-= For Children of Gays, Marriage Brings Joy =-
By PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN
Published: March 19, 2004
SAN FRANCISCO, March 18
On a recent rainy Sunday morning, Gabriel Damast had planned to laze
around the house, watching cartoons and eating French toast. Instead, he
snapped his favorite chain-mail key chain to his belt loop, grabbed his
MP3 player and headed to City Hall to watch his two moms, Fredda Damast
and Birch Early, marry.
"It was so cool," said Gabriel, 13, who served as the ringbearer, after
standing in line overnight with his parents. "I always accepted that
`Yeah, they're my moms,' but they were actually getting married. I felt
thick inside with happiness. Just thick."
The explosion of same-sex wedding ceremonies here and around the country
has catalyzed a national debate over gay marriage. As the legal and
rhetorical battles rage in county clerks' offices, on the presidential
campaign trail and in the courts, one group is watching with more than
casual interest: the children of same-sex couples.
The outcome is in flux. The county clerk in San Francisco stopped issuing
marriage licenses to homosexual couples last week, under court order, and
Massachusetts is moving closer to a constitutional amendment banning the
practice. The California Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing in May or
June on the city's authority to issue the licenses.
But even if gay marriage goes away, gay parents will go on living de facto
married lives, rearing children from past heterosexual marriages or
forming families through adoption, foster care or sperm or egg donation.
For the children, who know their parents as car-poolers, class mother,
soccer coaches and Scout leaders, the recent marriages have been at once
historic and deeply personal. Some use the word "we" to describe marrying.
"Before it was, `Oh, your parents are just partners,' " said Max Blachman,
the 13-year-old son of lesbian parents in Berkeley. "Now, they're spouses.
So it's a bigger way of thinking about them."
The 2000 census reported that 594,000 households in the United States were
headed by same-sex partners, a figured considered by some experts to be
conservative. Of those, about 33 percent of lesbian couples reported
having children 18 years old or under, while 22 percent of male couples
There are no reliable comparisons to the 1990 census, but "it's very clear
that gay fatherhood has risen significantly over the past 10 years," said
Judith Stacey, a sociology professor at the Center for the Study of Gender
and Sexuality at New York University.
In a sense, Alex Morris, a precocious 11-year-old who has dreams of
becoming president, has an embarrassment of riches -- two sets of doting
parents. His biological mother, Paula Morris, 43, just married her partner
of 16 years, Cory Pohley, 44. The pregnancy was planned cooperatively with
their friend Tony Humber, 45, Alex's father, who lives with Harvey Yaw,
47, his partner of 23 years. They all share responsibilities for Alex, who
travels between the houses every few days. They sometimes vacation
Speaking of his mothers' marriage, Alex said: "It is something I always
wanted. I've always been around people saying, `Oh, my parents anniversary
is this week.' It's always been the sight of two parents, married, with
rings. And knowing I'd probably never experience it ever."
That changed in the City Hall rotunda as his mothers exchanged vows. "The
atmosphere was just springing with life," Alex recalled. "I just couldn't
hold myself in. It was oh my god oh my god oh my god. I felt so happy I
wanted to scream."
The perception of the legitimacy of their relationship, Ms. Morris said,
will be important to their son, who switched schools recently, in part
because he had trouble making friends. Alex chalks up some of his
difficulties to the fear of being teased about his family situation.
"I shut up like a clam," he said. "If I told someone about it they'd laugh
me out of the next dimension."
He has felt less alone, he said, since being put in touch with Colage
(Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere), a national support and
advocacy group for children of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
parents, in San Francisco. The wedding was even more important.
"Politically and officially, everybody now knows it's true -- they're
together," Alex said of his moms. "It's something I felt I needed to
experience. I think people who think it's terrible have no heart
Recently, Jaclyn Mullins, 13, an eighth grader in suburban Dublin, had
dreaded going to current-events class. She is one of three children
adopted by Dianna Gewing-Mullins, 39, and Rudi Gewing-Mullins, 38, who
recently married. They also have a biological daughter.
When the subject of same-sex marriage comes up in class, "I hear a lot of
rude comments like, "Eew, that's disgusting," Jaclyn said. "A lot of kids
say, `That's really gross." She says that she has never confided in
classmates about her family and that she sits there silently.
"I wish they'd stop," she said, her eyes looking at the floor.
Studies show that children of gay and lesbian parents are developmentally
similar to those with heterosexual parents, said Charlotte J. Patterson, a
professor of psychology at the University of Virginia who has studied gay
and lesbian families. In general, Professor Patterson noted, parenthood
for gay and lesbian couples is a conscious choice, but there are as yet no
adequate studies measuring stress levels in their children.
Like members of other minorities, children of gay and lesbian parents have
to negotiate social and economic differences, which can be "big emotional
freight," Professor Patterson said, adding, "Knowing your parents have
made a commitment to stay together and take care of you forever makes
children feel more secure."
Parke Humphrey-Keever, 21, a junior at Portland State University in
Oregon, has witnessed two recent weddings of his mothers -- the first, in
Canada, the second in San Francisco. When Mr. Humphrey-Keever was 10, his
mothers had a commitment ceremony in which they gave him an earring that
matched their rings. They have been together 19 years.
In elementary school, Mr. Humphrey-Keever recalled, only slightly in jest,
"they had Diversity Day pretty much because of my family."
In middle school, "I didn't really make it known I had two moms," he said.
"The other kids preached acceptance, but you could hear in the halls it
wasn't happening. I just kind of skirted it with white lies."
Now that he is older, he has had time to reflect.
"I'm not gay," Mr. Humphrey-Keever said. "I'm a fiscally conservative
Democrat. I've had a really stable household. I've had two excellent role
models with a strong work ethic. I've seen two people who have loved each
Along with other children of same-sex couples, he is aware that their
parents' marriages are built on tenuous legal ground.
"I don't think they can take it away," said Alex Morris, mulling over a
possible constitutional amendment. "Maybe they can go into the Hall of
Marriages and rip up the papers. But emotionally, they can never take away
the feeling that my parents are married."