Non Traditional Families

  Subject:  What’s everybody talking about?  

Non Traditional Families

About the author:
Anthony M. Brown is a nontraditional family and estates attorney for the New York law firm of McKenna, Siracusano and Chianese.  He is also a vice-president and the director of development for The Wedding Party, an all volunteer, non-profit created to educate the public about the importance of marriage to all Americans. 

Anthony can be found online at

            Once called, “the love that dare not speak its name,” today gay men and lesbians cannot afford to keep quiet.  It was unthinkable five years ago that the issue of equality in marriage for same-sex couples would be a priority in gay legal circles.  There were other, more pressing issues of employment non-discrimination, hate crime legislation and criminalization of sexual expression to confront.  While sodomy has thankfully been addressed in the Supreme Court treatment of Lawrence v. Texas, we now see the other, previously priority issues taking a back seat to the mother of all equality discussions: marriage.  Now that the world is looking at, talking about and trying to understand our families in a way never before experienced, we have a responsibility to help them in this endeavor, and in the end, help ourselves to live lives of dreams fulfilled.

            No one could have predicted that our government would single out the marriage equality movement for direct attack.  While the obvious political motivations abound, one truly good thing has manifest; people are talking.  We owe it to our families, our friends and, frankly, to anyone who asks us to have that conversation.  It will only be through our examples of “courage in words” that we can show the world that it has nothing to be afraid of.   What’s more, the world will better place when all people in love who wish to commit to the protection and nurturance another, will be treated equally under the law.

            How do we do this?  How can we speak with people who do not see our love as on a par with their own?  What kind of conversation are we talking about?  Anyone who wants to educate those within their circle of influence must first check their own resolve.  These conversations can be very difficult, and at times, inflammatory.  Ask yourself if you believe in the issue enough to advocate for it.  If the answer is no, that is OK.  You know your limitations and can continue to fight in other ways.  But if the answer is yes, there are a lot of things to think about.

            Arm yourself with the facts!  There are a lot of people speaking out against same-sex marriage using misinformation and, in some cases, bald face lies.  Know that there are 1,138 federal rights, responsibilities and benefits that every married couple receives immediately when the officiant says, “I now pronounce you married.”  Know what those benefits are.  Know that the history of marriage has changed drastically over the centuries, and that its roots are deeply grounded in the concept of property transfer and subjugation.  If you want to read a detailed history of the institution of marriage, try E.J. Graff’s, What is Marriage For? 

            Gear your conversation to its audience!  When you know whom you are talking to, you can better anticipate the arguments you will hear.  For instance, if you are speaking with a political conservative, or someone that describes themselves as fiscally “responsible,” point out that marriage provides society with a security blanket.  When a married person divorces, the law protects the non-monied spouse with support payments for re-training and reintroduction into working society.  This could also happen for same-sex couples, making it less likely that when a gay relationship splits, one partner would need to look to the state for financial assistance.  Also, one of the most important tenants of true conservatism is that individual states must have control over themselves and the ability to create and interpret their own law, free from a “big brother” federal government.  These Republican principles are in now way respected or reflected by a federal Anti-Marriage Amendment.

            If you are talking to a religious fundamentalist, point out that the bible’s treatment of marriage has been “spotty” to say the least.  For example, women who married and were not virgins could legally be stoned to death.  Also, one means of biblical marriage provided that a man could rape a woman to marry her; another strongly supported polygamy (one that is conveniently forgotten by most religious opponents).  Unfortunately, religion is being used as a force of division surrounding equality in marriage.  Point out that most religions were created out of the premise of social justice, not social discrimination.  If Jesus were alive today, do you really think he would frown upon, much less openly bash, committed love between caring individuals?

            If you are talking to someone who says, “Marriage has always been the same,” talk about how the institution of marriage has gone through 4 major changes in the last 50 years:

  1. Interracial marriage from 1948 – 1967 (but has it really ended?) One Georgia court, for example, upheld restrictions on mixed-race marriage as "unnatural," saying it would lead to children who are "generally sickly, and effeminate… and inferior in physical development and strength."
  2. The lifting of restrictions on contraception in 1965. People really freaked out then.
  3. The end of the marital rape exemption in the 1970’s.  Before this, a man could not be charged with raping his wife because he was essentially, “taking what his.” This was the last vestige of marriage as a means of property transfer.
  4. The final major change that occurred to the institution of marriage was the ending of restrictions on divorce.  This change, which took place in the 40's and through the 50's, has had, perhaps, the greatest impact on society.  With the advent of the sexual and economic revolutions, women were no longer forced to remain in relationships out of necessity.  The ramifications of this particular development are still being felt and argued about to this day.

Finally, and most importantly, if you are speaking with someone who you love, tell him or her your story.  Tell them how you personally are affected by this discrimination.  Send them a picture of you, or you and your partner, or you and your family.  Ask them to take that picture into the voting booth with them so they know personally whom their vote is directly affecting.  You can also tell them about people you know who have been discriminated against.  Tell them that the children of these families will pay the price for this injustice.  It is hard for anyone to blame a child because their legal parents are of the same sex, or punish that child for something that they had no choice or say in.

      You can also help by encouraging other lesbians and gay men to share stories.  More and more, the stories of these families are being presented to the public.  On websites such as,,, and you can read and share stories with others.  We have to reach the hearts of those who are on the fence before we reach their minds, or their votes.      

Write letters!  Public officials will tell you that a personal letter is a powerful tool, much more so than a phone call or an email.  If your elected official is sympathetic to marriage equality, commend them, and then write to the elected officials in your parent’s districts.  Make it a priority in your routine.  Devote a certain amount of time a week to writing letters, to communicating and to telling your truth.

 Finally, try and imagine, just for a minute, why people are so dead set against extending these rights to us.  Is it stubbornness?  Is it religious intolerance?  Possibly, but I think that a majority of people opposed to marriage equality are opposed because they see it as a loss of control over their society, over their world.  They think, with fear in their hearts: “If this happens, then what will happen next?”  The GOLD in trying to understand this lies in how it links us all together.  We, as gay men and lesbians, are used to living in a society that we have little control over, certainly in the arena of equality.  If we can focus on what we have in common with those who may oppose our right to legally marry, then we stand a better chance of their actually hearing what we have to say.

Anthony M. Brown is a nontraditional family and estates attorney for the New York law firm of McKenna, Siracusano and Chianese.  He is also a vice-president and the director of development for The Wedding Party, an all volunteer, non-profit created to educate the public about the importance of marriage to all Americans.  

Anthony can be found online at

Non Traditional Families

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