What marriage equality has meant to me and my family has changed greatly over our lives. When my parents were born, in the mid-1950s, the idea of ever having an open, public discussion of sexual orientation seemed impossible, and marriage for gay and lesbian couples wasn’t even remotely imaginable. Now, in my lifetime and theirs, my parents have gotten married, and it is entirely possible that their marriage will be recognized by our government in the same way that everyone else’s is. It’s both exciting and dramatic, and I never know whether I believe it will happen.
What marriage equality means to the child of a same-sex couple is a bit complicated, and I feel that Zach Wahls put it best in his speech to the Iowa House of Representatives, when he said “[a] family doesn’t derive its sense of worth from being told by the state, ‘You’re married, congratulations!'” By that, I mean to say that denying gay and lesbian couples the right to marry or denying that they are married doesn’t stop my parents and me and millions like us from actually being families. It’s just pretending that we aren’t.
Like many children in same-sex families, the fact that my family was ‘different’ from most people never really occurred to me until relatively recently. Of course, I realized that most kids had a mother and father, but I failed to see the fundamental differences between my family and that of nearly all the people I knew. And that is because there are no fundamental differences between a family with gay parents and one with straight parents. The innocent experiences of children across the country who fail to see their families as different until they are told by society that they are, prove that beyond a doubt.
What does make my family, and others like us, different is how our government views us. I am lucky to live in a state which has allowed my non-biological mother Ellen to adopt me, and, more recently, for my parents to get legally married. But the federal government will not recognize that marriage. To be denied legal rights is to know that no matter how real and legitimate your family actually is, the government reserves the right to undermine it on a whim.
That is what the Windsor Case means to me and my family. IF DOMA is struck down, then what countless gays and lesbians across this nation have known for decades and centuries will be recognized by our federal government. That won’t change how we feel about each other one bit, but it will mean that how we feel about each other will carry weight in society at-large. Maybe, someday, then, children like me will never have to consider what it means to have same-sex parents in the context of society. I hope and believe that someday no American family will be denied basic human rights because of a superficial and exterior difference; that someday everyone will grasp the truth that what makes a family is love and commitment, nothing more and nothing less.
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