This Christmas, Ella Robinson will see her mother in the morning, then drive to the house where her father and his partner live.
Most likely, the dinner spread will include a few haute dishes, as the couple loves to experiment with cooking, alongside a bowl of cottage cheese. That lumpy cheese may be sprinkled with paprika to fancy it up. Its presence, year in and year out, is a throwback to when the kids were little and is one of those quirks that says “home” to Robinson.
The same goes for the “weird paper bears,” that will be strung up on the Christmas tree alongside the ornaments. Their charm lies in the eye of the beholder.
“It’s a big wonderful home to come home to. We’re a silly, big dumb family,” Ella said. “If it’s abnormal, it’s because it’s happy and love-filled.”
The U.S. Supreme Court last week announced it will examine the constitutionality of marriage laws. Lawyers will present persuasive cases for and against same-sex marriage. Activists will gather on the steps outside, and the public will be asked to go deeper into their changing attitudes about what marriage is and who it should be reserved for.
Robinson has a particularly good perspective on what it’s like to be raised by gay parents, and how other people’s acceptance can change lives.
Her father is V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Bishop in the Episcopal Church. His election in 2003 set off worldwide debate within religious circles. The family endured years of hate-filled mail, targeted protests and death threats.
Ella Robinson, who spoke with me recently, said it was worth it for the outcome. Gene Robinson was embraced by parishioners and, eventually, church leadership, and became a symbol of hope for countless men and women. In 2009, he delivered the invocation at President Obama’s first inauguration.
His journey has had a profound impact on religious groups and on many people who had never thought much about gay life.
That’s something Ella Robinson has been familiar with for so long that she can’t remember ever having to “accept” or “tolerate” it. Her parents divorced amicably when she was four-years-old. They sat their daughters down, Ella Robinson has a sister four years older, and explained that they were separating and that their father was attracted to men.
“This was about 25 years ago in rural New Hampshire,” she said. “We didn’t know any other gay parents. But I don’t think I understood that at the time. The divorce was what I focused on.”
Her parents remained actively engaged with each other and the girls. A few years later, Gene Robinson met a man, Mark, on vacation and they began seeing each other. When Ella Robinson was 7, they moved into together and had a giant housewarming party. Ella Robinson remembers it as a happy, relatively mundane occasion.
“Especially back then, people thought the gay lifestyle was having a disco ball in the living room. That was far from reality. They lived a normal, boring life in New Hampshire,” she said.
Fast-forward to 2012. Ella Robinson is 30, lives and works in New York and visits her mother and father frequently. Gene Robinson will be retiring next month, taking up part-time residence in D.C. to work with the Center for American Progress. By now, his “lifestyle” has plenty of company.
Approximately one quarter of gay households are raising children according to the latest U.S. Census. Research is thin on the effects gay marriage has on children, with much interpreted through an agenda-blurred lens. What nonpartisan studies do exist, suggest that children are as, or maybe more, well-adjusted than children raised in a heterosexual home.
More, there is not one iota of evidence to justify the fears that these kids would be indoctrinated or somehow morally corrupted.
Meanwhile, Ella Robinson has joined an effort launched by the Family Equality Council to encourage children of gay parents, the first substantial generation to be brought up by same-sex parents, to speak up.
Called Outspoken Generation, those behind it also include Zach Wahls, the son of two lesbians who drew fame for speaking passionately about his upbringing in front of the Iowa House of Representatives and also spoke on the floor of the Democratic National Convention in September.
“It’s so important to get out our stories ,” Ella said. “To people who say: ‘This is going to mess kids up,’ we’re here to say that it isn’t the case. That’s not been our experience.”
Has gay parenting normalized the perception of gay marriage?
Embracing a different kind of diversity