LGBTQ People and the Freedom to Build a Family

By Shane Stahl • July 12, 2018 • 12:09 pm

This July, Freedom for All Americans has been exploring exactly what the definition of “freedom” means. For the LGBTQ community, it is clear that the definition is multi-layered; not only does freedom mean the ability to participate in public life without the fear of discrimination, but also the ability to seek out and be welcomed into faith communities and the freedom to be held to the same standards as everyone else when it comes to opportunities for employment, advancement, and success.

Today we’re examining how freedom for LGBTQ people also means the freedom to create, nurture, and support a family.

For many years, the so-called “nuclear” or “traditional” family unit has served as the default in our culture — one cisgender husband, one cisgender wife, and 2.4 cisgender children. Entire industries, theories, and publications have been built around maintaining this supposed cultural norm. However, over the past few decades, national understanding of family has evolved beyond this relatively simple concept into a vibrant fabric of people across all spectrums, including LGBTQ people, who have been building families for years.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in 2015, but that was just the climax of a decades-long fight for relationships between people of the same sex to be formally recognized and legally respected. After fighting against an extreme wave of anti-marriage constitutional amendments, the federal “Defense of Marriage Act” which denied federal respect to marriages between same-sex couples, and half-measures like civil union and domestic partnership, same-sex couples and their families claimed victory after victory, and by the time the Justices ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges, 37 states ended their long histories of marriage discrimination.  With the protections and responsibilities conferred by legally recognized marriage nationwide now, LGBTQ people across the country have been able to breathe easier knowing their marriages are viewed equally in the eyes of the law.

And yet, the fight for dignity and respect for same-sex couples is far from over. Recent years have seen dozens of legal cases and state-level legislative moves seeking to carve out anti-LGBTQ exemptions for businesses, governments, and more. These exemptions – whether it’s a bakery that doesn’t want to sell a cake to a same-sex couple, a photographer who wants to deny service to LGBTQ people, or state governments that want to exclude transgender people from healthcare plans, these exemptions are dangerous and aim to chip away at equality for LGBTQ Americans and families.

When it comes to raising children, LGBTQ people are able to adopt in all 50 states, thanks to the end of Mississippi’s anti-LGBTQ adoption law shortly after the Obergefell decision. However, in recent years many state legislatures have sought to block these adoptions through discriminatory legislation. Just this year, Oklahoma and Kansas passed laws that allow both privately and publicly funded adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ people when placing a child in the home by claiming a “religious or moral objection,” further delaying children being placed in adoptive and foster homes, affecting the thousands of children in each state’s system. Other states such as Colorado and Georgia, after hard work and advocacy by both state and national groups, effectively killed similar bills in their respective legislatures. Anti-LGBTQ child welfare laws are on the books in ten states – and just this week, a committee in the United States House of Representatives passed a very similar amendment at the federal level, which now heads to the full House.

While the road to LGBTQ people raising families with the same protections and rights as other couples has been hard fought and often filled with years of heartache, slow progress, and dim outlooks, we have arrived at a point where more Americans are coming to understand that there is no one single idea of what a family looks like. Building and raising a family is a tradition going back thousands of years, but one only in the past few years an ability truly granted to people from all backgrounds, identities, and walks of life.

Now, with threats on the horizon to this freedom, Americans must unite, join together, and work toward the day that no one faces discrimination because of who they are or who they love. Americans are not truly free until ALL Americans may live free from discrimination and build their families in peace.


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