February is shaping up to be a historic month for children of gays, or “COGs.” Just when it seemed that a Supreme Court victory for gay marriage had no obstacles in sight, the issue of gay parenting has been reopened for serious questioning. The interrogators are no longer preachers, social scientists, or gay rights advocates, but children of gay couples themselves.
History has produced a cohort of independent, mature, and critical adults who had gay parents. Raised in the 1970s and 1980s, this cohort is asserting their freedom from the confining roles imposed on them by both sides: the pathetic victim portrayed by moralist critics of homosexuality, or the model minority trumpeted by left-wing champions of their parents’ politics.
In earlier iterations, children of gay couples had to choose all or nothing. Complex or intermediate positions were not only frowned upon — they invited vicious backlash from the gay lobby.
Until now it has been almost impossible for complex voices to be heard. Katy Faust and Rivka Edelman, both raised by lesbians, hit massive home runs with columns in Public Discourse and The Federalist this month.
Faust’s open letter to Justice Anthony Kennedy summarized the view of many children of same-sex couples. Judging from her 270,000 social-media shares at Public Discourse, she’s launched a new genre. Call it “the same-sex parenting testimonial,” an emerging body of first-person work by adults looking back at their childhoods with gay parents.
Faust points out that children have a right to a mom and dad, which gay marriage by nature violates. Most would describe her argument as conservative, which is starkly different from Edelman’s feminist approach. Edelman points out that for same-sex couples to get children they necessarily create a legal and societal machine designed to denigrate birth mothers and take away their babies.
The end of the COGs’ dark age
If there are so many COGs, why have they been so invisible or two-dimensional until now? Left and right are both to blame.
The gay left did much to silence dissenting COGs. Leftists banked on testimonials from Zach Wahls, whose speeches in favor of his lesbian mothers moved millions.
Justice Kennedy’s remarks on children of gay couples were especially poignant in 2013:
[DOMA] humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for their children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their communities and in their daily lives.
Kennedy had not read any brief written by a COG who objected to gay parenting. In the two years since, much has changed. Four children of same-sex couples came forward with amicus curiae briefs in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (Full disclosure: including this author) — against gay marriage.
In January 2013, when briefs were filed against gay marriage, only one peer-reviewed study showed negative effects of COGs’ upbringing (by Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas). Since then, the Douglas Allen study and three peer-reviewed studies by Catholic University professor Donald Paul Sullins (one is here) all present data demonstrating harms done to COGs by the way they were raised.
But why the right?
The left’s urge to stifle COGs shouldn’t be surprising. It’s harder to understand why conservatives suppressed them for so long.
Attorneys general had the exclusive right to argue before high judges, yet they avoided discussing the existence of dissident COGs. “The lawyers” could not respond to the judges’ oft-posed question: “do you have any evidence of negative impacts caused by gay marriage?”
State attorneys responded by saying, “we do not have to show negative impacts,” citing a lot of foggy jargon about “rational basis review.” Many of these attorneys general opted to bring in “experts” who studied models of same-sex parenting, but who were not gay, had no gay children, and had no gay parents.
Some COGs have questioned whether attorneys general are avoiding them. At least a few have wondered whether wealthy parties are pressuring governors and paying lawyers to lose. As a conspiracy theory the idea has some potential. The day gay marriage goes national, the “pro-gay” side gets what it wants while the “pro-traditional-marriage” side gets away from “the wrong side of history.”
COGs now have a history of their own
The first book by a COG who criticized the movement seems to have been 2001’s Like Mother Like Daughter by Jakii Edwards, who is now deceased. Edwards was a unique and colorful African American writer. She wrote about her hard times in foster care and her lesbian mother’s train of girlfriends in working-class Pittsburgh in the 1950s and 1960s. Too coarse for the right and far too politically incorrect for the left, she found herself, like Phillis Wheatley, isolated from all sides and grappling with physical illness while receiving insufficient recognition for her historic contribution. One can only hope that literary scholars will study her posthumously as a key figure of this emerging genre.
Jakii Edwards would be followed by a Canadian woman, Dawn Stefanowicz, who published Out from Under in 2007. Stefanowicz was raised by her gay father and a chain of his paramours in the Toronto area in the 1960s and 1970s. Stefanowicz leads the reader through a jarring tour of metropolitan razzle-dazzle: the burgeoning gay chic of Yonge Street, resorts with shimmering pools, and cosmopolitan hedonism. Stefanowicz’s mother lived in the home with her father well into her teenage years, but her gay dad’s all-consuming lifestyle suffocated them all. Out from Under does not bode well for the gay parenting advocates who say that two-father parenting will be fine as long as the surrogate mother has contact with children. Stefanowicz has been there and done that; it didn’t work.
One year after Out from Under came My Daddy’s Secret, a staggering memoir about a girl growing up with a transgender father in 1970s Pennsylvania. Written by Denise Shick, now director of Help4Families Ministry, this book feels more surreal than Like Mother Like Daughter or Out from Under. Shick describes the strange jealousy and lurid obsessiveness of her father. As she was about to walk down the wedding aisle, he whispered into her ear, “it should have been me in that dress.” His proclivities also led him to snoop through his daughter’s underwear, watch her every move, and fondle her to see how much she was growing.
Jakii Edwards, Dawn Stefanowicz, and Denise Shick all discuss their work with other COGs in their books. Edwards and Shick had ministries while Stefanowicz archived dozens of stories from children of same-sex couples, publishing a number of them on her website. Between these authors’ contacts and the contacts of more recent arrivals to the scene such as Faust and Edelman, there must be well over one hundred testimonials that could be indexed and submitted for serious study. The resources have been around for a decade and a half for conservatives to draw from.
The following attorneys general cannot go before the Supreme Court having been tasked with defending traditional marriage, and say, “I don’t know” when Justice Kennedy asks what proof exists of the harms done to children by gay marriage. The COGs have a lot of documentation. Ignoring COGs now is not just bad conservatism, it’s bad lawyering. At the links below emails are available in case readers want to drop these attorneys general a line and encourage them to consult with COGs:
Robert Oscar Lopez is an English and Classics professor in Los Angeles, and author of Colorful Conservative: American Conversations with the Ancients from Wheatley to Whitman (2011) and Jephthah’s Daughters: Innocent Casualties in the War for Family ‘Equality’ (2015). Jephthah’s Daughters will be available at createspace.com bookstore and Amazon.com after February 25, 2015. He edits English Manif.