The year 2013 saw tremendous progress in marriage equality, which is a wonderful thing — but it also comes with the risk that we think our gains in marriage are sufficient to protect ourselves and our families. Here, then, are four things for LGBT parents and our allies to focus on as we advocate for our families in 2014.
Recognize that marriage alone isn’t enough
Marriage equality can give same-sex parents and our children important protections, as well as a satisfying emotional sense of equality. As the case of two married Iowa moms fighting to put the non-biological mother's name on their deceased child's birth certificate proved, however, marriage equality alone may not guarantee parental rights. (The moms eventually won their case, but it was a long and harrowing process.)
Not only that, but as soon as married same-sex parents step into a non-equality state or country, any parental rights based on the parents’ marriage (as opposed to those based on second-parent adoption or court order) may not be recognized. Let’s remember that 29 states still have constitutional amendments banning recognition of married same-sex couples. Until all states and countries honor our marriages, marriage alone cannot guarantee our parental status.
Additionally, just like different-sex couples, same-sex parents should be recognized as legal parents with or without marriage. We absolutely need the right to marry — but we also need the right not to be married and still to have our parental status honored. Some couples may choose not to wed because they don’t believe in it as an institution, because they are waiting to have enough money for a celebration, or for other reasons. Regardless, the children of these families deserve the legal and financial protections of having two legally recognized parents.
All this means that we must continue to work for adoption, foster care rights, and recognition of de facto parents (those who have been acting as parents for a substantial time) even as we move forward with marriage. This can happen in the several states that explicitly restrict adoption or fostering by same-sex and/or unmarried couples, and in the many where the legality is uncertain. It could also happen on the federal level: The Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which would block federal funding of entities that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in adoption and foster care, has been introduced in both houses of Congress for the second time, and has bipartisan support. Go to Congress.gov and see if your senators and representatives are co-sponsors. If not, drop them a note to explain why it is important to your family that they become ones.
Continue advocating for safe and welcoming schools
In addition to pushing for political change, we must continue helping schools, camps, and other children’s programs make all children feel welcome and safe, regardless of their family structure. HRC's Welcoming Schools project, GLSEN, PFLAG, and Teaching Tolerance all have good resources on how to have productive conversations with teachers and administrators about developing school policies and classroom activities that respect and include all families.
Keep broadening people's views of what LGBT parents look like and how we live
We are not all White, upper-middle class urbanites, despite what common media images may convey. Demographic data shows that LGBT parents are more likely to be living in poverty than non-LGBT ones. Same-sex couples of color are more likely to have children than same-sex White parents. And the state with the highest percentage of same-sex couples raising children? Mississippi, with 26 percent.
How to change people’s views of us? Part of the solution is visibility, although we have to realize that the risks for LGBT parents in some circumstances may prevent easy visibility. Those of us who can be visible, however, should be so with the recognition that we must always advocate for those who can’t.
Part of the solution, too, is encouraging the depiction of all types of LGBT families in the media, including news media as well as fiction books, films, and television shows. ABC Family's The Fosters, which shows a biracial couple raising a mix of biological, adoptive, and foster kids, is a step in the right direction. (The show had its mid-season winter premiere January 13.) Let networks know via letter, e-mail, or social media what you think of their coverage of LGBT families; let your book purchases (and online ratings of them) show publishers LGBT-inclusive children’s books are worth their while.
Use our position as parents to advocate for broad LGBT equality
Our interests as LGBT parents intersect with the interests of other parts of the LGBT community when it comes to topics such as employment nondiscrimination and transgender equality as well as marriage. As parents, we can play an important role by showing how these issues impact (or could impact) our children and their peers. It’s an old marketing cliché, but sometimes people are swayed by arguments related to children when they are immune to other persuasion. The far right has learned this lesson; let’s not let them own this argument.
Those are four big to-dos, on top of all we have purely as parents: fixing dinner, doing laundry, tending scraped knees, reading stories, and all the rest. Still, we’ve made it this far under worse odds. Here’s wishing all of us a 2014 full of love, joy, and greater equality.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), an award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.