PFLAG believes that the State of Arkansas’ reliance on the supposed risks to the commitment of heterosexual parents to their biological children and the need to preserve the institution of marriage as legitimate state interests underlying laws banning same-sex marriage is entirely misplaced.1 This specious claim ignores the many children who are currently being raised by same-sex couples, who as the Supreme Court has observed, are being “humiliate[d]” by non-recognition of same-sex marriage, making it “even more difficult for children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.”
My older brother, Brandon, and I grew up in Russellville, Arkansas. Brandon told me that he was gay when I was a sophomore in high school. My immediate reaction was to tell Brandon that being gay was wrong. But Brandon is my brother, and even as I said it, I did not feel that there was anything wrong with him. Learning that my own brother was gay led me to question my views, and I quickly realized that his sexual orientation was neither “wrong” nor a choice.
It took almost two years for California and federal law to recognize Brandon and Alexis’s marriage. But Arkansas still does not recognize their commitment to one another. When Brandon and Alexis travel home for the holidays, they have to bring estate planning documents and health care proxies because Arkansas might not recognize their marriage in the event of an accident. My brother has said that he feels like the state singled him out when voters banned gay marriage in 2004 and so he feels vulnerable and unwelcome when he visits Arkansas. Those concerns are a burden that J-Lynn and I will never have to face.
Opponents of same-sex marriage have said marriage should be reserved for opposite-sex couples, because permitting same-sex couples to marry will somehow pose risks to children, especially children in future generations. I could not disagree more with that statement. Anyone who knows my son, Lee, and his partner, David, would understand that their sexual orientation does not impact their ability to be good parents. The idea that they, as a couple or as a family, could pose a risk to anyone else’s marriage or children, either now or in the future, makes no sense.
Lee and David live in Illinois. About seven years ago, they adopted our grandchildren, Braiden and Michael, through the foster care system. Braiden, who is now 11 years old, wrote the following letter last year, in the hopes that it may help someone else understand her perspective. She wrote it on her own, with minor assistance from her teachers on spelling and grammar. Her words convey, more eloquently than I ever could, why allowing her dads and other same-sex couples like them to marry will not pose any risks to children.
“Love is important! It doesn’t matter who people love, as long as they are happy. Everyone should have the right to marry who he or she wants. You may not like two men being married, but for them, it’s normal.
...Before I lived with my two dads, my life was horrible. My old family never treated me well. They wouldn’t stand up for me. If my foster sister fought with me, my old mom would just sit there and watch me get hurt, so I would have to fight back. Each time I was at foster home, the foster parents promised me they would keep me safe and treat my brother and I equally.
But they always broke their promise. I moved five times until my dad and daddy found me. They also promised that they would always love me and keep me safe and they would treat me equal to my brother. I was 4 when I met them. Now I am 10 and they have kept their promises. They do so much for me. They never hurt me or my brother. I feel so safe. I believe I can do anything with my two dads. Would there be any purpose to ban the marriage of two men or two women when they can treat children the same or even better than other couples. I hope that you will do the right thing and let anyone marry who they want to.”
Braiden and Michael continue to thrive under Lee and David’s care. Both excel in school and are happy, well-adjusted children.
Lee and David recently added to their family, by obtaining legal custody of David’s nephew, Cody. Before joining Lee and David, Cody was labeled “trouble.” But after becoming a part of their family, he became a model student, receiving straight A’s and making the Dean’s list in high school. Cody has been active in his local church youth group, helping to organize the regional youth conference for their denomination. He was accepted at four out of five universities he applied to, and started college this year.
No one can tell me that Lee and David are lesser parents, or that they and their children are any less a “family,” just because Lee and David are both men. They have given structure, stability, and most of all, love, to their children, and all of them – and our society – are the better for it.