Two court cases this week have the potential to push America
toward a broadening definition of family that is increasingly
inclusive of homosexuals.
In Boston, the state's top court is considering the legality of
same-sex marriage. If the justices side with the plaintiffs - seven
gay and lesbian couples - Massachusetts could become the first state
in the country to sanction gay marriage.
In Miami, a federal appeals court heard from four men who have
been barred from adopting the children they take care of because of
Florida's categorical ban on adoption by gay individuals. Though
Florida is currently the only state with such a law, a ruling could
have implications on adoption practices around the country.
"For a long time, courts have had a powerful role to play in
redefining family," says Elizabeth Bartholet, a family-law expert at
Harvard Law School. "Both [cases] are very important. Partly because
one of the major areas in which traditional definitions of family
are being challenged has to do with gay and lesbian formations."
And the direction in which courts are moving is slowly shifting.
In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that
criminalizing homosexual behavior was acceptable. But in the past
five years, there's been what Ms. Bartholet calls a "powerful trend"
of courts granting more family rights to gays and lesbians. The high
court, also, is revisiting its 1986 ruling in a case this year.
In many ways, the cases heard this week are quite different. No
state has yet allowed gays and lesbians to marry (Hawaii and Alaska
amended their Constitutions to prohibit same-sex marriage after
their courts approved it), while Florida is the only state in the
union that prohibits all homosexual adoptions.
But at issue in both is whether a broader definition of family
can find legal as well as social acceptance.
Doug Houghton, for instance, one of the plaintiffs in the Florida
case, desperately wants to adopt 11-year-old Oscar. He's cared for
the boy ever since his father left him eight years ago, and
considers him his son. They walk their three dogs together in
Miami's upscale Coconut Grove neighborhood, puzzle over Oscar's
homework, and go to the movies on Friday nights. But the finality
that comes with legal adoption, says Mr. Houghton, is still missing.
"It's the permanence," he says. "It's ignoring the true facts if
you deny that it's a true father-son relationship."
That legal recognition is also something that Ed Balmelli and
Mike Horgan hope to find through the Massachusetts case. "We love
each other, we plan on spending the rest of our lives together, and
we want to be married," says Mr. …