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Now We are a Family

Supreme Court cases put spotlight on gay parenting

The White House told the Supreme Court it favored same-sex marriage. So did dozens of big corporations, a host of political and legal heavyweights – and 9-year-old Austin Covey.

“My dads take the best care of me and my brother,” Austin said in one of the many legal briefs submitted to court. “My family is no different than any other family.”

In fact, his California family is different from most. Austin’s fathers, Joseph and Kevin Covey, are legally married. Yet because it’s a same-sex union, the federal government didn’t recognize it under provisions of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Part of the law was overturned last week by the Supreme Court.

But is such a marriage also different in ways that disadvantage children?

Justice Antonin Scalia suggested as much back in March, when the court heard arguments over DOMA and California’s same-sex marriage statute.

“If you redefine marriage to include same-sex couples,” Scalia said, “you must permit adoption by same-sex couples. There’s considerable disagreement among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a single-sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not.”

Actually, though there are some dissenters who say that research is not definitive – and some states block gay couples form jointly adopting children – there’s a broad consensus among major medical, psychological and child-welfare organizations that children raised by gay and lesbian parents fare just as well as those raised by straight parents.

Scalia’s comments angered many gay-rights activists, including attorney Camilla Taylor of Lambda Legal, who called them “dishonest and disingenuous” for disregarding the consensus among child-welfare professionals.

Among the groups supporting same-sex marriage are the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American College of Nursing, the Child Welfare League of America and the National Association of Social Workers.

Just a few days before the oral arguments, the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed that stance, asserting in a report that a stable relationship between parents – regardless of sexual orientation – contributes to a child’s health and well-being.

“There should be equal opportunity for every couple to access the economic stability and federal supports provided to married couples to raise children,” said Dr. Benjamin Siegel, co-author of the report.

A much smaller breakaway group, the American College of Pediatricians, has issued several statements opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage and insisting that unanswered questions remain as to how children raised by gay parents will fare over time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the nation’s most influential pediatrician’s group, claims 60,000 members. The smaller group’s membership is in the hundreds.

In many states, there’s no statewide legal precedent for adoption by gay couples, and the situation may vary from county to county.

Nonetheless, adoption by gays is surging. According to the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, there were nearly 30,000 adopted children being raised by same-sex couples in 2009, a threefold increase from the start of the decade.

In Brea, Calif., 9-year-old twins Austin and Dakota Covey have been living with their fathers since they were 4, although the adoptions weren’t finalized until 2011. The dads were able to marry in 2008 during a 142-day window when gay marriage was legal in California before voters banned it with the ballot measure known as Proposition 8.

“From my kids’ perspective, they really keep it simple,” said Joseph Covey. “Love is love.”

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