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Terrance Heath

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Believing in Our Families

Posted: 07/15/08 08:46 PM ET

As you're reading this, I'm either on my way to, in, or on my way back from New Jersey. There reason for the trip is incredibly happy one. Today is the day we're finalizing Dylan's adoption. Last week we got a letter from the adoption agency's lawyer, confirming the court date. Wanting to make sure that seven months after we first got word that he'd been born -- and after his birthmother chose us to be his adoptive parents -- and set out to lay eyes on the newest addition to our family, the judge will declare that Dylan is finally a member of our family; and that we legally and officially what we've known we were since day one: a family.

So, you might think I'd be all set to rail against John McCain saying he doesn't "believe in" our families.

In recent weeks, Mr. McCain has left many Republicans unsettled about his ideological bearings by toggling between reliably conservative issues like support for gun owners' rights and an emphasis on centrist messages like his willingness to tackle global warming and provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Those tensions were apparent in the interview as well, as Mr. McCain offered a variety of answers -- sometimes nuanced in their phrasing, sometimes not -- about his views on social issues.

Mr. McCain, who with his wife, Cindy, has an adopted daughter, said flatly that he opposed allowing gay couples to adopt. "I think that we've proven that both parents are important in the success of a family so, no, I don't believe in gay adoption," he said.


Frankly, I don't need John McCain to "believe" in my family. But his statement is an opportunity to talk about something I've been thinking about for a while.

It's something that's been on my mind for a while now, related to the discussion of marriage equality. It's come up on this blog a few times, during the same discussion. And it came up during the oral arguments before the California Supreme Court, too. Who is a "real" parent? I've been called a "father" in "quotation marks." I've been asked if the hubby and I "created" our children. The implication being that we are not a "natural family," and thus less than a family.

It came up in the oral arguments before the California Supreme Court, too, in a way that applies both to us and John McCain.

It is difficult to understand why a legal union of two people who love each other and want to express their love as a mutual commitment recognized by the state -- with all the responsibilities that entails -- would undermine marriages between men and women. Isn't it just the opposite? Doesn't the proliferation of unwed partners undermine the institution of marriage?


Chief Justice Ronald George -- appointed by former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson -- put the question in a legal rather than cultural context, asking whether same-sex marriages would violate any rights of heterosexuals. It wouldn't.

George also bristled when Staver suggested that same-sex marriages should be banned because children are meant to be raised by their biological parents.

"Do you mean adoptive parents are not as adept at raising their children?" George asked.

In fact, as one of the lawyers challenging the ban pointed out, California prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in adoption, foster care and custody battles -- so it's a legal stretch to argue that the marriage law must do just the opposite in order to protect children.


Of course, it doesn't matter to Staver -- or to the folk John McCain is pandering to by declaring that he doesn't "believe in" our familes -- that studies consistently show the exact opposite of his claims. That is, research to date has shown that gay parents are just as good as non-gay parents.

Children raised by same-sex couples are a very small minority of all children. Less than 1 percent of all children in the United States are being raised by a same-sex couple, and the numbers were even smaller in the past. Of the 9.5 million minors in California in 2006, about 58,000 were being raised by same-sex couples. Nationwide, there were 74 million children, of whom about 419,000 were being raised by same-sex couples in 2006.


...Opponents of same-sex marriage complain about the non-random sampling and the small sample size of these studies. By casting doubt on this body of research, they claim that we do not know enough about same-sex couple parents, and that therefore it is premature to grant same-sex couples the right to marry. In their friend of the court brief before California's Supreme Court, conservative family scholars including most notably James Q. Wilson claimed, "We do not have a single study based on nationally representative data that can tell us how the typical child raised from birth by a same-sex couples fares."

But, in fact, there are nationally representative studies of children raised by same-sex couples. The public use files of the 2000 U.S. census contain information about thousands of individual children living with same-sex couple parents, and a million children living with other family types.

We can tell, by analyzing the census data, whether children raised by same-sex couples are any more likely to be held back in elementary school than children from other families. If being raised by same-sex couple parents were such a profound disadvantage as critics claim, we should expect children raised by same-sex couples to do poorly in elementary school.

The census data show that children raised by same-sex couples are just as likely as children raised by heterosexual couples to make normal progress through elementary school, given the same levels of parental education and income.

What's more, children living with stable families have a powerful advantage over children without consistent family commitment and support. Foster children are twice as likely to be held back in school, and children living in group quarters are three times as likely to be held back in school compared with children living with permanent families.

So we know that same-sex parents are raising children successfully. Given that raising children is hard work for any family, why not provide these couples and their children with the respect and dignity that official marriage confers? Fifty-eight thousand children stand to benefit from same-sex marriage in California, at no financial or social cost to the state. That's a pro-family agenda we should all support.


It may be a little bit of a stretch to say that opponents of marriage equality are also anti-adoption, but it's not too far-fetched when you consider their arguments, which have gotten more extreme following the California ruling. It starts with the "marriage is for making babies" argument that formed the bases of earlier court decisions. From there it's a short jump to defining "real marriage" based on a penis going into a vagina. It's a slightly longer jump, but not much, to determining the right to marry based on the ability to produce unadulterated gametes, with which to make a baby.

At that point, John McCain's parenthood -- if not his marriage -- is thrown into doubt as much as ours; as much as our status as a family. McCain doesn't have to worry, though. The people who would use the above arguments to deny the existence of (and deny rights and protections to) my family will make an exception for him. For now.

The finalization of Dylan's adoption, and John McCain's statement, comes the week after three-year-old Turner Jordan Nelson was fished out of Baltimore Harbor.

Police said the body of a child found in the Patapsco River near a marine terminal may be that of a boy whose father admitted throwing him off a bridge on Feb. 3.


Police said the body was found about 8 a.m. near the Seagirt Marine Terminal. The body is believed to be that of a boy about 3 years old.

In February, Stephen Todd Nelson was charged with first-degree murder after confessing that he tossed his 3-year-old son, Turner Jordan Nelson, from Baltimore's Key Bridge.


He was thrown there by his father.
A custody battle may be the reason behind an all-out river search for a missing toddler in Baltimore over the last three days, reported WBAL-TV in Baltimore.


Sources told WBAL that Turner Nelson, 3, hasn't been seen since Sunday when he was visiting his father.

According to Baltimore city police, a woman called 911 shortly before 11 p.m. Sunday night saying that her son had thrown his 3-year-old son, Turner, from the Key Bridge into the Patapsco River while strapped to his car seat. The woman added that her son had been having issues with the child's mother.

WBAL confirmed that the man in question is Stephen Todd Nelson, 37. When a reporter knocked on Nelson's door and asked for his mother on Tuesday, she was told his mother was "too distraught to talk."


I'm as much of a parent as Stephen Todd Nelson, and so is John McCain, though we're both adoptive parents; and though I didn't "create" my children through "penis-into-vagina" intercourse.

But John McCain doesn't "believe in" my parenthood as much as Nelsons, I guess. Unlike the tooth fairy or the easter bunny, I don't need John McCain to "believe in" our family. We exist, regardless.

And we should be treated like a family. Just like his.

 

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