A choir of voices is calling for a ruling in favor of marriage equality in a series of friend-of-the-court briefs filed before the Supreme Court, but one filing may have particular impact if recent history is a guide.
The Family Equality Council, which represents LGBT families with children, last week filed along with the LGBT group COLAGE a 40-page “voices of LGBT youth and children” brief arguing the court should strike down prohibitions on same-sex nuptials based on the harms they inflict on children raised by gay parents.
The star of the brief is Kinsey Morrison, an 18-year-old freshman at Stanford University who — along with her two younger sisters — was raised in Goshen, Ken., by a lesbian couple: Karen Morrison, her birth mother, and Audrey Morrison, her adoptive mother.
In a phone interview with the Washington Blade, Kinsey Morrison said she felt she needed to take action on behalf of her family after the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee as constitutional.
“We felt so close, and to have that taken away from us, we really felt like we had to do something because we didn’t know when else we would get the chance,” Kinsey Morrison said.
The first order of business was making a short film with her family over Christmas break called “Sanctity,” which addressed claims that allowing same-sex couples to wed would somehow threaten the sanctity of marriage.
“We think that’s funny because our parents are probably the single most committed that we know,” Kinsey Morrison said. “A lot of times growing up, I was the only one of my friends whose parents weren’t divorced. So we made this film to show that not only are they not a threat to the sanctity of marriage, they are phenomenal examples of the sanctity of marriage.”
The production got the attention of the Family Equality Council. Since Kinsey Morrison is just over 18 and grew up in the Sixth Circuit, where the marriage cases now pending before the Supreme Court were initially filed, the group asked her to take the lead in its brief.
“And of course, I was absolutely thrilled to do so,” Kinsey Morrison said. “I was so humbled and honored to be a part of that process.”
The brief argues state marriage bans are unconstitutional on the basis that they violate principles of equal protection, making the case they signal to youths raised in same-sex households they’re inherently inferior to their peers.
“If society benefits when the state encourages adults to form, and raise children within, committed relationships, it suffers when the state tells LGBT youth – the next generation of LGBT parents – that the families they may build are beneath the law’s notice,” the brief concludes.
Kinsey Morrison is but one voice in the brief. Others are LGBT youth who aspire to marry, mental health experts as well as other children in the Sixth Circuit and across the country raised by same-sex parents who talk about the harms marriage bans cause to their families.
Kinsey Morrison said the experience of growing up in a same-sex parent household affected her, but in what she says was a positive way, helping her accept and celebrate the differences among people.
“One of the really awesome things about growing up in a two-mom family is I didn’t see gender roles acted out every single day in my house,” Kinsey Morrison said. “I have driven a moving van and I cried during a Nicholas Sparks movie. Yes, those still get me. So I think that was really awesome that I was raised a certain type of person, not necessarily a certain type of woman.”
But because her parents are unable to wed, Kinsey Morrison said her family faced inequities that other children growing up didn’t have to experience.
“When I was a baby, I had a really bad reaction to the Hepatatis B vaccine and I had to go the to hospital, and at one point, only my biological mom, Karen, was allowed to see me. They told Audrey she had to wait in the hallway because this was only for family,” Kinsey Morrison said. “That was really, really difficult.”
Kinsey Morrison said her adoptive mother isn’t allowed to be on her biological mother’s health insurance plan, so the family has to endure extra costs for an additional policy. (But Kinsey Morrison said their health insurance company, AFLAC, said it wouldn’t recognize their parents’ marriage even if same-sex nuptials were legal in Kentucky. It will be another hurdle to clear even if the Supreme Court rules for marriage equality, Kinsey Morrison said.)
“If we did have national marriage equality, things like health insurance, FAFSA forms, all of that would be more mandated, they would be more inclusive,” Kinsey Morrison said. “I think that would be so helpful to millions of families across the country, and I hope that we will have that very soon.”
If recent history is any guide, the story of Morrison and other children may prove influential to the Supreme Court. During oral arguments before the Supreme Court in 2013 on California’s Proposition 8, U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy cited a brief from the Family Equality Council, which posited 40,000 children in California were being raised in same-sex households.
“There is an immediate legal injury or legal — what could be a legal injury, and that’s the voice of these children,” Kennedy said.
On the other hand, U.S. Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was apparently unmoved by the idea of same-sex parents raising children, suggesting such a family structure may harm a child.
“There’s considerable disagreement among — among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a — in a single-sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not,” Scalia said. “Some states do not — do not permit adoption by same-sex couples for that reason.”
But winning the day were the views of Kennedy, who made the harms the Defense of Marriage Act caused to children a major point in his decision overturning the law.
“It humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples,” Kennedy wrote. “The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.”
Responding to Scalia’s assertion that studies are inconclusive on the matter, Kinsey Morrison said she doesn’t think any study calling her family structure into question would be accurate.
“I can’t imagine that to be true because, for one thing, my parents went for years through fertility treatment, and it cost thousands of dollars,” Kinsey Morrison said. “For some at least, there’s all different ways that LGBT families are created, but for my family, at least, it was so difficult to have kids and they wanted them so badly, and have been such incredible parents”
As subsequent cases seeking marriage rights for same-sex couples percolated through lower courts, additional briefs filed by the Family Equality Council continued to prove influential. U.S. Circuit Court Judge Richard Posner cited a brief from the organization in his decision striking down bans on same-sex marriage in Indiana and Wisconsin.
Emily Hecht-McGowan, director of public policy for the Family Equality Council, said her organization “never could have imagined the impact that this little brief would have had” on the conversation about marriage equality in the courts.
When the issue of marriage returns to the Supreme Court, Hecht-McGowan said she hopes the voices of children being raised in same-sex households will continue to prove influential.
“We really hope that the voices of these children will resonate with justices in a way that will move them to understand exactly what their lives are like,” Hecht-McGowan said. “We spent a long time debating the issue of marriage, and everybody talks about the welfare of children…but nobody’s ever actually asked those children about their experiences, and this brief gives that generation the ability to speak up. We have high hopes for our little brief.”