What's Divorce and Adoption Got to Do with it?

For advocates and supporters of legalizing same-sex marriages, New England has been providing some stunning, satisfying victories in recent weeks. Lots been written about why New England is blazing the trail. If you live here, it's not all that surprising, somehow, because there does seem to be a somewhat stoic brand of tolerance inherent to the region, that live-and-let-live coexistence, which allows tofu eaters and hunters be good neighbors.

Many people I know who oppose–or if not oppose, feel annoyed at all the fuss over same-sex marriage–not same sex-marriage per se, actually scoff regulating marriage at all. Their reasoning goes: the state really has no business getting into marriage, because that's private. There are all kinds of reasons why regulating people's private choices–around sex and love, especially when religion gets entangled–is not ideal. Marriage, though, is an institution with major financial and legal ramifications. And for marriage to only exist as a legal and financial entity available to heterosexual couples is wrong. My saying that does not mean I'm urging anyone to marry. I'd hope that could be a choice between people for their own reasons (ideally, love). I know that as life goes on and we do accrue entanglements, marriage and money, for example, become entangled, too (get divorced once you have children, it may turn out that financially, you're better off not remarrying until your kids are through college, for the purposes of financial aid packages, as one example). As someone who believes people should be free not only to love who they love, though, but to be supported in that love, I have come to view same-sex marriage as an important way of demonstrating that love-is-love to people who might not have ever imagined it that way. I attended a wedding after Massachusetts paved the way of two women who'd been together for almost two decades. Before the wedding, their families had never met. Before the wedding, one aunt had never really realized that her niece and partner–now, wife–loved one another so deeply–and had a whole life together, house, dog, community. Along with the attentions to menus and flowers and people bringing wedding gifts, there were just all these really powerful a-ha moments. Marriage is by no means the only way to usher others into understanding the depth of a couple's commitment to one another–and, of course, it's not mandatory that anyone else comprehends that, if indeed, love is a private matter.

All that's true for two people who love each other. To me, that changes when the two people have children together. I've watched friends in same-sex relationships become parents together, only to see one person lose access to children because there were no legal protections for their relationships as non-biological parents (either before second parent adoptions or because one hadn't occurred). I've also seen the law protect a non-biological parent's parental rights, due to the protection of marriage–and divorce. In essence, if marriage ensures divorce, in that messy morass, one critical benefit may be parental rights. Recognizing second parent adoptions is part and parcel of this picture. All of the ways that family–including same-sex couples' families–is protected legally increases its durability, whether couples remain intact or split up. A Florida ruling that upholds the legality of second parent adoptions from another state (in this case, Washington) marks another milestone (Florida, a state that is not friendly toward gay people adopting children) in the quest to acknowledge and support families' durability. It might seem cynical to say that best thing about marriage is divorce, but that's not what I'm saying. It's that if laws protect some, it's even better if laws protect all. If you don't want to advocate or believe in same-sex marriage laws for love–private, should-not-be-regulated-love–then advocate for the sake of protecting families' interests better.

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Author: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser's work has appeared on the New York Times, Salon, and the Manifest Station amongst other places. Find her on Twitter @standshadows

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