I am driving to Lexington for an appointment. My phone rings. It is the school. My youngest son has developed a rash. I turn my car around and head toward the school. I call and cancel my appointment. I am listening to NPR. Subject: GAY MARRIAGE. I should listen to music from my iPod instead, but I listen to the (to my mind) ignorant folks who are outside the supreme court protesting and adamantly and unapologetically proclaiming bigoted and unjust stances on something that really does not affect them at all.
A woman states, “children have the right to have a mother and a father; two men or two women cannot have children.” A man shouts, “do I really need to say this? Only a woman can be a mother and only a man can be a father.”
These comments are made in the name of marriage as a social contract for the purpose of procreation. Do I really need to state the reasons why this argument does not hold up under any sort of intelligent and rational interrogation?
I have two sons. My partner and I adopted them through the Department of Children and Families (DCF). This means that my boys were removed from the home of their birth parent(s) (bio-dad was long gone when the children were removed and the state was never able to locate him). I will not divulge the reasons that the boys had to be taken from their bio-mom as it is theirs to share or not. However, I will state some generalities: the state is reluctant to remove children from their birth home so the situation in the birth home must be significantly dangerous for the children. The children in DCF care have been seriously abused and/or neglected. Currently, there are over 8000 children in foster care in the state of Massachusetts and more than 40,000 children receiving some form of services from DCF. When a child is removed from the birth home, the bio-parents are given every possible support in order to promote reunification (from the DCF website: “The agency’s core mandate is to strengthen families, where child abuse or neglect has occurred.”). In our case, the boys’ birth mother was given one year to comply with some very basic requirements. These requirements are imposed to insure the best possible outcome for the child(ren) (ie, drug treatment, parenting classes, counseling, supervised visitation…). If the bio-parents are unable and/or unwilling to comply with the requirements for reunification, DCF will petition the court to have parental rights terminated so that the child(ren) may be adopted. The result for children is that they spend a significant amount of time in foster care and, even if parental rights are terminated, that does not guarantee that the child will be adopted. Too many children age out of the system. They are never adopted and, when they turn 21, are sent out into the world on their own with no family to support them or catch them when they stumble. This circumstance is the direct result of the heterosexual foundation upon which the anti-marriage equality proponents rest their argument.
While I am loathe to reify the gay/straight binary, I must do so here in service of my polemic. Being heterosexual does not guarantee good parenting ability. In fact, DCF removes children from straight families. Straight folks abuse children. Straight folks have children outside of marriage (I list this only because the folks who are so against marriage equality link marriage and child-bearing/rearing inextricably). Straight men abandon their children (and, at a lesser rate, so do straight women; however, think about how many times you hear the term “single mom” versus the number of times you hear the term “single dad,” but this is not the space for a gender inequality rant). Straight folks abandon children with special needs. I am not stating that all straight folks do this, but I am positing that it is straight folks who produce the children who end up in the care of the state.
Who moves to care for these children by acting as both foster and adoptive parents? An inordinately large portion of foster and adoptive parents are gay/lesbian. (For an extraordinary portrayal of adoptive gay/lesbian folks, see Rosie O’Donnell’s documentary All Aboard! Rosie’s Family Cruise — if you are rolling your eyes right now, you are having the same reaction I initially had when hearing of this film. Someone I trust told me that it is really good, so I watched and it is quite moving.)
How does one adopt from DCF? The process is arduous and I will attempt to adequately summarize it: 1) Find an agency that contracts with DCF and sign up to begin the process; 2) Sign up for Massachusetts Approach to Partnerships in Parenting (MAPP), a 30 hour required course; 3) Take MAPP course, missing NO sessions; 4) Undergo a “home study” in which a social worker delves deep to uncover every part of your personal history, upbringing, parenting style, relationship, living circumstances and writes it all in a neat summary that will be shared with state social workers through the “matching” process; 5) Upon completion of the home study, undergo the “match” process in which you are “matched” with waiting children; 6) After a “match” is made, act as “foster” parent for a minimum of 6 months after the child(ren) is (are) placed in your home 7) Endure monthly one-hour visits from the children’s social worker and the family social worker in your home for the entire time preceding legalization; 8) Legally adopt after a minimum of six months of foster parenting.
When we attended MAPP class, the majority of the couples were gay and/or lesbian. If I remember correctly, the ratio was five to two. This could have been an anomaly, but I remain quite active with the agency that facilitated our adoption and have further anecdotal evidence. Now my partner and I often speak on panels for MAPP classes and I became certified and now teach MAPP classes. The trend of the majority of the folks in classes being gay/lesbian holds. The majority of the adoptive parents with whom I serve on panels for MAPP classes are gay/lesbian. The social worker who facilitated our adoption is a lesbian and, with her partner, is the mother of two children of her own. Queers step up. Queers love and raise the children that have been rejected, abused, neglected by their straight parents. Explain now how gay/lesbian folks are not able to be parents. Explain how the rush of gay/lesbian folks to adopt special needs children, abused children, neglected children is somehow detrimental to the fabric of society. Explain to me how it is that my sons are thriving, despite the fact that they were taken from their birth home when one was 2 months old and the other 2 years old, then spent over a year in separate foster homes, then over two years in our pre-adoptive foster home while we awaited the slow-moving court process that allowed legal adoption when they were almost 4 and 6 years old. Of note, they were considered “difficult” to place because they were a “sibling pair,” not white and not babies. Our esteemed heterosexual pre-adoptive parents mostly prefer single, white infants. I am happy for that, though, because I now have the enormous joy of parenting these beautiful boys with my lovely partner. But, I still get pissed off when I hear idiots ranting on the radio about how I am not able to be a parent and therefore should not be able to marry my partner of over eighteen years.
I never thought that marriage would be a possibility for me. The world is a vastly different place than it was several decades ago when I was a teen grappling with my sexuality in Bozeman, Montana (where I was certain I was the only person who felt the way that I did). When marriage became a possibility in Massachusetts, my partner and I discussed it, but neither of us was intent on pursuing it. But, now we have children. Now I have left my academic career and I am an independent artist so that I can be available for my boys. My partner is the primary income-earner. We are all covered on her medical insurance. Thankfully, we live in a state that recognizes gay and lesbian relationships and my partner is able to support our family. Although my partner is the primary earner, she is not able to take tax advantage of this circumstance as she would if one of us were male. This is simply not fair. I know, life is not fair, but is it not our duty to embrace measures that would make things as fair as possible? Our children want us to be married, so we are going to get married on our anniversary this year. If you are dead set against marriage equality, then simply revoke the tax and legal advantages for marriage, make it a religious institution with no legal implications whatsoever.
Today I brought my son home and gave him some benadryl and put some anti-itch cream on his rash.
He said, “Ma, you da best mommy ever. I love my family.”
Then, he drew this picture of his family and gave it to me: