Yasmin Nair

The Kids Aren't Alright : The Gay Marriage Movement and its Manipulation of Children and Youth

Filed By Yasmin Nair | March 22, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Media, Politics, The Movement, The Movement
Tags: gay adoption, gay families, Gay High Schools, gay marriage, James Nieley, Vermont, Vermont Freedom to Marry

The Religious Right is notorious for its manipulation of children, especially in its anti-gay tirades. The passage of Proposition 8 was prompted in part by the incitement of fear about what children might have to endure: the spectacle of gay sex, or worse, the spectacle of gay marriage. In its "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons," the Catholic Church is firm on the issue: "Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development."

And then it goes on to pull in an authority only slightly less important than god: "This is gravely immoral and in open contradiction to the principle, recognized also in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, that the best interests of the child, as the weaker and more vulnerable party, are to be the paramount consideration in every case."

Okay, then. Pull in the UN, no less, and the barriers facing queers advocating for the right to adopt and/or reproduce seem insurmountable. And as most of us know, the charge of unsuitable parenting is the least damaging one made against us as queer parents. Gay men in particular are regularly demonised as child rapists who can't be trusted to be left alone with kids as schoolteachers, let alone raise them.

Until the gay marriage movement coalesced in earnest less than a decade ago, the issue of children in the queer community was focused on adoption rights. Now, the movement has taken over and subsumed those issues into what it pompously refers to "full marriage equality." But the fact is that the right of queers to have and/or adopt children has nothing to do with marriage. There's a history that needs to be told, of how the queer reproduction/adoption issue was making its way through the court system separately from gay marriage, until the former was hijacked by the latter.

But, for now, I want to consider the use of children and youth by the gay marriage movement to the point of exploitation. A note for those who don't know my politics on gay marriage: I'm against asserting the primacy of marriage in any way, gay or straight. I don't think that marriage should be the guarantor of essential benefits like health care. I think the gay marriage movement, which only values people in "committed relationships" is a deeply conservative movement. Worse, in arguing that gay marriage is necessary to ensure benefits like health care, the movement demonstrates its callousness towards the nearly 50 million who are without health care in this country, a lot of whom are straight and married. Gay marriage, as it's being fought now, only perpetuates economic inequality. There are far bigger issues facing us today than the deprivation of "marriage rights."

In that context: The media images of sad children and emotional teens talking about their and/or their gay parents' right to marry are every bit as manipulative and dishonest as any right-wing propaganda about the dangers posed by queers to children. Worse, these media images and messages conflate and confuse the issues that queers face on an everyday basis, like the threat of violence, and turn them into talking points in favour of gay marriage.

Take, for example, this video of seventeen-year-old James Neiley from Vermont, testifying about the need to legalise gay marriage. He's also a Board Representative of Outright, which describes itself as a "Queer Youth Center and State Advocacy Organization." I do think it takes a certain amount of bravery to be out in public like this, at his age, but I don't think that should distract us from the implications of his message. I'll first go through and dissect the problems with his speech - so numerous that I had to focus on just a few. I'll use those to discuss the problems that arise with using and manipulating children and youth to expand on "marriage equality."

Here's Neiley on the connections between gay marriage and bullying of queer youth:

"This debate isn't just about marriage. It is equally focused on the social issues that anti-hate crime laws and harassment laws work to prevent. Without marriage equality the boys in the locker room... who harassed me are encouraged to believe that my sexuality means there is something different, wrong, and lesser about me. They know I don't have the same rights as they do and they know that I can't have a big tacky expensive wedding... no matter how much I may want to. Knowing this fuels their ideals and fuels the many forms of cruelty felt by LGBTQ youth throughout the state...When I came out I knew I wouldn't be considered equal and I didn't' even consider myself to be equal. How could I when I knew the best I could do in most states is get a civil union? How am I supposed to overcome the ripping, nagging feeling that I am inferior?"

Let's not even go into the problems with hate crimes legislation, which I've written about in Loving Hate: Why Hate Crimes Legislation is a Bad Idea. Let's just consider Neiley's direct assertion that "hate crimes" are caused by the lack of gay marriage.

To which we might respond: Really? So this is what goes through the minds of bullies: "You're a worthless piece of crap because you can't get married and I can, so I'm going to harass and possibly beat you up." Sure. How will Neiley and his media trainers respond to anti-queer violence after the recognition of same-sex marriage? Will they decide it's just bad karma?

The problem of school harassment and bullying is not going to go away with the advent of gay marriage; anyone who believe or asserts that is diminishing the issue of systemic violence in schools -- which can't be solved with punitive hate crime laws or with marriage. Violence in schools is also bound up in a range of issues which often have nothing to do with sexual orientation. The recent push for queers-only high schools localises anti-gay bullying as the only problem that needs addressing, as if queer kids aren't also marked by race, class status, skin colour, gender identitification, immigration status, and a host of other factors. Kids are bullied and harassed for being too large, too skinny, too poor, too rich, for being immigrants, for not fitting in ... the list goes on. Neiley's connection between the harassment he endured and gay marriage is callous, manipulative, and deceitful.

Neiley goes on to describe his future parenting style with his yet unborn children because, well, if you're gay, it's not enough to want to marry. You have to prove your worth as a parent: "I would pack them a lunch and always put a cookie or a brownie in to brighten up their day. I would drop them off to soccer practice or dance...I just want to be able to say, "I'm married," to my neighbours when they come over for a family barbecue."

Gag. I know that children and youth are inherently more conservative in their worldview than most adults; their vision of a stable world is influenced by the implicit and explicit messages that society sends them, and that world is always populated by two-parent households and stay-at-home parents who are at home morning, noon, and night to tend to their every need and wipe bums and noses whenever needed. So I could just laugh off Neiley's vivid evocation of a perfect childhood as yet another symptom of a widespread cultural delusion about what it takes to be happy in a family.

But, but, but...In the context of a public testimony about gay marriage, it's necessary to consider the pernicious effects of Neiley's words upon gay adults and gay children. His words don't appear in isolation -- they're part of a widespread attempt by the gay marriage movement to paint gay families as not just normal but super-normal and beyond perfection. In the process, the gay marriage movement has begun to use children and youth as mouthpieces for its conservative agenda. Take, for instance, the recent anti-Prop-8-campaign, "Please Don't Divorce Us," where images of gun-wielding gay couples (look, they like to kill, just like us!) are interspersed with images of children seated between same-sex parents. (Jessica Hoffman's "Regarding That Video" is an excellent critique of the same, and needs to be read.)

What, I have to wonder, happens to the queer parents who don't raise their children in such dementedly unrealistic ways? And, as a community of sorts, shouldn't we worry about the fact that young people are being persuaded that their gayness can only be made evident in partnerships like marriage? Neiley thinks that only marriage, not civil unions, will make him feel less inferior. Rather than see his denunciation of civil unions as a reason to valorise marriage, we might consider how badly we are doing in our efforts to help queer youth with their sense of self-worth. If we decide that their happiness is tied to gay marriage, aren't we setting them up for exactly the kind of serial monogamy that leads people to desperately flit from relationship to relationship, incapable of being happy when they're alone? Is this what we want: young people whose self-worth is determined entirely by their romantic relationships?

If this were about gender and not sexuality, we'd be telling gay children and youth to explore all their options, see the world, take time to decide who they'd like to be, change their minds as often as they like. Instead, youth like Neiley are becoming the way for the gay marriage movement to assert principles about the family that don't look all that different from what the Religious Right paints as the ideal. At the end, Neiley asserts that "that marriage is about love, not about gender roles." Yes, but "love" at what cost?

It's both interesting and frightening to watch Neiley and other children and youth in the marriage movement. It feels dismissive to write that they're naive and clearly being trained by the older people in the marriage movement. They may, in some instances, be coached to speak their lines. Or they may, in other instances, be genuinely passionate and concerned about what they, often rightly, perceive as the state's intervention into their families. I'm less concerned about whether they have been directly taught to express these views or not than with the kinds of messages they're sending out and the implications for those of us who don't want to see marriage be the defining cause of the queer community, because the effects of the same are so devastating. These children and youth are being taught to be manipulative and strategic to get to what they're convinced is the ultimate goal of marriage. They're being taught that it's okay to twist and turn everything that affects them as queers into a rationale for gay marriage, and that somehow the fight for gay marriage is a social justice cause that surmounts all the other myriad issues surrounding us, like massive and widespread economic inequality, or the devastating lack of health care for millions.

Frankly, I hate to think about what kind of people they'll be ten years from now. I suspect that Neiley, like so many of his generation, is incredibly media-savvy and has a sophisticated understanding of what kind of rhetoric might work best in this fight for "marriage equality." Which is to say: he's learning to be a manipulative bullshitter and a pompous twit.

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John Wilkinson | March 22, 2009 5:35 PM
Worse, in arguing that gay marriage is necessary to ensure benefits like health care, the movement demonstrates its callousness towards the nearly 50 million who are without health care in this country, a lot of whom are straight and married.

Yasmin, who, exactly, in the effort for freedom to marry is pushing marriage and health care as being intrinsically linked? Names, please.

I'm one of the co-founders of the Legal Marriage Alliance of Washington, and guess what? -- I strongly favor national health care.

For the most part, I think the most you'll find is in the form of reports of what is undeniably true: the inability to marry often prevents employees from accessing portions of their employer's health care plans that will only cover married partners and their children. This observation does nothing to obviate what is also true: reliance on employment-based health coverage is an ineffective and unfair way of distributing health coverage.

To John Wilkinson - do you really think I'm stupid enough to go into the whole "name names" business? You know as well as anyone else reading this that the gay marriage movement (admittedly a broad definition here) bases its arguments for its existence with the rationale that health care will then be made available to partners. Where does the movement stand on the issue of health care for all regardless of marital status? For benefits like visitation rights being made available to all, regardless of marital or even romantic relationships? The website of your own organisation is silent on those issues. Yet, as your own website writes under the heading:

"Employee benefits for families"
that "The right to take sick leave to care for a spouse or child is an employer-provided benefit from which same-sex couples are excluded along with a host of other employer-provided benefits like bereavement leave (paid or unpaid), access to health insurance, and pension protections."

What does your organisation have to say to those who don't have employer-provided benefits, especially in this economy?

You get my point, John. The issue is not whether or not you as an individual believe in health care for all; the issue is that the marriage movement deliberately avoids the issue entirely because, well, without that we'd just be a bunch of Canadians. Who, by the way, are not rushing to the altar in droves precisely because they don't have to do so in order to get basics like health care.

If you and your ilk are so eager to prove your progressive credentials on health care, at least have the decency to post even one tiny paragraph that acknowledges that people *shouldn't* have to marry for something as basic as health care. But, of course, that would undercut your entire argument, wouldn't it?

I believe my title refers to "youth" as well as children. As for your point that "LGBT youth need to memorize the following words at same-sex marriage training boot camps springing up around the nation." -- well, thanks for proving my point about the manipulation of youth by the movement. I had no idea that there were these boot camps springing up, and will look them up.

Calling my arguments reactionary isn't going to help turn yours into a progressive agenda. And if you were to read the piece carefully, you'd see that I don't have anything to say about the families; I'm critical of the "movement" as a whole in terms of the way it uses children and youth to get its point across.

Dig a little deeper. Go to a few meetings. Find the facts. The "marriage movement" is already shifting and calling itself the "equal rights movement" and some the "progressive movement." And why? Because it's not just about marriage. And those in the movement know this.

Here in LA, we're building coalitions with unions and farm workers, who fight everyday for economic justice. We're building coalitions with POC groups who also face economic injustice simply because of the colour of their skin. And guess what? Even within these groups, we blend because there are members of the LGBT community who are housekeepers at hotels breaking their backs for pennies on the hour, and there are also LGBT community members fighting for economic justice within their communities of color. And let's not forget the teachers getting laid of left and right, and our efforts, as ONE, to fight for the Employee Free Choice Act AND Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Today I went to a forum for LGBT and Labor coalition building, where straight and LGBT members assembled finding similarities in their quest for equality. (I'm posting an article tomorrow on it on my site.) The point is: it's not about recognition of our marriages, nor trying to fit our families into the model that the right wing has convinced our nation is ideal.


Being equals with your fellow citizens (and in the case of illegal immigrants, equal to your fellow human being).

If getting marriage in a faulty system is one step in the direction of equality, of economic justice, then so be it. Call it whatever you want. Who cares? As long as it's equal.

Take a step back and look at the big picture. And if you get involved, you may see that the movement is about equality for all. Not just marriage.

Unite the fight,

Your arrogance is astonishing. You assume I know nothing about movement building, and simply assume that marriage *is* the movement. "Dig a little deeper. Go to a few meetings. Find the facts." What is it about the blogosphere that encourgages people to try out this kind of arrogant rhetoric -- the kind they'd never exercise in real life? I'm not going to waste time detailing the work I do here because, frankly, engaging on that level with someone who creates a fictional world where you are the supreme activist and I am just the poor deluded one who has never attended meeting or done any activism is a waste of time. Besides, that just becomes a distracting battle to prove one's "movement-building" credentials." So, I'll just focus on some of your points.

You don't say who the "we" is, and I'm going to assume you're with UNITE HERE, but I could be wrong on that. I've addressed that union's use of gay marriage in an article about the Manchester Hyatt boycotts, so I'll quote myself here: "...the position of some unions on the issue of gay marriage seems to contradict the basic premise of union organizing: to ensure fair wages and economic parity for all workers, regardless of individual factors like marital status. ...According to [Cleve] Jones, 'UNITE HERE 'reject [ s ] the compromise of domestic partnerships [ and is ] in favor of full marriage equality.' Many gay ( and straight ) workers might prefer the flexibility of domestic partnerships over marriage. There is no widespread consensus on gay marriage within the gay community." You can read the entire piece here: http://tinyurl.com/655lrn Even if you/your movement is not linked to that particular union, my points are relevant to the larger issue of unions getting into the marriage movement.

I do think it's interesting to see how the GMM has made various factions like SOME (not all) unions assume that gay marriage is an inherently progressive cause, when it's not. The economic justice argument around GM also runs like this: poor people are likely to be most disadvantaged by the benefits they don't have via GM, so they should be allowed to marry because they can't afford the expensive lawyers it would take to draw up special benefits and wills etc. As a poor gay person myself, I would find that laughable if it weren't so demeaning. That kind of "economic justice" argument fails to recognise that a) being married doesn't help if you're both laid off and without insurance. b) positing marriage as a cure for economic woes is a let-them-eat-cake argument; it implies that two people should just unite in their misery and that the mere fact of their union will alleviate their poverty.

And that brings me to the arrogance of this statement of yours: "We're building coalitions with POC groups who also face economic injustice simply because of the colour of their skin."

NOOOOOOOOOOooooooo - say it ain't so! Really? People of colour face economic injustice because of the structural racism of many workplaces? I'm shocked, just shocked to hear that.

You get the point of my sarcasm. Or perhaps not, so let me make myself clear. I happen to be a poor lesbian of color, and my organising takes place in disenfranchised communities, most of whom are composed of people of colour. I don't think I need someone from the "marriage movement" to tell me that my life sucks in part because of institutional racism.

And, by the way, before you write in (or someone else does) to tell me how you are somehow more disadvantaged than me by detailing all the "isms" which make your life worse than mine, let me just point that I don't give you the details of my life in order to establish some hierarchy of oppression or even a competition for oppression. I'm merely trying to point out the pomposity of your words, and the sheer arrogance of the marriage movement which, as Alex put it so delightfully in his comment, thinks "that every single problem the LGBTQ community has stems from a lack of access to marriage[.]"

But then, of course, for you the "big picture" is .... marriage. Right. Nothing limited about that.

And I can't even get started here about how those in the GMM who claim to now fight alongside POCs and the poor are quite certainly likely to forget every economic struggle once they get marriage. For more on that, you'll just have to look for a forthcoming post from me.

I agree to accept your public bitch slap. I was arrogant. Horribly so.

But you also called a brave 17 year old a potential twit amongst other incendiary remarks. You wanted heated responses. I gave you one.

So you got me. You put me back in my place. And for that, I thank you.

Now write a guest post for me.

Guest post? Sure, if you're serious, let me know when and where. I think we both have a lot to say about these issues.

lacy panties | March 22, 2009 6:08 PM

They know I don't have the same rights as they do and they know that I can't have a big tacky expensive wedding... no matter how much I may want to.

Since it means to much to James, someone should tell him he can have a wedding, as big and tacky as he wants. He can have it in celebration of a civil union, or he can have it in celebration of a relationship that doesn't seek any recognition from the state whatsoever. You would think someone testifying in favor of gay marriage would have figured out that there's a difference between a marriage and a wedding.

Although we thought you harsh to call the boy's words "callous, manipulative, and deceitful", my husband and I rather agree with you. (We got married in order to keep him under the umbrella of my benefits. Long story. I did get a nice Mayflowery last name out of it!)



Take what you can and run, is what I always say to friends who are compelled to marry for benefits. I have nothing personal against people who want to marry or feel they should marry because otherwise they'd be bereft of basics like health care - which, in this economy, is slipping away as people lose their jobs. So even that rationale will soon fall by the roadside. My complaint is with the way marriage is being constructed as the *only* good way to get benefits by a community that used to be in the forefront of organising around health care.

Good things about weddings: the food and wedding cake. And if you should get a lovely Mayflower-y name out of it, all the better!

Your argument is flawed from the very beginning because a child in Vermont means anyone under the age of 16. Neiley is 17 and his presentation did not seemed coached in anyway. He is an exceptional young man, articulate and intelligent. The point he made about self esteem was well taken and something we can all learn from. We are just as good as anyone else and deserve the same rights as all citizens.

The same arguments for Loving v Virginia (mixed race marriages) applies to gender neutral marriage today. Children need to understand that they have the same rights as their heterosexual peers. LGBT youth need to memorize the following words at same-sex marriage training boot camps springing up around the nation.

The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious gender neutral discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of the same gender resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

You accuse the gay marriage movement of manipulation, and yet you write a story with the sensational headline "The Kids Aren't Alright : The Gay Marriage Movement and its Manipulation of Children and Youth".


And I bet within days of posting this, the Christian right will already have appropriated this headline and be e-mailing it to each other as proof that they're right about us. "See, even the queers themselves admit that gay marriage hurts children."

As for the rest of your argument, it's mostly reactionary nonsense. Like John Wilkinson who commented above, I am a strong proponent of both gay marriage equality and universal health care. I don't know anybody who thinks they are intrinsically linked, or who thinks only people in "committed relationships" (why you put that in quotes is beyond me) should be valued.

Furthermore, who are you to judge other people's families and accuse them of manipulating their own children? Those people who agree to be featured in marriage equality ads are probably just trying to put a human face on an issue they believe affects them and their loved ones.

I'll say the same thing to you that I say to the homophobes: Against gay marriage? Then don't have one.


I also wanted to add: telling me that I/those who don't want gay marriage just have some choice not to do so doesn't work. Here's why. You can't

a) argue that gay marriage *should* be the way to get benefits and then

b) argue, as so many of your ilk do, that only married people should be recognised as worthy of 1000+ beneifts which means that

c) lots of people will be without said benefits, including health care. You can't then turn around and say

d) "Of course, you don't *have* to get married, you can just opt out," when

e) you've just constructed a system where marriage is the only way to get essential benefits.

Convoluted logic, isn't it? But that's exactly what's behind that clever slogan of yours.

"Which is to say: he's learning to be a manipulative bullshitter and a pompous twit."

As someone who goes to school with James and knows him personally, I feel I have the right to tell you that you are very, very wrong. James had no coaching whatsoever with his speech, nor did anyone help him write it. In fact, he sent parts of it to me as he wrote them; I recommended no changes, and I heard them in the exact same form in the video of his testimony. You're certainly allowed to have your own views on how he chooses to express his opinions; but I can assure you that they are James' opinions and no one else's.

James is an amazing person, and he has had to endure a lot of discrimination during the time I've known him. He manages to maintain a positive outlook on life partly, I think, because of his devotion to dealing with issues like this. His argument is simple: it's hard to feel equal, and for others to treat you as equal, when you don't have the same rights. There may be flaws in how he presents the issue; you may not approve of the idealistic way he presents family life- that's okay. But the underlying point remains.

It seems a bit cruel for you to twist the honest, passionate words of a 17-year-old into some sort of manipulative message from a "pompous twit." He's standing up for something he believes in.

And by the way, his last name... It's spelled "Neiley."


At no point do I suggest that someone wrote his words for him and, in fact that's really not the point of the piece. I'll make changes, if need be, to make that absolutely clear. But, as I said, that's really not the point because the piece isn't just about him. It doesn't matter whether Neiley (and I'll correct that spelling) wrote it himself or not. I'm making a larger point about how the gay marriage movement is using children and youth to justify its arguments, and I'm questioning the validity of those arguments. I'm not questioning the validity of the individuals concerned; their validity or lack thereof is beside the point.

As for the last line, I was clear: "he's learning to be a manipulative bullshitter and a pompous twit." I chose those words very carefully. I do think that, should he continue in this vein, he's going to grow up to be, frankly, a bullshitter and a pompous twit. For more on why I think he's likely to be such, please read the piece again - keeping in mind that this is not a piece about James Neiley, but about the very conservative messages sent out via people like him. I was especially disturbed by his conflating school bullying with the gay marriage issue. Which, I notice, you don't address at all.

Whether or not James Neiley wrote the words himself, and whether or not he was passionate about them is beside the point. The fact is that the words are part of a larger political strategy, whether or not he sees that. Using words like "love," as the gay marriage movement does so often, doesn't get us away from the fact that gay marriage has social and political consequences for a lot of people, especially those who don't want to get married.

Which is my way of saying: it's great that Neiley has a friend like you to stand up for him. But you have to understand that he made a public statement. And anyone listening to that has a right to critique it as part of a strategy and a political agenda that they disagree with.

He's not wrongly conflating gay marriage with school bullying. Where do you think the bullying comes from? Outsider status. What does exclusion of gay people from marriage establish? Outsider status.

You may not like the current system that emphasizes some supposed concept of being "normal", but that doesn't mean it's not how it works in our society. Gay marriage is about normalization. Some will see it as insidious, others will not. Will you argue that normalization won't help in reducing your chances of being picked out as a target for bullying?


Thanks for proving my point about the callousness of the gay marriage movement (or at least the factions you represent).

I think I can best respond to your comment by quoting from the piece: "How will Neiley and his media trainers respond to anti-queer violence after the recognition of same-sex marriage? Will they decide it's just bad karma?"

The issue isn't about normalization - and, as far as school bullies go, nobody is ever normal enough.

The issue is that nobody should be treated as less worthy of simple benefits like health care just because they're not married. That's a much bigger issue than whether or not they're considered normal. I don't care if people think I'm "normal" or not - they just need to give me my bloody rights and the benefits I deserve without demanding that I first buy into an institution like marriage.

Maybe, just maybe, if gay people decided that they didn't want marriage to start with and if they fought for the right to have its supposed benefits through social mechanisms *other* than marriage - they wouldn't feel like they were being painted as outsiders. Maybe, just maybe, the gay community could have continued to push for health care for all, regardless of marital status. As we used to. This hysterical outburst for gay marriage as the *only* solution is relatively new. It's time to admit that all this talk about normalisation and feeling like outsiders is mostly self-imposed.

Seriously, we used to be the coolest people in the room and we showed others how to part of different and far more interesting social formations. And we used to fight for real policy change. And now we just want the status quo. What happened to us?

How do racial minorities respond after being incorporated into mainstream practices? That's not the point. Either way you cut it, removing traits bullies look for by making those traits no longer distasteful lessens the occurrence of bullying based on sexual orientation.

What is normal enough?

Nobody needs to give you your bloody rights, as you've witnessed. They can easily withhold them, and you're at public mercy.Popularity contests.

Speaking of callousness, let's say that all benefits associated with marriage were globalized. What then of gay couples that would still like to be married? Have their relationships formally recognized? You'll probably say that government has no business in recognizing relationships, but I'll buy that spiel once we actually get to a post-marriage society, in a few centuries.

Even worse is the claim of victimology on part of gays who want to get married. Self-imposed.... how nice of you.

We are no cooler than anyone else. We taught no one. We're varied, and many of us are not social revolutionaries or innovators. That you see some gay folks swear off monogamy while others fervently seek it shows how typical we are, no more different than straights.


Usually I find myself in agreement with you but I'm concerned there might be some ageism in your argument. James is apparently an articulate and assertive youth who holds an opinion that you and I both disagree with. But the flaws in his argument are easy enough to draw out, it's unecessary and not constructive to assume that his perspective is artificial or manipulated because he is a youth. Of course he learns and draws inspiration from established leaders of a movement he is dedicated to -- adults do that too.

Working with a youth organization myself, I must say that my experience of youth involvement in prop 8 was very different than yours. Our organizations wanted to get involved, our constituents were scared, feeling powerless (especially those who can't vote), and wanted to be a voice for our families. But the No on 8 campaign insisted that it was a bad idea strategically and forbid youth being raised by queer families to speak up.

While I share your concerns on the "Please Don't Divorce Us" video, I can say that as someone who grew up in a lesbian headed household, as someone who faced anti-LGBT ballot measures when I was 9, 12, and 16, little encouragement or manipulation is necessary. Children and youth in that position, for better or worse, are fierce defenders of our families. Strategic concerns about messaging aside, I doubt any of the children in the video needed prodding to be in it. Most probably wanted to do more but were not allowed to.

Youth as a whole are a diverse population. There will be youth who think like Jame, or like Solmonese, other youth who think like you, or like me (try talking with youth who have poly parents), and other youth with every other viewpoint imagineable. If the GMM and the broader LGBT movement are guilty of anything, it's of muzzling the children and refusing to acknowledge the value of their contributions. The best counter to that is to empower youth, not declare them all automotons who don't have their own opinions.


I appreciate the weight of your comments. But, first, let me make myself clear enough: I don't argue that he's just some silly young kid who doesn't know what he's being led into. If anything, I'm being anti-ageist by giving him his due *as* an adult - and being critical of his argument in that vein. We can't have it both ways - Neiley can't be both an innocent who's simply standing up for himself/his family and so needs to be given a pass AND an adult who's capable of forming and expressing his own opinions. I work with youth myself, and I agree that the best thing to do is to empower them (even if I sometimes feel that's a bit condescending on my part, since they're pretty well empowered on their own, for the most part - but still, there are always structural limitations on what they can do). And in this case, I do critique him for his own opinion.

And, as I wrote to Victoria above, I'm making a larger point about how the gay marriage movement is using children and youth to justify its arguments, and I'm questioning the validity of those arguments. I'm not questioning the validity of the individuals concerned; their validity or lack thereof is beside the point.

I need to clarify the bit about manipulation, which some people are reading as the direct and demonic distortion or use of children and youth who may or may not want to make certain statements in public. I think the issue is a lot more complicated than that and to that end, I've inserted this bit to clarify where I stand: "They may, in some instances, be coached to speak their lines. Or they may, in other instances, be genuinely passionate and concerned about what they, often rightly, perceive as the state's intervention into their families. I'm less concerned about whether they have been directly taught to express these views or not than with the kinds of messages they're sending out and the implications for those of us who don't want to see marriage be the defining cause of the queer community, because the effects of the same are so devastating."

I think this issue is a lot more complicated than simply giving youth and children their say, or deciding whether or not they're being manipulated. Part of my point here was to get us to think long and hard about what we, as a community, decide to do with our children and youth. I also think we give ourselves a pass for being better than the Right in too many ways, when in fact our worldview doesn't exactly depart from their too often. Similarly, we have no right to assume that youth and children will be seen as completely un-ideological beings who are simply calling for an end to the oppression of their families.

I think those are all complicated issues - and we don't think about them being too complicated too often. I don't think it's either/or. And I think I've treated Neiley's words and their potential effects on the world around him with all the consideration they're due.

If more children and youth want to be involved, that's great. But we can't just look the other way and pretend that what they have to say about the structure of families and what kinds of families deserve support is somehow disconnected from the larger issue of how the state goes on to define proper families deserving of its care. Look at this way: How would we respond if Focus on the Family decided to send its children and youth to utter these words in public?

I agree with you that the GMM and the broader queer movement have been guilty of muzzling children - but not of children who will publicly affirm that their families are just the same as everyone else's. I'd like to hear from children and youth who live in alternative structures, but you and I both know that's not going to happen. And I don't think Neiley comes even close to articulating the vision of those families.

To repeat, we can't have it both ways.

I definitely agree that youth voices should not be un-criticized because they are youth, and I do agree with your criticisms of James' testimony. I guess I'm not certain what your larger point about manipulation is. Are you saying that the GMM is manipulating the public by trumpeting (certain) youth voices? Because I had interpreted your main point as saying that the GMM is manipulating youth -- and that those youth voices are invalid because of that.

My point wasn't that youth should get a free pass, but that I don't see any reason to think that they themselves are being manipulated, and that they're arguments should be evaluated based on their merits and not on how the adults around them treat them.


Thank you for your comment about prop. 8. Quite honestly, 'm getting tired. Every time I think I know about all the missteps our side took... well... I learned about another. I am so sorry to hear that youth were purposely left out. As an old fart myself, I want to let you know that I truly appreciate your efforts and those of your group.

isa kocher | March 23, 2009 6:53 AM

fact: since humans began gay parenting has been human. fact: since humans began marriage however it has been defined has been the primary institution by which children are given their needs. it is deeply profoundly insulting to gay people to demand that they stop having families for some private personal political purpose. marriage throughout human existence has always been about the integration of family into the larger social network. the gay marriage movement is about equal access to what is not to what should be here or hereafter.

it is not gay families which exploit children, and anyone who says that gay families do not or should not happen and don't deserve equal access equal protection equal dignity equal health equal tax and legal contract standing before the law is an ideologue, and putting idelogy before the needs of children is every bit as immoral whether it is the pope who thinks anything resembling love between adults is perverted if it doesn't serve his political purposes, or if it is "liberal" "progressive" ideology which serves some other political purpose. Holding back this equity to our children now is abuse. Crucifying our children on a cross of ideology. Papal or anti-papal.

There is a wide consensus among psychological, psychiatric, counseling, health, social scientist and anthropological professional researchers that prove that children of gay parents are just as normal as it gets. The research is based on actual evidence and it is clear and consistent and doesn't depend on hearsay, gossip, or individual tales. Where ever there has been research, the findings show that children in gay families are normal, socially adept, successful academically, psychologically sound, and that is despite the lower incomes, reduced access to health services, and other legal and social inequities. Exploitation of the children is what you are doing. Complaining where the science says clearly you are wrong. Every scientific body and also health and education professional organization which has looked at the science have agreed. Children of gay families are doing OK as families and it is the institutional inequity in society which has to be altered. Our children deserve equity and holding back that equity for your personal political purpose no matter how noble is abuse.

Children's and adults' health is, always has and always will be connected to the family, and gay families are every bit as normal as healthy as loving as sacred as holy as anybody else's.

Just stop arguing ideology at children's expense. Our children don't deserve this kind of abuse. Just stop it.

Dear Yasmin,

Not sure I agree with you on this one. Personally, I am not in favor or against marriage equality. I believe that we are all equal, thus we all deserve justice. Therefore, I believe in both individual rights and family rights. And I also believe that one should not trump the other. Having said that, I also don't have a solution for it... at least not yet. :)

On a more practical level, you know I am all for immigration benefits for same-sex couples. I prefer the passage of legislation like the Uniting American Families Act (mostly ignored by the LGBT powers that be) rather than marriage. The legislation is federal and if it were to pass, we would have these benefits now. The marriage movement is following a state-by-state strategy... so you can imagine how long it will take for these benefits to come to fruition. In the meanwhile, loving people are being separated. BUT since marriage is a tool, and I'm all for using any tool available so I support it with some reservations.

That's my stand on the whole marriage thing... not sure I ever quite explained myself to you on this matter. :)

My points on your piece are:
1) Ad nauseum posters have argued here that kids are willing to be a part of it. My experience here in California, where prop. 8 was fought, is that kids were the most exuberant participants at marches and rallies. Also, I heard one too many anecdotes of children coming home after the passage of prop 8 terrified that they were going to be taken away from their families. The damage was not done by our side, but by the Yes on Prop 8 people. Those TV ads were awful, and kids saw them on TV too, you know. Had our side been more proactive on the kid issue, well, maybe our kids would have heard a different story and wouldn't have freaked out as much.

2) Whether we like it or not, marriage is about sex. Under Bush the abstinence-only routine was emphasized exactly because of that. When I was growing up in Ecuador, I learned that the ID cards of adults stated their marital status. If they were caught in an... shall we say... intimate situation with someone else who was not their spouse, they could be arrested. This line of thought is particularly true in the largest monotheistic traditions (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) and their sexual hang-ups.

Therefore, there IS a psychological element to marriage that addresses the issue of sexual relations. The ability to marry normalizes us... not in the sense that we become heteronormative, but in the way where we cease to be aberrant. Now, the kid in school may still be beaten up for being different just like nooses are sadly still being hung in school yards (Jena 6). But at the same time, the hate crime will be the aberrant one in the eyes of society, not the victim. At least that is how I see it. And let me reiterate, my position is from a psychological perspective.

To illustrate it better, let me tell you a little story. A couple I know of got married in SF in 2004 when Newsom took the law into his hands. One of the women was kinda disowned by the family. The whole "we love you but refuse to acknowledge your partner" thing. Her father is a Knight of Columbus. After they got married in SF, her FATHER acknowledged the relationship and embraced the partner as his daughter. We cannot underestimate the psychological effect the word "marriage" has on society, even if it has none in our own personal lives.(which is my case, and I believe yours).

Now, that's about marriage between two people. From a more complex family angle.... well.... one of my dearest friends is in what I call a love polygon (triangle doesn't quite cut it). He and his wife have a very complex family relationship with his girlfriend and her wife, and his wife's boyfriend. And it works really well for them, and I am happy for him.

In talking about different family arrangements, he told me how the gays don't even want to touch their movement. I understand why... even though I think it's silly. Gays are doing what any oppressed group does. That is, they are aligning themselves with the oppressor as much as they can. The oppressor, being white, heterosexual, a citizen and male... and preferably rich... well... choose an aspect of him and align yourself with it.

My experience in immigrant and gay rights work showed me that both groups do it. Immigrants are hardworking like you and your ancestors... Gays are citizens just like you and your ancestors. Immigrants aren't criminals and all they want is the American Dream like you do. Gays are heteronormative, and want the white picket fenced home just like you do. (You being hypothetical you... not you per se dear friend.) oooh! And I almost forgot one part.... women... women can't be male and rich, so they marry him. :) Weren't you ever encouraged to marry a rich guy??? If not by your family, a soap opera or a movie certainly did. It's the modus operandi for women.

So where do kids fit into all of this? They too want to be like their friends at school and have a "normal" family. Kids, specially teenagers, are not interested in making waves. They want to fit in and be just like everyone else is. They want to be accepted by their peers, and have the same things their peers have... including a legally recognized family. Therefore, I really don't think it's the gay movement per se who is abusing kids, but kids coming forward themselves as Tobi mentioned.

And about Neiley becoming a "manipulative bullshitter and a pompous twit," good for him. We need more manipulative bullshitters an pompous twits on our side. You and I can't do it alone gurl!

Hi Marta,

As for the bit about kids wanting to be like their friends, etc. - I've already addressed that in my point about the messages they get about normalcy. Please see my original post above.

For anyone else reading this from here on: Please read my post carefully before you begin to comment. This whole business of arguing about whether or not James Neiley meant his words or not, and whether or not children and youth are scared for their families or not (I've said yes, probably, on both counts) is a distraction from the larger issue at hand: I'm making a larger point about how the gay marriage movement is using children and youth to justify its arguments, and I'm questioning the validity of those arguments. I'm not questioning the validity of the individuals concerned; their validity or lack thereof is beside the point.

As for manipulative bullshitters and pompous twits, you can keep them. I don't fight for marriage or for the Uniting American Families Act, which is not part of comprehensive immigration reform (and I'll be writing about that in a week or less). I've already written about that on bilerico:


But, to get back to the issue of children and youth in the gay marriage movement - I think it's time we took a good long look at what, exactly, we're coaching them to say and/or what kinds of world-views they articulate, and what kinds of people we're compelling them to be in the process. To repeat myself: we can't just look the other way and pretend that what they have to say about the structure of families and what kinds of families deserve support is somehow disconnected from the larger issue of how the state goes on to define proper families deserving of its care.

Adony Melathopoulos | March 23, 2009 10:46 PM

Exactly Yasmin! I don't think the solidarity of marriage that Marta puts forward steers us towards anything but conservatism. By contrast Yasmin calls for a type of solidarity that could that *actually* overcome the obstacles that threaten to dim the horizon of human sexuality.

Fighting for health care reform will not only make GBLTQ folks more independent of conservative family structures and employers, but it holds the promise of creating meaningful connections between other "communities". These connections are quite different from the ones Marta advances in that they have the capacity to overcome our psychosis of mass helplessness, rather than reinforce it.

Wait, folks in the marriage movement thinking that every single problem the LGBTQ community has stems from a lack of access to marriage? You don't say!

Excellent observations, Yasmin! Couldn't have said it better myself.

Yasmin, I kept trying and trying to leave a comment last night when the site was down, and now I can't remember exactly what I was going to say except that this post is delicious indeed -- and all your astute responses are a delightful addition!

Thanks, Adony, Peggy, and Mattilda, for your words - much appreciated! I haven't received notification of your comments - only just saw them when Brad's comments made their way to my inbox, and that might have to do with our server problems.

Alex, yeah, can you believe it? Unbelievable, yeah? :-)

Brad Bailey | March 28, 2009 10:22 PM

Let's see: you're against gay marriage and you're against hate crimes legislation. So in what way are you not a conservative?

So the GMM is using kids to propagate what you perceive to be a conservative agenda. And...? What's your point? More importantly, what's your solution? To write a column about it? The other posters are right: your columns are reactionary to the point of being conservative. You're on the wrong side of the fence, Ms. Nair.


As to your comment, "More importantly, what's your solution? To write a column about it?" :

Ahem, I don't know how to break this gently to you, so I'll just put this as forthrightly as possible: Um, I'm writing a column because, um, this is a BLOG, see? That's the function of a blog - it gets people to post material, to write columns, to think about issues, to generate, discussion. If you'd like to know more about how my critique of marriage has an impact on the work I do, I welcome you to come visit me in Chicago as my colleagues and I engage in the difficult work of forging change in the world via a more just vision that involves more than marriage.

As far as I can tell, the people most likely to criticise others for writing columns are usually the ones also most likely to spend most of their time on blogs -- criticising people for writing.

As to your point "The other posters are right: your columns are reactionary to the point of being conservative" - seriously? You'll stoop that low - to make up a consensus where there is none? There have been plenty of critiques here, and I've engaged with those - but no one has referred to me as a conservative.

There is, of course, a long and considered conversation to be had with regards to the increasingly fragile distinction between right and left in the United States. And there's a lot to be said about how we've been persuaded that marriage and hate crimes legislation are progressive causes when in fact they do nothing but exert more state pressure onto our daily lives. But that's a conversation I prefer to have with others, certainly not with someone who clearly can't see the complexity of the issues and can only engage in knee-jerk and petty responses.

Brad Bailey | March 29, 2009 6:38 AM

Ad hominem attacks are the last refuge of those with no real defense, and you just proved that to me with your last post.

Brad Bailey | March 29, 2009 6:48 AM

And if you think you are accomplishing that much by preaching to the choir on Bilerico, you're kidding yourself. Do you post on conservative or Republican blogsites? Do you post on conservative Christian websites? Or do you stay in your own little comfort zone in Chicago, aloof and away from mainstream America? Your objections to hate-crime legislation are exactly the same as conservative objections to it. And I'm not at all afraid to debate you on it.

Brad Bailey | March 29, 2009 6:55 AM

I write monthly letters to the editors of both my local newspapers, and write letters to both my senators and legislators almost daily. I also blog on conservative posts because I know that's where the real need is to change hearts and minds. I do much more than just blog on websites that I know to be are gay-friendly.

Yasmin Nair wrote:

"The issue is not whether or not you as an individual believe in health care for all; the issue is that the marriage movement deliberately avoids the issue entirely because, well, without that we'd just be a bunch of Canadians. Who, by the way, are not rushing to the altar in droves precisely because they don't have to do so in order to get basics like health care."

Not quite. Canadian medicare does not cover most prescription drugs (except those administered in hospital) nor does it cover dentistry or vision care. Nor are provincial medical service plan payments uncommon.

Canadians do not rush to the altar in droves because Canada is largely (if not quite entirely) a pluralistic, secular, post-Christian society with people of many different persuasions.

In 1974, a Unitarian Universalist minister in Winnipeg, Manitoba officiated at the first same-sex marriage performed in Canada. It took thirty years of political activism and incremental progress for equal marriage to be legalized at both the provincial and federal levels.

Here in Canada, the number of married same-sex couples surged 32.6 percent from 2001 to 2006, five times the pace of opposite-sex couples. Same-sex couples are generally younger than opposite-sex couples, and there are more male same-sex couples than female (53.7 percent versus 46.3 percent).

My partner and I have been together for 16 years and have been legally married for six years. We paid $180 for the benefits of marriage: $100 for the marriage license and $80 for the marriage commissioner to legally solemnize the marriage. Had we chosen to remain in a common-law relationship, we would have had to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees for those same benefits. I want my partner to be able to visit me in hospital (he had been denied access once before) and the benefits of marriage provide us that at a far more affordable cost compared to the alternative.

"Take what you can and run" is excellent advice. That's certainly what we did. But universal health care does not necessarily guarantee equal access or treatment, nor is it ever likely to.

In a pluralistic society, politics is the art of compromise applied to the clash of convictions; no one is going to get everything they want in exactly the form they want it, though that shouldn't stop us from trying.

With any luck, the practice of multiple marriage may soon be fully legal in Canada, though it may require the defeat of the current minority Conservative government in Ottawa to fully implement it nationwide. Normalization is not necessarily about eliminating difference; the normal is not necessarily the normative.