Married or not, gay couples raise children. Today, census figures show, roughly 600,000 same-sex couples are raising more than a million children. But they do so at a serious disadvantage. The debate over same-sex marriage often revolves around abstract questions of religion or morality, overlooking the painfully concrete consequences. Over 1,000 federal and state laws (according to the General Accounting Office) make marriage the prerequisite for rights and benefits pertaining to taxes, health insurance, hospital visitation, property sharing, and much more.
As the Goodridge court recognized, prohibiting same-sex marriage creates a "caste-like" system in which gay couples are denied legal protections and financial benefits that help provide a stable family structure. Marriage laws give children legally recognized relationships with both parents, enhanced household income, and security in the event their parents divorce or dieall told, a comprehensive system of support and protection.
Americans need to understand that gays do not seek marriage rights simply to proclaim their equality or celebrate a symbolic victory. The public can relate to bread-and-butter issues and must be made to realize that many gay couples struggle to provide a decent quality of life for their children solely because of unequal laws. Those who fret about the children of gay couples should worry about whether those children have health insurance, rather than about the chromosome mix of their parents.
Opponents of same-sex marriage try to scare people by invoking the image of children without a mom or dad. The gay rights movement should welcome the focus on children, and make sure the public appreciates a powerful truth: Same-sex marriage increases the number of children raised in loving, stable, economically secure two-parent homes.
Here's a proposed bumper sticker for the fight ahead: "Care about children? Support same-sex marriage."
Brad Sears is director of the UCLA School of Law's Williams Project on Sexual Orientation Law, and Alan Hirsch is senior consultant to the project.