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Jennifer Brunner

Jennifer Brunner

Posted: June 10, 2009 07:20 AM

What's there to "Get" about Marriage Equality?


I just finished viewing the Human Rights Campaign's website on "Marriage and Relationship Recognition," and I have trouble getting past the fact that it has to be so complicated for people in same-sex couples. Questions such as "Can we file our taxes as married?" and "Should we register as domestic partners in multiple jurisdictions?" and "How do survivor benefits for domestic partnership benefits work?" to "Marriage for Same-sex Couples: Considerations for Employers," leave my head spinning. And this is all about who you decide to love and commit yourself to. Why is it different for some people when civil rights and the protection of individual freedoms are the bedrock of the most special democracy in the history of the world?

In my current job as Secretary of State of Ohio, my duty has been front and center to protect individual freedom such as the most sacred form of speech--voting. When a person votes in a system that is free, fair, open and honest, each voice is heard in the determination of the questions of self-governance. The founding document of the American Revolution leading to the birth of the United States contains the basic tenet that each person is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

For LGBT couples, the right to marry is elemental. It is time to make that right available to all American couples, whether they are heterosexual or same-sex. This is a family values issue.

For those LGBT couples who have children, the problems become even greater without the right of marriage. As the number of LGBT-headed families continues to increase, so does the necessity for marriage equality for them and their children.

Marriage equality is critical for stable families and the welfare of children in changing social environments. When the commitment and rights of marriage are not available to a couple facing difficult times, an unexpected breakup or death can shatter an LGBT family, leaving not just the partners, but also the children, vulnerable and at risk of even greater emotional, social and financial loss.

Custody issues for LGBT couples with children but without marriage are fraught with uncertainty. Jurisdictional differences, the respective starting points of the parties (was one member of the couple coming out of a heterosexual relationship?), attitudes of some judges toward LGBT individuals and whether the parent is biological or adoptive often affect the outcome.

When an LGBT couple, with or without children, is bi-national, problems increase. Marriage equality is the law in the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain and South Africa. However, the U.S. definition of "family" for immigration purposes does not include LGBT couples. Without this, many U.S. LGBT citizens have found their only alternative is to emigrate with their partners to a country with laws that afford them the opportunity to live together without fear of separation because of antiquated laws that do not recognize their families.

The "Uniting American Families Act," sponsored by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) in the House (H.R. 1024) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in the Senate (S. 424) in the current 111th Congress would allow same-sex partners of U.S. citizens and permanent residents to be sponsored much like spouses are for immigration purposes. Of course, if marriage equality were the law of the land, the "Uniting American Families Act" would not be needed, since same-sex couples could be spouses, and no law change would be necessary. No specialized category of "permanent partnership" or "permanent partner" created by the legislation (remember the "separate but equal" concept?) would have to be created, implemented or litigated.

Even in countries not recognizing marriage equality, common sense immigration equality has been legislated: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. (For those concerned about fraud, it should be pointed out that none of these countries has reported fraud associated with this policy.)

In 1988, I applied for an appointment to the City Council of Columbus, Ohio. I was not chosen, but I chuckle when I think of the calls I received to vet me for the post. One of them was from the leader of a very conservative sect of our local Democratic party. He wanted to know if I supported legislation being considered by city council to allow domestic partnership benefits. I told him that if same-sex couples were permitted to be married, we wouldn't need such special legislation, and that I would prefer to see that. I don't think that was the answer he was looking for or expected.

Here we are 21 years later, and finally, some states are moving progressively to recognize the simple fact that human rights belong to everyone. I believe that we, as a society, can and must quickly recover from the hateful actions taken against our nation's LGBT citizens and innocent children in so many states, including Ohio, in measures such as DOMA, gay marriage constitutional bans, and bans on LGBT adoptions. We must move toward the simple, human dignity of fairness, equality and respect for all persons in our laws, our policies and our actions.

I continue to simmer when I think of the recent legislative and constitutional amendments specifically denying equal rights to LGBT citizens that were initiated by political operatives to stoke the fires of hatred and division among ordinary citizens who would otherwise be living without this heightened and unnecessary rancor and dissension. I continue to simmer as I recognize that these actions were initiated primarily for the purpose of retaining power by a small group of people who have hurt many innocents, LGBT and straight alike, for their selfish and greedy purposes. We have not benefited from this, and it is time for marriage equality to be available to all, straight or LGBT. We are a community, and in these times, we must support and depend on each other as people do in a real community.

After a dreadful past eight years birthed by a process fueled by hatred (yes, Ohio decided the 2004 election, using the gay marriage ban as the ultimate wedge to drive a record number of evangelical Christian and conservative voters to the polls), we now have the chance to shape the foundation of this century to be one less violent, more compassionate, more responsible and accountable, and one full of opportunity and hope. A good start is to recognize family in all the ways it emerges, for a stronger social fabric that will support us as we pursue the founding ideals of our country for years to come.

Marriage equality's time is now.