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Alison Gash Headshot

Michigan's Marriage Ban Is Bad for Kids

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I was in class the other day trying to explain to my students the spectacle of the recent court battle over same-sex marriage in Michigan.

"A lesbian couple in Michigan who is raising three kids petitioned the court to be jointly legally recognized as their kids' parents," I explained.

"You see, unlike heterosexual couples, in order for both parents in a two-mom or two-dad family to be legally tied to their children they often need to go to court to get what's called a 'second parent adoption.' Otherwise only one parent is legally recognized as the child's parent."

I paused for effect.

"But in Michigan they can't do that because of the state's ban on same sex marriage. Why the ban? Because the state thinks heterosexuals make better parents."

The students looked befuddled.

I took their confusion to be just the normal morning haze of the overworked and undernourished college student until one student raised his hand.

"Professor Gash," he said. "I don't understand."

I sighed the sigh of an overworked and undernourished assistant professor and looked at the student.

"Yes Jimmy?"

"So, wait, can gays and lesbians be parents in Michigan?" asked Jimmy.

"Yes, of course. It's hard to prevent someone from having kids. Why?"

"Well, if the Attorney General... what is his name?"

"Bill Schuette."

"Well if Bill Schuette is spending all this money to defend the ban to make sure that only straight people raise kids, his plan isn't working. Gays and lesbians are raising kids."

"Good point Jimmy" I smiled. Jimmy was always my favorite.

Encouraged by the positive feedback, Jimmy continued.

"Will the couple lose their kids... if the ban is upheld, I mean?"

"Nope. The two moms will continue to be parents to their kids." I said.

He pondered this. "What about other gays and lesbians? Will they have to give their kids back?"

"No Jimmy. Those kids will stay put too."

He looked skeptical. "Well, then, it must mean that protecting this ban will prevent gays and lesbians from raising kids in the future, right?"

"Not really Jimmy," I responded. "My guess is LGBT Michiganians will continue to have or adopt kids just like they always have. Right now that's just under 20 percent of same-sex couples in the state."

"Okay" heaved Jimmy, clearly frustrated. "So what does this ban actually do for kids?"

I paused, feeling the full weight of a now intensely engaged (i.e. not sleeping) class, and relishing this unparalleled teaching moment.

"Well Jimmy. As far as I can tell, the only effect the ban has on kids being raised by same-sex couples is to prevent them from having the legal benefits of two parents. Even though they will be raised by their parents, they won't be able to have a legal attachment to both parents."

"So the ban is actually bad for kids," reasoned Jimmy.

"Yes Jimmy. I would say so."

I looked out at a sea of confused faces. It was one thing, I guess, for a state to ban same-sex marriage (my students had come to terms with the rampant bigotry of some states), but it was a whole other issue to say that the ban "protected" kids, when in reality it only weakened their legal and social safety-nets.

But Jimmy wasn't finished. "So, is Michigan the only place where this is going on? I mean this has to be just because of this Bill Schuette character, right?"

And here it was time to deal an even bigger blow to my students' sense of reason.

"Oh God, no Jimmy" I laughed the laugh of a skeptic. "I mean, for one, there are many states that still have their marriage bans intact that use pretty much the same logic as Michigan. But these impediments also exist in states that support gay and lesbian families."

"How do you mean Professor Gash?" inquired Jimmy.

"Well, there are states where same-sex couples have to go through 'home studies' in order to seek second parent adoptions. So, if you are a two-mom family raising kids, like the one in the Michigan case, and you want a second-parent adoption so that your kids can have the same legal protections as kids raised by heterosexual families, you have to have a social worker investigate whether or not you will provide a good home to your kids."

"Even though the kids are already being raised by the parents?"

"Yup."

"And even though the kids will continue to be raised by the parents regardless of what the social worker says?"

"Yup.

Jimmy looked defeated.

"So states have all these obstacles to make it difficult for gays and lesbians to seek legal protections for their kids and then they justify them by saying 'it's in the kids' best interests?'"

I nodded. He continued. Jimmy was on a roll.

"But, in reality, the only thing that they accomplish, is, at best, to create useless or irrelevant hurdles for LGBT couples raising kids, and at worst, to make the kids' relationships with their parents legally shaky?"

He looked incredulous and placed his head on his hands.

I smiled sympathetically.

"I couldn't have said it better myself, Jimmy. And now onto a more sensible topic... climate change denials."