relationship recognition
Please take a moment to download the latest flash player by clicking here

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders provide litigation, advocacy, and educational work in all areas of LGBT civil rights and the rights of people living with HIV.

There are many problems with civil union laws. In the U.S. civil legal system, more than 1,000 rights and responsibilities go with the legal structure of marriage. It’s impossible for a civil union law to capture all those 1,000 plus rights.”

- Paul DiDonauto

Relationship Recognition

Charlie Rounds was reminded at a recent doctor’s visit why his relationship needs to be legally recognized. Asked on a form about his health insurance, he wrote down that it comes via his husband, Mark Hiemenz. Any other term, he believes, is degrading to their relationship. But their marriage is not legal in Minnesota, where they live, so they are denied the basic protections and benefits marriage would provide. Recognition of the most important relationships in life is an integral part of the end state of equality not only for Charlie and Mark, but for countless others as well.

In Minnesota alone, there are 515 different laws based on marriage, governing everything from taxes to travel forms. In the U.S., more than 1,000 rights and responsibilities accompany the legal structure of marriage.

As advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people define and then strive for full equality, the need for recognition of relationships and the freedom to raise a family have become central to the effort. The Gill Foundation works with a variety of groups around the nation to advance this work and saw important progress in 2007.

Charlie is a philanthropist who gives through Mark and Charlie’s Gay & Lesbian Fund for Moral Values. A board member of the Kevin J. Mossier Foundation, he is one of many working across the nation for marriage equality.

Lawyer Mary Bonauto has been litigating cases for LGBT rights since 1990 for the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), which works in six New England states. “I view all aspects of what we do as related to family recognition - a journey of seeing LGBT people in our full humanity,” she says. “Part of our humanity is wanting an intimate connection with another and sometimes raising children. We need to get the majority of the population to understand we share the same human needs as others.”

Charlie and Mary and many others are directing their efforts at the state and local levels because many of the laws that affect families are decided at the state level.

“People in Minnesota are more likely to listen to the story of a native Minnesota gay man than someone from L.A.,” Charlie says. “I look like them. I talk like them. I can speak their language.” And he thinks talking about his husband Mark is important to the conversation. “We need to start using the language that people understand - we need to use the words marriage and husband or wife,” he says.

In Massachusetts, GLAD brought the case that led to legalized marriage for gay and lesbian couples in that state, which Mary says has led to “an outbreak of happiness.” GLAD has a marriage case pending in Connecticut and hopes for a decision by summer. In Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Hampshire, she’s involved with cases to push legal boundaries of what counts as a “family.” In Maine, GLAD won an important victory upholding the rights of a lesbian couple to adopt foster children in 2007.

An understanding of the different dynamics in each state led a group of nine funders - including the Gill Foundation - to create the Civil Marriage Collaborative, which now supports efforts in 14 states where marriage equality is most likely to be established in the next few years.

Irma Gonzalez of the Proteus Fund, where the collaborative is housed explains: “If we win marriage in three or four states, others will follow.”

In some states such as Connecticut and Iowa, court cases could turn the tide very quickly. In New Jersey, Collaborative program officer Paul DiDonato notes that a relatively small organization is working “on all eight cylinders.” They are mobilizing the community through sophisticated research translated into good message points and media work while also addressing pockets of resistance, he says.

Irma is convinced that the partnership among funders and policy advisors in the Civil Marriage Collaborative has become and will remain a model not only for effective advancement of LGBT issues but other progressive issues as well.