Anti-Marriage Equality Laws Often Affect Children Most

Laws aimed at denying LGBT couples the right to marry and be a family in the eyes of the law have an unintended and possibly unrealized effect—harming children in LGBT families.


An estimated 2 million children are being raised by LGBT families—a number expected to grow in the coming years.  These families struggle due to religiously-based laws aimed at promoting “family values” while in reality pushing more children into poverty.


It’s another example of a fundamentalist view of religion being pushed, in lieu of the bigger picture. We see it all the time. For example, in Illinois, where Catholic Charities would rather shut down its adoption and foster care services, rather than comply with the state law that allows gay couples to adopt. We also saw it in the religiously-based House Resolution 358 that Congress passed in October. It is a law so stringent in its anti-abortion stance, it allows health care administrators the right to deny a pregnant woman life-saving procedures if it will harm the pregnancy—even if that pregnancy is not viable. In claiming to “support life”, the law could instead cause thousands of women to die unnecessarily.  


These views and the laws that emerge from them claim to do “good” while simultaneously causing wide spread harm in other ways—an idea that seems morally corrupt, especially coming from those who purport to be practicing “moral values.”


The laws affecting gay marriage across the country are similar. In their insistence on pushing their religious agenda regarding gay marriage, marriage equality opponents aren’t seeing the bigger picture: the way the children are being harmed.


Last week, the Center for American Progress released its report, “All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families,” which detailed all the many ways that children in these families are failed by the system.


According to the report, LGBT families live everywhere—they are in 96 percent of U.S. counties. But more interestingly, they are concentrated in states you wouldn’t expect: Mississippi has the highest percentage of same-sex couples raising families. Other southern states like Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and South Carolina top the list, as well as middle-American states like Wyoming, Oklahoma, Kansas and Montana.


Ironically, these are the states that offer the least protection for these families—with many same-sex friendly state laws concentrated in the Northeast. And those protections mean a lot.


Children raised in LGBT families are more than twice as likely to live in poverty and safety net programs often do not extend to same-sex families. These services include access to Social Security, Food Stamps, Public Housing, health care, early childhood education programs, inheritances and tax benefits that can cost same-sex couples thousands more a year than heterosexual families.


The CAP report compared two families—one heterosexual and the other same-sex, and found that the same-sex couple’s total financial burden was $219,000 more than that of the heterosexual couple.


But while the laws and inequalities were outlined in the CAP study, the underlying sentiment behind the laws that hurt families wasn’t mention —and that sentiment is religious.


Religious dogma is behind much of the bullying and the refusal to recognize LGBT families as families in the eyes of the law. Many of the laws that hurt same-sex families have been backed by religious groups and politicians who profess religious beliefs that affect their judgment, including the current federal law known as the “Defense of Marriage Act.” Proponents of laws aimed at LGBT families often cite the Bible as a key influence.


And despite that the highest numbers of LGBT families reside in the south, the “Bible Belt” is still the place that offers the fewest rights for these families. 


Discussing the issue of same-sex marriage and its consequences on children last week, Rev. Dr. Dennis W. Wiley, a pastor of the covenant Baptist United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C., described the rights being denied to LGBT families as “venom all in the name of God.”


“One thing the faith community professes to be interested in is family, but even in the Bible it’s not a neat arrangement— all types of family configurations have existed,” Wiley said. “You cannot allow children to suffer over theological differences.”


And the U.S. Constitution agrees—for both children and adults. The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution extends “equal protection of the laws” to all citizens. By denying same-sex couples the right to marry, the federal government is treating the couples—and by extension, their children and families—inequitably.


Religious dogma has its place, and that place is not within the laws of our secular government.  It’s time for these antiquated marriage laws holding back 2 million families in this country to be overturned.  Furthermore, it’s time for law makers to look at the bigger picture of how these laws negatively impact families and children who have no say.

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