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June 5, 2004

An Agenda That Makes the Story Sting

I gave much more thought than usual to whether to post something that I found on Lane Core's blog. I thought. I researched. Wrote a paragraph. Thought some more, and decided that I just didn't have the time or energy to offer the commentary that would have made the effort worthwhile. But here it is, from the New York Post:

An ugly tug of war is raging over the fate of a 6-year-old boy being raised by a gay couple who won custody of the child in a landmark decision in 2000.

Gays hailed the ruling as a major victory for same-sex couples, but the boy has since become a troubled kid who punches his teachers and repeatedly says he wants to kill himself, according to an expert's report requested by his school. ...

He punches and kicks his teachers, hits and bites himself, curses and says he wants to kill himself as often as twice a month, according to the new report, completed in January by NYU's Child Study Center.

It also says he repeatedly kisses and touches classmates inappropriately and once ran around naked.

One tangential thought that I had was that it might be useful for some law blogger to make a practice of keeping tabs on the subjects of "landmark decisions." As we've seen pretty explicitly in Massachusetts, the plaintiffs and first-movers aren't accidentally in their positions; they are often as much argument as vehicle, themselves. It would be interesting, therefore, to know how things work out for them. What ever happened, for example, to Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade? (Yes, I know.)

The reason I decided not to mention the story in the Post was that I've seen similar stories involving heterosexual parents, and teasing out the points that I wanted to make would have been a sticky process. The reason that I'm mentioning it now is that, via Marriage Debate Blog, I came across a profile of another son of homosexual first-movers — this time in the Boston Globe:

Having lived together for 27 years and having been the first gay couple to obtain a license to marry in Massachusetts, Marcia Hams and Susan Shepherd were standing in front of a minister at the First Church in Cambridge May 23, and, at long last, they were declaring in public the love they had been told cannot exist.

Alongside them was their son, Peter, who is 24, a senior at Merrimack College, and after all the years of political posturing and the months of wrangling about the Supreme Judicial Court decision, the ceremony seemed blissfully spiritual.

A day later, sitting at the kitchen table of the home in Cambridge where he's now living with his mothers, he described what it was like to grow from boyhood to manhood as the son of lesbians and to attend the wedding of his mothers. With gay marriage in its third week here, some attention has been focused on the impact on children and on the subtleties and complexities in the unusual family model that Peter Hams has lived with since infancy.

"It felt cool to be reminded how much they love each other," he said about the wedding of his mothers, "but at the same time, I was troubled, too, because I wondered: In a world with so many problems, why is everybody making a damn fuss because two people love each other? My mothers are not giving guns to terrorists, and they're not selling drugs to kids, and they're certainly not destroying the sanctity of anything, and so the thought occurred to me -- what the hell is wrong with people?"

The unsettling part of the piece — unless I somehow missed or didn't register something in its near-3,000 words — is how little of real interest we learn about Peter Hams. There were some weird moments when he was young; having lesbian mothers presented some practical difficulties for the young hockey player (e.g., no parents with locker-room access); he's dyslexic and has to work particularly hard for his grades; his preppy boarding school roommate barely reacted when informed. That's about it.

Nothing on his love life, or on his relationship with his biological father, once he'd found out who it was. Nothing on his relationship with his extended family. What was his adolescence like? Nothing. A perfectly constructed picture of normalcy. And that's what's so peculiar.

As I said, I've read stories about abusive straight families. What I don't believe I've ever read, however, is a 3,000-word essay in a major newspaper about the difficulties and compromises of a normal, straight family. I also don't believe I've ever seen a similar story with the theme that the family is different, but that it hardly mattered.

The treatment of the same-sex marriage issue is one of the twin derelictions of duty on the part of the media. In the case of the war on terror and in Iraq, it is the hopeful side that has been excised. In the case of gay marriage, matters that raise legitimate questions are allowed to drift away. For one example, I've been intending to follow that local story about the lesbian foster mother charged with molesting a 15-year-old girl in her care. The one problem has been that I can't find a single mention of the case published after it broke during the first week of April (when the Providence Journal refused to report that the woman is a lesbian).

Policies built on a constructed reality will fall when they must stand against real life. The tragedy is that those most hurt are those least involved in the charade, which refuses to tarnish certain "major victories," while translating other wins into calamity

Posted by Justin Katz at June 5, 2004 9:51 PM
Marriage & Family