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LGBT families lobby Congress

By Athena Jones, CNN
updated 8:00 PM EDT, Thu May 17, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Families meet lawmakers to talk marriage equality, safe schools, adoption and foster care
  • Trip was scheduled before president's announcement that he supports same-sex marriage
  • "Everything is a gradual process," one gay father says
  • Son of lesbian couple: "We're looking for due process and equal protection"

Washington (CNN) -- Tommy Starling and Jeff Littlefield say they've slowly been changing minds of people in their community when it comes to what a family looks like.

The gay couple from Pawleys Island, South Carolina, traveled to the nation's capital with their 5-year-old daughter, Carrigan, to share their story and help members of Congress understand the issues they face.

"Everything is a gradual process," Starling said. "Now that we have Carrigan in our lives, people's minds are changing. They see her; they see us in the PTA functions; they see us in the community, going to the school, so we have a different group of friends, and everybody's hearts and minds are opening to seeing that we are a family just like theirs."

The family joined other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parents and their children from across the country to lobby for marriage equality on Capitol Hill on Thursday and to discuss other issues of concern like safe schools, adoption and foster care. The families scheduled meetings at the offices of about 50 representatives and senators from their home states.

Jeff Littlefield, left, and Tommy Starling traveled to Capitol Hill to lobby for marriage equality.
Jeff Littlefield, left, and Tommy Starling traveled to Capitol Hill to lobby for marriage equality.

The Family Equality Council's trip to the capital was scheduled before President Barack Obama's historic announcement last week of his own support for same-sex marriage. Organizers said the goal of the meetings on Capitol Hill was both to thank members of Congress who support gay rights and try to encourage others to open their minds.

The Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act law that denies same-sex couples recognition at the federal level, topped the agenda of issues the families planned to discuss with lawmakers.

Zach Wahls, 20, whose emotional speech before Iowa lawmakers about LGBT families went viral last year, was among the group.

"The fact is that not all people who are opposed to same-sex marriage are bigots or hateful or ignorant," Wahls, who wrote a book titled "My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength and What Makes a Family," told CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. "Likewise, not all people who support marriage equality are godless, colonizing sodomites. So I think if we can move past some of these stereotypes on both sides, we're able to have this real conversation and understand that at the end of the day, my family isn't looking for some radical change to the law, we're looking for due process and equal protection."

Wahls said he had several meetings scheduled with Iowa lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

Starling and Littlefield said that while they were pleased with the recent comments the president made in support of same-sex marriage, they want more.

"I don't think he went far enough," Starling said. "I think we need to repeal DOMA, that it needs to be a federal issue. We're legally married in California, but it's not recognized in South Carolina. If we repeal DOMA, it can be recognized."

Littlefield joked about the fact that same-sex marriage is legal in the nation's capital, saying, "We're in Washington, D.C., today; we're married again. When we go back home tomorrow, we're not married."

The Marriott/Elliot family visited Capitol Hill from Austin, Texas, as part of the lobbying effort.
The Marriott/Elliot family visited Capitol Hill from Austin, Texas, as part of the lobbying effort.

Mason Marriott-Voss, a 13-year-old from Austin, Texas, said he wanted to make sure the lawmakers who represent him, his siblings and his parents know that these issues are important to families like his. He said he just wants his two mothers to have the same rights his friends' parents do, and he doesn't understand the opposition to same-sex marriage.

"I don't understand why they are against it; people tell me 'religion'; people tell me all sorts of things," he said. "Aren't we a free country?"

His mother Sue Marriott said the couple wanted to bring their three children along to Washington to show them what it's like to try to make a difference for social justice and fairness in the world.

The meetings on Capitol Hill were part of a weekend of events during which LGBT families planned social gatherings and sightseeing tours. About 50 parents and children kicked off the weekend with a photo in front of the Capitol holding multicolored pinwheels.

Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-New York, who took part in the photo op, said the group reminded her of the work she was sent to Washington to do.

"You give me confirmation that love has no boundaries," she said.

Jeffrey Richardson, who serves as LGBT liaison for D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, read a statement from the mayor proclaiming May 17, 2012, as "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual And Transgender Family Equality Day in Washington, DC" and called upon all city residents to encourage equality and justice for all families.

CNN's Lindy Royce-Bartlett contributed to this report.

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