Children Speak for Same-Sex Marriage
LAST month, advocates and opponents of same-sex marriage packed the New Jersey State House in Trenton, supporters in blue, opponents in red. Near the end of the day, Kasey Nicholson-McFadden took the microphone. “It doesn’t bother me to tell kids my parents are gay,” he said in a clear voice. “It does bother me to say they aren’t married. It makes me feel that our family is less than their family.”
Kasey is 10 years old. When the New Jersey State Senate voted against same-sex marriage on Jan. 7, he was devastated. “We tried to buoy him and say, ‘It’s another step in the process and it’s not over yet,’ ” said Karen Nicholson-McFadden, one of Kasey’s mothers.
In fact, Garden State Equality, the New Jersey gay-rights organization that invited Kasey to speak, quickly told reporters they would pursue the issue through the judiciary system. It will be familiar territory for the Nicholson-McFaddens, who vow to press on — be it through rallies or lawsuits.
For as long as Kasey can remember, Marcye and Karen Nicholson-McFadden have been petitioning the State of New Jersey for the right to marry. So while much of Kasey’s free time is spent on typical preteen activities — in-line skating, swim team and soccer practice — some of it is spent appearing in advertising campaigns and events organized by Garden State Equality. So many of that organization’s 64,000 members have children that the group provides day care and activities for teenagers during its events.
In 2008 about 116,000 same-sex couples across the country were raising a total of about 250,000 children under age 18, according to an analysis of Census data by Gary J. Gates, a demographer of the gay and lesbian population at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, law school.
While opponents of same-sex marriage worry that schools will teach that gay and straight relationships are equal, many supporters focus on a different, but still child-centered, issue: What about the children now being raised in families headed by gay men and lesbians? How does the lack of marriage benefits for their parents affect them?
In recent years, an increasing number of these children — ranging in age from 10 to nearly 40 — have taken active roles in campaigns organized by Colage (formerly known as Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere), and civil rights groups like Lambda Legal and Glad (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders). Their involvement is helping to change the narrative of same-sex marriage to a story about families from one about couples.
With 31 states having rejected same-sex marriage — most recently in Maine, New Jersey and New York — strategies used by supporters now include projecting a mainstream family image in public opinion campaigns surrounding court battles like the challenge toProposition 8, the ballot measure that reversed marriage rights for same-sex couples in California. Many gay rights activists think that hearing articulate children of same-sex parents ask why their families should have fewer rights than their neighbors goes a long way toward turning the family values argument on its head. Last week, Chiah Connolly-Ingram, 21, the daughter of a lesbian couple, helped close the rally outside the Federal Courthouse in San Francisco, where Proposition 8 is being challenged. “As the daughter of lesbian moms, I know that children are affected by this decision,” said Ms. Connolly-Ingram, a student at City College of San Francisco and an intern at Colage.
Zach Wahls, a freshman at the University of Iowa whose mothers married this summer in Iowa, one of the few states where same-sex marriage is legal, said in a recent interview: “At the end of the day, it’s really about separate but equal. This isn’t just about lesbian and gay, it’s about tolerance and acceptance.”
Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, a New York-based organization that advocates for legalized same-sex marriage, said: “There is no good reason to punish children raised by gay parents by denying parents marriage and its protections. It harms kids rather than helping them.”
Opponents of same-sex marriage are unswayed. “It doesn’t make any sense that a small segment of society can leverage major social change simply by putting children into these situations purposefully,” said Andrew P. Pugno, general counsel for ProtectMarriage.com, the California organization that sponsored Proposition 8. “Society is not forcing same-sex couples to raise children. If they are going to exercise their choice, it remains their choice and not become something that society has to realign itself to accept.”
Mr. Pugno’s position is shared by others. “The real question is whether same-sex relationships benefit children to the same extent that living with a married mother and father does, and we believe they do not,” said Peter S. Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, the conservative Christian organization. “Children do best when raised by their own biological mother and father who are committed to one another in a lifelong marriage.”