this summer, Michelle was diagnosed with breast cancer. The day
I met with her, she’d been working with attorneys all day, trying
to make sure that if anything happened to her, her family would stay
together. She should have been getting ready for the chemotherapy,
she said, she should have been getting ready for the hospital. Instead,
she was doing everything she could to make sure that if anything happened,
her daughter would remain with her other mom, Roz.
When I attended the Palmetto Family Council’s “classic marriage” luncheon
earlier this month, I was thinking about Michelle and Roz.
The Palmetto Family Council and an Upstate organization called First Foundations
hosted a luncheon on August 3, ostensibly to celebrate long-lasting marriages,
but really to promote the Family Discrimination Amendment. They had
lined up the governors of both Arkansas and South Carolina to speak in
favor of the amendment, along with Attorney General Henry McMaster, who — in
what seems a conflict of interest if not ethics — is chairing their
Also included at the head table were longtime bachelor Lt. Governor Andre
Bauer and Upstate Sen. Danny Verdin, a leader of the Sons of Confederate
Veterans whose election in 2000 was considered by many to be a referendum
on the Confederate flag.
I went to the luncheon because I wanted to hear what these speakers would
say in support of the Family Discrimination Amendment.
Predictably, they kept referring to it as a “marriage amendment.”
Predictably, too, the pledge sheets on the table only used the first sentence
of the amendment — the first 23 words, which define marriage. There
are another 114 words that outlaw civil unions, domestic partnerships,
or — to quote the amendment — any “legal status, right,
or claims” tied to those unions.
We know that this amendment is about a lot more than marriage, that it
is sweeping in its attempts to make it constitutionally impossible for
gay and lesbian South Carolinians to protect their families.
This amendment prohibits any form of domestic union and its implications
will be devastating for the many gay and lesbian families in our state
and their children.
But the proponents of the amendment like to leave our families out of the
discussion. The Republican Party pulled the same little trick at the
South Carolina State Fair last year; on the mock ballots they distributed
they deleted the 114 words that show how complicated and extreme this amendment
This is why we call it the Family Discrimination Amendment, to provoke
an honest and accurate assessment of what this amendment really is and
what it really does. That’s why the Democratic Party’s
Progressive Caucus passed a resolution asking the party to use that title
Every time we call it a marriage amendment, whether in a public forum or
a personal conversation with a friend, we perpetuate and reinforce the
message that this amendment is simply about marriage. In so doing,
we collaborate in the erasure and stigmatization of gay and lesbian families.
The words we use matter. Not only for what they say, but also for
what they don’t say, for what’s left out. Not only for
what they say, but also for what they imply.
Over the head table hung a banner that read “Marriage Yes” and
below that a website titled “RealMarriage.”
The phrase “real marriage” implies that there are some marriages
that aren’t real, that some marriages are fake. Think of that
old barb, “queer as a three-dollar bill.” To be gay has long
been associated with the counterfeit and the fake.
On the “RealMarriage” website, they are explicit. ”Real
Marriage,” they say, “is an institution for a man and a woman. No
marriage that violates the man-woman standard can be real.”
So, according to this kind of thinking, our unions — whatever we
call them — aren’t real, our relationships are false versions
of the real thing, and our families are illegitimate. Under this amendment,
only certain families count, because only certain unions are “real.”
To call one family “real” is to imply that other families are
unreal — that they are counterfeit families, fake families, illegitimate
families — families unworthy of recognition or protection.
South Carolina is fourth in the nation for same-sex couples raising kids,
according to the 2000 U.S. Census. These are not hypothetical families,
nor are they counterfeit families. They are real families.
That’s why I couldn’t help but think of Michelle and Roz. While
our opponents are talking about “real marriage” we are talking
about real families, real children, and the very real struggles we face
almost daily to protect our loved ones.
The amendment doesn’t define a “real” marriage. It
tells South Carolinians like Michelle and Roz that in a state governed
by the language of this amendment, their family isn’t a real family,
that they don’t count, and what happens to them just doesn’t
Ed Madden is the chair of the SC Equality Coalition and a volunteer for
the Fairness for All Families campaign.