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Fri March 22, 2013

Kids' Voices Key On Both Sides Of Gay-Marriage Debate

Originally published on Fri March 22, 2013 2:21 pm

When the Supreme Court takes up same-sex marriage next week, much of the debate will revolve around children. Opponents have long argued that kids' best interests require both a mom and a dad. Recently, however, more children of same-sex couples have started speaking out for themselves.

Two years ago, a video of a young man testifying in the Iowa Legislature went viral.

"Good evening, Mr. Chairman," the young man said. "My name is Zach Wahls. I'm a sixth-generation Iowan and an engineering student at the University of Iowa, and I was raised by two women."

Wahls told lawmakers he was a top student and an Eagle Scout — and that "the sexual orientation of my parents has had zero effect on the content of my character."

Steve Majors of the Family Equality Council says the gay advocacy group saw Wahls' video as "just the tip of the iceberg." The group filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court highlighting the stories of people like him — the first generation raised by openly gay and lesbian parents.

On Thursday, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced its support of same-sex marriage as being good for kids, Majors says.

"More than 30 years of social science research tells us that the children have the same outcomes, the same positive outcomes, as children raised by opposite-sex couples," he says.

Shifting Public Opinion

Ella Robinson says her dad came out when she was 4 years old, and that's when her parents got divorced. Her dad is Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop of a major Christian denomination. He and his partner helped raise Ella at a time when she knew no other families like hers.

"We used to joke that people would expect a disco ball in our living room or naked pictures on the wall. And that could not have been further from the truth," says Ella, now 31. In reality, she says, it was board games and family dinners — boring, normal and loving.

Today, there are far more same-sex families. President Obama mentioned them when he told ABC last year that his views on gay marriage had "evolved."

"You know, Malia and Sasha, they've got friends whose parents are same-sex couples. It wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends' parents would be treated differently," he said.

In citing his children, the president echoed many others who have changed their mind on this issue. So does this explain the huge shift in public opinion?

'In The Media's Eye'

Surveys suggest that kids younger than 18 in same-sex families still number fewer than a quarter-million.

"It's a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent," says Thomas Peters of the National Organization for Marriage, a leading group opposing same-sex marriage.

"The difference is that children raised by gay parents are very much in the media's eye," he says. "We see it on Modern Family. We see this hugely blown out of proportion. It's why, by the way, in Gallup [polls], Americans believe that a third to a fourth of Americans are gay."

In fact, studies estimate that it's more like 3 percent to 4 percent. And Peters argues that the media image of gay marriage's impact is misleading. His group put out an ad last fall stating that "young adults with a parent who has had a same-sex relationship fared worse on nearly two-thirds of outcomes measured."

That study is also cited in a Supreme Court brief, even though it has been widely debunked. Still, children are making their own heartfelt case.

Eleven-year-old Grace Evans, with her long hair in a braid, testified this month as Minnesota lawmakers considered legalizing same-sex marriage.

"I want to ask you this question: Which parent do I not need — my mom or my dad?" she said. She looked up from her paper to a long silence.

And a teen who testified against gay marriage in Maryland last year received online death threats. But Peters says kids are central to this debate.

"As long as the marriage conversation remains focused on, generationally, what's best for children, I think America will find the right way forward," he says.

Marriage Vs. Parenting

Yet public opinion is moving rapidly in favor of same-sex marriage. A decade ago, the Pew Research Center found that most Americans thought it would undermine the traditional family. Today, researcher Michael Dimock says, most do not.

"We see a lot of support for same-sex couples raising children," he says. "Sixty-four percent in the current poll say that same-sex couples can be as good as parents as heterosexual couples. That's much higher than support for gay marriage."

In fact, Dimock says, Americans seem to regard same-sex marriage and parenting as two separate issues.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. When the Supreme Court takes up same-sex marriage next week, much of the debate will revolve around children. Opponents have long argued that kids' best interests require both a mom and a dad. Now, as NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports, the children of same-sex couples say the evidence shows something else.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Two years ago, this video of a young man testifying in the Iowa legislature went viral.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

ZACH WAHLS: Good evening, Mr. Chairman. My name is Zach Wahls. I'm a sixth-generation Iowan, and an engineering student at the University of Iowa, and I was raised by two women.

LUDDEN: Wahls told lawmakers he was a top student and an Eagle Scout.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

WAHLS: The sexual orientation of my parents has had zero effect on the content of my character. Thank you very much.

STEVE MAJORS: When we saw that video, we knew that he was just the tip of the iceberg.

LUDDEN: Steve Majors is with the gay advocacy group, Family Equality Council. It's filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court highlighting the stories of people like Wahls, the first generation raised by openly gay and lesbian parents. He notes that just yesterday, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out in support of same-sex marriage as good for kids.

MAJORS: More than 30 years of social science research tells us that the children have the same outcomes, the same positive outcomes as children raised by opposite-sex couples.

ELLA ROBINSON: My dad came out when I was four, and that's when my parents got divorced.

LUDDEN: Ella Robinson is now 31. Her dad is Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop of a major Christian denomination. He and his partner helped raise Ella at a time when she knew no other families like hers.

ROBINSON: And we used to joke that, you know, people would expect a disco ball in our living room, or, you know, naked pictures on the wall. And that could not have been farther from the truth.

LUDDEN: In reality, she says, it was board games and family dinners - boring, normal and loving. Today, there are far more same-sex families. President Obama mentioned them when he told ABC last year that his views on gay marriage had evolved.

(SOUNDBITE OF ABC NEWS BROADCAST)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You know, Malia and Sasha, they've got friends whose parents are same-sex couples. It wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends' parents would be treated differently.

LUDDEN: In citing his children, the president echoed many others who changed their mind on this issue. So does this explain the huge shift in public opinion? Well, surveys suggest kids under 18 in same-sex families still number fewer than a quarter million.

THOMAS PETERS: It's a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent.

LUDDEN: Thomas Peters is with the National Organization for Marriage, a leading group opposing same-sex marriage.

PETERS: The difference is is that children raised by gay parents are very much in the media's eye. We see it on "Modern Family." We see this hugely blown-out of proportion. It's why, by the way, in Gallup, Americans believe a third to a fourth of Americans are gay.

LUDDEN: In fact, studies estimate it's more like 3 to 4 percent. And Peters argues the media image of gay marriage's impact is misleading. His group put out this ad last fall.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Young adults with a parent who's had a same-sex relationship fared worse on nearly two-thirds of outcomes measured.

LUDDEN: That study's also cited in a Supreme Court brief, even though it has been widely debunked. Still, children are making their own heartfelt case.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

GRACE EVANS: My name is Grace Evans, and I want to thank you for letting me speak today.

LUDDEN: Eleven-year-old Grace, long hair in a braid, testified this month as Minnesota lawmakers considered legalizing same-sex marriage.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

EVANS: I want to ask you this question: Which parent do I not need, my mom or my dad?

LUDDEN: She looked up from her paper to a long silence. A teen who testified last year against gay marriage in Maryland received online death threats. But Thomas Peters, of the National Organization for Marriage, says kids are central to this debate.

PETERS: As long as the marriage conversation remains focused on, generationally, what's best for children, I think America will find the right way forward.

LUDDEN: Yet public opinion is moving rapidly in favor of same-sex marriage. A decade ago, the Pew Research Center found most Americans thought it would undermine the traditional family. Today, researcher Michael Dimock says most do not.

MICHAEL DIMOCK: We see a lot of support for same-sex couples raising children. Sixty-four percent in the current poll say that same-sex couples can be as good a parents as heterosexual couples. That's much higher than support for gay marriage.

LUDDEN: In fact, Dimock says Americans seem to regard same-sex marriage and parenting as two separate issues. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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