Close your eyes and imagine your family. Now imagine your roommate’s family, the family of your best friend from home, the family that lived next door to you. What do these families have in common? Maybe not much. My immediate family is made up of my mom and dad (still married) and my little brother (soon to be married). My roommate was raised mostly by his grandparents, aunts, and uncles, as his lapsed Buddhist-Indian-Canadian parents regrouped after a divorce. My best friend had four sisters and was raised by her mom after her dad left when we were in fifth grade. The one thing these families all share is that they are bound together by love and commitment to each other. The same is true of families that are started by homosexuals.
This is the message of a group called Love Makes a Family that is working to expand Connecticut’s marriage laws to include same-sex couples. This past Sunday, nearly one thousand people — families, singletons, gays, and straights — came together in Hartford to speak out for gay marriage. I was there, too. Looking around the room, I was proud of the diversity of race, age, socio-economic status, and sexual orientation that was represented. And I knew that we all had one thing in common: we believe that homosexual couples should have the same rights that are available to heterosexual couples.
More than one thousand rights are granted to married couples in the U.S. Most of them are fairly insignificant until couples face hard times. In one of Sunday’s most compelling speeches, a couple spoke about their experiences when one partner battled cancer. Shirley had to undergo painful surgery and a long recovery. Her partner, April, wanted to be there to nurse her back to health. When April asked about taking time off from work, she was told that she had to take an unpaid leave of absence. If April was married to a man, she would have been eligible for the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and been able to take paid leave to care for her husband. Another woman brought her son up on stage with her and talked about finally finding love again — which was a challenge as a single mother. Her partner embraced her and her son, and the three of them quickly became a family. But her partner is from St. Lucia, and after she finishes her master’s degree might be forced to return there. If this woman was a man and they could be married, she could help her partner to obtain citizenship and therefore, keep the family intact.
My own story is much simpler. I am in my late twenties and watching friends all around me get engaged and married. I marvel over their rings, discuss what kinds of ceremonies they’ll have, laugh about the funny things that happen when two families are thrust together in planning for the happiest day of their children’s lives. And I think about my partner of the past six years and what lies ahead for us. I know there are a host of religious congregations that would marry us — and any that wouldn’t, I wouldn’t want to be part of anyway. It is the right of different religious groups to marry whomever they choose according to the doctrines of their faith. But I know that unless we move to Massachusetts, there is no state in the Union that will grant us a marriage license down at City Hall. When the day comes for my partner and I to solidify our commitment, I want nothing more than a big party where we stand up in front of our family, friends, and community and affirm our enduring love for one another. But if trouble strikes, I want that marriage license and the rights that come with it. I want to be able to take care of my partner and our family in sickness and in health, and (God forbid) if death do us part, I want to be able to take care of our affairs too.
For all of these reasons, I believe that not only should Connecticut not pass any law that would expressly forbid same-sex couples from marrying, our state should take the lead on this issue. The state Legislature could be the first in the country to pass legislation allowing same-sex couples to be married in the eyes of the law. There are so many different kinds of families all bound together by love.
Let’s recognize and protect the commitments of all families, and not let hatred or prejudice tear them apart.