Children and adults with same-sex parents have been in the headlines lately by speaking up for marriage equality, making their voices heard all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. We parents should be proud—but should also keep some things in mind before our children make public statements about our families.
Cameron, a sixth-grader in North Carolina,wrote to each of the Supreme Court justices about life with her two moms. She said, in part: “Please look at our photos and think of us when you make decisions based on gay rights. We are a family. I am very proud of my parents and I hope you understand how your decision will affect my family. If you have any concerns about the welfare of kids of gay parents, I can tell you that I am doing great. I am so loved.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor responded, in a letter posted by the Campaign for Southern Equality on its blog March 5. Sotomayor declined (appropriately) to comment on issues that could come before the Court, but encouraged Cameron "to continue to think about the many important issues that impact our society" and to keep "dreaming big" and "working hard."
In Illinois, ten-year-old Braiden Neubecker, who has two dads, wrote recently in the Windy City Timesabout her hopes for marriage equality in her home state. She explained why life with her two adoptive dads is better than the life she had under foster care, and concluded, “Would there be any purpose to ban the marriage of two men or two women when they can treat children the same or even better than other couples.”
Over in the U.K., an eight-year-old with lesbian moms wroteto cabinet minister David Jones a few weeks ago about his statement that he voted against marriage equality because same-sex couples could not provide a "warm and safe environment" for raising children. She told him, “I have been brought up perfectly well so I don't see any point in you saying that,” the Independent reported.
Adults with lesbian and gay parents have also spoken out, most notably professional basketball player Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets, who has been helping efforts to enact civil unions in Colorado, and Eagle Scout and entrepreneur Zach Wahls, who burst to fame after a YouTube video of his speech at an Iowa House hearing on marriage equality went viral twice.
And statements from both adults and children with same-sex parents form the heart of an amicus brief filed February 28 with the U.S. Supreme Court by the Family Equality Council, COLAGE, GLSEN, Our Family Coalition, The Center on Children and Families, and The Child Rights Project in two marriage equality cases.
The brief explains that the voices of those with same-sex parents are “too often unheard” in the marriage debate, even though “those who oppose marriage for same-sex couples frequently make assumptions about the quality of the children’s family lives.” But “these children are uniquely qualified to speak about how their families look, feel, and function and how the availability—or unavailability—of marriage as an option for their parents colors their daily lives.”
Among other things, marriage inequality may impact their views on getting married themselves, as shown in anew study by Dr. Abbie Goldberg of Clark University, published in the February Journal of Family Issues. Most of the teens and young adults in her study expressed an intention to get married, although some also said they felt guilt because their parents couldn't do so. A few said they would not marry because their parents could not.
The study used a small sample and wasn't representative across gender, geography, or race—but even so, it is enough to indicate that marriage inequality affects those with same-sex parents into their adult years, and in varying ways.
That’s one of the reasons we need the world to hear from our children. They’re the ones who can best explain the many ways inequality has affected their lives and perceptions.
As parents, however, we have to be careful when we ask our children to speak out about our families. We need to make sure we’re not pushing them into something with which they feel uncomfortable. Some may not like public speaking. Others may fear negative reactions from friends. We need to give them the space to come out and speak out about their families in their own way and at their own time. This means open conversations with them prior to any public testimony or letter, and careful thought before using their real names if we share their words on our Facebook pages or elsewhere. We must also be prepared if they talk publicly about some of the challenges as well as some of the positive aspects of their family lives.
Having said all that, I also know some children are genuinely outspoken and have a sense of social justice that is hard to confine. Braiden Neubecker originally wrote her letter as a school essay, for example. Sometimes speaking out can be empowering. It is up to each of us and our children to figure out what’s right for them.
Overall, though, I do hope those with same-sex parents (and with LGBT parents across the spectrum) keep speaking out and sharing their perspectives on marriage and all of the other issues that affect their lives. In many ways, their voices are even more important than ours, for it is their well-being that is our ultimate goal—and only they can truly speak to that.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (www.mombian.com), an award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.