This week was potentially historic in the battle for gay rights, as the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could significantly advance the right to same-sex marriage. During arguments it became apparent that Justice Scalia didn’t realize that gay adoptions were legal (clearly, the man doesn’t get around much, and/or is not a Rosie O’Donnell fan). I know that Paul and Ed have already covered this ground this week, but I wanted to return to it, because I have a more personal take.
I first discovered that gay couples could adopt during my first job out of college. My boss, who was the director of a small social service agency in New York City, had adopted a disabled girl with his partner. This was in the mid-90s and I believe they had adopted her a couple of years before. Memories are hazy at this point, but I think they were the first — or one of the first — gay couples in New York State to adopt a child, where neither parent was the birth parent.
I was surprised to learn that such an adoption was legal. Although I’m straight, I’ve always followed LGBTQ rights issues closely. Ever since I first started thinking about politics, it seemed like a compelling issue to me. Partly it was simply as an important human rights issue, but also, as a feminist, I saw it as part of the broader project of overthrowing oppressive gender norms. This is why, for once, I mostly agree with Ross Douthat’s column today, in which he argues that the growing acceptance of gay marriage is undermining traditional patriarchal marriage. And he says that like it’s a bad thing!
Anyway, I knew that, back then, even in liberal New York City, gays and lesbians did not enjoy civil partnership benefits, let alone marriage. So how did they win the right to adopt? Alison Gash’s excellent article in the upcoming issue of the Monthly provides a history. The short answer is that it was done under the radar, in family courts that received little public scrutiny. By the time anti-gay activists were aware of what was going on, gay adoption was an established practice and as such, hard to get rid of.
Now moving on to the more personal side of this story: just this week, I became aware of an awesome gay adoption story, and it involves someone I knew growing up. Peter Mercurio is a New York City-based playwright and screenwriter who grew up in the same small town I did. His parents and my parents were good friends and belonged to the same Catholic parish. One day twelve years ago, Peter’s then-partner, now-husband Danny found an abandoned infant in a New York City subway station. He acted like a good citizen and called 911. Three months later, after Danny testified in family court about how he found the baby, the judge unexpectedly asked him if he would be interested in adopting the baby. The entire courtroom was stunned, but Danny said yes. Peter tells the whole story in this New York Times essay. Read it, and if your heart doesn’t melt, it’s probably made out of stone. You can also watch the video at the end of this post — it’s an interview Peter and Danny recently did with Anderson Cooper.
There’s a broader point I want to make about this story. I probably sound like grandma here, but really — you kids today have no idea how far gay rights have come in such a short period of time. When I was growing up, there was a profoundly painful stigma attached to being gay, gay people were invisible, and the idea of gay marriage was the worst thing ever. Many things are still difficult for LGBTQ people, especially in some areas of this country, and of course gays and lesbians still lack basic human rights that straights take for granted. But we’ve seen some gobsmackingly remarkable progress — and in the context of history, it’s come at warp speed. This is something very powerful for us progressives to hold on to, especially during times when, to paraphrase Wallace Stevens, the world seems so ugly, and people seem so sad.
Take, for instance, Peter and his family. I can’t imagine that, for Peter, growing up gay, in that time, in that conservative community, was easy. At all. I don’t know how his parents reacted when he came out, but they’re devout Catholics, and I assume they struggled with it. But now? My mom tells me that they’re basically the most loving and supportive parents ever. They march in all the parades. And they dote on their African-American grandson.
Justice Scalia and the rest of you haters — game over. You lose. Love wins. Enjoy your future home in the dustbin of history.
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