Have you seen versions of this symbol on Facebook this week? It’s likely that you have – and your kids have too. This little red box with the equal sign is popping up all over social media as a sign of gay marriage support, and if your kids have seen it or heard people talking about it, they probably have some questions about what’s going on.
The news lately has been flooded with debates, legislature and court decisions concerning marriage in regards to same-sex couples. It can be heady stuff for kids (and frankly the finer details are frequently getting lost on adults). But it’s here – we’re experiencing history in the making – and no matter how you feel about the issue, your children are picking up bits and pieces about it.
It’s the bits and pieces that can be concerning, because they are often incomplete representations of the real picture, skewed by the opinions of whoever is sharing the information. Regardless of your personal viewpoints, as educators and parents we should strive to present our kids an accurate picture of these current events. In this post, I hope to provide a jumping off point to encourage honest and well-informed discussion for you and your kids. I was inspired to blog about this after trying to answer the many questions of my own inquisitive son.
To make sure my facts are correct, I consulted with Amber Jordan, a clerk on the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit who has been closely following the proceedings.
Let’s start with Prop 8, considered on March 26th by the Supreme Court.
- What is Prop 8? In 2008, California passed this proposition as an amendment to their state constitution, defining marriage as a union only between a man and a woman.
- What does this mean? By passing Prop 8, California is denying marital rights to same-sex couples after 2008 (those couples who were married before the proposition are still legally recognized). Right now, there are nine states plus the District of Columbia that have legalized same-sex marriage; 31 states have laws that specifically prohibit it. This wiki page (if you scroll down a ways) will give you a pretty detailed map of how each state breaks down. The United States is pretty divided as to how it should define marriage.
- Why do people care if they’re legally married? What are marital rights? There are many tax benefits to being married. Married couples often save money on their annual taxes, and if someone dies and leaves an inheritance to his or her spouse, the inheritance is passed without the federal government taking out any taxes. Taxes can be taken if the inheritance is passed to someone who isn’t the legal spouse of the deceased. The federal government also rolls over Social Security benefits from a deceased person to his or her spouse; this benefit isn’t available to unmarried people. Additionally, marital rights ensure that spouses may visit each other in the hospital. If a marriage is not recognized legally, the family of hospitalized individual gets to decide whether the spouse may visit. This can be an issue for couples who are not legally married if there is tension between the family and the hospitalized’s partner.
- Why is it being discussed by the Supreme Court? Many people in California feel that denying marital rights to same-sex couples in unconstitutional. If the Supreme Court agrees that Prop 8 is in violation of the Constitution, it will uphold what they perceive to be the Constitution’s intentions to protect the rights of American individuals and will force California to drop the proposition. If the Supreme Court decides that Prop 8 is not in violation of the Constitution, the proposition will stay in effect.
- Who is in the Supreme Court, and what is its function? The Supreme Court is the highest court in the nation, and has the ultimate say over all other federal and state courts. It’s main role is to ensure that the nation and its individual states abide by the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court is comprised of nine individuals, who serve for life. Often when it makes a ruling that concerns one state, the Court’s decision can be considered a precedent and applied to similar cases in other states without those cases being taken to the Supreme Court.
- What could the Supreme Court decide on this matter, and how will their decisions impact California and the U.S.? The New York Times recently released a wonderfully informative chart detailing all the possible outcomes. Check it out here.
And now for DOMA, considered by the Supreme Court on March 27.
- What is DOMA? DOMA stands for the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law in 1996 by then President Bill Clinton. Whereas Prop 8 is about people getting married, DOMA addresses same-sex couples who are already married. Don’t forget: nine states plus Washington, D.C. currently offer legal same-sex marriages. Section 2 of DOMA says that states that prohibit same-sex marriages don’t have to recognize married same-sex couples who move in from out of state. Section 3 officially defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
- What does this mean? Section 2 of DOMA can play out this way: say a gay couple gets married in Connecticut (one of the states that have legalized gay marriage), and then move to the state of Nebraska (one of the states that doesn’t have legalized gay marriage). Though the couple had full marital rights in Connecticut, Nebraska can choose not to recognize their marriage. As a result of Section 3 of DOMA, even if the couple had remained in Connecticut, the federal government doesn’t have to provide marital benefits and rights either.
- Why is it being discussed by the Supreme Court? Many people, including President Clinton, feel now that the law should be repealed. They feel that it goes against the nation’s constitution and doesn’t give equal rights to its citizens. President Obama has instructed the government not to defend the law before the Supreme Court. There are many people who defend DOMA too; they feel that marriage should simply be reserved for heterosexual couples.
- What could the Supreme Court decide on this matter, and how will their decisions the U.S.? I’m going to refer you to the same New York Times chart. Check it out here.
How have you helped your children understand all this? Let me know in the comments, or drop me an email-