonderful children in the world! Rob is Daddy and Clay is Dad. As one of us stays home full-time to take care of our kids and the other works full-time to support our family with income and family insurance, we are not of a higher income bracket whatsoever (the stereotype of gay families). We struggle to make ends meet every month, but our children are, of course, worth having one of us be at home with them full-time for as long as we can manage it.

In having a family with children, one of our passions in life is doing everything we can for family, adoption, and marriage equality. We are a proud gay married couple and a very happy family. The two of us are also proud, progressive liberals. We just have to respectfully express our deep sadness and disappointment in your group's seeming to mostly go against everything families like ours have been working so hard for, particularly in regards to marriage equality. Most of your overall goals are commendable, and we agree with most of them, but we feel that this is an ill-timed attempt to block families like ours from continuing to work so hard to promote full equality for our children. Our community's recent and huge losses in New York, Washington, Nebraska, and other states (including here in Georgia, with the hateful constitutional amendment being upheld) are hurtful enough without your group going against those of us individuals, couples, and families who are working hard on marriage and adoption equality.

We know all kinds of families, and we expose our children to all kinds of loving families, including most that your organization tries to address. However, most of the sorts of families you mentioned do not face discrimination through not being recognized by the U.S. government. For example, we know lots of single-parent families (Rob was raised by a single mom), and the government legally recognizes single parents and their children (for instance, hospital visitation, health insurance, or death benefits). Nor are blended (heterosexual) families discriminated against: Lots of kids have two sets of parents that include stepparents, and stepparents can cover their stepchildren under their insurance, even if one of the other parents has custody. Gay blended families would also have that same kind of equality if there were full marriage equality for same-sex couples. Grandchildren being taken care of by their grandparents, siblings living together, and adult children living with their parents also have rights, as the government recognizes them as family.

Our family would love for extended families to be able to cover a live-in relative under their health insurance policies (one of the commendable goals we agree with you on), but not at the expense of ignoring the high importance of marriage equality. As far as groups of senior citizens or platonic roommates, friends, or caregivers living together, these important types of relationships generally do not involve the same huge struggles involved in family, adoption, and marriage equality. In regard to "group" or polygamous relationships, how would there be full agreement on end-of-life decisions if more than one person is designated as the decision maker (who would the doctors listen to?), and it wouldn't be fair for some people to be able to cover multiple partners under health insurance plans while the rest of us only cover one spouse.

Family law incorporates and recognizes most of the types of families you listed (single parents, grandparents with custody, adult children, siblings, extended families living together, step- and blended families, and even unmarried parents), except when it comes to queer couples and queer parents. Our family is very fortunate that family law recognizes us: We were able to jointly adopt our children, so both of us are our children's legal parents. That's the kind of legally recognized relationship that we also need for each other as well: Our two children deserve to have legally married parents, just like their friends have! Adoption is incorporated into family law, where there is literally no legal difference between adopted and biological children--and there should be literally no legal difference between gay married couples and straight married couples either. Heterosexuals should not, and do not, own a monopoly on marriage. Marriage discrimination not only hurts us as a couple, but it also adversely affects our children too! Children of LGBT couples and families need all of the benefits and protections that come with marriage--not a second-class, diluted, lesser version of marriage, such as civil unions, domestic partnerships, reciprocal beneficiaries, etc.

Adoption, blood, and marriage are the three main types of family law that are recognized across the world; same-sex marriage is recognized in Canada, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and soon, South Africa, because of all the hard work by marriage equality activists in those countries. Many of the groups you listed fall under at least one of those three main family law categories and are indeed legally recognized as family by governments. The other categories (such as roommates or friends living together, or especially "group" relationships) are not fair comparisons to the legal relationship that the two of us have to our two children through a legally recognized procedure (adoption), and we are offended by these kinds of indirect comparisons!

In family law, blood relatives are tied to each other automatically, whereas in legal adoption, children are legally tied to their parents through an official adoption process, and in legal marriage, spouses are legally tied to each other through a marriage license. Adoption and marriage are very similar in the legally binding process involved (except that adoption is forever, but marriage isn't, necessarily, for some people). As in other countries, adoption, blood, and marriage are held in higher regard by U.S. law than other familial relations (roommates, friends, etc.). Families like ours need marriage equality just as much as we need adoption equality. We are tied to our two beloved children for life, and they are our family for life, legally. We are also tied to each other for life, as husbands, and are family to each other for life--and we should be recognized as such through full marriage equality.

As we said, most of your goals are commendable, yet we should all work with each other for full equality-- not against each other, infighting about what are the most important goals to work on. (If anyone should be criticized, it's those in the LGBT community who literally don't do anything to get involved in working toward equality like the rest of us.) Our family, and thousands upon thousands of other families with children like us, is happy that some LGBT organizations have balanced approaches to marriage equality by having it be one of their main focuses (such as Lambda Legal, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National Black Justice Coalition), while there are others focusing expressly on marriage and/or family equality (such as Freedom to Marry and the Family Pride Coalition). Let's appreciate everyone picking the progressive human rights causes that inspire them. It's wonderful and beautiful that some of us in the queer community work hard to focus on racism, while others focus on sexism, universal health care, decent wages and affordable housing, women's reproductive rights, HIV/AIDS, employment nondiscrimination, transgender equality, hate-crimes prevention, or world peace. But for those of us who also work hard on family, adoption, and marriage equality, please don't invalidate the hard work we're doing. Instead, just work hard and focus on the goals you listed, such as health insurance for all--without knocking down those of us who are marriage equality activists. You may not agree with us about this issue, but we just wanted to express our individual family's two cents' worth. We should all support each other and work on the larger goals discussed above. Thank you for your time and consideration. Take care...

Sincerely yours, Rob and Clay Calhoun (and our kids, Rainey and Jimmy, too)

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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