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Op-ed: Susan G. Komen Founder on Her Gay Son and Marriage Equality

Ambassador Nancy Brinker

By: Nancy G. Brinker

(The Advocate) – In 1982, when I founded Susan G. Komen, I dreamed big. At the time, I had no idea just how far our reach would grow. My sister Suzy, for whom the organization was named, died in 1980 after a three-year battle with breast cancer, and I promised her that I would do everything in my power to end breast cancer forever. We’ve come a long way since then — so far, in fact, that it’s difficult today to even imagine a time when women felt a shame and stigma around breast cancer. Our mission to help women realize that it is OK to talk about breast cancer and to identify as a woman diagnosed with the disease has helped bring important women’s health issues out of the shadows and into the light.

While my work over the decades has focused largely on women’s breast cancer, my personal experiences have inspired me to become increasingly involved with legislation to remove stigma and discrimination across a broader spectrum. My son Eric is gay, and just as it seems difficult to imagine a time when the phrase “breast cancer” was taboo, it is almost impossible for me to fathom that in 26 percent of this nation, civil marriage is still unavailable for same-sex couples. There is absolutely no reason why loving same-sex couples should be excluded from the fundamental right to marry the person they love.

We are at a historical crossroads in America, when disparate political and ideological communities are committed to ensuring that discrimination on any level will not be tolerated. With this in mind, I have added my name to an amicus brief concerning government recognition of the freedom to marry filed with the U.S. Supreme Court by Project Right Side and former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman. A total of 303 Republican, libertarian, conservative, and center-right high-profile activists and government officials have signed on to the brief. We want the court to know that we support traditional conservative values, including a belief in the importance of stable families, and that those conservative values are consistent with affording civil marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Just as we’ve done for more than 30 years in the battle to end breast cancer, we must work now to end stigma and discrimination for those in the LGBT community and ensure that they are free to marry and form stable, loving families. Meaningful change is rarely easy, but it is always worth the fight.

NANCY G. BRINKER is the founder of Susan G. Komen®, a nonprofit organization working to end breast cancer. She served as the United States Ambassador to Hungary from 2001 to 2003 and was White House Chief of Protocol from 2007 to 2009 under President George W. Bush. President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. She has been honored as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and is the New York Timesbest-selling author of Promise Me. Brinker is an outspoken advocate for gender equality, and her son Eric is gay.

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