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What Marriage Equality Means Across The 50 States

LGBT families across the United States explain what equality means to them.

Chris Ritter

As part of their monthlong campaign to bring visibility to LGBT families, Family Equality Council, COLAGE, and PFLAG National have teamed up for the photo project “And Justice for All.”

As the nation continues to wait for the Supreme Court decisions on DOMA and Prop 8, BuzzFeed is proud to salute these families who advocate in their own communities.

We asked families across the country what marriage equality means to them:

1. Rhode Island, The McShane-Jutras Family:

“We live in a society that espouses freedom and equal protections under the law, yet, through legislation and cultural attitudes, treats individuals and families as ‘less than’ depending on a variety of social factors and identities. Legal equality is important to us, because without it, social equity is impossible. Equality means there is a real chance that our son and daughter will grow up as fully visible and fully supported citizens of this country.”

2. Mississippi, The Stratton Family

“Getting married finally gave us common language with our families, coworkers, friends, acquaintances, and everyone we know for what our relationship means to us! We love each other, and now we don’t dance around ‘what word do we use to describe what we have?’”

3. Nevada, The Vázquez-Zaki Family:

“Here’s a family photo of us the day we testified before the Nevada State Legislature in March to repeal the ban against same-sex marriage. We were victorious, which means Nevadans will be able to vote on it again in 2016. Our shared values led us to commit our lives together, along with those of our children. Like all families, we are bound by the ties of love and mutual respect, navigating each day with continued patience, learning new levels of compassion, and hopefully applying any wisdom gained from the day before.”

4. Connecticut, The Barton-Zuckerman Family:

Penny (left) and Becky (right) have been together for 38 years and married for 8. Emma (next to Penny) is from China, and Maya (far left) is from Vietnam. “For us, equality means many things. Equality means equal opportunities for everyone.”

5. West Virginia, The Lusby-Donovan Family:

“Family is the comfort and strength that cultivates dreams. Family Equality is being able to buy an ‘I love my two moms/dads’ shirt at your local store. It is the comfort that my family/friends will not be persecuted for loving who they want. Or in the words of a 6-year-old, ‘People love who they want to love.’”

6. Missouri, The Aul Family:

“Left to right, this is my daughter’s partner, our daughter, our son, my husband, and me. Marriage equality means the full recognition and rights that my beloved children deserve.”

7. North Dakota, The Johnson Family:

“To us, equality means being able to raise our child free from the discrimination and scrutiny that LGBT families have been, and continue to be, faced with. We want our child to never feel the pain of being labeled as ‘different’ or an ‘outcast’ merely because he has two loving moms at home. It seems so simple, but we still have a long way to go in this fight. We can’t even have both of our names on the birth certificate and will have to go through a rigorous adoption process even though we are each just as much a parent as the other and deserve the same rights. It is our hope that laws are changed and new protections are passed in favor of protecting ALL families, whatever shape they might take. Until then, we’ll just continue to be grateful and excited for our son who is on his way.”

8. Maryland, The Leavitt-Majors Family:

“Equality is a world where our family and all families are recognized, respected, and protected.”

9. Delaware, The Brasure-Cramer Family:

“Equality, to us, means being treated like every other family. Nothing more, nothing less!”

10. California, The Bernstein Family:

“Equality means equal protections for my family under the law. I want that for my children when they grow up, regardless of where they go or who they love.”

11. Alaska, The Buckley Family:

“This Alaskan family came together through biology, foster-adoption, guardianship, and love. The collective origins include cultures from the North Slope to the Pacific Islands to Western Europe. Home is where are our hearts are!”

12. New Mexico, The Marquis-Moore-Hayes Family:

“My family will not be equal until all families in this country have equal access to cultural and legal rights. True equality crosses all identity lines and celebrates the incredible diversity that our families have to offer.”

13. New Jersey, The Pauselius-Peterson Family:

“Equality to my family and me is showing acceptance toward others, regardless of what race, religion, and/or sexual orientation you may be.”

14. Georgia, The Cavanaugh-McAdoo Family:

Philip and Sean, his partner, have one son- Zaden. “Family and equality mean honoring the ways in which children find themselves loved, respected, and protected. As proud dads, we celebrate and advocate for the rights of children and adoptive parents. It is an easy and appropriate next step in our lives because we are fortunate to be able to narrate a story that many LGBT prospective parents and foster youth deserve to tell.”

15. Illinois, The Neubecker Family:

“To be a family means to provide safety, stability, and unconditional love to one another. Every family deserves equal respect, dignity, and support from their community and elected officials. We are hopeful that one day soon, through the rights and privileges of civil marriage, our government will acknowledge that all families are created equal.”

16. Maine, The Moritz-Jones Family:

“We are Faith Moritz and Janet Jones. We have been together for 27 years and just got married this past Sunday. Getting legally married was a transformative experience — to be seen as equal in the eyes of the law is a huge relief around the safety of our family. We have spent our lives trying to keep our family as safe as possible through multiple legal means. Now, to know that, at least in Maine, we are legally a family on all levels is a feeling that is hard to even put into words. We look forward to the time when we are legal on a federal level as well!”

17. Michigan, The Brogan-Kator Family:

Denise says: “This photo is from Thanksgiving 2011. From left to right: Amanda (youngest daughter), her husband Todd, Melody (middle daughter), Katherine ‘Kitty’ (my spouse’s mother), Mary (spouse), and myself. Family means everything to my spouse, Mary, and me. Her 88-year-old mother lives with us, and my youngest daughter is pregnant with our first grandchild. We are convinced that equality will come to all, as people come to know us and our family.”

18. Iowa, The Wahls Family:

“I think every child deserves a family as loving and committed as mine. Because the sense of family comes from the commitment we make to each other to work through the hard times so we can enjoy the good ones. It comes from the love that binds us; that’s what makes a family. My family is just as real as yours.” —Zach Wahls

19. South Carolina, The Starling-Littlefield Family:

“Our family consists of those we love and care for most. Equality is sharing the same protections under the law as every other United States citizen. Family equality would be our children growing up in a world of acceptance without fear.”

20. Oregon, The Pettingill Family:

“I want our son to grow up in an awakened society that accepts people for who they are, one which supports loving, honest, positive relationships in all ways. Equality is accepting love for what it is, not who it involves. Love is love.”

21. Idaho, The Schultz-Stubbs Family:

The Schultz-Stubbs family are proud advocates for LGBT equality.

22. Virginia, The Schall-Townley Family:

“Equality to our family means having our marriage/relationship of almost 30 years recognized and accepted in all 50 states so that our family can enjoy the same benefits that all married couples receive.”

23. Texas, The Marriot Family:

“Marriage equality brings civil rights to the couple and the dignity of legal marriage and a ‘real’ family to the children. Importantly it also brings a fair and equitable divorce process when those are unfortunately necessary. This directly protects children by ensuring responsibility and accountability on behalf of all involved.”

24. Arizona, The Lopex-Aguirre Family:

Sheila says, “My son Manny is gay and my daughter Sam is lesbian, and I’m not yet sure of my son Matthew’s orientation. But it won’t matter: I love my children unconditionally. My hope and dream for my children is that they will be able to marry whomever they fall in love with and that their marriage will be protected and recognized across this country. The fact that my two oldest don’t have the same rights as me is the reason I continue to be part of PFLAG, so I can educate others and advocate for change.”

25. Wisconsin, The Fox-Simes Family:

“Family and equality mean that our children will have the same rights as their peers who are in mom/dad families. It means that our family will be seen as equal in the eyes of the law to families with straight parents. It means that we will be afforded the same protections as our friends and neighbors.”

26. Montana, The Donaldson-Guggenheim Family:

Jan (left) and Mary Anne (right) have been together for 30 years. Mary Anne is retired pediatric neurologist and Jan is a retired registered nurse. Mary Anne says of Jan, “I can’t imagine anything else in life except being with her as long as she’ll have me.”

27. Utah, The Godwin Family:

The Godwin family (left to right): Ryen and Emily, Bill, Andy, and Kathy Godwin. “Family is love, commitment, sharing, and celebrating. Marriage is love, commitment, sharing and celebrating, every one of our family should be able to experience equally this joy in their life.”

28. South Dakota, The Carlson Family:

“Marriage is over a thousand benefits, rights, and protections provided to a couple through the legal recognition of their union. But marriage is also a commitment to be a partner in every way. Marriage is a statement that your relationship is bigger than any little fight or disagreement. It means putting your partner’s needs before your own needs in many cases, but it also means that you have someone on your team no matter what. Marriage is being there for each other during good times and bad; sharing joy and sorrow. Marriage can survive the test of time and stretch to eternity if there is great faith, trust, and understanding between the married couple.”

29. Pennsylvania, The De Jesus Family:

“Marriage equality is important to our family because it means giving all loving couples in America the same rights as married couples. On the outside no two families look alike, but on the inside, it’s love that keeps a family together. And from what we’ve seen, marriage only strengthens that bond.”

30. Nebraska, The Spencer-Adams Family:

“Marriage equality means taking care of each other and living happily ever after.”

31. Indiana, The Gross Family:

“Not only is marriage equality in Indiana nonexistent, but our state legislature is trying to pass a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. LGBT couples in Indiana who love and care for each other, are raising families, and want to be committed to each other want and need the legal protections that marriage affords.”

32. Alabama, The Rudolf Family:

In the picture (from left) is Barratt Rudulph (daughter), Jim Rudulph (husband), me (Patty), and Jake Rudulph (son). “Marriage equality impacts my family in a real and immediate way. We want our son, who is gay, to have the same rights and responsibilities that our straight daughter can take for granted. My husband and I hope is that our son will be able to experience the joy and fulfillment that comes from building a life together with the person you love. To do that, nothing equals marriage but marriage, which means that separate is not equal. I believe we should have learned that a long time ago.”

33. Arkansas, The Brock-Caloza Family:

“The matter of marriage equality has always been clear to me because I was raised to treat others as I wanted to be treated. People tend to be afraid of what they don’t know. Fortunately the tides are turning in our country as more and more people are getting to know their LGBT neighbors. I hope that Arkansas, my home state, will legally recognize my brother’s marriage as the same as my own sooner rather than later.” —Eric Brock

34. Hawaii, The De Boer Family:

“This is my twin brother, my sister, and me. Unconditional love has always been the most important thing in our family. My grandmother was a foster child and knew the importance of family loyalty and love and she was able to instill that value in her children and grandchildren and I enjoyed being a part of this family clan ever since. When I came out to my family the only concern for them was how they were going to protect me if other people chose to victimize or harass me. My family has always known me before I even came out to them. That bit of information made no difference in how they felt about me. It was more important to be there for me than it was to be right about assumptions they may have had about gay people in general.”

35. Massachusetts, The Palmer Family:

“For me, equality means having the ability to not only to marry the loves of our lives, but to adopt a child from any state or country, to work and be promoted in jobs without facing discrimination, and for the youth focus just on their education in schools and not on the bullies.”

36. Vermont, The Kaufman-Ilstrup Family:

“Equality means: Justice, respect, and safety.”

37. Louisiana, The Breaux Family:

“Equality — it’s about everyone recognizing that the differences in our families are really of no consequence at all. But until everyone can do that, it’s about those differences being very important and celebrated.”

38. North Carolina, The Johnson-Long Family:

“Equality means we would both be legal parents to our son — and our son would have the protection of two legal guardians who he’s shared his life with instead of just one. We’d also be an official married couple, not just legal strangers who’ve lived together, raised their son, and shared their lives for decades. Equality would mean we wouldn’t always need to carry around our parenting agreements, powers of attorney, and medical powers of attorney in case someone gets hurt. We wouldn’t have to worry about being challenged during an emergency or even an ordinary event, like at our son’s school or the doctor’s office or when we sign our kid up for soccer… We are and will always be a family, but equality would simply make a lot of aspects of our lives easier, things that straight married couples and their kids get universally and unwaveringly. Equality would be nothing less than the fulfillment of our American dream, the promise that in the USA all are equal, including LGBT citizens and their children.”

39. Colorado, The Martin Family:

“Responsibility. The right of marriage involves unique legal responsibilities we choose to extend to each other, beyond love and commitment. When I stand before my friends and family and say, ‘I do’ to my amazing partner, I’m not only saying, ‘This is the person I love and want to spend my life with.’ I’m also saying, ‘This is the person I choose to be responsible for and held accountable to.’ There is a substance and a weightiness to that choice, a tangible layer of commitment between us. I can’t say I’m altogether grateful for the necessity of fighting for progress, but I do appreciate the perspective I’ve gained.” —Jenny (right)

40. Florida, The Ogle Family:

“As a gay son with a gay mom from Florida, we both know how far our state needs to go. Equality means everything to us — and no one class should be denied the right to marry. DOMA violates one of the basic principles upon which this great country was founded. As stated in The Pledge of Allegiance, ‘liberty and justice for all.’”

41. New Hampshire, The Dunn Family:

Suzanne Rothmeyer.

For Lauren and Mason, marriage means unity and teamwork. When Mason, a transgender man, began his transition from female to male, his wife Lauren was by his side. Together with their families, they stand strong in the fight for LGBTQ equality.

42. Tennessee, The Neergaard Family:

“For our family equality means the freedom to be who you are without the fear of retaliation. It means walking the hallways at school without being attacked and it means being proud to stand in your own shoes.”

43. Kansas, Robin and Jennifer:

“Marriage matters to us because we want to live near our families and have the same legal protections as everyone else. We want to have our own family and be recognized as our children’s legal guardians. We shouldn’t have to relocate hundreds of miles away to a different state to gain those protections.”

44. Minnesota, The Swanson Family:

“Marriage is dignity, relationship credibility, recognition of human equality & respect. Full marriage rights are long overdue per my Midwest, rural Minnesota values.” —Jody

45. Kentucky, The Linville Family:

“The state of Kentucky has a constitutional amendment which only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman. This breaks my heart because if and when my daughter Audrey falls in love and is ready to marry and raise a family of her own, she will have to leave Kentucky and our family. We will be robbed of being a daily part of her life, and our grandchildren’s lives… and yet, as good parents, my husband and I will have to encourage her to do that so she can have all of the same legal protections of marriage that we have for ours. No parent should ever be put in that position.” —Sandy Linville

46. Ohio, The Horowitz Family:

“I am a PFLAG dad. My daughter is a lesbian married to a transgender man. They live in Minnesota, where marriage equality recently became the law of the state. Unfortunately, Ohio law makes their marriage invalid in the state of our daughter’s birth, keeping them from moving here where we and they would like to be. We need LGBT marriage to become recognized throughout the United States for our families, based on love, to be fully a part of our social structure.”

47. Oklahoma, The Holladay Family:

Don (second from left) and Kay Holladay, with their older son, David Holladay (far right) and new son-in-law, Steven Hicks (middle). Also, their daughter, Becky (far left); and their son, Michael and daughter-in-law, Angela, and grandson, Nate. “The marriages of our children, straight and gay, have brought joy to our family.” —Don and Kay Holladay (married for 50 years).

48. New York, The Bernstein Family:

Dale Bernstein says, “This is Zack Bernstein (our son), Carole Gill (Aunt Doris’ spouse), Doris Theiler, Rob Bennett (Zack’s fiancé and our wonderful future son-in-law). When we lobbied in Albany, we thought of our 80-year-old Aunt Doris and her longtime partner Carole, who don’t have the luxury of time waiting for lawmakers to get comfortable. We thought of our gay son, Zack, whose relationship wouldn’t have the same legal blessing as his straight brother’s. When marriage passed in New York, we were blessed to throw a wedding for Aunt Doris and Carole — both dear friends of Edie Windsor — back in October 2011. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house! Our son Zack and his partner Rob stood up for them…and we are now planning their wedding for September.”

49. Washington, The Reim-Ledbetter Family:

“What a beautiful day, celebrating Rachel and Tammy with friends and family at their wedding reception! Tammy’s dad Robert and I — and the rest of our families — hope for a day when their marriage will be legally recognized everywhere in this great nation.” —Kathy Reim, mother/mother-in-law

50. D.C., The Senter Family:

“On June 25, 2011, in Washington, D.C., alongside our family and friends, we celebrated one of the happiest days of our lives — we got married. This photo was technically taken in Virginia, close enough in proximity to see D.C.’s beautiful landmarks, yet miles away from the District when it comes to marriage equality. We now live in Missouri, another state that will not recognize our legal marriage. Two years ago we vowed to love, support, and care for one another. We honor our marriage the same way whether we cross the river to Virginia or cross the country to Missouri; and the laws of the states should do the same.”

51. Wyoming, The Lundberg-Leschin Family:

“Giving same-sex marriages equal legal status strengthens families and the society as a whole. Our children can grow up feeling affirmed. Spouses need not live in fear of who will make their end-of-life decisions for them. Financial strains will be less of a burden on the couple AND the community as a whole. All relationships born out of love and commitment deserve to have their covenant (whether religious or secular) recognized as legitimate. We should always encourage love born out of mutual respect, caring, and commitment. These are the family values we should all be encouraging in our society.”

52. What would marriage equality mean to your family?

Check out more articles on BuzzFeed.com!

Sarah Karlan is the associate LGBT editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Sarah Karlan at sarah.karlan@buzzfeed.com
 
 
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