How will same-sex marriage rulings affect children?
The Supreme Court's decisions Wednesday on same-sex marriage reflect the nation's political divide over the issue. But experts say what these decisions may mean to children — both the kids of gay and lesbian parents and the self-image of LGBT kids — has cultural and legal implications.
"It's definitely a positive thing for children of same-sex couples," says Kathleen Hull, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who studies same-sex relationships.
"The specific legal ramifications depend on the circumstances — how that child came to be; whether it's the child of a prior heterosexual marriage. In a lot of cases, children will have expanded access to insurance and various other government benefits and protections that will come automatically as a result of having two legal parents."
Social Security benefits are an example, she says. "In states where same-sex marriage is recognized and the federal government didn't, if the non-biological parent in a same-sex couple passed away, the child in the federal government's eyes was not eligible for those benefits and now they are," Hull says.
An estimated 37% of LGBT Americans have had a child, meaning as many as 6 million U.S. children and adults have an LGBT parent, according to findings from a national study released in February by the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute, which studies gay and lesbian trends. The report "LGBT Parenting in the United States" provides a demographic portrait of LGBT parenting in the United States.
"Most attention has focused on the adults in this debate, but children are also big winners with today's rulings," agrees Adam Pertman, executive director of the Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York. "We know children derive significant benefits when their parents are married. So this is good news indeed for the girls and boys who can now live in families with the same social, economic and personal advantages as their peers who have married, heterosexual mothers and fathers."
Jennifer Grant, 49, and her partner Carol Rossi, 52, both of San Francisco, married in 2008 in California and are the parents of 11-year-old fraternal twins Ruby and Sam Rossi-Grant. The couple have been together 14 years.
Grant is the biological mother and says Rossi adopted the kids and is legally their second parent. Grant says the rulings "puts us on equal footing with all the other parents we know."
Her daughter, Ruby, who will be a 7th grader this fall, says she doesn't even know the marital status of most of her friends' parents. "It doesn't really come up. It doesn't really matter and nobody really asks," Ruby says.
Still, for others — particularly organizations — the court decisions are viewed either positively or negatively.
"If a child has two loving and capable parents who choose to create a permanent bond, it's in the best interest of their children that legal institutions allow them to do so," Thomas McInerny, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said in a statement. "Stable relationships with caring adults are important for children, and so are financial security, social support and access to health care. Scientific evidence shows that there is no cause-and-effect relationship between parents' sexual orientation and children's well-being."
Others disagree. "The reality is that society needs children, and children need a mom and a dad," says Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a not-for profit public policy organization founded to "champion marriage and family" according to its website. "We will continue to work to restore and promote a healthy marriage culture, which will maximize the chances of a child being raised by a married mother and father," he said in a statement.
Emily Hecht-McGowan, director of public policy at the Boston-based Family Equality Council, says the rulings are a positive step forward.
The news "signals to kids currently being raised by LGBT families that their families are valued and respected and that our federal government does not view them as different." For LGBT youth, she says, the rulings show "that our highest court and our federal government see them as having the same rights and same protections and same value and it lifts some of that stigma they feel every day."
In his majority opinion striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that DOMA "humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples."
Such sentiments don't surprise Michael Dorf, a law professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY., who was a law clerk for Kennedy.
"I think that for Justice Kennedy, these cases have been about two things — one is about the liberty of the individual and two, seeing same-sex relationships as analogous in all material respects to opposite-sex relationships. In this case, he extends the family image and idea to the children."