Recently, I interviewed Clark University Professor Abbie Goldberg about her new book, Lesbian and Gay Parents and Their Children: Research on the Family Life Cycle. She researched gay and lesbian families—interviews, both of parents and grown kids of gay and lesbian parents—and she also looked at other studies about gay and lesbian families. Her conclusion: gay and lesbian families do just fine. If you want to learn more about her work—she’s speaking tonight (Thursday) at Impish, along with University of Massachusetts Professor Lee Badgett, whose book, When Gay People Get Married: What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage, looks at what’s happened in places where gay and lesbian marriage has become legal (it should be a pretty interesting discussion).

Here in Northampton, Goldberg’s findings are not news, not even instinct proven right. Here in Northampton, that gay and lesbian parents do fine just kind of is. It so is that some people—mostly women, but some men—move here in order to raise their two-mom or two-dad led families (heterosexual couples and single parents move here to raise children, too, often attracted to the area because it’s considered to be so open and accepting). Not surprisingly, one thing Goldberg found was that geography—not hill or sea, but more progressive and open or very rigid and traditional—makes a huge difference for what a family’s experience, especially of being “different,” however you define that—is like.

Probably because the song has resurfaced on a commercial (can I tell you for what? Blessedly, I cannot), Cat Stevens’ wonderful anthem, If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out, of the Harold and Maude soundtrack has been running through my mind a lot recently. The film happened to be showing for one day at the Academy of Music on my forty-fifth birthday (not this year, but last) and my big birthday treat was getting to take Ezekiel, just a month shy of thirteen, to see it. As hoped, he loved it. I was surprised by how much I still loved it (and I was relieved about that, truth be told). The theme of the film is really to be yourself—and to celebrate the pleasure you can take in being who you are. I can think of few better messages to impart to a budding teenager (it’s true, if you know Ezekiel, he has already gotten that particular memo!).


The push to legalize same-sex marriage is correctly considered a civil rights issue. So far, no state has voted in favor of this civil right; courts and legislatures have had to rely upon clear heads and strong hearts in order to uphold same-sex marriage within this civil rights’ framework. Maine voters get a chance to make history in two weeks (c’mon, Mainers). Often, when discussing marriage equality, the fact that interracial marriages were illegal not so long ago is something brought into the conversation, generally as example of how far we’ve come already.

Having said that, what of a Justice of the Peace in Louisiana who refused to marry an interracial couple because he disapproved of their producing biracial children? A news story quoted Keith Bardwell, the Justice of the Peace: "I'm not a racist," Bardwell told the newspaper. "I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house. My main concern is for the children." The story went viral. Now, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is calling for the JP to lose his license.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell, in her blog at the Nation, wrote this week about marriage equality and the intersections between seeking marriage equality for same-sex couples and interracial couples not so very long ago. Here’s one excerpt: “My fierce commitment to marriage equality derives, in part, from my personal biography as an interracial child, descended from American slaves, and raised in Virginia, beginning less than a decade after the Loving decision. Even though I am heterosexual, marriage equality is personal. I learn from the history of racial and interracial marriage exclusion that the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples is wrong.”


Although we may have read about or known about instances when denial of a same-sex union has horrifying results, there continue to be stories that must be shared (until these relationships are uniformly recognized). Take Lisa Pond and her partner, Janice Langbehn. Langbehn was kept away from Pond, who lay dying, because the hospital they arrived in—while on vacation—refused to treat her as Pond’s spouse. This is part of Langbehn’s account: “Sitting alone with our luggage, our children and my thoughts, I watched numbly as other families were invited back into the trauma center to visit with loved ones. I was still waiting to hear what was happening with Lisa, realizing as the time passed that I was not being allowed to see her and if the social worker’s words were any indication it was because we were gay.”

How about the fact that states can discriminate against same-sex couples wanting to adopt through the foster care system? Representative Pete Stark has introduced the “Every Child Deserves a Family” bill to deny federal funds to states that discriminate against same-sex couples wanting to adopt. Stating the numbers of children in need of adoptive or foster homes and the willingness of many gay and lesbian couples to become adoptive or fostering families, Stark asserts, "When considering a potential placement for a child, the only criteria should be what is in the child’s best interest and whether the prospective parents can provide a safe and nurturing home. Bigotry should play no part in this decision.”


I don’t want to write about marriage as some kind of island, though. Marriage, if couples even choose it, comes a ways down the road. Before that, we have to grow up and claim ourselves any which way (or every which way?). That’s why stories like one about a high school senior, a lesbian, told that any photographs of her in her tux—worn to the prom—would be banned from the school yearbook or students at Moorehouse—an historically black, all-male college—being told that cross-dressing is against the school’s dress code, because it’s “inappropriate attire” frustrate me so very much. How can the million things to be authentically exist when rigid and arbitrary rules like these continue to crop up?

An article in the Washington Post this week looked at how, in the world of athletics, accurately defining gender is not necessarily simple. Northwestern Professor, Alice Dreger is quoted: "To me, it's no different than deciding where the foul line is. The line is not drawn by nature, it's a line we draw on nature."

We are not, as anyone who has grown up in any way outside the proverbial box can tell you, necessarily meant to fit into boxes. Maybe, the more room there is for nuance, the better. The Washington Post article concludes with a quote from Cynthia Johnson, a woman who was born with androgen insensitivity, XY chromosomes and “ambiguous genitals” that were surgically altered to make them appear more female. Johnson, who began learning more about her condition in recent years, has grown comfortable with the idea that she is a woman whose body contains a contradiction.” Quoting Johnson: “It’s something different. But I think everybody's different."

The reason that every discussion of marriage should backtrack to more fundamental issues of identity is this: different needs to be affirmed and supported and championed until different isn’t seen as so very different any longer. Cue strumming guitar, and fade.