Yesterday, I wrote with righteous fury about the effects of marriage inequality on the mother of twelve-year-old twins. Her deportation to the Philippines, scheduled for tomorrow, will mean that these kids will lose her (and she, them). Again, were her same-sex partner permitted to “sponsor” her as may U.S. citizens married to foreigners, this sad story would not be unfolding.
But there’s another story here, and one that reminds me that focusing too narrowly on marriage equality risks missing other injustices. Consider this: In cases where kids have two parents, why should immigration policy focus on marriage in the first place? Why not focus on the parent-child relationship, and permit both parents to remain in the country (where at least one has the legal right to do so) — regardless of their marital status?
Opening up this question invites consideration of a broader point. We’ve made marriage “promotion” a national priority in a way that often leads to policies that don’t deal with other realities. Beyond this case, consider cases where battles over the right to marry overlook the underlying problem. As one example, the Family and Medical Leave Act sets strict definitional limits on the class of people who can take leave to provide care for sick relatives. Unmarried cohabitants are among those excluded from coverage. But also excluded are adult siblings who might be able and inclined to provide such care, which otherwise might have to be supplied by strangers (perhaps at government expense). Marriage equality won’t help opposite-sex cohabitants, nor will it do anything for the sibling pair.
This isn’t to say, of course, that laws can’t or shouldn’t place limits on who is eligible for various benefits. Philosophically, I favor laws that value the reality of relationships over their legal form (spouse, sibling, etc.), but there are reasonable arguments (based on ease of administration) in favor of status limitations in some situations. Nonetheless, the marriage promotion craze — which may one day be regarded as the government-inspired equivalent of pet rocks or hula hoops — tends to exalt marriage over other relationships, even at the cost of real human suffering.
These twin boys need their mother. What about that relationship?