It was around 4 a.m. in the morning when I was awoken by my 11-year-old "little brother" Ahmad knocking on my door. I opened it to see him standing there with tear-filled eyes. He moved towards me and stretched his little arms around my waist, put his head against my chest, and cried. I held him for a few minutes without saying a word; I knew what happened. She was gone. She was dead.
I had been living with Ahmad, his brother Mahmoud, their two sisters Aisha and Nura, and their mother, Hagga Zeinab, for several years in a slum community in Cairo, Egypt. Their father, Abu Mahmoud, had died about a year before I moved in, and so the extra $12 of income they received from my monthly rent was a fairly significant help for their family. I deeply valued them welcoming me into their home, and knew that had I not spent those years living with such a traditional Arab family, I would have never been able to so much as even begin to understand Arab culture, let alone become highly functional in it one day. In a plethora of ways; the years spent living with their family were life-changing for me.
Shortly after I moved in, Hagga Zeinab was diagnosed with breast cancer. Within a few weeks after her diagnosis, her extended family had gathered the money needed to pay for the surgery - a double mastectomy. Unfortunately, the surgery was not successful in entirely ridding her body of cancer and a few months later it returned. She bravely battled it for over a year, but in the end, died. And so as I stood there, holding Ahmad in my arms, my mind was consumed with the thought that he and his siblings, all between 11 - 17 years old, were now orphans left to fend for themselves in an unfair world in an unforgiving slum in the Middle East. I was scared for them and had absolutely no idea what was to come. I was, for the most part, entirely ignorant with regards to how the Egyptian system for things like this worked. All I knew was that I didn't have much hope, if any at all, that it was going to turn out well.
The fears I had about them being orphans - left to fend for themselves - and what that would mean for their futures, turned out to be nothing more than my lack of understanding as to how truly important and strong family ties and bonds are in the Arab world. Their extended family immediately stepped in and helped out immensely, taking very good care of the kids; in most cases, just like they were their own.
One of the things I truly love and appreciate about Arab culture is their commitment to, and value for, family. I love how extended family always look out for each other. I love how family-owned and family-operated businesses are the norm, not the exception. I love how children are viewed as incredible blessings and gifts and are welcomed in nearly all settings. I love how children regularly live with their parents up until they marry, and then how those same children bring their parents back into their homes for their final years instead of putting them in a nursing home. The family unit is truly the bedrock of Arab society and culture.
Historically, the family unit has also been the bedrock of American society and culture. It is undeniably true that many children raised in single-parent homes grow up to become wonderfully well-intentioned, successful adults and parents themselves. It is, however, also true that children living in two-parent households have several significant advantages, including better health, greater economic stability and overall better well-being than children raised in other household structures. As such, it goes without saying that the more two-parent households we have in our country the stronger we as a nation will be in myriad ways.
Nearly all researchers agree that both income levels and parenting skills drive much of this difference, and when fused together they have an exponentially greater impact. With regards to income levels, two-parent households are one of the single most, if not the most, determining factors for keeping families out of poverty. Nearly half of all single-mother families live in poverty, while at the same time economic distress affects only one in 10 married families with children. In addition to income stability, two-parent households provide many of the same skills and qualities necessary to make marriages work, namely commitment and patience which help immensely when it comes to good parenting. Simply put, couples who learn to live together in healthy ways generally become good parents.
From my perspective, I don't see any reason under the sun why we would ever discourage the proliferation of two-parent households. That seems absolutely asinine. The decline of strong families has never and will never be good for any society - America included.
Thankfully, given that two-parent households are undeniably the gold-standard when it comes to raising children, as a nation we took massive leaps forward towards encouraging their proliferation across America with two previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings. The 2013 Windsor v. United States case which overturned the federal law defining marriage as only between a man and a woman for federal purposes, and the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case which barred individual states from restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples. Before these rulings, our nation's denying certain people equal rights and the opportunity to marry based on their God-given sexual orientation was both hurting American society in a multitude of practical, socio-economic ways, and also discouraging the growth of two-parent households by denying marriage equality to same-sex couples.
But to imagine that two homosexual men who love each other to the point of committing their lives to the other in marriage need a legal ruling written by a heterosexual man wearing a black dress to validate for them what they already know -- their marriage is sacred -- is to miss the main point entirely: that regardless of our own personal beliefs on these issues, it is irrefutably morally reprehensible for any of us to victimize and show prejudice towards our fellow citizens because of one's God-given sexual orientation.
I believe we are at a point in our nation's history where as a people we must fully and wholly unite, once and for all, in affirming not merely marriage equality for all of our citizens with regards to the written law of the land, but genuine and sincere social and cultural equality and acceptance as well for all of our households, whether they be households with a mom and a dad, households with two moms, or households with two dads. On this matter, it is absolutely time for us as a nation to come together and unite.
May we as a nation be a people who are united in our commitment to treating each other in the same ways we ourselves desire to be treated; a people who are united in our commitment to defending and protecting those communities which in the past we wrongly and ignorantly discriminated against; and a people who are united in our charge to leading by example, showing the world a radically non-discriminatory way of focusing on the family.