Heather Barwick, Don't Let Your Pain Hurt Other Kids

Dear Heather Barwick, after reading your letter in the Federalist, I wanted to reach out to you and tell you: I feel your pain, I know your pain. Thanks for your honesty. And, please reconsider your stance on same-sex marriage.

Like you, my mom and dad divorced when I was around two years old. And, then my mom raised me with her same-sex partner in the '80s and '90s through my formative years, until they also split. And, like you, my mom's partner (my "other mother") treated me as if I were her own son, and ultimately provided me with the love, discipline and stability I needed in my father's absence. It sounds like you were also fortunate to have a loving, stable upbringing.

Also like you, I grew up surrounded by an amazing community of feminists, some lesbians, revolutionary women who were authors, sculptors, painters, visionaries, radicals, speech givers and true leaders. These women taught me empathy. They taught me how to listen to women's stories. They taught me to be a man who loves women. My "other mother" taught me how to dance (to Michael Jackson). These women also taught me to be proud of whoever I was and to fight for justice wherever I see injustice.

Unlike you, my dad did not disappear forever. I had a somewhat common alternate weekend visitation arrangement with my father. Still, my time with him was limited, and it never felt like enough. He was not involved in my life in as deep a way as I desired, and in truth, I always fantasized about his returning to live with me.

So, I know precisely what you mean when you say that your father's absence "created a huge hole" in you, that you had a "deep-down unquenchable ache for a father," that you felt so angry with your dad for not being there for you, and that as much as you loved your mom's partner, she could never have replaced the father you lost.

As an involved father to two daughters myself, I know that I could never be replaced and when I look at my own family and see my children being raised lovingly by myself and their mother I think it's beautiful. Of course, as you recognize, when a family unit is stable and successful children thrive, and that's a great thing.

However, there is no evidence to support your claim that the best and most successful family structure is one in which kids are raised by both a mother and a father. In fact, all of the accepted research finds that children raised by same sex couples are not disadvantaged and are equally well adjusted. Even you recognize that gays and lesbians can be good parents, and you had pretty great parents yourself. And, as you note, unfortunately, all families are subject to many different things that can cause the family unit to break down.

While your pain is no doubt real and legitimate, the answer is not to prevent other children from having a stable, happy upbringing that is recognized and protected under our laws. Had your mom been able to marry her partner, that would have signaled to you and to the broader community that their relationship is valid, that your family is valid, and perhaps you would have faced far less hatred.

Although it seems like your mom and her partner could have done a better job of validating your feelings about your father, and your strong desire for a father in your life, it is unclear how you were hurt because you were raised by same-sex parents. It is all too clear how you were hurt because of your father abandoning you. In other words, you didn't need any dad, you needed your dad. I've been there too. And, by the way, it hurt just as much when my "other mother" left my home; she, too, could not be replaced by anyone else, not even my mother's wife and long-time partner, with whom I have a great relationship, and who is a wonderful grandmother to my children.

You also seem to ignore the fate of the many children who are adopted by a stable same-sex couple or who are created through IVF or reproductive technology. These children only know their same-sex parents as their family, and do not suffer from the pain and confusion of an absent parent like you and I did. Would you deny these children and their families an equal place in society? This is sure to guarantee that they experience stigma, shame and hurt, the opposite of what you claim to want for children.

I'm sorry that your pain has brought you to a place that has you advocating a position that is guaranteed to cause more pain to other children. You must know that children will continue to be raised by same-sex couples. Gay marriage doesn't deny children anything. It grants them equality under the law. Preventing their families from achieving full recognition, and all the legal rights and benefits that come with it, ensures they will be harmed legally and otherwise, and ultimately casts doubt on your claim to be looking out for their best interests.