Sunday, June 8, 2014

Court decision on marriage equality will benefit families

AG JB Van Hollen shouldn't appeal decision, should allow couples and families to pursue happiness in the state

A federal judge has found that Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. As a result, hundreds of gay and lesbian couples across the state have shared their vows, signed on the proper lines, and sealed their fate as married couples.

Their struggles and worries have been, at least for the time being, alleviated. These couples now qualify for countless rights and privileges, including inheritance rights, hospital visitations, and tax write-offs, that so-called “traditional” marriages have enjoyed for years.

If left to stand, thousands of families could feel legitimized through these marriages, including families with adopted children, who legally only have one technical parent. State law only allows married or single individuals to adopt; domestic partnerships, therefore, only have one legal adoptive parent, even if two parents are in the household.

If one of those parents were to be injured or otherwise impaired, unable to make decisions for their children, the other same-sex spouse (who is by every definition of the word “parent” to those children) would now have the legal right to act in that manner, the same way that straight couples would be able to do. And that is how it should be.

But apparently Attorney General JB Van Hollen thinks differently. He believes that he is legally obligated to defend the state constitutional ban, even when a federal judge has shown it to be out of line with the U.S. Constitution.

He’s free to proceed how he wants -- he is the duly elected Attorney General of the Badger State, after all. But his actions would have dire consequences, especially for families with same-sex adoptive parents.

In appealing this decision, then, Van Hollen isn’t protecting any family by any stretch of the imagination -- gay and lesbian couples who marry cause no harm whatsoever to other couples in the state. But Van Hollen’s actions would have negative consequences for many families across Wisconsin.

Rather than protecting families, the ban has served as a barrier for many who have wanted to live contentedly in the state, to pursue their own versions of happiness. Allowing Judge Barbara Crabb’s decision to stand would extend a great deal of benefits to families across Wisconsin who would otherwise be unable to have them.

Instead of continuing the unfair and unlawful ban on same-sex marriages, JB Van Hollen ought to show some compassion for these families. Love is love, and denying recognition of that love, as well as the benefits that are ordinarily afforded to couples in that kind of relationship, is unequal treatment under the law, and morally unsound.

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