"There are some 40,000 children in California ... that live with same-sex parents. They want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of these children is important, don't you think?"
Much commentary has been written and discussed about Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's question in the March hearing to Charles Cooper, one of the private lawyers whom the Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives agreed to pay $3 million in taxpayer money to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, the 1996 law by which the federal government discriminates against legally married gay and lesbian Americans by denying them more than 1,000 federal benefits that normally go with marriage.
It is noble of Justice Kennedy to show such concern for those 40,000 kids who live in just one state. And there also are a lot more than 40,000 children being raised by same-sex couples in the other 49 states. Justice Kennedy should ask himself that same question about all those children as well, given that, as the swing vote on the Supreme Court, he has the "full recognition and full status" of every single one of the families of those kids across the United States in his hands.
But his question is odd in one respect: The right to marry the person one loves belongs not to those 40,000 children at this point in their lives but to each of their individual adult parents, and to the millions of other gay and lesbian Americans of all ages who live not just in California but in all 50 states. I agree that the voice of the children being raised by same-sex couples in California is important, but a better question would be: "What about the voices of the millions of LGBT children across America being raised in homes of all types -- by opposite-sex parents, same-sex parents and single parents?" All children, including those who are gay and lesbian, should grow up knowing that when they become adults, they too can have marriages and families of their own.
Without arguing over the much-disputed exact percentage of the population that is LGBT, which seems to range from 2 percent to 10 percent, let's just use an easy figure in the middle of that range -- say, 5 percent. That would mean that there are more than 15 million LGBT Americans, slightly more than the entire population of Illinois, which is poised today to become the 13th state (and the fourth in the last month) to pass marriage equality into law.
Nationwide, marriage equality is coming soon, either in about three weeks or in about three years, if next month's Supreme Court decision in the Proposition 8 case doesn't grant full marriage equality in all 50 states, necessitating one final round of lawsuits. With this certainty in mind, the best "defense" of all future marriages (both opposite-sex and same-sex) is a good "offense" of parents, teachers and, yes, even pastors who know in advance how to provide a supportive environment for children, whether they are in the 5 percent or so who are LGBT or the 95 percent or so who are straight and cisgender and should be taught not just tolerance but acceptance of LGBT people.
According to the "Five-Percent Rule," which is conservative, if there are 20 couples in your neighborhood and each of them has a child, then at least one of those children is almost certain to be LGBT. If there are 20 children in a classroom, it's very likely that at least one of them is LGBT. And for every 20 kids in your worship service at church, you can bet that at least one is LGBT. If you have a 5-percent possibility of having an LGBT child, student or youth in your church congregation, that's more than enough chance to be prepared to make sure that that child knows that he or she is accepted and loved unconditionally, and that your single overriding concern for the child is his or her happiness, wellness and safety.
Most children first develop feelings of attraction between the ages of 9 and 12, and sure enough, I began to realize that I'm gay at age 11. It was in Mrs. Perry's sixth-grade reading class that I first found myself intrigued by the fact that my classmate David Zeigler's legs had started to grow hair on them. All 300 or so of my classmates are like siblings to each other, and we have lightheartedly picked on (or "messed with," in Texas terms) each other our entire lives. Apparently David never knew the hairy-leg story until we recently had a good laugh about it on the phone. Almost every gay person I know has a similar childhood story.
More and more, I continue to be amazed by just how progressive my hometown is in some ways (relatively speaking, taking into account that it's in the heart of East Texas). People there are hardworking, genuine and fair. I often hear horror stories from other friends about gossip (and worse, like physical abuse) in the small towns in Texas and elsewhere in the South where they grew up. But I have never heard one negative word out of anyone in mine. And trust me: If they said it, I would.
But back on point: Beyond mere happiness, wellness and safety, I can't help but be gratified that, very soon, LGBT kids across the country will be able to experience the joys of growing up that LGBT people of my generation (Gen X), and even LGBT Millennials, have been denied, like dating and going to the prom with someone they are attracted to (no offense to all the beautiful, great young women I went to proms with) and all the other ups and downs of being an adolescent and a teen, while also being true to themselves. And very soon, they can also realistically dream of getting married.
From the moment I started to realize I'm gay, I intuitively knew that if being gay was part of me, then being gay was good. My own positive self-esteem was due in large part to a huge, incredibly supportive family; to the amazing little country church in which I grew up, a church that couldn't be further from the kinds that give the Christian faith in America such a bad name and chase LGBT people away in droves; to the tight bond between my classmates and me; and maybe just a little bit to the fact that I had, let's just say, a "strong personality," could stick up for myself and wasn't the type of kid who could be bullied. I never had to deal with the kinds of bullying that, even now, is much too often in the headlines. And despite the mountains of wasted, misspent money and time that "The Church" has spent trying convince people otherwise, the Christian in me always knew that Jesus and God think gay is OK too.
In spite of my personal experience, I know that mistreatment is still far too prevalent in homes, at schools and in many churches. All children, including LGBT kids, deserve to be loved and accepted for who they are, and these three places (home, school and church) are absolutely the best venues at which to show them that they are. Virtually all parents are well-meaning, and very simple things -- like making sure that kids know not to use anti-gay epithets, to use other terminology besides saying that something is "so gay," for example, and that violence is not an option -- go a long way. Schools and teachers can easily do the same, as well as making sure that "no bullying" policies are not only in place but strictly enforced.
In my lifetime, most churches have stopped perpetuating the lie that being gay is a choice and have "progressed" (if you can call it that) to taking the position that if a child is "blessed" with being born straight, he or she can have intimate relations with another person of the opposite sex within marriage. But, oh, by the way, if someone is born gay, not only can he or she not have a church-sanctioned marriage, but that person must also commit to a life of celibacy. Sounds like a lot of fun. Baby steps, I guess, but all jokes aside, that is some measure of progress. But it's time for churches to stop doing damage to the psyches of young LGBT people, not to mention LGBT adults, discard these antiquated beliefs and apply the same moral code to LGBT individuals, same-sex couples and same-sex marriages that they apply to straight people and their relationships.
The only thing more ridiculous than the "tough-luck celibacy" rule is the "reparative therapy" nonsense that a few churches still adhere to and sponsor. Sexual orientation simply cannot be changed, and these futile attempts to do so must stop.
I would be remiss not to mention something that disappointed me greatly a couple of weeks ago when I went to Oasis Church, one of the churches I attend in Los Angeles. While reading the program for the Sunday service, which is handed out not only to adults but to impressionable kids, I noticed a section called "Celebrate Recovery." Nine recovery groups sponsored by Oasis Church where listed, and there among the groups for drug addiction, alcoholism and food addiction, among others, was a group for "Same Sex Attraction - Men."
Not even taking into account the sexism and misogyny of this foolishness (there was no corresponding group for women whatsoever), there is absolutely no reason for any church in 2013 to have such a group, period, much less a progressive nondenominational Christian church in Hollywood. I believe that the people who run this church are good and well-meaning overall, but this sends the wrong message to any LGBT person who reads it and is especially harmful to LGBT children. God created LGBT kids just like they are, and there is no need to "repair" them or have 12-step groups to help "pray away" or change what comes to them naturally.
The subject of LGBT equality has dominated the headlines for this entire year so far. It seems as if something new and good happens every day, like more athletes coming out or another state passing marriage equality. But then something bad happens as well, like the anti-gay hate crimes in New York City and same-sex couples being sold out and omitted from the final version of the immigration reform bill last week. LGBT issues are coming up in the news so fast and furiously right now that sometimes a headline is both good and bad at the same time, like the Boy Scouts of America voting last week to allow gay boys to be Boy Scouts but to continue banning gay people over the age of 18 from participating in the organization. The rule regarding any right or privilege of state or U.S. citizenship should be as easy as this: If any group of Americans has the right to (fill in the blank with any right you choose), then LGBT Americans should have that right too. It's that simple.
Very soon, the Supreme Court will take care of LGBT children being able to dream of getting married when they grow up; our nation's laws will finally promise them that God created them equal to all other kids and that they should have the same rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as everyone else. And it's about time that all families, schools and houses of worship gave every one of the millions of these kids across the country whom Justice Kennedy forgot to ask about a head start at completely fulfilled lives as well.
Follow Chris Brady on Twitter: www.twitter.com/chrisbrady13