(Re)building Our Nation: July 4th, Hamilton, and LGBTQ Families

(Re)building Our Nation: July 4th, Hamilton, and LGBTQ Families
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I am thinking this July 4th week of a song from the musical Hamilton, which sees its television premiere today. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr sing together to their children about their new country, “We’ll bleed and fight for you, we’ll make it right for you./ If we lay a strong enough foundation/ We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you/ And you’ll blow us all away.” What is the world we want to leave to our children? What do we need to do to make it happen?

American flag with children's silhouettes

Those questions feel more imperative than ever. The direction of our country is frightening for many reasons, but I want to focus here on some specific issues for LGBTQ families. Last week—the fifth anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that established marriage equality nationwide—Indiana asked the Court to take a case that would, if decided in the state’s favor, revoke the right of married nonbiological mothers in same-sex couples to be recognized as parents and be put on their children’s birth certificates without second-parent adoptions.

Indiana’s challenge seeks to deny children of same-sex parents the protection of having two legal parents from birth, one of the primary benefits of marriage equality for many same-sex parent couples (even though the major LGBTQ legal organizations still advise second-parent adoptions as well, for greater legal security). The Supreme Court has yet to say whether it will take the case—but the mere fact that Indiana is pursuing it says much about the animosity that remains towards LGBTQ families.

Additionally, the U.S. State Department is continuing to deny equal citizenship rights to children born abroad to married same-sex couples—although a federal court last week said they were wrong to do so in one case. At least three other same-sex couples have also sued the State Department for similar reasons; their cases are still pending.

And 11 states (Alabama, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia) now allow foster care and adoption agencies to discriminate based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion. All but Alabama and Michigan allow them to do so even if they receive taxpayer money. One case now before the U.S. Supreme Court involves a child services agency seeking to do the same in Philadelphia; the Trump administration in early June filed a brief in support of the agency. Not only that, but the administration in November 2019 proposed a rule to allow such discrimination nationwide by all recipients of grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which could impact not only child services but also programs dedicated to youth homelessness, HIV, and more.

We did have a huge win June 15 when the Supreme Court ruled that people cannot be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Just days before, however, the Trump administration finalized a rule that says health care anti-discrimination protections don’t cover discrimination based on LGBTQ identities. And transgender people continue to face trans-specific discrimination and anti-trans violence.

Add to all this the ongoing racism that impacts LGBTQ families as much as any others, the systemic injustice woven into the fabric of our nation from the time European settlers seized it from the indigenous peoples.

How can we celebrate the birth of such a country, especially under a current federal administration that seems only to exacerbate bias and divisiveness?

How can we celebrate the birth of such a country, especially under a current federal administration that seems only to exacerbate bias and divisiveness?

There’s no simple answer, but Hamilton may again be instructive. When Hamilton tries to convince Burr to support the new U.S. Constitution, Burr objects, “It’s full of contradictions.” Hamilton replies, “So is independence. We have to start somewhere.”

Our country is imperfect. For many, it is oppressive. Our country, like our constitution, is messy and full of contradictions. Yet here we are at this messy, contradictory moment in time. This is the somewhere from which we must start.

During this July 4 week, then, perhaps we can best celebrate our country not with fireworks, but by taking action to improve it. A few ideas, if you need them:

Those are only a few ideas. I hope you find others with causes that matter to you.

Hamilton speaks in the musical of “the notion of a nation we now get to build.” Let’s use our nation’s birthday to reflect on our vision of that notion and then get to work, building and rebuilding.

(Originally published as my Mombian newspaper column.)

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