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Utah Says Gay Marriage Will Harm These Kids

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Madison Ayoso, a 21-year-old college student in Salt Lake City, should have issues. She should be collecting unemployment, or talking to a therapist about the trauma of being raised by two gay moms. At least that’s what a legal brief recently filed by the state of Utah suggests.

In a case now winding through the federal courts, lawyers for Utah filed a brief arguing that legalizing same-sex marriage will have a frightening outcome: more children being raised by two gay parents. In other parts of the brief, lawyers warn that if the state allows gays to marry, every child in the state including those raised by straight couples will be thrown into peril as parents forgo the needs of their children in favor of more selfish pursuits. The case is one of dozens of similar cases around the country that could wind up at the U.S. Supreme Court later this year.

As evidence, the authors of the brief cite a study funded by a conservative religious think tank purporting to show that children raised by same-sex parents are worse-off than those who grow up with a mom and a dad. To obtain the data, the author of that study asked adults if their parents ever had a "romantic" same-sex relationship, casting a net wide enough to capture not only those raised by same-sex parents -- who actually made up a minuscule percentage of the study's participants -- but those who grew up in ostensibly straight households. (The American Sociological Association wrote in a brief to the Supreme Court last year that the study "provides no conclusions" about the well-being of children raised in same-sex households.)

“It's almost comical," said Madison one recent day, sitting with her 18-year-old brother, Ben Farrar, in their moms’ home on a mountainside overlooking Salt Lake City. "They have all these assumptions about how my parents don't have the capabilities of raising kids. But we've turned out pretty okay, if I say so.”

Madison and Ben were born in Utah where their moms, Sally and Brenda Farrar, were among the first gay couples to use artificial insemination to conceive. Sally comes from a Mormon family, and though she no longer attends services (gay people are prohibited from entering an LDS temple unless they swear off sex) she still considers herself a cultural Mormon, and remains close to her devout Mormon siblings.

(For more about Sally Farrar, and other gays and lesbians from Mormon backgrounds, read HuffPost's in-depth feature, Big Love: A Mormon Lesbian's Quest For Marriage Equality.)

The Farrars moved to Sally's home state of Georgia when Madison was 7 and Ben was 4, after Sally's mother got sick with cancer. (The family returned to Utah when Ben started high school.) But even though they were living in another conservative, religious state, neither sibling had a particularly difficult time making friends, they said. None of their friends or their friends' parents objected to pool parties or sleepovers with the Farrars, or carpooling to their many baseball and basketball games. Their friends loved hanging out with their moms. “They took my moms as their moms," Madison said.

Utah's legal brief repeatedly stresses the fear that opening marriage to include gay people will mean that parents, gay or straight, won't put their children first.

"Utah's self-sacrificing, child-centric view of marriage and parenting is important to a range of parental decisions beyond ensuring that the child is raised by both her father and her mother," the state's brief argues in a section devoted to the effects of changing the definition of marriage. "For example, it might encourage parents to forego abusing alcohol or drugs; avoid destabilizing extramarital affairs; avoid excessively demanding work schedules; or limit time-consuming hobbies or other interests that take them away from their children."

Madison and Ben have always been at the center of their parents' lives, they said. In middle school and high school, Friday nights were spent at the movies. Either Brenda or Sally was always present at the kids' sporting events -- and there were a lot of events. Ben played baseball, football, soccer and tennis, and Madison played basketball and volleyball, and took ballet. The moms often brought their friends to the games. "We called it the lesbian section in right field," said Ben.

There were some awkward moments with other kids, but Madison and Ben said they weren't traumatizing. "Sometimes people would be like, ‘What does your dad do?'" Ben said. "I'd just be like, 'I have two moms. One's a lawyer."

If there’s one thing that was difficult about having gay parents, they said, it’s the state’s recent refusal to honor their parents’ relationship. In December, after a federal judge issued a ruling overturning the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, Brenda and Sally seized the moment and got a marriage license from the county clerk's office in Salt Lake City. Madison and Ben hopped in a car and rushed to meet them. Afterwards, they celebrated over sandwiches and cookies with a few other couples who'd just tied the knot.

As they ate, Ben began quizzing Sally, an attorney, about the legal implications of the decision and whether his moms' marriage would stand. Ben always saw his moms as married, and until that day, he didn't fully realize how important it would be for the state to recognize his parents' relationship. Sally and Brenda never anticipated same-sex marriage in Utah, so they'd never talked about it.

Less than two weeks later, the state successfully petitioned the United States Supreme Court to halt gay marriage in Utah, throwing families like the Farrars into legal limbo. Most upsetting of all to Ben and Madison was the state's argument about why gay marriage shouldn't be legal.

"I was really happy when my parents got married, like, finally we were a legalized family, and then I heard that the state was trying to take it away," Ben said. "That's when it became a huge deal like, gays are not the right way, and they shouldn't raise kids, they can't do this or that."

He paused, searching for a polite way to express himself. "I think they should mind their own business."

"People can be judge-y," Madison agreed. "And I guess I kind of didn't expect any different. We've been taught by our parents that you're going to sometimes have opposition from people. People just can't see that it has to do with the love we have for each other."

Missy Larsen, a spokesperson for the Utah attorney general, said the state is not disputing the existence of happy families like the Farrars. "The brief states that same-sex couples can clearly be wonderful and loving parents," Larsen wrote in an email. "The studies that are highlighted simply show that both the biological connection and the gender diversity inherent in the married, mother-father parenting model powerfully enhance child welfare. The legal question is whether voters at the states level are entitled to define the model or if the federal court system trumps the democratic process of localized control."

But the state's brief never discusses in any detail how children like Ben and Madison fare when the state does not recognize their parents' relationship. This could be a drawback for the state if the case rises to the level of the U.S. Supreme Court, where Justice Anthony Kennedy has explicitly stated that the voice of these children is "important."

Last summer, in his written opinion overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that had banned the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage, Kennedy wrote that DOMA “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.”

In oral and written arguments, Kennedy referenced an amicus brief, submitted by the gay advocacy group the Family Equality Council, which includes interviews with children raised by same-sex parents discussing how they feel about their families and how bans on same-sex marriage affect their lives.

"It's very clear that our brief resonated with him," said Emily Hecht-McGowan, the director of public policy for the Family Equality Council. "All of the folks who have been anti-marriage equality have been professing to speak on behalf of our children and for the first time, we are actually hearing from those children what their lived actual experiences have been in their families, and overwhelmingly, their experiences have been good."

The experiences of children like Ben and Madison will be part of legal fights over gay marriage bans not only in Utah, but in Oklahoma and Nevada as well. Earlier this month, Madison and Ben were contacted by one of the legal teams working on yet another amicus brief to be filed next month to the federal appeals court assessing Utah's marriage law. Both were eager to participate. "I would testify to anyone that my upbringing has been far better than half the people I know," she said.

Today, Madison, who is tall with long brown hair, is finishing her degree at a nearby university. Ben recently signed on to play college baseball with a full scholarship next year in Montana. His girlfriend, along with his whole family -- aunts, uncle and cousins -- came out for the signing. Afterwards, he insisted everyone get together for a family picture. "I want to show the world that this is our family and no matter what they do, they're never going to break us apart," he said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that practicing gay church members cannot attend services. An LDS handbook states that they cannot receive temple ordinances.

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