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Joseph Ward III Headshot

America's Definition of Family Has Changed

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Last week on a cold and rainy evening, I met a 9-year-old named Leo, who was speaking to a group of about 100 students in front of the Supreme Court. He stood atop a podium, clutching a piece of notebook paper and a microphone as he told a crowd gathered for the Youth Lights For Equality Vigil that he believed his parents -- two women -- should be allowed to get married.

We cheered him on as he talked and read passionately about his support and love for his mothers. As he left the stage he yelled excitedly, "Mom, I was the youngest speaker!" He walked past and I told him he did a great job to which he smiled and said, "Thank you!" It was moving to hear Leo speak out for his mothers and gay people like myself.

Throughout the Lenten season, I wondered what would happen as the Supreme Court prepared to hear two LGBT equality cases during an important time of the year for so many Christians. Would the vitriol be explosive? Would there be compassion and love? Would the poll numbers finding increased support for marriage equality translate into a movement ready to unshackle a class of gay and lesbians from a discriminatory legal system?

I cautiously entered Holy Week knowing and feeling the mood of America changing, but it was overwhelming to see it confirmed in many ways by so many loving people in and outside of Washington, D.C.

Leo was not the only one defending the American family. There were hundreds of faith leaders, thousands of activists, and so many young people in particular who stood boldly for equality. I was invited to speak to a group of college students from Minnesota about the role of the faith community in the LGBT rights movement. Some of the students weren't aware of the implications of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). I explained how, on a very personal level, it prevented the parents of one of their classmates (a lesbian couple) and their gay mentor, who was present in the room, from having their marriage recognized in different states around the country. For the students who didn't realize this, they were outraged.

How could this type of discrimination, some commented, be allowed?

Like so many Americans across our country, these young people know our definition of family has outstripped our legal system. DOMA denies same-sex couples more than 1,000 benefits, rights and protections that come with marriage under federal law. And in last week's hearing on Proposition 8, Justice Anthony Kennedy raised similar concerns.

"There is an immediate legal injury and that's the voice of these children," he said. "There's some 40,000 children in California, according to the Red Brief, that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of those children is important in this case, don't you think?"

Our ability to hear these voices reminds me of John 16:12, when Jesus said to his disciple, "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now." I believe the voices of LGBT people and those at the margins, unveil more about the diversity of our world we must compassionately embrace.

What's being unveiled to young people like Leo, these college students, and the majority of Americans who now support same-sex marriage, is the totality of the American family. Our families are not just straight -- we are gay, we are lesbian, we are transgender -- and each must be respected and treated equally under the law.

The Supreme Court's decisions, likely to be announced in June, will hopefully move us another step closer toward marriage equality. Whether you were rallying at the Supreme Court in Washington or sharing "that red equal sign" across Facebook and Twitter, the message from people around our country is clear: We will continue to raise our voices and standup for all American families.