When I was asked to speak today, I wanted to address three arguments against legally recognizing same-sex marriage as stated in the 2004 Oregon Voter’s Pamphlet. Author, Glenn T. Stanton, wrote that same-sex families deny children of either their mother or father; that if same-sex marriages are recognized, schools will be forced to teach that the homosexual family is normal; and finally, Stanton believes that same-sex families are a vast, untested social experiment with children. Based on my experience as a child of a lesbian-headed household, I believe these statements themselves are both inaccurate and untested.
Stanton assumes that same-sex families deny children of either their mother or father, yet I was not denied a relationship with my father. After my biological parents’ divorce, my father relocated for work in a far-away state. While he was gone, for nearly 10 years, my mother and her partner raised me and we periodically visited him when he returned to Oregon. When he decided to return to Oregon and be a more consistent part of my life, his presence was invited and welcomed by my moms. In fact, we all made it a priority to meld our new lives together for the sake of both our families.
But if it takes a village to raise a child then I had a village. I had my two moms, my father, my stepmother, and four new half-brothers. But even before they came back into our lives, my family had a large community of friends and allies; they were straight, gay, and lesbian, both female and male, and served as mentors and role models for me. In the end, I ended up with three family's worth of aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents to help me navigate the world. Their combined life experience and wisdom allowed me to have choices when I needed to confer with others about big decisions. I offer this concession to Stanton, though, not all children from gay and lesbian families have access to both parents, but neither do children of heterosexual parents.
The most difficult part of being a child in a lesbian-headed household was not the make up of my family or the inconsistent relationship with one of my parents; rather, the most difficult issue I faced was society’s ignorance about my family and the mistreatment that stemmed from that ignorance. Those who are against same-sex marriage say that if same-sex marriages are legally recognized, “Schools will be forced to teach that the homosexual family is normal.” During my elementary education, if schools, books, movies, or teachers would’ve so much as recognized my family’s existence in the classroom setting - it would’ve made my life a lot easier, it would’ve given the bullies less ammunition, and I would not have felt so alone. But because my family was never recognized, I was fearful of the repercussions of my peers knowing.
Most of the time we had to remain closeted to remain safe. When I moved into junior high school and the new kids found out about my parents, I was bullied with obscene notes about my parents, and shocking interruptions during quiet study in class. Because I was so protective and reserved about my family, it took me 13-years to meet another kid with lesbian parents. And when she approached me at school and told me she had lesbian mothers too, we jumped up and down and celebrated. We instantly became friends. We finally had found someone like us. We were no longer alone. But regardless of knowing someone else, I still had no one to help protect me from society’s scorn; I still had to defend myself from a barrage of other bullies.
It wasn’t just my peers who made spectacles of me in classes by passing notes and spreading rumors. In grade school, my friends’ parents found out that my moms were lesbians and were warned that my mother might teach them how to be lesbians, resulting in a huge loss of childhood friends who were no longer allowed to hang out with me, spend the night at my house, or come to my birthday parties. And when Measure 9 was on the ballot in the early 90s, even some of my high school instructors posted YES on 9 signs in their classrooms and wore “One woman, one man” buttons on their lapels. I even had one teacher who made us listen to Rush Limbaugh during lab. And during those strained political times, our house was vandalized on many occasions. It seemed, at times, not even my own home was safe from those who hated us.
Did I feel resentment and anger toward my family and the people spreading false information about my parents, our family, and me? Absolutely. Would I change a thing? Never. We’ve heard it before: there are over a thousand protections offered by means of marriage. Those are the protections we want for the ones we love: for our families, our partners, and for our children. We are families too. If opponents of same-sex marriage are so concerned with protecting children, then they need to include all children – that means children with gay and lesbian parents need protections just the same.