Saving the World One Teen at a Time - Column on Parenting Tweens and Teens

Who Gets to Define a Family?

by Abby Margolis Newman


Imagine this scenario: your child comes to you, years from now, and tells you he is gay. (I know, many of you are parents of very young children - just bear with me.) Then a few years later, he falls in love and tells you he wants to marry his boyfriend. You love your son, and you've grown to love his boyfriend, too. Yet the state you live in says no, he cannot marry the person he loves. How would you feel about this? To paraphrase the Facebook Queen Sarah Palin, would your "Mama Grizzly" come out roaring in protest?


Does irrational fear and loathing of homosexuality (which, for many people, is simply fear of the unknown) get to dictate with whom your child will make a family? Or do consenting adults, who love each other and want to make a lifetime commitment, get to decide for themselves?


Last week, a U.S. District Court judge in California ruled that Proposition 8 - which limited marriage to opposite-sex couples, and was passed by California's voters by a margin of 52 to 48 percent in November 2008 - is unconstitutional. The judge, Vaughn Walker, wrote a blistering opinion, asserting that the defenders of "Prop 8" had not even come close to proving their case - in fact, he dismissed their "expert witness" testimony (consisting of only two witnesses, one of whom was clearly a religious extremist) as totally unreliable.


The judge concluded that Prop 8 violated the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal treatment of all citizens. When it comes to marriage, the proponents of Prop 8 want the laws of California to apply unequally to a certain class of citizens - gays and lesbians - and to deny to them the protection the 14th Amendment provides.


Marriage is a fundamental civil right in our country, and it must be available to all our citizens. Fortunately, the generational polling on this issue shows that the country's support of gay marriage is growing and will continue to do so: majorities of people under the age of 50 support gay marriage, and the younger those polled are, the more shoulder-shrugging responses the pollsters receive: essentially, our young people are saying, "So what's the big deal?" (A 2009 CBS News poll found that 64 percent of those 18-45 supported gay marriage, while 46 percent of those over 50 did.) I know that "Who cares?" is the attitude of my three boys, who are 16, 15 and 11 - and it is shared by most of their friends.


Hak-Shing William Tam, an "expert" witness for the pro-Prop 8 side in the case, testified that he is the secretary of the "America Return to God Prayer Movement," which operates a website called "" His website encouraged support for Prop 8 on the basis that "homosexuals are twelve times more likely to molest children" (a blatantly made-up statistic) and that defeating Proposition 8 would have "cause[d] states one-by-one to fall into Satan's hands" (an eventuality difficult to prove or disprove). When asked for the sources of his information, Tam cited "the Internet." Tam's testimony was quickly discredited by the judge - the obvious point being that fringe religious beliefs cannot determine laws or social policy.


amen, mama grizzly.


another issue here is that of states rights. Many people supported Prop 8 because they claimed it was an issue of states rights - as in each individual state has the right to make it's own laws. The idea is that should the people of California choose to discriminate against their non-heterosexual citizens, the authority of the state and the people of that state should exceed the authority of the federal government. President Lincoln had something to say about the idea of states rights. With the Civil War and again with the Emancipation Proclamation he made it abundantly clear that the federal government trumps states rights. And today, the tea party idiots are gathering in front of the Lincoln Memorial champion States Rights among other things. They just don't get it.


It is in the best interests of all our children, including those currently raised by committed same sex couples, that they be able to solidfy their unions as easily as any other couple.
There are children out there who if Mom 1 were to die, instead of naturally living with Mom 2 have to fight with disapproving grandparents in courts for custody of their children!
France decided on a middle ground; they "preserved" marriage by creating civil unions for EVERYONE. If you choose a religious ceremony after that point, up to you and your church. But the state protections are in place. If we really want to fight about a word then we just give every new couple a civil union with all the rights due any couple at the federal and state level. In some ways that will be easier, it gets around the state laws defining marriage without having to strike down each one in court.


I agree both with your excellent article & scwelty. I'm similarly a 30yo mama, but my 11yo daughter is a bit different. She doesn't swoon over Justin Bieber, she kind of looks like him. Her hair is quite short, she wears tight sport bras, board shorts, A-line undershirts, baggy t-shirts, and the new Fresh Collection from Old Spice. Other days, she wears skirts & scarves.
She believes Women of Color are soooo beautiful (we're both blond w/ green eyes). I have certain...suspicions about my tween and her budding preferences. I've had her mistaken for a boy on multiple occasions, she doesn't mind. Angry grizzly bear doesn't even begin to describe my attitude when she's questioned on her fashion selections. Whatever her inclinations, she's my daughter, I love her & I'll support her. All I've ever wanted is for her to be happy being herself in her own skin. What parent doesn't want that?


What a great article. I have a three-year old son and am right at 30 myself and have that "who cares" attitude about this debate...meaning that I believe marriage is a commitment between two individuals and who are we to care ot judge who those two happen to be. If my son decides he should be with a man, so be it. I would hope he's happy and that his husband would be someone I can love, too. Marriage can have a religious meaning and if a particular faith says they can't perform that sacrament for couples that aren't man/woman, I can live with that. But, the state is dabling too close to religion with this issue and needs to protect marriage as the civil right it defines for everyone regardless of persuasion. I have to think that it is healthier for society as a whole if we get to love and live with whomever we choose and chooses us and that civil society needs to support that end. Additionally, if marriage is simply a means to procreate and we are going to be basing laws on this, we should take this to its logically ridiculous end and propose laws that require unmarried couples (including high school children, why not?) to marry if they end up procreating outside marriage.