-= 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     
did.                                                                        
                                                                            
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          
together.                                                                   
                                                                            
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            
whatsoever."                                                                
                                                                            
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   
other."                                                                     
                                                                            
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."