This week, Ella Robinson, the grown-up daughter of two gay dads, spoke to Huffington Post Live this week about her perspective on marriage equality and ending DOMA. "Our families deserve equal treatment," she asserted, alongside examples of how her life was affected by her dads' inability to marry and the fact that only one of her fathers was her legal parent. Yet despite the ways in which federal government refused to acknowledge her family as "real," Ella herself never doubted the legitimacy of her family. In her blog for Family Equality Council, she emphasizes that her fathers' relationship "was such an important example of what a loving, committed relationship should look like that I never thought to question it."
Similar perspectives on growing up were voiced by the participants in my research. Indeed, Ella is one of many adults who look back on their experiences growing up with lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) parents and wish that their parents could have been married -- or at least had the option of marrying. In a study of 49 young adults with LGB parents, I found that many of them spoke to the legal and symbolic ways in which marriage would have minimized various stresses and enhanced their well-being. Callie, a 25 year-old woman with two mothers, for example, recalled growing up with the awareness that "we [didn't] have the same rights as other people. [Paying] thousands of dollars just so I could go in and sign this paper in the event that my mom gets hurt, I could visit her in the hospital. It's those really basic things that people get from their legally married parents that we weren't able to get." Likewise, many young adults in this study highlighted how growing up, their parents were not able to cover each other under their health insurance, and/or their nonlegal parent (usually their nonbiological mother) was not able to cover them, as children, under their health insurance. Dean, a 22 year-old man with two mothers, for example, described how he and his siblings were left without health insurance when his mother was fired for being gay. Dean noted that "at the time, my mother's partner was employed and would have been able to keep us on her insurance if civil unions or gay marriage were valid." This situation represents just one concrete example of how legal insecurities can create strain for children and families.
Many of the young adults in this study also emphasized the symbolic benefits of marriage, noting that marriage marks relationships as legitimate, and would therefore encourage other people to recognize their parents' relationships, and their families, as "real." As Kerry, a 23 year-old woman with two mothers, said:
Marriage would make those relationships real to other people. It would make them understand that it's such a real thing. These are real people, they want real families, they want real relationships. Because it's a nationally recognized process to get married. That's what you do when you're in love with someone and you want to have a family.
Some of these young adults also felt that the symbolic legitimization associated with marriage would have direct effects on children's well-being, by helping them to feel less "different," and more secure. As Annie, a 24 year-old woman with two mothers, reflected, "I think it's probably nice to have maybe a little more of a framework, to tell your 7 year-old friend on the playground, 'Yes, my parents are lesbians. They got married. They're not that different.' It would have been nice to have an additional degree of sameness [when I was growing up]." Likewise, Vincent, a 23 year-old man with two mothers, shared:
I was just thinking about this with a couple of friends and just was in tears thinking about how different my childhood might have been had same-sex marriage been legalized 25 years ago. . . .The cultural, legal status of same-sex couples impacts the family narratives of same-sex families -- how we see ourselves in relation to the larger culture, whether we see ourselves as accepted or outsiders.
The voices of these young adults support the argument, raised by advocates of marriage equality, that marriage may benefit children by increasing their material and emotional security and well-being. As the Supreme Court deliberates on the landmark decisions on DOMA and Prop 8 over the next few months, I hope that they remember the voices of the children of LGB parents, who are directly impacted by the various systemic inequalities facing LGB people today, including marriage inequality.