Building a Good Society
by Mitzi Henderson, past-president
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays
© 1997, Mitzi Henderson
Our legislators are in a tizzy — it’s not over taxes or welfare, crumbling schools or roads. It is over my child’s desire to marry.
As the mother of four children, one of whom is gay, this perplexes and bothers me. Conservative alarmists moan that same-sex marriage means the “decline of the family,” but are now blocking efforts to provide opportunities for all Americans to have a legal framework in which to form families.
Marriage is something most straight Americans take for granted. I did. When I fell in love with a wonderful man many years ago, we wanted to share our lives — all aspects. We wanted to be recognized as a couple, to officially undertake all the responsibilities and benefits of being married. That included filing joint tax returns, buying homes together, having legal responsibility for our children, and being the true next of kin for each other. Above all, it meant we saw ourselves, and others saw us, as a family unit.
So my husband and I formed our own family of two. When we signed our marriage license, it was never conditioned on a pledge to have and raise children. But our family did grow to include four children, their spouses and seven grandchildren. Now, our two daughters and one son are happily married.
But our gay son, who has been partnered for more than nine years, cannot be married. He alone among our children has no recognized legal foundation for his own family unit.
As a mother, I am concerned about more than my son’s recognized definition of family. In fact, because he cannot marry his partner, I have fears for my gay son that I do not have for my other children. Two years ago, my son fell ill and lost consciousness. Although it was his partner of more than nine years who rushed him to the hospital, he could not authorize necessary medical treatment because, according to the government, my son and his partner are no more than strangers to each other.
In health care, every minute counts. Because my son was not legally married to his partner, valuable time was lost, time in which his condition worsened.
So it is particularly painful for me, as a mother to see my gay son denied the possibility of marrying his partner. Something so fundamental to my own life and the lives of our other children, so essential to our society, is unavailable to him.
We have rejoiced that perhaps the Hawaii court will give him the same right to marriage that his sisters and brother have had. But I resent the lawmakers and special interest groups who are rushing to legally remove this opportunity.
I’ve always presumed marriage was an individual personal choice I certainly would not have wanted the government to interfere with my choice of spouse. Nor do I want the state dictating to my gay son whom he can or cannot marry.
While churches can and do set their own religious requirements for a “church wedding,” this is not the issue in civil marriage. Civil marriage is a contract. It deals with joint custody laws, Social Security benefits, bereavement leave, tax returns, lease agreements and health care. It is not an endorsement of the individuals involved or a judgment of their relationship. This is an important distinction overlooked in the current debates in our legislatures.
Our society has a real stake in seeing that our personal relationships are stable, responsible and supportive. We will all benefit when same-gender relationships are permitted and required to meet the standards of marriage. Marriage continues to be essential in building a good society. Call off the rush to legislation, and give all our children a part in that society.
Mitzi Henderson’s editorial appeared in Scripps-Howard-owned newspapers around the country in September 7-9, 1996 under the heading “Gays Should Enjoy Rights of Marriage.” She was president of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) from 1992-97. She is an elder of the Presbyterian Church, and holds a political science degree from Wellesley College.
Mitzi Henderson may be contacted through:
PFLAG National Office
1101 14th St., NW, #1030, Washington, D.C., 20005
202-638-4200, fax 202-638-0243