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John Koch

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How My Lesbian Boss Makes Me a Better Father

Posted: 10/30/08 12:42 PM ET

Why Straight Parents Need to Take a Strong Stand Against Prop 8

A short while after my son was born, my wife brought him into the office to meet my co-workers. My wife was still nursing. My infant son was hungry and my wife was going to breast feed him in my crammed office. Within seconds of learning this, my boss cleared everyone out of the comfortable lounge where we entertain high-profile clients, magically pulled her old nursing pillow out of a nearby closet, and immediately put my wife at ease. I stood in amazement as I watched the scenario unfold. My boss looked at me and said, "Don't just stand there, get her a glass of water." I never forgot the glass of water again and it was the first of many lessons my lesbian boss has taught me about how to be a better father.

There was another time my boss walked in on the nervous phone argument I was having with my wife over whether or not we were going to vaccinate our child. She stopped what she was doing, led me into her office where she promptly whipped out the paper equivalent of the Warren Commission report on pros and cons of childhood vaccinations.

I could list dozens of similar examples of the parental wisdom that has been passed down from my boss. She and her wife are super-moms. You would be hard pressed to find parents who love their kids as much or who are as actively engaged in the well-being and development of children. When my wife and I wrestle with the millions of choices parents wrestle with, we often look to the decisions made by other parents we respect as a guide. Kelly and Linda would be at the top of that list. If there is one thing fatherhood has taught me, it is that good parents help make other parents good. And very often we straight Dads can use all the advice we can get.

For all of my boss' advice, it's witnessing the love she gives her kids that is a constant reminder of what it means to have your priorities in the right place. Her two daughters are in the office all the time. Even with a high-power position, she rarely misses a parent-teacher night or a school auction. Her office has a floor to ceiling cork board with all of her daughters' artwork and photographs. I've been to her house -- like mine, it has been taken over with the kids' toys, save for a tiny office reserved for the parents' stuff. My wife and I and our kids see their family at the Sunday morning farmers market, at a local pancake place, at swim lessons. Save for gender, our lives are virtually the same.

Occasionally, when straight parents get together, the subject of gay marriage or more over, gay parenting, comes up. For those of us who know same gender parents, the reaction is almost unanimous: gays and lesbians tend to make amazing parents. Maybe it's their acute sensitivity. Maybe it's because it is so much harder for gay and lesbians to become parents, so they work at it more. Maybe it's because they know they will face increased scrutiny and opposition as parents. Maybe it's genetics or a worldview, or maybe it's because of the heart-wrenching prospect that the same group behind the Prop 8 measure, if empowered, will some day try to take their children away.

As the Los Angeles Times wrote in its eloquent essay in opposition to Prop 8:

"Supporters of Proposition 8 insist that the measure is in no way intended to diminish the rights of gays and lesbians, but instead means to encourage ideal households for the raising of children."

Underneath the pro Prop 8 argument is a belief that gays and lesbians, simply by virtue of their sexual orientation, make bad parents. If only that were true, then we straight Dads would have it so easy.

I think moderate straight men and women might be able to rationalize, as both the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates have, that the word "marriage" should be exclusively reserved for a man and a woman. While certainly discriminatory, it is an accepted and often widely embraced political mantra. It is easy to conflate Prop 8 with that political talking point. But the fact is the proposition is far more dangerous. This proposition would be the grease to a very, very slippery slope. If successful, Prop 8 will embolden a radical agenda (mostly funded from outside California) which will not only take aim at Adam and Steve, but their children.

For many straight, well-intentioned parents of all political affiliations, Prop 8 may conjure up stereotypical images of carefree gay and lesbian couples running off to City Hall in leather chaps, who could be similarly served by civil unions, and separate but equal laws. Those parents may believe, "You know, marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman." Setting aside the arguments of civil rights, basic fairness and equality, I would ask those parents to think carefully about when those same gender husbands and wives become mothers and fathers. Since children have been the focus of so many of those frightening television ads supporting Prop 8, I ask you, "What about the children?"

At the very least, Prop 8 will create a group of second-class citizens discriminated against by our state constitution. At its absolute worst, manufacturing a defined "difference" between straight and gay relationships will manifest itself in a manufactured difference between straight and gay parents. This prejudiced social construction already manifests itself in several states, where gays and lesbians are not allowed to adopt children; or a same-sex partner does not have the right to adopt their partner's biological child. This goes against the push for nuclear, two-parent households so passionately endorsed by many conservatives and liberals. Leaving children in the murky middle ground of adults' conflicts is simply unconscionable. And so is Prop 8.