Though marriage is unexplored territory for most gays and lesbians, many of the couples now eager to wed are already old hands at one of the most challenging aspects of family life--parenthood.
Barry Miguel and David Strah, for example, are co-fathers of a 6-year-old son and nearly 3-year-old daughter, each of whom they coadopted at birth. Partners for 11 years, the two New Yorkers said the children are the primary reason they are considering getting married in Massachusetts if a state supreme court ruling legalizing gay marriages takes effect in May. "We'll do it for the kids," said Miguel, a fashion executive. "At some point they're going to realize most children in the world live in mom-and-dad homes. How do we explain to them that we're not married?"
The Massachusetts court ruling--and the recent surge of same-sex marriages performed by officials in Portland, Ore., San Francisco, and elsewhere--has reshaped the long-running debate about gay parenthood and adoption by gays.
Opponents of same-sex marriages argue repeatedly that children are better off raised by a mother and father. Supporters of gay marriage reply that many thousands of children already are being raised lovingly by same-sex couples and deserve the extra security that would be afforded if their parents could marry. "I want to be able to protect my family in the event something unexpected happened to me," said Dave Chandler, 40, who married his partner of 11 years, Jeff Chandler, in their hometown of San Francisco last month.
Dave works for the Federal Reserve Bank, while Jeff is a stay-at-home dad caring for Jacob, their 8-month-old son, delivered by a surrogate mother last July. "My decisions are made on the basis of what's best for Jacob," Dave Chandler said. "There are laws that are unfair to our family--insurance, Social Security, estate planning, taxes--and the equality we'll achieve by having our marriage recognized will benefit us in many ways."
Cory Provost, a social worker from Warwick, R.I., said he and his partner--fathers of three children adopted in 2000 and 2001--are considering marrying in Massachusetts as a means of earning respect as well as legal rights. "Now when we go somewhere--an airline, a hospital--you're always a nervous wreck that they're going to accept both of you as the father, especially since one of us is white and the other black," said Provost, whose partner, Carlson, is Jamaican.
Though recent marriage activity has been concentrated in the Northeast and Far West, gay and lesbian parents in the heartland--like Anne Magro and Heather Finstuen of Norman, Okla.--also are rethinking their future. Magro said she and Finstuen--who have 5-year-old twin daughters--are considering marrying in Massachusetts, then returning home to launch what they suspect would be a long-shot effort to have the marriage recognized in Oklahoma.
"Our children are asking us, 'Are you married?' " said Magro, a University of Oklahoma accounting professor. "When we say no, they want to know why. That's difficult--when you start having conversations with a 5-year-old saying society doesn't recognize our relationship."
Magro said she has met very few openly gay parents in Oklahoma, so her family travels each summer to Saugatuck, Mich., for an weeklong gathering organized by the Washington, D.C.-based Family Pride Coalition, an advocacy group for gay and lesbian families. "We want our children to see there are other families like ours," Magro said.
Numerous medical, legal, and child-welfare groups say gays and lesbians can be excellent parents raising well-adjusted children. A comprehensive 2001 study by two University of Southern California sociologists concluded that children raised by gay parents show more empathy for social diversity, are less confined by gender stereotypes, and might be more likely to explore homosexual activity themselves.