Adult children speak out about same-sex parents

Posted: Jul 07, 2004 12:00 AM
It was the TV pictures that first got to Bronagh Cassidy. Same-sex couples marrying in San Francisco: "They were so proud of themselves. And then they had these little children with them." Cassidy, a 27-year-old married mother of two, sighs. "Something inside of me wants to be able to help those kids, because I know they are going to have problems."

Sound ignorant, maybe even bigoted? This week, as the Senate is expected to begin debate on a constitutional amendment to protect marriage, many voices will try to convince you that people like Cassidy are, as Cheryl Jacque, head of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, put it in a recent letter, "hate-filled people who will stop at nothing to achieve their discriminatory, offensive goals."

But Cassidy knows better: She is one of the first generation of "gayby boom" babies, raised by two moms. Adult children of same-sex parents are rare. I recently came across Cassidy's story by accident, after she e-mailed a friend of mine who is a family scholar.

Back in 1976, Cassidy's mom had a religious ceremony with a woman named Pat. To make Cassidy, they did artificial insemination at home, mixing the sperm of two gay friends "to make sure nobody would ever know who the father was," says Cassidy. (That was in the days before widespread DNA testing.) The two women stayed together for 16 years, until Pat died. Three years later, Cassidy's mother married a man.

What was it like for Cassidy being raised by two women she called "Mom" and "My Pat"?

"When growing up, I always had the feeling of being something unnatural," Cassidy says. "I came out of an unnatural relationship; it was something like I shouldn't be there. On a daily basis, it was something I was conflicted with. I used to wish, honestly that Pat wasn't there."

Why does she oppose same-sex marriage? "It's not something that a seal of approval should be stamped on: We shouldn't say it is a great and wonderful thing and then you have all these kids who later in life will turn around and realize they've been cheated. The adults choose to have that lifestyle and then have a kid. They are fulfilling their emotional needs -- they want to have a child -- and they are not taking into account how that's going to feel to the child; there's a clear difference between having same-sex parents and a mom and a dad."

Sounds judgmental in print. But up close, Cassidy comes across as fiercely protective of her mom (Cassidy is a pen name she's adopted to protect her mom's privacy). Like many children of same-sex parents, she was expected to defend and protect her mothers from society's homophobia. Her own troubled feelings about her family life were clearly unacceptable to her parents. Even now, the prospect of speaking about her own experience gives her the shakes.

Cassidy's story is not science. It's just her own feelings. Many researchers say most kids do just fine in these alternative family forms. Cassidy doesn't buy that research, though. "I don't think a fair study could be conducted because children currently in that family wouldn't necessarily be open to speaking their true feelings about it."

A few years back, she watched "20/20" interviews with children like her. "They were asked questions like: 'Are you happy? Do you love your parents?' I don't think it's fair to ask them those questions. These are their parents. They aren't going to say they are suffering, because they don't want to make their parents feel bad."

Some people will say if Cassidy's mom and "my Pat" had been legally married, everything would have been fine. Cassidy doesn't think so. "Even if society were open to it, there's just the whole issue of your self-identity. I always had the feeling I was in a lab experiment."

She feels driven to do something, say something to protect other children like her. "Whenever I see it on TV, something inside of me says NO. I don't think it's fair that the kids are being put in this situation. They don't have a choice about it."

Do any other adult children with same-sex parents feel the same way? Will we allow any space in this intense debate between adult combatants for something as simple as one child's feelings?