My children face many pressures in life. They are both adopted and biracial. If you asked them, they would say that the fact that their parents are gay is pretty far down the list of things that bother them. Much higher up on the list of things that annoy our teenagers about their parents are their restrictions on time spent playing video games or having to get all their weekend homework done on Friday afternoon. They hear this debate about gay parents, but they can’t really relate to it and simply don’t understand what the big deal is. As far as they are concerned, all parents are equally uncool.
It isn’t often that I inject my own life into the narrative of a column I write or a point I make on TV, but now that the quest for equality has come to the Supreme Court, there is no better time.
On Sunday I was on the “Meet the Press” roundtable. I have been on the roundtable regularly over the last year – debating the budget, the election, the differences between our political parties, etc. Yet it turns out, this time was different. I sat next to Ralph Reed, a man with whom I have always had a very cordial, even friendly, relationship, as he talked about how much better off my children would be if I weren’t their parent. Of course, he didn’t say that directly – he quoted scientific studies (that have been debunked) and unnamed experts to make his point. But it was an unmistakable point that seared my heart for the first time I can remember while I was on TV. I had a rare freeze for a moment as I processed my options. As it turned out David Gregory, the gracious host, had a crowded agenda that day and wanted to move to the interview he was about to do with David Boies, which made sense, so I let it go.
Most important, I realized that my own story is as woven into this national debate on marriage as hundreds of thousands of others are and will continue to be. And I won’t be shy about making it so.
I came out as a lesbian in college, though I always knew at a much younger age that I felt different about boys than my girlfriends did. I was a young Democratic Party activist because my mother was a politician in the New Jersey town where I grew up, so I came by it naturally. If I was an activist in politics, it didn’t occur to me not to be equally open about this new part of my life.
My first professional job out of school was as an advocate for public interests, and then-San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein was my client. The AIDS crisis hit San Francisco’s public health department hard, and I was on the Hill seeking support for the Centers for Disease Control. Then-Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina was willing to give support but not if cities used the money to help any “homosexuals.” If that were the case, San Francisco would be out of luck. I appealed to Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who responded that since he liked me, he would warn me that I shouldn’t be lobbying to help “those kind of people.” It honestly was the first time I had experienced a person in power challenging gays and lesbians’ rights to access the benefits that all Americans enjoy just because we were different. When I told him that I was “one of those kind of people,” he paused. To his credit, he later helped on some issues, but hundreds of thousands of gay people died because Helms and his allies were more successful than not in those early days. Let’s just say it made an impression on me. While it gave me a deeper understanding of prejudice on all fronts, it also gave me resolve. Human nature is all too often to condemn that which is unfamiliar. So my unofficial job for the next 30 years became making sure that official Washington knew and liked gay and lesbian people – personally. Because we can’t do this alone. No one can.
Flash forward to today. My children have a great many privileges. They go to great schools where they make the honor roll, they want for no material needs and they have a loving family and a large circle of friends in the community who have watched them grow into spirited young people and are rooting for their success. They are also growing up among peers who don’t care whom their parents love. My biggest hope for my kids is that they don’t get so comfortable in their lives that they don’t fight against injustices when they see them happening to others — that empathy rather than judgment lies at the core of their being.
I know that Ralph Reed wants the same for his children. The difference is that he and his allies are fixated on the notion that their view of “tradition” should also be imposed on all of us through the government. That is what is at the heart of the cases before the Supreme Court this week. Do the justices uphold “tradition,” or do they unfold the real meaning of constitutional rights to allow the government to treat all American equally? Honestly, no matter what the court does – and of course I’m hopeful that the justices will decide on the side of equality – my family is not going to go away to make Reed’s life more comfortable. He is just going to have to adapt to sharing this world — and the benefits of being an American — with people like us.