Dear Justice Kennedy,
Earlier this year I wrote you a letter, “Dear Justice Kennedy: An Open Letter from the Child of a Loving Gay Parent.” My letter has now been quoted (and criticized) by the Family Equality Coalition (FEC) and COLAGE (Children of Lesbian and Gays) in the amicus brief they have filed in support of same-sex marriage. The brief is filled with quotations from children with gay or lesbian parents asking the court to redefine marriage for the entire country so that their two moms or two dads could get married.
The authors argue that the only struggle these children face is the lack of “marriage equality.” Perhaps for some children of LGBT couples that is the case. But something stood out to me when I read this brief. It wasn’t what the brief said—on the contrary, it was a glaring omission that caught my attention.
Despite the fact that every child who is quoted in that brief has at least one parent who is not present in their home, none of them talk about the process of separation that led to their being raised in a same-sex household. When you are talking about same-sex parenting, there is always more to the story. Heather Barwick, who was raised by two moms, and I have filed our own amicus brief telling the rest of that story.
The Inherent Problem with Same-Sex Parenting
The FEC Brief states: “The major challenge most same-sex-parented families must surmount is nothing inherent in their family structure, but rather the societal and governmental disapproval that the challenged state laws represent and perpetuate.” It speaks of how children of same-sex parents are “psychologically burden[ed]” because “their parents aren’t able to get married.”
While I recognize that these children really are feeling burdened, I have a hard time believing that a lack of “marriage equality” is the primary struggle that most of these children face. If a parent conceives a child with a member of the opposite sex—or enters into a contract to purchase sperm or eggs from the child’s biological parent—and then chooses to raise that child with an unrelated adult of the same sex, that child’s life is going to be complicated in ways we are just beginning to realize.
FEC quoted children in situations similar to that of twelve-year-old Annalise, my daughter’s friend, whose father abandoned their family for his lover when she was four. A few years later, Annalise was photographed in the wedding of her “two dads,” who were effusively congratulated on the “family that they had made together.” Though Annalise is careful to say that she loves her father and his partner, she recently wrote an essay on the pain and confusion that has filled her life since her father left the family and married her other dad.
I understand and deeply identify with the desire to defend one’s parents. Nonetheless, it is not the state’s fault these children are suffering a “psychological burden,” nor can the state ever relieve such a burden. Many children find themselves in same-sex-headed households because their parents have made decisions to separate them from one of their natural parents. Some may feel burdened because they long for a parent who they are told is unnecessary. Some may have adults in their lives who may not acknowledge their loss at all, which imposes a burden of confusion, anger, and pain.
My amicus brief co-author, Heather Barwick, describes her experience this way:
I grew up surrounded by women who said they didn’t need or want a man. Yet, as a little girl, I so desperately wanted a daddy. It is a strange and confusing thing to walk around with this deep-down unquenchable ache for a father, for a man, in a community that says that men are unnecessary. There were times I felt so angry with my dad for not being there for me, and then times I felt angry with myself for even wanting a father to begin with.
Despite the popular cultural marketing that all kids need are “two loving, stable adults,” not every child is buying it. It’s alien to their real-life experience. This is how one adolescent, with the safety of anonymity, expressed it:
Am I a bad daughter because I wish I had a Dad? Is there anyone else who has 2 Moms or 2 Dads who wonders what it would be like if they were born into a normal family? Is there anyone else who wants to be able to use the word normal without getting a lecture on what is normal???
Same-Sex Marriage Encourages Fatherlessness and Motherlessness
The FEC brief was kind enough to give a nod to my initial letter to you. They write:
[Katy’s] biological parents’ divorce, however painful, was not caused by the availability of marriage for her mother and her mother’s future partner . . . . One or both biological parents may be missing from a child’s life for many different reasons. Neither barring same-sex couples from marriage nor allowing them to marry can change this.
While it’s true that parents will be missing from a child’s life for many different reasons, redefining marriage will change marriage as a whole and thus parenting for many kids. Because the government’s interest in marriage is children, and the historic basis for marriage has been a procreative relationship, this new genderless definition which excludes a mother or father actually encourages “one or both biological parents to be missing from a child’s life.”
Here are two examples of how this redefinition impacts the lives of some children I know.
My friend Daniel coaches a girls’ softball team. One eight-year-old player is the child of a sperm donor and is being raised by two moms. Daniel loves this girl and her family. As this child climbs all over him, mimicking the behavior of his own children, she asks, “Can you be my Daddy?” He is the man, and nearly the only man, in this girl’s life. She continues, “Mom, can you marry Daniel so he can be my dad?”
Glenn, another friend of mine, lives next door to Kelsey and Patricia, whose children are four, six, and eight. Kelsey gave birth to all three kids, who have the same sperm donor. When the kids ask “Do we have a dad?” their moms say “Yes, but he is not part of our family unit.” All three kids have become extremely fond of Glenn. Little Avery, aged four, often calls Glenn “daddy” when he is at their house, and she vies for his affection when all the kids are together.
These children have expressed one of the most universal of all human longings: to be known and loved by their mother and father. None of us should be surprised by these stories. We may be able to look at the lives of children we know who have lost a parent through death, divorce, estrangement, or abandonment and observe similar behavior in them.
The children in the families above have two women who love them and care for them. Yet these kids want something more. No one told them that they should have a dad, yet they are wondering, yearning, for him.
These children were created with the intent to deny them a relationship with one natural parent. The UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child is clear on this point: “The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.”
We should follow the lead of the UN and prioritize the rights of children, who have an inherent right to their parents. Adults have the right to choose to enter into a partnership that cannot produce children, and government should not prevent such a decision. But as a society, our laws must uphold and encourage the family structure that best protects children’s rights.
Childless Heterosexual Couples are not the Equivalent of Gay and Lesbian Couples
Family Equality Council arrived at another mistaken conclusion based on my letter to you. They state:
Under Ms. Faust’s rationale, only families headed by a biological mother and father are worthy of recognition. By logical extension, infertile couples or couples who plan to adopt children should also be denied the right to marry.
First, I happen to know a number of heterosexual couples who were told they were infertile, but went on to become parents the old-fashioned way. I also am acquainted with couples who never intended to have children, and took measures to prevent them, yet are now parenting a noisy houseful of little ones because heterosexual sex creates life. Even if a couple is “using protection,” life can find a way.
In this sense, heterosexual and homosexual relationships are categorically different. Promoting heterosexual marriage, with norms of permanence and exclusivity, therefore serves a critical function both for society and for any life that will result from the union: children. While there may be no difference in the level of emotional connection and commitment between same-sex couples and heterosexual couples, there is a stark difference in these two pairings when it comes to procreation and childrearing.
Second, as the former assistant director for the largest Chinese adoption agency in the United States, and as an adoptive mother myself, I am a passionate advocate of adoption. Yet we must be careful to view adoption rightly. The primary purpose of adoption is to provide homes for children in need, not to fulfill the desires of adults. Children who are recovering from the wounds of abandonment especially need both father and mother. The pairing that most approximates the biological family should be sought whenever possible.
Why Can’t Kids Be Honest?
Not surprisingly, while the FEC brief mentioned the trauma over my parents’ divorce, they omitted the dishonest refrain I often repeated during my childhood: “I’m so happy that my parents got divorced so that I could know all of you wonderful women.” I said similar things to my father and his girlfriends.
Children love their parents and want to please them, even if it means hiding personal pain. A boy in the spotlight, writing a statement for the FEC brief under the watchful eye of the two dads whom he loves, might say “My only dream is for my two dads to get married someday.”
But a boy alone with his laptop and Yahoo Answers says this:
Hi . . . I’m a boy of 14.
I live with 2 dads . . . one of them is my biological dad and one of them isn’t.
My biological mother (who gave my dads her ovum for my birth . . .) comes my house often. She’s 38 and my dads’ long time best friend . . . I want to call her my mom but my dads always get mad when I try . . . actually I’ve already call her mom when my dads are not around and she liked it . . . she and I have lots of connections with each other . . .
Justice Kennedy, perhaps after reading my original letter to you the FEC realized the narrowness of their presentation of same-sex parenting. They seemed to realize it would be prudent to acknowledge some small token of the costs to the child, so they allowed the tender honesty of fifteen-year-old “J.M.”:
Over the years, there have been several occasions when it felt strange not to have a dad, but I have friends who have dads who are not part of their lives, and friends who have had a dad or mom die. In the end, I realize what counts is having two parents who love and support you.
Thank you, J.M., for making my point so beautifully. The comfort J.M. receives is not that his missing parent is replaced by his two mothers, but that he realizes that everyone experiences pain when they have lost a parent. Same-sex parenting is not unique in the alternative family landscape. What is unique is encouraging an alternative parenting structure guaranteed to deny a child’s right to a biological parent. In no other situation does society promote such a loss.
Justice Kennedy, please resist the erroneous arguments that only animus or phobia drives the opposition to same-sex marriage. My resistance stems from the self-evident truth that mothers and fathers are irreplaceable in a child’s life. Kids long for and deserve both.