Kids feel the impact of Prop 8
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Last November, Joanne Genet's 11-year-old daughter, Alexi, was watching TV with her family when they heard the election results on Proposition 8. She burst into tears.
"I don't understand why it's other people's business whether my moms can be married or not," Genet recalls her daughter saying.
The next day, Alexi took No on 8 stickers to give to her friends at school. She came home crying after encountering a student whose family had supported the measure, which eliminates the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.
"Her family voted against our family being married," Alexi told her mother.
Genet, who got teary while recalling the story, said Alexi now examines people's bumper stickers and asks, "Do you think that's a Yes on 8 family, Mom? I'll bet those people don't like us."
Alexi, whose family lives in the East Bay town of Lafayette, is well aware of what marriage means. In 2004, she waited in line for two days with her parents – Genet and her partner of almost 25 years, Cindy Horvath – before they could get married, and she demonstrated against Prop 8.
Genet reassures her daughter "that things will change" and noted that many kids have supported Alexi, but said, "I think this is much harder on the children ... than it is on us adults. They don't have as much of a shield up."
As the state Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments today (Thursday, March 5) in the effort to repeal Prop 8, many children of same-sex couples are at least as dismayed as their parents that the measure passed, and are doing what they can to speak out.
The birth of a lobbyist
Sam Berston, 11, wears an "'I Do' support the freedom to marry" button and confidently sits up straight on the edge of his chair as he recalls how he and other kids hand-delivered letters to some Republican state legislators' offices during a Lobby Day in February, urging them to support House Resolution 5 and Senate Resolution 7. The two bills, shepherded by San Francisco Democrats Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and Senator Mark Leno, respectively, put the Legislature on record as supporting the repeal of Prop 8.
Both resolutions, which do not require the governor's signature, passed their respective legislative bodies on Monday.
In a letter to Assemblyman Michael Duvall (R-Yorba Linda), Berston wrote, "I live with my two mommies and they love me like any other straight family. I would really like it if you would vote yes on [HR 5] so my two mommies can get married. I wouldn't rather have straight parents if I got the chance. Thank you sooooo much!"
"He really, really is a lobbyist," said Susan Berston, who lives in San Francisco with her son and Patty Stanton, her partner of nine years. The women have not yet married, but are domestic partners.
Sam Berston predicts that "maybe in a couple years" when same-sex couples can get married, people will think, "that was so dumb of us" not to support same-sex marriage.
In Los Angeles, 12-year-old Abby Bergman said she repeated to herself that Prop 8 wasn't going to pass, as if she could will it away, and felt "really surprised and let down by the people of California" when it passed.
She said she's also afraid of what might be coming.
"What's going to happen to my family?" she said. "What are they going to try to pass through next?"
In school, Bergman made a silkscreen for a T-shirt that shows an eight with a line through it, calling for the elimination of "H8." She said she's going to be involved with Prop 8 "until we get it un-passed."
Abby's mother Kim Bergman wrote in an e-mail that after Prop 8 passed, "It helped to have her see that in her lifetime anyone will be able to marry – we talked to her about how it used to be that people of different races couldn't get married and how silly that seems now."
She added that she and her wife told their daughters "to forgive the people who were swayed by hate and ignorance and not to hate them back, but to keep telling people who we are to help change their hearts and minds."
Bergman and her wife, Natalie, married in Canada in 2006 and have been together for 26 years.
A challenge to tetherball
Connor Keegan-Lloyd, 10, lives in Los Angeles with her parents, Tom Keegan and Davidson Lloyd, who married in July.
Connor recalled a recent car trip with a friend who asked her father, "So are you married yet?"
"My dad said, 'We're always going to be married, no matter what. They have not divorced us, and no matter what, we'll stay married for life.'"
"That was kind of nice to hear," said Connor. She said she wasn't worried that her parents, who've been together for 31 years, would break up, but she's still troubled.
Prop 8 "is unfair, and it's against our constitution," said Connor, who said she's been teased "a little bit" at school for having two gay men as parents.
Connor said the teasing is "quite disappointing," but she has her own way of dealing with people. Sometimes, she challenges them to a game of tetherball. When she wins, the other person can't say anything about gay couples.
In the East Bay town of Orinda, Trish McDermott's son Liam, who's 6, started crying when he learned of Prop 8's passage, and asked if it meant they weren't a family anymore. The child still asks about Prop 8.
"We've explained to him that we are a family no matter what ... the real question is the legality of our marriage, but not the love or strength of our marriage itself." When Liam hears something about Prop 8 on the news, "he zeroes in on it," said McDermott. Besides Liam, McDermott and her partner have three other children, all of whom were present at the couple's wedding in September.
Once, people down the street were demonstrating in support of Prop 8. Her children saw it, and talked about it with their parents. McDermott discussed it with the neighbors, who then surprised the family by organizing a No on 8 protest.
Seventy-five neighbors showed up and stood on the Highway 24 overpass with the family, holding No on 8 signs. At least half the demonstrators were kids.
But not everybody's been supportive.
As was previously reported in the Bay Area Reporter, according to a search of campaign contributions to Prop 8, Orinda Mayor Sue Severson and her family donated a total of $11,000 toward the Yes on 8 campaign. McDermott invited Severson to dinner, but that dinner still hasn't happened, she said.
In January, Marriage Equality USA released "Prop 8 Hurt My Family – Ask Me How," a compilation of findings from community forums and online surveys showing some of the effects of Prop 8's passage. To view the report, which includes links to counseling and community resources, go to http://www.marriageequality.org.