Necessary affirmations on a celebratory day

It’s hard to talk about today’s Obergefell decision without sounding trite. After decades of organizing by queer advocates, marriage equality is now the law of the land, and today’s victory is moving despite its widely-assumed inevitability. For so many, Obergefell is a ticket to material benefits: tax exemptions, visitation right, medical care, citizenship. And for so many, it is an affirmation from the highest U.S. court that their love is equal in the eyes of the law. Whatever the pitfalls of marriage as a legitimating status, I only have to look to the rally outside my local city hall or hop online to see that the joy is real and raw right now.

That’s why I don’t want to criticize today, even though Justice Kennedy’s majority decision threw “non-traditional” family structures under the bus to pave a way to marriage equality. He writes:

Excluding same-sex couples from marriage thus conflicts with a central premise of the right to marry. Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue here thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples.

In doing so, Kennedy assumes the inferiority and instability of families without married parents — which included and will continue to include families of same-sex parents, but also families led by single, divorced, and widowed parents, parents uninterested in marriage, families centered on non-parents. “Non-traditional” families that tend to be led by women, and particularly women of color. Families of so many different formulations that we cannot imagine and list them all.

I’m far from the first to point out this tendency: many queer critics pushed back on Kennedy’s Windsor decision, which similarly assumed that the children of unmarried parents do, and should, feel inferior to their classmates who go home to married parents. And these same critics have rightly charged that the marriage equality movement required advocates and judges alike to accept the superiority of this particular way of structuring a family at the expense of others.

But the joy is so thorough for so many today that I’m not in the mood for criticism. So I’ll just offer affirmations.

Single moms are awesome. Single dads are awesome. Unmarried parents are awesome. Platonic parents are awesome. Families led by aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins and friends and siblings are awesome. New and creative families are awesome.

Families of all configurations can offer love and support.

We are not lesser.

Image: Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff of the case that led to national marriage equality, with his late husband.

Washington, DC

Alexandra Brodsky was a senior editor at Feministing.com. During her four years at the site, she wrote about gender violence, reproductive justice, and education equity and ran the site's book review column. She is now a Skadden Fellow at the National Women's Law Center and also serves as the Board Chair of Know Your IX, a national student-led movement to end gender violence, which she co-founded and previously co-directed. Alexandra has written for publications including the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Nation, and she is the co-editor of The Feminist Utopia Project: 57 Visions of a Wildly Better Future. She has spoken about violence against women and reproductive justice at campuses across the country and on MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, ESPN, and NPR.

Alexandra Brodsky was a senior editor at Feministing.com.

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