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From the Supreme Court to the Family Table: What Prop 8 Means for Latino Same-Sex Couples in California a Year Later

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By Rep. Linda T. Sánchez (CA-38) and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40)

As Latinos, we were taught at an early age the meaning of familia -- family. Our families are at the center of everything we do. They are there for us during quinceañeras, graduations, weddings, and even trips to the emergency room. We were taught to put family first, and to support all of our family members unconditionally, no matter the circumstance. It's part of who we are.

Those same family values taught us the importance of strong, loving, committed relationships. As Members of Congress, we want to make sure that everyone, regardless of who they love, is accepted, has the same legal protections, and has the right to marry whomever their heart chooses.

When Proposition 8 stripped California same-sex couples of the freedom to marry, many LGBT Latinos were affected. In California alone, there are an estimated 350,100 LGBT Latinos, and an estimated 18,831 same-sex couples with a Latino householder. It was heart wrenching to see Prop 8 treat our LGBT family members and friends with less human dignity than our straight family and friends.

Proposition 8 divided our community and took civil rights a huge step backwards for many same sex Latino families. It prevented committed couples from having equal protections under the law. It also created dire consequences if they got sick or lost a home, and made it nearly impossible for them to be treated equally in other areas of life.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals came to the same conclusion, and issued a ruling that eventually overturned Prop. 8. The court made three critical points: first, that marriage matters to everyone, including gay and lesbian couples; second, that it is wrong to single out any group of Americans and strip away rights; and third, that California had no legitimate or sufficient reason for taking away the freedom to marry from one set of loving and committed couples. The decision read: "Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples. The Constitution simply does not allow for laws of this sort."

A year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court let that ruling stand, and the discriminatory Proposition 8 was overturned. We see the positive impact of that event every day.

We've watched our gay family members, neighbors, and colleagues enjoy the happiest day of their lives knowing that their marriages are now respected, just like anybody else's.

There's much to be grateful for, but we can't let the victory in California allow us to ignore the 56 percent of the country that still doesn't allow marriage for gay couples. Lifelong partners who live in Nevada, where there are an estimated 30,000 LGBT Latinos, or in Arizona, where there are another 53,600 LGBT Latinos, are treated as strangers under the law.

We need to continue fighting to expand marriage rights for our LGBT Latino brothers and sisters.

Momentum for marriage equality is on our side. On the same day the Prop 8 ruling was upheld, the Supreme Court struck down the core of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, ensuring more than 1,100 federal protections for gay couples, including the freedom for legally married gay couples to attain legal status for a spouse born outside the U.S. Since that day, 23 consecutive federal and state courts across the nation have agreed: marriage discrimination is unconstitutional.

Let's continue to show the nation that California is a leader in fairness, and let's keep fighting to win the freedom to marry for all.

When we can't come together to celebrate a wedding for all of our friends, gay or straight, and when we know they don't have the same opportunities we take for granted, it affects us all. Somos familia, we are family -- and that means we fight for and love each other unconditionally.