Gay Marriage Bans Don't Help Children, or Society

BlogHer Original Post

In light of the Supreme Court reviewing Prop. 8 and DOMA this week, a personal realization has come to light: If you had asked me ten years ago if same-sex marriage mattered to me, my answer would have been, “meh.”

In fact, at my extra-legal wedding, (ten years ago in June) that was my answer when someone asked me if my partner and I would be traveling to Canada to marry where it had recently become legal.

At the time, there was not a single state that would honor a same-sex marriage contracted in Canada and doing it for mere symbolism seemed redundant, given the trappings of the moment—a wedding reception with cake and sparkling beverages and a three-piece jazz ensemble and 60 of our friends and family dressed in their garden party best.

Shannon and Cole 21 June 2003

As far as we were concerned, going to the trouble to throw such a party, to make vows to each other witnessed by our guests, was as real a proof that we were married as anyone should want. We could not have dreamed the government would ever care about us and our relationship one way or another.

For the first year we were together, my partner and I paid out of pocket for a catastrophic health care policy for me. I was still a grad student so I had no job with health benefits and at the time, the university that employed her didn’t offer them to the same-sex partners of queer employees.

But the next year, the university passed a policy to allow those partners to be covered, just not at a discounted rate. We still paid out of pocket (for much better than my bare-bones catastrophic policy) but they reimbursed us (though not 100 percent). We had to file quarterly paperwork to prove that we were still living together and financially interdependent (by providing bank account statements, etc.). We paid taxes on the partial reimbursement we were “given.”

(In case you are not aware of it, employer-provided health insurance benefits are never taxed for heterosexual employees’ spouses. This has recently come under question in the big budget crisis in the federal government. I am all for taxing them. We’ve been paying all along, it wouldn’t matter to us!)

When we adopted our first daughter, she counted as my partner’s first “dependent” and so we didn’t get the “second dependent” discount our heterosexual married friends got.

Do you see where this is going? Many, many of our allies who had fought with us to get health care coverage for same-sex partners thought we had won when we were allowed to buy insurance. But we were still penalized financially to the tune of thousands of dollars a year, for not being legally married.

My partner always says “we are married” when the topic of whether we “can marry” comes up. And she’s right, we are. We are totally married. We even went ahead and did the Canadian civil marriage thing when we were in Vancouver for other reasons and it was convenient to do so.

Frankly, we don’t think the government has any business telling anyone—straight or gay—who counts as their family and give them over 1,000 special benefits responsibilities on that basis.

But as long as the government disagrees—and continues to tell citizens who counts as family—we need legal marriage.

My partner and I need it these days because we have children and it’s our children who are getting shafted by the loss to their college savings (or their more immediate needs for that matter) that results from what we call the “queer tax.” The extra financial burden on same-sex headed families has been well documented. It hurts us in the years we are raising children. It hurts us in our retirement years—especially if the main bread winner of a couple dies first, because the survivor cannot collect her social security.

Ironically, radical lefties that we are, we are also a social conservative’s dream come true: One primary breadwinner (who pulled herself up with working-class bootstraps to be the first in her family to attend college ultimately becoming a university professor), one stay-at-home—even homeschooling!—parent, and two smart, happy, healthy, beautiful children. (Bonus: both of those children were adopted and thus removed from the public social services system.)

Does this vision of the conservatives’ ideal family really come crashing down because both parents are technically women?

That’s what the anti-gay marriage side seems to be arguing in the SCOTUS cases—especially the Proposition 8 case--this week.

Their new excuse to discriminate seems to be “responsible procreation.” That is what marriage is for, they say. And since two people of the same sex can’t get pregnant after prom in the back seat of a car, they are not “responsible procreators” and thus should be denied marriage.

But they are procreators. A friend of mine pointed out on Twitter today that she knows a lesbian couple who got pregnant in a car—in the driveway of the sperm donor’s house.

Pause for laughter (perhaps uncomfortable laughter, but laughter all the same).

We ourselves, of course, are adopters. And I would say we are at least as responsible as any of our straight adoptive parent compatriots. After all, it took us the better part of a year just to jump through all the hoops required to prepare us to adopt. How many backseat-of-the-car-after-prom parents had to take classes?

But I digress. I know plenty of responsible straight parents—those who “procreated” by themselves, or with third parties (like many same-sex couples do) or who responsibly adopted (like we did). I have no doubt that children are not harmed per se by having straight parents, even if those parents do have sky-high divorce rates. (I am sure same-sex divorce rates, once same-sex couples can marry, will be roughly as high. We are all just human, after all.)

But are children harmed by same-sex parents? People qualified to know say no.

I would offer you my own thriving children as shining examples of queer spawn (as many adult children of queers affectionately call themselves) but I am obviously biased on that front.

But given all this amicus briefing about the lack of harm done to children by having same-sex parents—not to mention the harm done them by anti-gay discrimination laws—I was scratching my head at the arguments made by the Prop 8 contingent at the Supreme Court that the jury is somehow out on this. It’s not. The jury is resoundingly in and anyone who has done a legitimate study of the issue has found that what matters to healthy outcomes for children is having supportive, committed, loving parents, regardless of gender.

And yet the antis persist in warning about the possible harm done to children by allowing same-sex couples to legally marry. I can see how this would be all they’ve got left, since their arguments are so illogical and quite obviously rooted in nothing but animus against queers. But do they really expect people to believe them on this point?

Nothing has made me angrier this week than hearing over and over about the need to protect theoretical, symbolic children from possible harm by parents like me as an argument in favor of continuing the actual, real harm done to my actual, real children right here and right now by (in our case, not being California residents) the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Last week, I wrote a piece at LesbianFamily.com about why my partner and I have not allowed our children to know about the legal discrimination our family suffers. We haven’t told them, because it is one way we can shelter them from the psychological harm they would suffer if they knew we were not as married as the parents of their friends with heterosexual parents.

The fact is, that however the anti-gay marriage side spins its increasingly nonsensical argument (shifting their “thousands of years old” marriage purpose depending on what question is being asked by which SCOTUS justice for example), millions of children already have queer parents.

Modern same-sex couples have been raising children together for decades and the numbers of these families is increasing. Whether or not same-sex couples are allowed to legally marry, there is no reason to believe this trend will not continue.

So when detractors claim to be concerned about the children of same-sex couples, it is hard to see how banning such couples from marriage will prevent them bringing up children together. Worse, and insidiously, I think, it is impossible to see how banning from marriage, those who are already parents, will not harm their existing children.

This is why I find concern for children an obvious red herring in these arguments. Frankly, I’d much prefer the anti-gay side to just openly admit that they don’t like us and do not want to offer us—or our children--quarter anywhere. At least then, I could respect their honesty.

But they don’t give a damn about my children. That much is more than clear.

~Shannon

Shannon writes about family at Peter's Cross Station and about writing at Muse of Fire.

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