Teens Speak Out on Gay Marriage
April 5, 2004
Quinn Duffy, age 19, is a freshman at Boston University, studying linguistics and Spanish. Ariel Bott is a 13-year-old middle school student who lives in Oakland, CA.
They're of the opposite sex, they live on opposite sides of the country, and they fall on opposite ends of the teenage years.
But, despite their differences, they have something in common: They are both among a cohort of adolescents who have grown up in households where one or both parents are lesbian or gay. There is no reliable data on how many such children there are in the U.S., with estimates ranging from 1 million to more than 10 million. To put that in perspective, there are nearly 75 million kids aged 18 and under living in the U.S. today.
So, no matter whose estimate you use, Duffy and Bott are in the minority as far as their parents sexual orientation goes.
Still, they don't feel that odd. "When I explain my family situation to my friends, the response is usually, 'Wow, that's awesome' or something to that effect," says Duffy. "I have never been directly teased about my family."
"Most of my friends know, but have forgotten. Well, not forgotten, but just don't talk about it," explains Bott. "I haven't really ever been teased because I haven't really told anybody that would make fun of me."
Their friends, the ones they truly trust, have been pretty accepting. And both Duffy and Bott believe that they may be able to help that acceptance grow into something more: nationwide tolerance of their parents' right to be married, despite the latest news polls that suggest 55 percent of adult Americans think these kinds of marriages should be illegal.
Over the past two decades, more and more openly gay and lesbian couples have been having children by adopting, use of donor sperm, or through reproductive advances like in vitro fertilization. In recent years, there have been numerous books written on the topic with titles like "The Gay Baby Boom: The Psychology of Gay Parenthood" and "The Queer Parent's Primer: A Lesbian and Gay Families' Guide to Navigating Through a Straight World."
Duffy' gay dad, Joseph Quinn, and lesbian mom, Kathleen Duffy, were a part of the boom in the 1980s when they made the decision to co-parent a child. They had been good friends and both very much wanted to have children. So they did.
Since his toddler years, Duffy has evenly split his time between their two houses. When he was almost 5, his dad started dating a man named Johno Reardon. When Duffy was in third grade, his dad moved in with Reardon. The couple has lived together ever since.
"Johno is my stepfather, and his daughter, 4 years older and born into a similar situation, is my sister," says Duffy. "My mom is single lesbian."
In the San Francisco community Duffy was raised in, he doesn't remember many instances of discrimination or odd looks because of his parental situation. In fact, he chose to go to a Catholic high school (even with some trepidations from his dad and mom who both were raised as Catholics, but have since become less connected with religion) where he says that most of his peers, including the jocks in the locker room, respected his situation.
Religion didn' t have much to do with Duffy's desire to attend St. Ignatius anyway. It just happened to have the best baseball team out of the schools with tuitions the family could afford.
Duffy loves watching baseball, talking about it, and especially playing it. He co-captained his high school baseball team, and plays club baseball at college. He's straight, and, if he finds the right girl, maybe on the Boston University campus, like to get married one day.
Marriage: The Latest Civil Rights Issue?
It's the issue of marriage that seems to be on the minds of lots of young people with gay or lesbian parents nowadays. For these kids, bans on gay marriage are often confusing and frustrating because their parents are free to have and raise children under U.S. law, but are unable to get married.
Lesbian moms adopted Cleopatra Bezis, now 15, of Weston, MA, at birth. "Yes, I care about gay marriage, not for the fact that all [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered] couples should get married, but for the simple reason that I believe they must have the option," she says."Why should we breed discrimination when we should be fighting against it?"
"My mothers have almost the same opinion as I do," says Bezis."They currently are not planning to get married, but they also do believe that they should have the option or the right. My parents do not really influence my decisions as much as they taught me to fight for what I believe in."
When San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom began permitting gay marriage in January 2004, Quinn Duffy's dad and Reardon immediately went to the city hall and were legally married.
Duffy views the situation with a judicious eye: "I am somewhat suspicious of Mr. Newsom's motives, he won an election in which he faced a significant challenge from a Green Party candidate, and may be trying to court more liberal voters into his fold, but the idea is right on: there is no reason why two loving partners, regardless of sexual orientation, should be prohibited from marriage and all the rights that come with it."
Duffy couldn't personally attend the wedding for two reasons: his class load at college wouldn't permit it, plus his dads didn't tell anyone until they called family members from the long lines for same-sex marriages stretching outside the San Francisco City Hall. Still, he says that his dads were thrilled, and he's happy for them, although nothing much will change in his father-son relationship with them. He says that he's always thought of Reardon as his step dad and always will.
Bott agrees that gay marriage has everything to do with equal rights. In the Constitution, it says that all people are created equal, she says. "At first the U.S. had a problem with accepting African Americans and Japanese Americans, and some people have not [gotten] over it. The government is just denying gay and lesbian couples basic marriage rights. Property rights, tax rights, child rights, etc. It's just not fair."
No Kids Allowed
Even though she herself will not be able to vote for 5 more years, Bott says it's important for kids in her situation to speak out to the press to help put a real face on families with gay and lesbian parents.
However, the press is facing some negative reactions over whether the issue should even be covered for a younger audience. While gay marriage has been widely covered in the press, including some articles on how the children of lesbians and gays are being affected by the current controversy, media attempts to cover the issue for a younger audience have been controversial.
In March 2004, for example, the Washington Post's KidsPost section featured a story about a 10-year-old boy whose parents are lesbians, and who spoke out in favor of same-sex marriage. An accompanying article, called "What's Best for Kids" provided a counterpoint from Maggie Gallagher, head of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, who argued that if same-sex marriages are made legal, kids would be denied the right to be raised by their mother and father.
The Post reports that several readers called the KidsPost Editor with strong objections to the articles. One reader said that the Post was introducing a hot topic and pushing an agenda. Others said it was inappropriate for young readers who could not yet make up their minds on the issue.
The Big Picture
Duffy, Bott and Bezis personally care about gay marriage because they see it as a matter of their parents' equality. But, should kids who aren't in the same situation have any interest?
"I believe that young people should be concerned with this issue," says Bezis. "This issue is not only for kids of [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered parents] to be concerned about. [All kids] must realize that we are the future of America, and that if we want to not have our kids grow up in this world of discrimination we must change it now."
"Of course teens should be concerned with gay marriage," says Duffy."If they stand for 'liberty and justice for all,' they must support gay marriage. If gay marriage is legalized in the near future, our generation will be the first to have that option for our entire adult lives, which is a great step towards equality. The political situation now appears that the choice will be between legalizing gay marriage or banning it in a constitutional amendment, and I don't think anyone wants to be known as the generation that codified hate into the constitution."
"Even though we can't vote, we can still write letters to the Congress and our Senators, and hopefully they will take our thoughts into consideration," adds Bott.
Is she herself planning to walk down the aisle someday?
"Maybe if I find the right person, and I love them, but I am not sure yet. I am still trying to get into high school," she says with a grin.
- COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere) is a national organization that supports young people with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender parents.
- PFLAG (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays) promotes the well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons, their families and friends.
Rob Capriccioso is a staff writer for Connect for Kids.