COMMENTARY: What Do We Tell the Kids?

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c. 2006 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) Not all children are created equal.

That is the lesson of the recent ruling on gay marriage in which the New Jersey Supreme Court followed the bumper-sticker motto of “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

It got out of the way _ but not before it pointed the general direction the state legislature must take.

Marriage has always been far more about children than about romance. It establishes legal paternity. It confers legitimacy. It legally binds the father to support his offspring.

More broadly, it makes it harder for parents to hit the highway when the going gets tough. It’s cumbersome to get unmarried if you have children, as it should be. It doesn’t guarantee stability _ people are people, after all _ but it can be an essential buttress during difficult times.

For all these reasons and more, children thrive best in married households.

So why aren’t the children of gay parents entitled to this?

Go ahead, say it: What kids? How can they have kids? They’re gay!

Consider: New Jersey has 16,000 same-sex households, according to the U.S. Census. They are evenly split between men and women.

Of the male-partner households, 25 percent have children. The number is even higher for female-partner households: 34 percent. Nationwide, 415,970 children live in households headed by same-sex couples.

What about them?

We grant the good intentions of people who oppose gay marriage “for the sake of the children.” They strive for a goal of having every child raised by a biological mother and father who are married.

If that’s what they wanted, however, they should have drawn a line in the sand years ago. If they truly believed it, they should’ve fought any arrangement that allowed children to be raised by gay people.

They didn’t, of course. Perhaps even they grasped how unjust and mean-spirited that would be.

Since then, the horse has left the barn:

Gay couples can and do reproduce _ with the help of science and a willing contributor, of course.

Gay people can and do reproduce the regular way, too. Plenty of folks have come to terms with their sexual orientation only after becoming a parent. Under the law, they get to stay parents.

Gay people can and do adopt _ their partner’s children, or a stranger’s.

I’m remembering a friend who, with his partner, sought to adopt an abandoned AIDS baby back in the ’80s. The two men, who had their hearts set on a baby marooned in a hospital nursery, were terrified their application would be denied because of their homosexuality.

Instead, they received this unexpected answer: “Can you take two?”

Many of the children in gay households have already experienced some disruption in their lives. If Mom or Dad came out after they were born, they’ve seen their parents divorce, and they’ve probably had to move. They especially could benefit from the stability marriage confers.

Yet now that we have all these children being raised in gay households, people want to slam the door on gay marriage? But … we thought marriage was good for children.

The court recognized this, noting such children “are disadvantaged in a way that children in married households aren’t.”

Its solution is some new institution that completely mirrors marriage yet isn’t marriage.

Good luck explaining that to the kiddies, who will quickly see through the legal tap-dancing to sense they are not quite good enough to be allowed in the club.

(Kathleen O’Brien writes for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.)


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