A near-future Mother’s Day gift: Marriage equality for my son

TODAY, May 11th, millions of families across the country are celebrating Mother’s Day. Some children will send their mom flowers; others may present a handmade gift. For me, the greatest gift of all would be full marriage equality for all committed couples here in Colorado — so my son, Caleb, and his partner can finally legally marry in the state they call home.

As a mother, one of the most important things to me is my family. Family is the backbone of society, and recognizing my son’s freedom to marry the person he loves and protect his family only strengthens our society and our state.

I’m proud to say I have a little bit of real-life experience when it comes to this topic: my husband, Jamie, and I have been married for 32 years. I can attest that marriage takes hard work, but when you find someone you love and want to spend the rest of your life with, there’s no question that it’s worth it. Jamie and I know how much our marriage means to us, and that’s exactly why we want Caleb to be able to have that same opportunity.

Two years ago, we had the joy of seeing our daughter get married. It was a celebration of love and commitment between her and her husband — one of the happiest days of my life. But as happy as it made me, it pains our family just as much to see our own son being denied that freedom. I can’t imagine being told I couldn’t marry the person that I love; no one should ever have to go through that.

When we spend time around Caleb and his partner, we are always so touched by the clear love we see between them. They are always there for each other no matter what, in sickness and in health. Watching them reminds Jamie and me of our own relationship. It has made us realize that all committed couples – gay or straight – share similar reasons for wanting to marry: to make a lifetime promise to each other and to share the joys and challenges that life brings.

At the end of the day, there is no substitute for marriage, which says plainly and clearly that two people will take responsibility for one other – and that in times of crisis, they will be there for each other. But for same-sex couples like Caleb and his partner, the ability to make this commitment only exists in 17 out of 50 states – and Colorado is not yet one of them.

Still, on this Mother’s Day in particular – with marriage equality resting on the soon-to-be announced decision of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Colorado – I am hopeful that change is on the horizon. Today, 61 percent of Coloradans now support the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples – a clear sign that most people in our state understand nothing compares to marriage in protecting couples and their families.

In the meantime, I try to remind myself that someday the time will come when my son can proudly walk down the aisle. And that will be a happy day indeed.

What matters to kids: Love, stability, not parent sexual orientation

As a practicing pediatrician here in Denver, I have patients ranging in age from four to 25, many of whom I have treated for years. I’ve been able to observe their emotional, physical and intellectual development over time and think about why some kids do well and others do not. It’s clear to me that the best predictor of good health is for children to have loving, committed parents. And in my experience –- confirmed by study after study — it doesn’t matter a bit whether the parents are gay or straight, only that they treat their children with respect and provide a sense of security.

Next month, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals here in Denver will hear cases that will decide whether same sex marriage will be legal in Oklahoma and Utah. Other courts across the country also are hearing marriage cases. With all the buzz around the issue, advocates on both sides are weighing in with their best arguments. While some marriage equality opponents point to a single, thoroughly discredited report that purports to show otherwise, the real science could not be clearer: there are no distinguishable differences in outcomes for children with same- or opposite-sex parents. In fact, a position statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics analyzed a wide body of scientific studies examining this issue and found that legalizing marriage equality would actually strengthen families and benefit children. Its authors examined more than 80 studies conducted over 30 years and found no evidence of harm or disadvantage to children raised by two parents of the same sex.

And there’s so much more. A 2013 study from Tufts University and Boston Medical Center reported extensive data revealing “that children raised by gay and lesbian parents have demonstrated resilience with regard to social, psychological, and sexual health.” It also said, “…children’s well-being is affected much more by their relationships with their parents, their parents’ sense of competence and security, and the presence of social and economic support for the family than by the gender or the sexual orientation of their parents.”

Even more strikingly, the Australian Health Service reported in 2013 that children from five-to-17 years old with same-sex parents scored significantly higher on measures of general health and family cohesion than children from all backgrounds and family contexts. It also found that for all other health measures there were no statistically significant differences between the two groups.

We know what qualities we hope to instill in our children: independence, confidence, resilience, mental and emotional strength. Giving children a stable, loving home environment seems to be the most effective way to accomplish that.

As Sally T. Hillsman, the executive officer of the American Sociological Association (ASA), recently said, “The research supports the conclusion that the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples has the potential to improve child well-being insofar as the institution of marriage may provide social and legal support to families and enhance family stability— all of which are key drivers of positive child outcomes.”

The reality is that most parents are dealing with the same familiar meltdowns and spit-ups, untied shoes and unfinished homework, skinned knees and bad dreams. Most are doing their best to provide security and support at home while preparing their children for the future. What matters is that kind of focus and attention, not whether parents are gay or straight.

[ Image: Jedpinoy2323 ]

Here come the grooms: Making history in order to get hitched

Here come the grooms: Making history in order to get hitched

I remember the campaign for Amendment 3 — the measure that banned same-sex couples from marrying in Utah — very clearly.

I was 15 years old and a freshman in high school in South Jordan, Utah. Several of my neighbors and people I knew as close friends posted signs in their yards supporting the ban.

I never would have imagined then that in 10 years I would have my family’s support after coming out as gay, meet the man I want to share my life with, and be part of a lawsuit challenging Amendment 3 so that we can marry. 

When Moudi and I met in college, we both instantly felt a strong spark. We spent our first years together traveling back and forth each weekend between The University of Utah in Salt Lake City, where I was a student, and Utah State University in Logan, which Moudi was attending. We emailed long letters to each other during the school week and longed for the weekends when we could be together.

Five years later, we are more than best friends. We’re soul mates. We support and stand by each other in everything – all of life’s joys and challenges. We nurture each other’s dreams and hopes. And, more than anything, we want to build a future together as legal spouses. 
For both of us, relationships are about emotional and spiritual growth — and about loyalty, being there through thick and thin. My family has embraced Moudi as one of their own, and his family in Lebanon has done the same with me. 
Everything about our lives is woven together as a foundation for our shared future.

But as long as Utah’s marriage ban is in force, we can never be more than legal strangers in our home state. That’s why we joined other same-sex couples to challenge Utah’s discriminatory marriage ban. No two people who love each other should be barred from the joys and responsibilities of marriage simply because they’re lesbian or gay.

Since filing the lawsuit, we’ve been overwhelmed by support from so many people throughout our community and across the country, including many of our Mormon family and friends. 
I’m proud of our shared love and commitment, and even more proud to stand up for it.

I always imagined marriage would be the cornerstone of my life, just as it has been for my own parents and their parents before them. What Moudi and I feel for each other, what we plan for and dream of are much the same as those of the long line of married ancestors who came before us. Our sparks are much like their sparks. Our values and traditions are born largely from theirs. We come from people who know what it means to stand up and fight for freedom. Now is the time for same-sex couples to be treated the same as everyone else.

From that first spark, Moudi and I have known we wanted to get married. Challenging Utah’s ban on marriage equality in the lawsuit filed in March 2013 was our first step toward walking down the aisle. Just last month, on Valentine’s Day and Moudi’s birthday, I took the next step. I got down on one knee and asked: “Will you marry me?” 

He said yes.

We’re optimistic about our legal case in a country that’s still about freedom and equality – even though at times it needs to be nudged. And we’re hopeful that one day soon, we’ll be able to stand before our family and friends at our wedding ceremony and commit our lives together with two simple words: “I do.”

Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity, along with two other same-sex couples, filed the legal challenge to Utah’s marriage ban last year. Last December, a federal district court ruled that Utah’s marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process of law. That decision is now on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and will be heard next month in Denver. Many observers feel the Utah case is the one that could move the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the question of the constitutionality of gay marriage and make it legal across the nation.

You Can Play: Colorado teen athletes tackle homophobia

A little over a decade ago, in a faraway galaxy otherwise known as the southwestern Illinois suburbs, being an out gay high school kid was a tough path to choose. Unsurprisingly, most of us – and yes, there were plenty of us not-out gay kids – never walked that path.

But having my teammates on the Belleville West Men’s Soccer Team find out I was gay? That wasn’t simply a tough  path; to my knowledge, it was one that no one had ever even attempted to walk.

And you can be damn certain I wasn’t about to be the first. Not in a locker room where “fag” was practically an article of speech.

Today, my hometown informants tell me that Belleville West is a very different place. As is the case in so many high schools across the country, LGBT young people are finding the courage to come out – with more supportive faculty, school staff, and local resources than ever before.

Still, even if I were currently a high school student in need of welcoming peers and an inclusive environment on campus, a sports team is about the last place I’d think to look.

Turns out Colorado’s high school athletes are proving me thoroughly wrong.

Just last week, the Colorado High School Activities Association announced a groundbreaking new partnership with the You Can Play project – a national organization that partners with sports teams and professional athletes to eliminate bullying and homophobia in sports.

This new partnership, “You Can Play, Colorado!”, calls on high school students, teams, and clubs across the state to enter a video contest demonstrating their commitment to the idea that teammates should be measured by their passion and attitude – not their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other factors.

Already, students from two Colorado high schools have produced videos for this contest, which ends in February 2014 and has received generous financial support from the Gill Foundation’s Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado. The first video was submitted by Denver East High School – you can watch it here.

The semi-awkwardness of these high school athlete allies makes their message all the more poignant and authentic. This isn’t some hyper-polished, 30-second spot from a well-intentioned celebrity (don’t get me wrong – those are awesome, too). It’s a group of incredible young people stepping up and telling their teammates that it’s okay to be exactly who they are. Plain and simple.

Travis Waldron of ThinkProgress touched upon this powerful distinction in a recent blog post, saying:

“And while it’s great to hear professional athletes stepping up for equality and acceptance, my own experience in high school athletics leads me to believe that nothing could be more powerful in limiting and ending the abuse LGBT students face – and making them feel accepted and included in both sports and school as a whole – than hearing that message from their fellow students.”

That’s exactly what makes this new project so groundbreaking. Change isn’t being demanded of, or forced upon, Colorado’s high schoolers through You Can Play. It’s being generated from within – tackling intolerance head-on, in some of the most historically intolerant spaces.

And that, we know, is change with the power to last.

[ Image by Dan. ]

The Path to Marriage Equality in Colorado: Having a Responsible Statewide Conversation

Six months ago, when I left my job as a speechwriter in D.C. and headed west to join the staff of One Colorado – the state’s largest advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Coloradans – I had the feeling I was about to become part of something big.

In the weeks that would follow, suffice it to say that I wasn’t let down.

From passing civil unions to our work to end discrimination in health care against transgender Coloradans through a groundbreaking statewide insurance bulletin, LGBT Coloradans have made more progress than ever before.

And now, with momentum on our side, our community and its many allies face our toughest fight yet: securing the freedom to marry once and for all.

At the national level, we’ve seen incredible gains in a relatively short period of time – many of which have flowed from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this summer on the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. One example came just a few weeks ago when the Obama Administration announced that all legally married gay and lesbian couples will be recognized for federal tax purposes, regardless of the state they call home.

 We know that some of these changes will directly improve the lives of many couples here in Colorado – at least those who have the economic privilege and physical ability to obtain a marriage license in another state.

But one critical and non-negotiable reality remains: Here in Colorado, thousands of loving, committed couples are still denied the dignity and many key protections that only marriage can provide. Marriage matters to all of our families, and it’s wrong to treat people differently simply because of who they are and who they love.

There is only one way to move beyond the unreliable, unjust legal patchwork that our families face when they are denied full equality – and that is to win the freedom to marry here in Colorado.

So, how do we go about it?

The answer won’t come from any one person or group. It’s a path that LGBT Coloradans and their allies must come together to forge. With same-sex couples across the state trying to take care of each other and their families, we need to figure out how to secure marriage equality in the swiftest possible manner – but in a way that also ensures a reasonable expectation of success.

It’s not going to be a cakewalk.

For starters, in every state campaign that has secured marriage for same-sex couples, the cost of victory has been tremendous: millions of dollars to build a statewide infrastructure, and thousands of volunteers having hundreds of thousands of conversations with voters about why marriage matters to our families.

Then there’s the question of litigation. We’ve seen time and again that fighting for marriage equality in the courts can be a lengthy, expensive and unpredictable process. Look no further than California’s Proposition 8 for confirmation of that fact.

But the biggest challenge of all is reminding ourselves that LGBT Coloradans and their allies cannot carry marriage across the finish line by themselves. If we’re going to take this to the ballot and do away with Colorado’s existing ban on same-sex marriage, we’ll have to win the support of voters who remain conflicted on this issue – decent, reasonable folks who are still on their journey and can be moved by a message that appeals to their values. Values like love and commitment, freedom for all and the Golden Rule.

In other words, we’ve got some work to do. At the top of our to-do list is laying the groundwork for an aggressive public education campaign aimed at showing voters why marriage matters to all families. It’s going to take considerable time, energy and resources. But together, that’s how we’ll blaze a trail to victory.

In the meantime, we need to engage our own community in a frank conversation about exactly what it’s going to take to win the freedom to marry. What assets do we have at our disposal, and how can we translate those assets into a winning statewide campaign?

One Colorado is determined to help carry out that conversation. We kicked it off on September 19th  with the launch of our Pathway to Marriage Roadshow. It’s a nine-week, multi-city series of town hall meetings to engage LGBT Coloradans and our allies, and begin building the foundation for the fight ahead.

Simply put, our work begins now. It’s time to hit the road – and we hope you’ll join us on the ride.