The Center for American Progress released a report Tuesday highlighting the impact of ideology, stigma and discriminatory laws on gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) parents and the more than 2 million children they are raising. “All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families” highlights the unfairness these children and their parents face, and in doing so provides a road map for action.
Here are just two noteworthy facts:
●The state with the highest percentage of LGBT couples raising children is Mississippi, and
●Due to inequitable laws, particularly the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the extra financial burden over 18 years for LGBT couples raising children is more than $219,000.
As part of the report’s release, I moderated a panel discussion about its particulars. Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, talked about the impact of disparate state laws on LGBT-headed households. Bryan Samuels, commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, discussed the Obama administration’s efforts to bring about equity in areas where it has control. But it was the comments of the Rev. Dennis W. Wiley of the Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ here in Washington — on whether homosexuality is a choice and the definition of family — that produced some of the most memorable and thoughtful comments.
Dr. Wiley is no joke. He graduated from Harvard University magna cum laude. He received the Master of Divinity cum laude from Howard University. And he has a Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from the Union Theological Seminary in New York. Given that pedigree, I felt perfectly comfortable putting him on the spot. How harmful is the notion espoused by a certain presidential candidate that homosexuality is a choice, and how harmful is religion-based bigotry and the role it plays in the stigma and unfairness documented in “All Children Matter”?
….I think it’s extremely harmful in the religious community. It has a tendency to reinforce the notion that some people have that the homosexual lifestyle or the homosexual orientation is a sin because they equate being able to choose it with it being something that is a sin....That’s what we have tackled in our own place. Trying to help our congregation understand that God blessed us with a rich diversity of humanity. And difference does not mean deficient. Difference does not mean inferior.
And especially those of us who have been the victims of other forms of oppression. I grew up in the segregated South, so I know something about oppression and discrimination. And it seems to me that we ought to be the last ones in the world that would then want to visit discrimination upon somebody else....I think [the notion of homosexuality is a choice] overlooks the humanity, the dignity and the authenticity of people who are trying to live their lives genuinely without perpetuating a lie....I think that there enough scientific studies, enough other kinds of studies . . .all have said that this is not a choice, it’s not a sickness...
The second part of your question, just the whole atmosphere and culture of bias. I tell you, I’m a product of the church. I’m a product of the black Baptist Church. But, I tell you, I have never seen such hostility, such animosity, such hatred, such venom all in the name of God, all in the name of Jesus that is visited upon people who take a view that the God we serve is a God of Justice, a God of liberation, a God of freedom, a God of equality and that all God’s children deserve to be treated with the respect and the dignity that I believe that God has created for all of us.
The children of LGBT parents are often some of the most well-adjusted, well-behaved, well-grounded children....I’m not suggesting that these are perfect children, by any stretch of the imagination. But what I am seeing in a very strong way is that the children of LGBT, first of all you have to realize that so many of them could have chosen not to have anything to do with children in the first place. And a lot of these children would have languished in orphanages or in other places of neglect if it were not for LGBT parents stepping forward and saying we want to adopt. So these people who try to say that this movement is somehow anti-family I say you got it all wrong. It strengthens the family from what I can see.
Wiley on bridging the divide with and within the black community on gay issues
What I do believe is that it’s too easy to make the black church or the African American community the scapegoat for a slowness to embrace the equality of all human beings, especially same-gender loving gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons. Now, that’s not to deny that there’s a deep level of homophobia within the African American community and within the black church. But I think there are reasons for that that are related to race, that are related to the centrality of the black church and religion within the African American community, related to the lack of educational opportunities that some people in the African American community have had, etc. and this striving for respectability and civility that we so longed for in this nation....I think that what is needed is a serious engagement and dialogue with the African American community around these issues and with the black church.
Here in the District of Columbia, my wife and I spearheaded the movement to legalize marriage equality. And we were among a minority of African American ministers, but we brought together a multi-racial, multi-denominational coalition of ministers who were called “DC Clergy United for Marriage Equality.” And through that movement, not only were we successful in helping marriage equality become a reality in the District of Columbia, but we also saw some movement in terms of some people who had originally been very rigid in their thinking and their ideas. But as long as we were willing to sit down at the table and begin to discuss and talk with them and help them to see that LGBT people are not just some statistic, these are human beings just like all of us are human beings...This is why I think this is so wonderful, in terms of this “All Children Matter” [report] because if there’s one thing that faith communities profess to be interested in it is the family, although some would tend to hold on to the more traditional notions of what family means, but the reality is that family, even in the Bible, is not some neat little tidy kind of arrangement. There is dysfunctionality. There is extended family. If we would be real about it then we realize that all types of family configurations have existed down through the ages. And so it’s nothing new about this. But when you put the children in the middle of it, certainly we must say that regardless of what your views might be on same-sex marriage or LGBT equality how in the world can we allow the children to suffer as a result of these differences of theological opinion....