In Defense of Family
The story of one battle in the war over marriage equality
By Carla Sameth 04/11/2013
My son Gabe’s fourth-grade classmate wags her finger and shakes her brightly colored beads, “What you’re doing at home is YOUR business, but you can’t be bringing that two-mamas stuff here to school!”
When Gabe was in the first grade, I explained that I am gay. I told him that a woman can be in love with a woman and a man can be in love with a man. As most boys do in first grade, Gabe preferred the company of other boys; he loved the idea that he and his best friend could get married someday.
A year later, when I tell Gabe that my friend has become my girlfriend, he is thrilled. He cannot wait to announce this to the world, beginning with my mom: “Hey Gaga, did you know my mom is a lesbian?!”
“Well, I guess I did hear something like that,” she tells him. He proceeds to spread the happy news to all the guests of a large family gathering. Gabe has already met my girlfriend’s daughter, who is the same age as him, and we all get along like a chorus of “We Are the World.”
“My mom is getting married and I’m going to have another mom and a sister,” Gabe announces to his best friend on an afterschool trip.
“No you’re not,” the boy says. “Women can’t marry women. She must be marrying a man!” His friend is indignant. When the argument becomes heated, they defer to the van driver, who tells them that although two women can fall in love, they cannot, in fact, get married.
By fourth grade Gabe started to see contradictions and hypocrisy. He asked, “If Sen. Kerry supports gay people, why is he against gay marriage?” In pursuit of a more progressive education for my son, I transferred him to a charter school in Altadena, largely African American and Latino, with more “nontraditional” families, and biracial kids, like Gabe.
At the new school, a student told Gabe, “You’re not really black — look in the mirror.” Suddenly, my son wanted more than anything to be accepted by a small group of African-American kids whose families were evangelical and vehemently anti-gay. But when Gabe eagerly told them about his “rainbow” family (Jewish, African American, Cuban, and Mexican American between the two moms and the two kids), his classmates would parrot the derogatory phrases their parents had taught them.
The parents of an adopted child suggested that the school present the movie “That’s a Family,” a sweet film depicting all kinds of parents: single, adoptive, interracial, and, of course, same-sex. A small but vocal minority rallied to stop the screening of the film, and in some misguided show of cultural sensitivity, the administration canceled it. Gabe said, “Mom, it’s not the kids. It’s what their parents are telling them.”
A class from Pitzer College made a documentary about our “progressive charter school” and the difficulty it was having trying to address homophobia head-on. Even though some of his classmates had parents who died drug-related deaths or were incarcerated, Gabe became increasingly aware that his family was not one to be proud of. But he asked me to “let it go” so he could just fade into the fray as best he could.
Gabe decided to remain quiet about his home situation whenever possible. My girlfriend and I got married in Canada, a public acknowledgement of the blending of our families. The wedding was an important statement to our children — welcoming each of them into our new, combined family unit. We had a family honeymoon on “Rosie’s Cruise,” a boat full of other gay couples and their kids. Gabe said it was a relief to be in a place where he did not have to explain his family.
When Gabe hit the pre-teen years, he became even less enthusiastic about being different. He wanted Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad as parents, or at least parents who resembled them, like many of his friends seemed to have. The phrase “that’s so gay” became such a common expression of distaste that my son came to hate the fact that his name sounds like the word “gay.” And around that time, unfortunately, our blended family “unblended.”
That was more than five years ago. As duly noted in the current case before the US Supreme Court, public opinion has changed from a minority to a majority in support of same-sex couples having the right to marry. Gabe has gone from a pre-teen trying to fit in to a 17-year-old who calls himself an Afro-Jew and is at ease with having a lesbian mother.
“Ah, mom,” he tells me, “it’s what every teenage boy wants; we can look at girls together.” He is definitely straight. I let him know that I’m his mom, not one of his buddies, so we won’t be eyeing the same prospective girlfriends.
But during his childhood, the message Gabe heard was that having a lesbian mom was worse than being “sold for crack” by a straight mom. He lost out in the “your mama” games. There is no doubt he understood that there was “something wrong” with his family. Not only was he unable to rely on adults to defend it, he could see his society’s disapproval: it was illegal.
Of course, it would have been illegal for Gabe’s father and I to be married prior to 1967, when the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state bans on interracial marriage violated the Constitution.
Today, Gabe posts as his Facebook status, “Don’t hide behind the Constitution or the Bible. If you’re against Gay marriage, just be honest. Put a scarlet ‘H’ on your shirt and say ‘I’m a homophobe!’” A short debate follows among his “friends” with the majority “liking” his post.
In the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court’s decision, the Life Section will feature other stories about same-sex couples and the affects of Proposition 8, California’s Marriage Protection Act, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA. If you have one to share, we’d like to hear from you!
Contact Carla Sameth at Carla@iMindsPR.com or write to PW Editor Kevin Uhrich at firstname.lastname@example.org.