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On January 31, 2011, 19-year-old Zach Wahls gave a brief, sharply delivered speech before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee, which was considering an amendment to define marriage for state purposes as the union of one man and one woman. Wahls, who had been conceived by anonymous sperm donation and raised by two women, said that his family was really no different from any Iowa family, and he rattled off a resume of personal achievements as evidence of the women's fitness in raising him. He became a celebrity almost overnight. Ellen DeGeneres invited him onto her show, and by the end of 2012 his speech had amassed more than 18 million views.
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The following summer, Robert Oscar (Bobby) Lopez, who also had been raised by two women, published an essay called "Growing Up with Two Moms: The Untold Children's View." Then in his early forties and a professor of English at California State University, Northridge, Lopez took a different view. "Quite simply, growing up with gay parents was very difficult," he wrote. And he explained, respectfully but candidly, how growing up in a gay household had been a source of pain and difficulty for him in ways that he was just beginning to understand.
An academic himself, Lopez had recently happened upon the 2012 New Family Structures Study (NFSS), led by Mark Regnerus, which had produced credible data contradicting the "no differences" claim. "Reading about the study in the Chronicle of Higher Education jolted me," he explained. "Up until that point the plethora of studies claimed that children of same-sex couples were perfectly normal." Hearing that had only made him feel all the more abnormal. He knew there was something weird about him, but he had never quite been able to put his finger on it.
Regnerus's study produced data that fit with his experience. According to NFSS, children raised by same-sex couples miss out on something and end up struggling to function as adults. "In all the past moments when I'd wondered what my life meant, I had never given much thought to the possible effect on me of being raised by a lesbian [and her] partner, to the exclusion of my father," he reflected.
I had never considered whether my life was strange because adults who made unusual decisions created, for me, a strange life, and my strangeness was not actually my fault (or perhaps anyone's) but rather the consequences of having been thrown into incomprehensible and bizarre life conditions at an age too young to have any say in the matter. (Jephthah's Daughters, p. 21)
Lopez thanked Mark Regnerus and affirmed with him that the disaffecting stories of children raised in gay households deserved to be told.
Although he had explicitly stated that he cherished the memory of his beloved mother, and although he'd said nothing derogatory about her partner, and although, furthermore, Lopez identified himself as bisexual, he was promptly excoriated by the pro-gay media.
The backlash fairly well underscored his point. Children of gays not toeing the gay marriage line don't have a voice.
A Voice for the Voiceless
Nevertheless, other adults raised in gay households, along with children's advocates and press outlets across the globe, contacted him, and he started collecting and translating their stories. (Lopez is fluent in six languages.) In early 2013, he was asked to serve as translator for a gathering of European diplomats concerned about the spread of same-sex parenting, and as he turned on his microphone, he heard what he took to be the voice of God in his ear: All those years when you were alone and confused and wondered why, this is what was planned for you.
He returned to California with a new vision of his life's purpose: "to defend the one being forgotten in all the whirling debate about gay issues." The child. In 2014, he launched the International Children's Rights Institute, a non-partisan center dedicated to voicing every child's right to (among other things) a mother and a father. And in 2015, he assembled a variety of gay family stories into Jephthah's Daughters: Innocent Casualties in the War for Family "Equality."
Jephthah's Daughters is not for or against gay marriage, he states on the opening page. Rather, it is an uncensored chronicle of everything other than gay marriage that has gone wrong because of the way marriage has changed. A collection of works from seventeen different authors, Jephthah's Daughters pries the lid off of same-sex parenting to reveal some of its unintended consequences, side effects, and longer-term ramifications.
Like Lopez, most adult children of gays love their parent(s). And like him, many of them don't realize how their upbringing has affected them until they're well into adulthood. Here are some common themes that emerged as their stories came out.
Sexual chaos: Many grew up in highly sexualized environments amid sexual paraphernalia, pornography, and open relationships with multiple partners. "Over the years I became accustomed to the coming and leaving of my mother's partners," said Mitzy. For Dawn, it was more like polygamy at times because "my father and his partners could be involved with 12 other men at the gay bars downtown." There is much gender confusion, and many grow up ill-prepared for healthy, non-sexual relationships with either gender.
On the darker side, there were instances of neglect, abuse, and molestation, sometimes knowingly tolerated so as not to besmirch the "happy family" image or draw fire from the image enforcers. "Nobody in the gay community is going to turn anybody in," said Rivka Edelman, co-editor with Lopez of Jephthah's Daughters. "Even the heterosexual community is so cowed right now that they will not do it either."
Feelings of loss: "I don't know my real father and never will," said one young girl who went unnamed. "It's weird but I miss him. I miss this man I will never know." To have no one to honor on Mother's Day or Father's Day can be a profound emotional wound, Lopez says. Insult is added to it when the child is expected to love a second mom or dad "just the same" and never have, let alone express, feelings of loss over the severed ancestry.
Feelings of isolation, abandonment, and irrelevance: As a girl, Dawn loved having hotel swimming pools all to herself at night. "I didn't realize how lonely I felt inside at the time . . . how rejected and abandoned. It wasn't until much later that I realized that my father had chosen very selfish vacation spots that would meet his needs." "I wasn't aware of how deeply sad my life with my mom was until I had my own child," said Delores. "I have a really complicated life that Noone, NOONE [sic] knows about," wrote a school-age girl, who refers to her separated moms as Nice Mom and Mean Mom.
Exploitation and emotional manipulation: For most, maintaining the "no difference" narrative was non-negotiable law. After the breakup of the adults' relationship, some children were forced to spend time with an ex-partner they didn't want to relate to as a parent. "Those weekends were a nightmare for my sister and me," wrote Jeremy.
Worse, once "marriage equality" became a political agenda, it became necessary to make children a visible component of the family portrait. "To win, gay people had to turn children into puppy-like photo ops. The kids had to be cute and regurgitate the talking points needed by gay marriage lawyers," said Lopez. "The toddlers have been trained to speak like a pet bird," added Edelman, who says she grew up knowing the arguments better than the pledge of allegiance. "They live in fear of what a parent will do if they dare to make the parent look bad."
The Gay Lobby versus Gay People
It's important to note that Lopez draws a clear distinction between people who identify as gay and the gay lobby, which he sometimes refers to as "ligbitists" or Big Gay. In fact, he devotes a full chapter to the toll the gay marriage agenda has taken on gay people.
Politically, legalized gay marriage advanced on two false premises: (1) that gay people are born gay and cannot change; and (2) that they are a helpless, hated minority in need of government "protection." Both are not only demonstrably false but are also insulting, demeaning, and controlling on gays themselves.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Lopez was immersed in gay life himself. "It was a dirty, sad, and tragic world in which to live," he says, but one thing that was "fabulous" about it was that gay people's lives were not political. They lived and let live—until "the campaign for gay marriage inserted itself into all our personal lives. If you weren't touting the party line for Gay Inc., old friends came to see you as a bad person." Friendships, once so cherished, became contingencies, vulnerable to sacrifice to the cause.
And worse, children, present and future, also became contingencies.
It is also important to remember that, if marriage is a lifelong commitment of sexual fidelity, and if gays are born gay and live according to fidelity in marriage, then (natural) gay parenthood is a contradiction in terms, since gay couples cannot conceive children together. In whatever way a gay family comes about, the children in it will, in all cases, have been separated from at least one parent. Certainly, in a fallen world, such separations will occur, but to willfully, intentionally, and preemptively nullify a parental tie constitutes an existential crime against the child.
Children are neither property nor "rights." They are human beings who inherently possess rights, and it is incumbent on adults to guard and secure them. The real enemy is not people who identify as gay, nor is it the gay lobby or the indifferent public who lets Big Gay have its way, though there's plenty of culpability to go around. (It's worth noting that Jephthah's Daughters also criticizes our laissez-faire divorce culture, along with reproductive technologies by which gametes and children are bought and sold without their consent.) The real enemy is the self-centeredness that deconstructs natural marriage and the natural family in favor of adult sexual choice. Selfishness is wholly incompatible with the very call of parenting, which requires that adults put the well-being of children before personal wants.
How might the gay marriage movement be looked upon by future generations? Edelman asks. "They will be rightfully enraged," she predicts, "at the society that consigned them to a life mirroring adults' distortions."
Friends near and far, that's us. Reality has hard edges, and history can be a very harsh judge. Now is the time for people of conscience, including those who identify as gay and their allies, to speak up for children and prioritize their well-being, no matter how celebrated or sharply delivered Big Gay's demands. •
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