Issues - child abuse - Gay parenting attacked
Lawyers and activists who want to ban same-sex marriage in
Oregon say their campaign is focusing on just that singular
goal: Editing the state constitution to explicitly say that
marriage can occur only between one man and one woman.
"We have been very, very careful to ensure that it is
only about defining marriage and clarifying the intent in
the constitution," said Tim Nashif, political director
for the Defense of Marriage Coalition.
A measure that appears headed for the November ballot would
nullify thousands of marriage licenses handed out this spring
by Multnomah County to same-sex couples. A judge halted the
practice, saying the county was violating state law.
"All we're doing right now is trying to preserve the
status quo," Nashif said.
Yet as same-sex marriage opponents gear up for what is expected
to be a bruising campaign, they're talking about more than
the ability of gay couples to marry.
They've expanded the debate to include children — and
whether it's appropriate for same-sex couples to be parents.
Those remarks are sending a shudder through gay and lesbian
parents and gay-rights activists.
The source of the angst is part of a press release issued
by the Defense of Marriage Coalition, which says: "Endless
studies demonstrate the benefits to children of being raised
with both a mother and father. A redefinition of marriage
(to include same-sex unions) would permanently deny some children
this proven advantage."
The coalition cites several studies, but authors of some of
that research say their findings are being taken out of context
or that little solid data exists on the impact of gay parenting.
"That is not a legitimate use of our work," said
Michael Gottfredson, a criminology professor and associate
chancellor at the University of California at Irvine who cowrote
a 1990 book on crime trends.
That research says children with a loving parent are less
likely to commit crimes, but makes no distinction about the
sexual orientation of the parent, he said.
David Popenoe, a sociology professor and co-director of the
National Marriage Project and Rutgers University, said nobody
knows yet how children fare with same-sex parents.
However, it would be a reasonable hypothesis to say they would
do no worse than with opposite-sex stepparents, he said.
His study did not mention same-sex parents, he said.
Several studies offered by Oregon gay marriage critics compare
children in single-parent households versus those in two-parent
However, one citation is an article that explicitly opposes
gay marriage by Glenn T. Stanton, a spokesman for Focus on
the Family, a religious Colorado nonprofit that offers on
its Web site "debate-tested sound bites" for criticizing
same sex unions.
"Our concern is for the well-being of children,"
Stanton said research about the impact to children in gay
households is inconclusive, but studies show children do better
in school and socially when raised by a mother and father.
Gay households are either motherless or fatherless, he said.
"It's not an absolute correlation, but we know what happens
when you raise kids without fathers."
While the measure that appears headed for the November ballot
doesn't speak directly to parenting rights, the child-related
remarks have set gay and lesbian couples on edge.
Cat Finney of Bend, who has been in a relationship with her
lesbian partner for 14 years and was among those who stood
in line for licenses in Multnomah County, strongly disagrees
with any assertion her children are at a disadvantage.
"I, of course, see no way that heterosexuality is a prerequisite
to having happy and healthy children," she said.
She worries the statement could be an indication that the
coalition behind the measure may also be setting sights on
unraveling parenting rights of gays.
"I would not be surprised if folks behind this effort
extended the breadth of their work to start defining families
and limiting parenthood to heterosexual couples," Finney
The American Academy of Pediatrics and American Medical Association
have gone on the record in support of gay parents and their
right to adopt.
Kelly Clark, the attorney for the coalition, said there is
no goal to reverse that ability in Oregon. He knows of no
rights that gays and lesbians would lose if voters pass the
initiative, he said.
Still, on both sides of the measure, activists say it could
have wider implications because a revised Constitution would
force a reexamination of more than 300 statutes that refer
"If statutes or local government ordinances extend benefits
to people because they are married, then yes, they would have
to be limited to men and women," Clark said.
He said the statement about children is not part of the scope
of the campaign because the measure does not impact parenting.
"It's fair to say, technically, that statement in and
of itself reaches too far," he said.
Roey Thorpe, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, said
her organization is conducting a legal analysis to make sure.
"The truth is we don't know the answer yet," she
At a minimum, the success or failure of the measure at the
ballot box is certain to be touted as a referendum on public
opinion — and will help spur legislation or possibly
additional ballot measures.
For instance, a defeat in November would almost certainly
usher a political push for state-recognized gay marriages
or civil unions.
In addition, campaign spokesman Nashif fears state-sanctioned
same-sex unions also could yield bolder steps by gay-rights
activists, such as demanding that schools teach that gay sex
is normal in sex education curriculum.
On the flip side, a successful ballot measure will send a
signal to legislators that Oregonians support additional steps
to strengthen traditional families, he said.
"It could be a catalyst and a statement that Oregonians
would make that we think traditional marriage is the way to
go and it should be strengthened and encouraged," he
State Rep. Linda Flores, R-Clackamas, a campaign leader, said
there have been background discussions about children thriving
in homes with "traditional man and woman relationships."
"But that isn't the thrust of what we're dealing with,"
she said. "That's not the focus."
If it passes, however, legislators in 2005 will need to carefully
consider the state's statute books to ensure laws conform,
The state Election Division is verifying signatures to confirm
that the measure qualifies, but it seems a foregone conclusion.
Petitioners turned in more than 244,000 signatures, and only
100,840 of them need to be valid to put a proposed constitutional
change on the ballot.
Those signatures came from every county in the state, including
8,694 from Deschutes County, according to the coalition.
James Sinks can be reached at 503-566-2839 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.