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With Kaethe Morris Hoffer

Kaethe Morris Hoffer, a feminist attorney, explores equality, justice, and the complexities of living in a world in which power is abused and gendered.

Discrimination is Not Pro-Family
©Kaethe Morris Hoffer, 2004

Five years ago this spring, my sweetie and I stood in the church I was raised in and vowed to honor and love each other for the rest of our lives. Throughout the ceremony and celebration we were surrounded by people we treasure, and while I was grateful for the love that they shared with us that day, it felt a bit odd to have such an intimate and personal relationship as ours made the center of such a public event. Since that time, however, I've developed a greater appreciation for the role that family and friends play in marriage, and for the suitability of its public celebration. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, I've learned that it takes a community to nurture a marriage.

Although we didn't know them then, two people who have become a critical part of our community were also married on Memorial Day 1999. With laughter and tears, pledges and poetry, and surrounded by family and friends, they took their first steps as spouse to each other, just as we were taking ours. We met them, fittingly enough, at a wedding a year and a half later, and became dear friends very quickly. We even began a tradition of celebrating our wedding anniversary together.

Then last year, just two and a half weeks after a gorgeous boy joined the world and made them parents, we had a beautiful son, too. Before Milo (theirs) and Noah (ours) came along, it was marvelous to have friends whose paths and values so closely mirrored ours. But especially since our sons arrived, we have been a constant presence in each others' lives-talking about each new development and challenge, commiserating over lost sleep and smelly diapers, conferring on how to combine parenthood with careers, celebrating each new tooth, crowing about every new ability ("Milo walks!" "Noah says 'Moo!'").

They are wonderful parents who still manage to relate to each other as a loving couple (something I've discovered is easier said than done when there's a new baby in the house). And as I've tried to navigate my way through the pleasures and perils of being a mother while maintaining my identity as wife and feminist activist, they have been an inspiration to me, as well as a regular source of advice and support. As individuals, and as the family they have made of themselves, they inspire me, and I treasure them.

According to President Bush, however, the beautiful, loving, family created by my friends constitutes a dire threat to the relationship my husband and I have-and an assault on the "sanctity" of marriage. Our friends are both men, and because of this, they do not have access to a marriage license as we do, nor to any of the benefits the government endorses and celebrates for families with a daddy and a mommy. Rather, they are treated to legalized hostility, endorsed from the highest levels, by a man whose use of the term compassionate undermines the very meaning of the word.

In his State of the Union address, President Bush praised Congress for having passed the "Defense of Marriage Act," which defined marriage at the federal level as existing for heterosexuals only. He even went so far as to announce that he would support a constitutional amendment along the same lines as the "Defense of Marriage" law, if any more courts order states to allow gay men and lesbians to marry. Although the Act Bush praised does nothing more than legalize discrimination against gay couples, its name suggests that straight couples and the "institution" of marriage are harmed when gay or lesbian couples come together in loving, committed, partnerships. While this notion is completely lacking in empirical support, it is also, frankly, absurd. Really, show me one straight couple whose relationship would be destroyed as a direct result of a gay couple getting legal recognition. Will there be a shortage of licenses? Surely we can just get more paper. And regarding the "institution" of marriage that must be protected from gay couples-if you can really destroy something so ephemeral, then why can't we destroy hatred, or racism, or stupidity?

The bottom line is that bigotry is the only reason to prevent gay couples from getting married. Like all-white country clubs that treasured their ability to discriminate against black people (surely believing that they would be ruined if forced to desegregate), many people now seem to believe that the worth of marriage is a function of its' inaccessibility to gay men and lesbians. While laws that ban gay marriage, or that prohibit adoption or custody by gay and lesbian parents, serve only to reinforce inequality in our country by assigning gay families second-class status, they are frequently-as evidenced by the President's recent snow-job-packaged and sold as policy that is pro-family-a masquerade that adds real stink to their sting.

When my husband and I got married, we decided to forgo getting a marriage license. We were uncomfortable accepting legal benefits that are denied to gay men and lesbians. On the fun side, we reasoned, when gay marriage becomes legal in our state, we will have an excellent excuse to celebrate our commitment again (not to mention an opportunity to get me covered on his health insurance policy.) In making this choice, we have joined a growing community of straight couples who are rejecting the opportunity to be legitimized by an institution whose unequal distribution, we believe, calls into question its very legitimacy. With them, and with Milo's daddies, we will oppose politicians who would sell bigotry as pro-family policy. And we will take comfort in the fact that time is on our side, because truth and love do prevail, and as most of us already know, it is love and commitment-and not a piece of paper-that makes a family.

Kaethe Morris Hoffer
[email protected]



Kaethe is an attorney from Evanston, Illinois. She served on the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women in Illinois from 1999 to 2003, where she chaired the Commission's Violence Reduction Working Group. She is co-author of the Gender Violence Act.



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