In 1992 Anna Quindlen wrote in her New York Times column about the evolution of society's attitudes toward gay and lesbian couples through the prism of one specific family. I remember it well because the column, "Evan's Two Moms," was about me and my family.
Twenty years ago, the ACLU worked with Virginia Casper, my biological mom, and Donna Futterman, my other mom, to petition the state of New York for a second-parent adoption, which would grant Donna the right to be my parent in the eyes of the law (she already was my mom in my eyes, but that didn't matter to New York).
In re: Evan, a precedent-setting ruling from Judge Preminger, allowed New York's same-sex couples to have equal parental rights for their children. At the time I was 6, and my moms had already been together for 15 years. As the judge wrote at the time, "Today a child who receives proper nutrition, adequate schooling, and supportive sustaining shelter is among the fortunate, whatever the source. A child who also receives the love and nurture of even a single parent can be counted among the blessed."
As the 20th anniversary of what my family calls "Adoption Day" came and went this spring, I have been thinking about the promising changes in society's attitudes toward families like ours and relationships like my moms'. The promise of the future, however, is not without some peril. With mixed emotions I read some of the reactions from prominent national gay-rights organizations to the president's statements supporting same-sex marriage. Two responses from the Human Rights Campaign, quoted in The New York Times, caught my eye in particular. "'He's been on this evolution since November 2010, and it's been getting kind of awkward," said an HRC spokesman May 9. "The word evolution signifies change that has an ending at some point." The incoming president of HRC added that day, "Marriage -- the promise of love, companionship, and family -- is basic to the pursuit of [the American dream]."
While the first statement might merely represent a misunderstanding of the word "evolution," the two together suggest to me something slightly more worrisome: Sentiments among the leading marriage-equality advocates appear to have shifted (evolved, perhaps?) into viewing marriage as an end goal rather than as one tool among many for widening the circle of justice and civil rights for families of all shapes and sizes.
I don't want my concerns to suggest that I am not grateful for, or don't recognize the importance of, the tremendous work that has led our country to this point. My fellow "queerspawn" and I stand on the shoulders of our parents and their generation: We face less legal and social discrimination, have greater access to health and family benefits, and can feel more confident explaining our families to others.
But what is the point of standing on your parents' shoulders if not to see further and reach higher?
After decades of remarkable achievements and a junkyard of history littered with shattered barriers and anti-gay laws, the movement for equality based on sexual orientation seems at risk of narrowing its vision and parameters of success. If marriage equality becomes the end goal (albeit a worthy and righteous one) for a small portion of society rather than a strategy for broader economic justice and social cohesion through stronger families, I'm afraid that in the long run we will all find it to be a disappointingly hollow prize.
As a child, I was a fan of the slogan "love makes a family." As I have witnessed and participated in the hard work that has led to marriage equality becoming politically possible, if not inevitable, I have also found myself missing that slogan and what it represents. I think it goes further than marriage equality to draw support and build a broad-based movement for strong families for everyone, which should include universal health coverage, paid maternity and paternity leave, more funding for WIC and SNAP, better support for single parents, and equal protections and benefits for all partnerships and families, with or without children. Like marriage equality, these goals can be operationalized through collective political action. Our movement has proven its power sufficiently in the public arena; what remains is a question of priorities.
My moms have been unmarried and together for 35 years. They and other trailblazers did not step into a hostile public arena only so they could one day get hitched. They did it so we could have a stronger family, and so others could, too, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or number of children. The "promise of love, companionship, and family" is indeed fundamental to the American dream, but these need not be inextricably linked to marriage. I hope the president's views on marriage, love, and family continue to evolve. All of ours should.