How Marriage Inequality Hurts Children

Without a federal same-sex marriage law, gay couples' kids remain at great risk.

I’ve heard plenty of arguments about same-sex marriage, on both sides of the issue. It’s complicated, with lots of layers. First there’s the controversial word marriage. My gay friends tell me that if they could stop fighting about the terminology and just get down to the benefits of the law, they would be further along in the battle to equality. Others say that any term other than marriage is already a stage for inequality. Perhaps.

Then there are states’ issues and the different facets of same-sex marriages vs. civil unions vs. domestic partnerships and which states allow unions and which states recognize unions of other states and on and on. It’s time to wrestle with this one and get a federal law on the books that protects everyone. Sounds fair, right? Funny, though, with all the arguing, I never hear anyone talk about the children.

Yup, the kids. Gay couples have children all the time. And those children, just like children of heterosexual parents, may one day see their parents split in a parting of the ways, a divorce, or the death of one partner. But, unless that family was married in a state that recognizes gay marriage and stayed in that state, the children of gay couples will not be protected under federal law and will not be entitled to the benefits of that status.

According to the Government Accountability Office, more than 1,138 benefits and protections are conferred on U.S. citizens at the time of marriage, including Social Security benefits, veterans’ benefits, health insurance, Medicaid, hospital visitation rights, exemption from estate taxes, a right to inherit retirement savings and pensions, and family leave. All of these protections, and more, are in jeopardy for the children of gay couples.

There are measures that gay couples can take to circumvent some of the lack of marital benefits, such as second-parent adoption, the drafting of a durable will and bestowing power of attorney on the alternate parent, but all these measures cost money and would not be necessary if the couple were “married” in a union recognized federally.

So, as this debate continues and people argue over civil liberties and discrimination and equal rights, let’s make sure that we consider all of those things for the children of these couples. They didn’t ask for this fight, and they shouldn’t be victims of it, either.