State Bans Against Same-Sex Marriage Hurt KidsChild Abuse & Neglect Child Rights
This morning, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Obergefell v. Hodges, a case that could have serious implications for children and their families. The main questions under consideration by the Court are (1) whether a state’s failure to recognize same-sex marriage is unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment and if not, (2) whether states must recognize marriages legally performed in other states. However, at its core, this case is really about recognizing that same-sex marriage bans hurt children and families and continue the stigmatization of same-sex marriages, which can be physically, mentally, and financially damaging for our society and impact generations old and young.
Some may argue that the question of same-sex marriage is really an issue of semantics. Does it really matter how a state defines marriage if same-sex couples are able to live together and individuals can be parents – either through legal adoptions, or through artificial insemination or surrogacy? My response is yes, it absolutely matters. These families face many legal obstacles which can prevent parents from making fundamental educational and medical decisions on behalf of their children, prevent the inclusion of children as dependents for tax purposes, limit access to health benefits, and even bar children from claiming old age or disability benefits if their parent becomes incapacitated or dies. These legal limitations imposed on same-sex couples can put children at a severe disadvantage when compared to their peers whose parents have far more legal resources to support them.
In particular, vulnerable populations of children, many who have have been victims of child abuse and neglect suffer due to bans on same-sex marriage. There are over 100,000 children currently awaiting adoption and close to 400,000 in the foster care system in the United States. These children often share a simple hope – to have a loving and stable family. Same-sex couples can provide homes for these children and should not be barred from doing so because their state does not recognize their status as a married couple. In most situations where states do not recognize same-sex marriage, one of the parents can adopt a child, but the other parent has diminished custody rights to a child he or she is co-parenting. This can lead to a myriad of obstacles throughout the child’s life as essentially one of his or her parents is barred from being an equal decision-maker in the child’s life. Banning recognition of same-sex marriages can also be a deterrent for otherwise capable couples considering fostering and adopting children who have been involved in the child welfare system.
Bans against same-sex marriage also perpetuate biases against children who are adopted or born to same-sex couples. These children are often harassed or told that they do not belong to “normal” families – and such messages are amplified by the federal government for its failure to declare same sex marriages are legal, equal and valid. Such stigmatization can contribute to poor academic performance in school, and psychological issues including depression and anxiety. It is in the best interest of children that society as a whole recognizes that there is no formula for what a family should look like and that state laws reflect this basic principle.
First Focus joined other leading child welfare organizations in submitting this persuasive amicus brief to the Supreme Court which makes arguments on how this decision affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of children. We hope the Court will hear the voices of these children as it deliberates and that these arguments sway a majority of justices to support recognition of same-sex marriage by all 50 states.
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Want to learn more? First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Learn more about our work on adoption and child welfare.