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In court - like life - friends matter
In court - like life - friends matter
by Kevin Cathcart, Lambda Legal Executive Director Courtesy of 365Gay.com

When you're fighting a case that seeks to break new legal and social ground, it helps to have friends. But in court, the word friend has a very specific meaning.

Friends of the court, or amici in legal speak, file briefs in a case to explain research or to add another dimension to the legal arguments being made. These briefs can illustrate the breadth of support for a case or position and help erase the fear and misperceptions that often accompany so-called controversial issues.

Witness the recent groundswell of voices uniting around Lambda Legal's Iowa marriage case: hundreds of amici, including faith leaders, historians, social scientists, pediatricians, child advocates, etc. (many of them from Iowa) signed on to 15 friend-of-the-court briefs. Each brief spoke with authority on a particular issue, and taken together they bolstered our core argument that same-sex couples must be allowed to exercise their right to marry in Iowa.

Two former Iowa lieutenant governors, for instance, joined a brief submitted by state elected officials arguing that the court, not the legislature, is the proper place to address the right to marry. The question of the court's authority to consider the constitutionality of exclusions from marriage has come up in every marriage case we've argued. Some people say only the legislature can decide marriage-related matters - obviously, we think this case belongs in the courts, which have long been a refuge for those seeking fair treatment when the law itself may be unfair and which have struck down many other discriminatory restrictions on marriage over the years.

But for some courts in several states the lingering question about who decides remains. Having a group of well-respected elected officials, including two former lieutenant governors who know the system well say that they believe the issue should be decided by the court carries a significant weight.

As helpful as it is to be friended by people in government, in marriage cases it is equally important to have friends who understand children's needs and the social science research on child development. One of the most insidious arguments our opponents make is that allowing same-sex couples to marry will adversely affect children - here, of course, they're talking about an abstract notion of children, not the roughly 250,000 children in this country currently being raised in households with Gay or Lesbian parents who will benefit from the protections for children available only through marriage.

In the Iowa case, hundreds of child advocates, social scientists, pediatricians, social workers, family doctors, and others who have worked successfully with families headed by same-sex couples in Iowa joined a handful of briefs that painted a more accurate picture of family life for same-sex couples and set forth the harms the children in these families suffer because their parents cannot marry. They all reached a similar conclusion: that families headed by Gay or Lesbian parents are no different than those headed by heterosexual parents and deserve the same protections. Or, as the American Psychological Association wrote so cogently in its brief:

"Indeed, the scientific research that has directly compared outcomes for children with Gay and Lesbian parents with outcomes for children with heterosexual parents has been remarkably consistent in showing that Lesbian and Gay parents are every bit as fit and capable as heterosexual parents, and their children are as psychologically healthy and well-adjusted as children reared by heterosexual parents."

Again, any Lesbian or Gay man who's parenting knows this and could speak to it in court, but hearing it from the nation's preeminent organization representing psychologists has a tremendous impact on the court - and in the court of public opinion.

We believe we will ultimately win our marriage case in Iowa, and our friends will help get us there. And just in case you were wondering, our opponents filed about half as many friend-of-the-court briefs in this case, despite claims that they had "almost a dozen." Their side was represented by the same fringe groups spouting the same hateful arguments we've seen elsewhere - not the best friends to have in this case.

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