By now we've all seen (and, in my case, wept over) the images: couples long denied the right to marry swept up in the energy and excitement of a battle (temporarily) won.
Amid the celebration, the decision was understood by all parties not to be the final word on gay marriage in the state, and certainly not in the country, but nevertheless a cause for great optimism.
Those who are most optimistic may not be the couples themselves. A whole population is affected by this decision, a quieter,(sometimes physically) smaller population, and one that has become increasingly political over the last decade. Their stake in the marriage debate, whether they are gay or straight, is one much more fundamental than that of "allies" or friendly supporters.
I am speaking, of course, of the children of the gay men and lesbians who hope to marry, the children of those who hope to lift the discrimination levied on their families -- homes where two women love one another, or two men.
"As a person raised by lesbian moms and gay dads, I am thrilled that the Prop 8 decision recognizes the overwhelming evidence that LGBT parents are capable of making households just as loving, nurturing and stable as heterosexual parents," Danielle Silber, the New York City chapter president of COLAGE,
e-mailed me Wednesday. COLAGE bills itself as "a national movement of children, youth, and adults with one or more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer (LGBTQ) parent/s."
Danielle was in Provincetown, Mass., last week, with 300 COLAGE families, when the decision came down. Joy surely rippled up Commercial Street when California's judge announced it. (In the early part of this decade, for years, I spent a week each summer in that bastion of tolerance and wonder, traveling with my closest friend. To me, in that week, the world felt like a more just place.)
The executive director of COLAGE, Beth Teper, e-mailed me from her vacation to describe the scene.
"For many children of LGBTQ parents, having a family that's treated differently and discriminated against can be isolating or challenging. But when we meet others who can appreciate that experience because they've been there, we feel seen, heard, and understood -- often for the first time. Meeting other young people like ourselves, from families like our own, helps us understand that there are others who know what it's like, and that we're not the only ones and our difference is in fact our strength. For a federal judge to also see that families come in all shapes and sizes and to recognize the unfair impact of marriage discrimination on children's lives is very affirming. Only two hours after Proposition 8 was overturned, nearly two hundred COLAGE supporters gathered at a reception to celebrate both Judge Walker's decision and the organization's 20th anniversary. Jubilant cheers and joyous hoots and hollers were readily heard when the news was announced; hugs and hi-fives were exchanged among youth and parents alike in acknowledgment of this milestone moment in our families' march toward equality and justice."
Whether you've noticed them or not, the children of gay unions were in the picture all along. Opponents of same-sex marriage have long suggested that same-sex marriage will have negative consequences for children of gay parents. Yet, as Judge Walker pointed out, the presence of thriving children in such households provides a dramatic counterpoint.
"Proposition 8 singles out gays and lesbians and legitimates their unequal treatment. Proposition 8 perpetuates the stereotype that gays and lesbians are incapable of forming long-term loving relationships and that gays and lesbians are not good parents."
"The gender of a child's parent is not a factor in a child's adjustment. The sexual orientation of an individual does not determine whether that individual can be a good parent. Children raised by gay or lesbian parents are as likely as children raised by heterosexual parents to be healthy, successful and well-adjusted."
Back in December and January I interviewed a number of children
and adult offspring of gay men and lesbians across the country – some had become increasingly outspoken advocates, loquacious and political. Some, the younger ones, especially, just saw the whole thing as clearly, patently, unfair.
The right to wed "means to me that two different people who are in love get to be married or be able to live together legally forever and have special protection rights for the family," McKinley BarbouRoske
told me when I was reporting that story. McKinley, a middle-schooler, is a regular at gay marriage rallies. Her family was a part of the Iowa lawsuit
that overturned that state's ban against same-sex marriage. Of her decision to speak out, McKinley told me: "I decided to do it because, of course, my family and [because] I know there are a lot of other people with families out there who need the freedom for this and I'm trying to do it so everyone has an equal right." In Iowa the children signed on to the case as co-plaintiffs. It was a strategy that worked well to combat those on the opposite side: claiming that "protecting" marriage was in behalf of the children. Lambda Legal, arguing for the gay and lesbian couples, argued that if the argument addressed the children – the real, live children should be involved.
Not just in Iowa, either. Across the country, children from lesbian- and gay-headed households have been catapulted from appendices in the conversation about gay marriage into increasingly visible, and key, roles as spokespersons in the debate. The civil rights organizations that support gay marriage have begun to recognize the next generation's potential for changing the terms of the debate.
That's what happened when 14-year-old Sam Putnam-Ripley, a Portland, Maine, high school freshman took the floor to testify before Maine's Statehouse last August (Watch it. I defy you not to tear up.) His five-minute political action, conceived around his kitchen table, immediately attracted the attention of the organizers of "No on 1," the Maine gay rights group that fought the anti-marriage ballot proposal there. Activists approached Putnam's telegenic family and put them in a soft-focus ad campaign. Sitting on a wood front porch surrounded by trees swaying in dappled sunlight, Sam, flanked by his moms, tells the camera, "We can't be seen as lesser." The hope was to have a repeat of the wildly successful Massachusetts Equality ad from 2003 highlighting a hockey star – Peter Hams – and his two hockey moms. Hams, muscular and handsome, looks at the camera and says, "I think it's wrong to vote on other people's rights." That television spot was credited by gay rights activists with helping to sway many in Massachusetts.
As Sam told me on the phone, "I hadn't comprehended the impact of my story. I have always loved having two moms. I always thought we were a normal family -- I thought there were a lot of families like mine." He hoped, he said, that his "story might be inspiring to other kids to come out and be more open."
Now that we know that kids from lesbian homes actually do bette
r then their peers (or at least have fewer behavior problems
), maybe we can all start to look to LGBTQ families as inspirational rather than controversial.