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Family Matters

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Roger, Lucas and Steve are a lesson in love

There's a lot of talk these days about restoring good, old-fashioned family values to America. These values seem to include stable, loving relationships, strong ethical values and attention to the well being of children. For many people, that idea comes wrapped up in a tidy package of mom, dad, two kids and a dog. The image usually includes Dad and Bobby playing catch on the lawn (with Rover jumping around their heels), while Mom teaches Sally to cook in the kitchen. They all look alike and go to church on Sunday together. It's the American dream, right?


Fashions of the 80's

Maybe American advertising gimmick is more appropriate. Because when I look around these days, that "picture perfect" family unit is hardly reality. Single adults are choosing to have children on their own. Parents are adopting children of different races and ethnicities. And gay and lesbian couples are raising kids in loving homes. More and more Americans seem to be realizing that what's right for others may not be right for them, and they've begun creating "alternative" families that meet their needs instead.

Jen and I met two families in Dallas, Texas who have chosen a different family structure than their parents had. These couples are creating history by redefining what our society sees as an "acceptable" family.


We first visited Robin and Karen, a lesbian couple with two adopted children. They've been together for 23 years, but Robin tells me that despite their lifetime commitment to one another, until ten years ago "kids were never an option." She admits, "We really never talked about it because we didn't know anyone who was doing it." Then Robin's brother and his wife had their first child, and Robin and Karen started thinking about raising a child in their home too. So when they saw an ad for a "considering parenthood" workshop, they decided to attend. After weighing the major considerations that any parents-to-be should (time commitment, financial stability, and how the child would grow up) Robin and Karen decided to have children. Since then, they have adopted two beautiful children: Ethan, a Vietnamese-American boy, and Emmie, a toddler born in Vietnam.

Jen and I also met with Roger and Steve, a gay couple who are raising an adopted son. Although they tell me "the majority of gay men figure they have to give up being a father," Roger always knew that someday he would have a child. And he put that possibility up front as soon as he started dating Steve. While Steve didn't "buy in hook, line and sinker immediately," he eventually agreed with Roger that the two were up to the task of parenting. They adopted Lucas (an extremely bright, kind and mature young man!) from Laredo, Texas almost eight years ago, and have become the ideal parents since then.

Ethan understands that all families are different

So what would you expect the house of an alternative family to look like? Would you be surprised to hear that it probably looks very much like yours? The Sunday that we met these families, Robin had just come back from racing Ethan to hockey practice (where he's the goalie) and then to the groundbreaking ceremony for the new community temple. Karen was in charge of Emmie for the day, getting some work done while Em took her afternoon nap. Roger and Steve had gone to church that morning with Lucas, before spending the afternoon at a 2nd grade birthday party. Roger is quick to point out that their "daily issues are the same issues everybody's got." They concentrate on getting the kids to school on time with lunches in hand, checking to see that everyone's homework is done properly, and fitting soccer practice into their busy schedules. Both sets of parents are very involved at their kids' schools, and are eager to "allay fears and educate people" about their families whenever they can.

Where there's love, "good, old-fashioned family values" can look like just about anything.

The two couples know that they have to be very out and open about their homosexuality, so their kids see it as normal and something of which to be proud. Both families have run into similar, overwhelmingly positive reactions from their kids' schools and communities. They have made a conscious effort to live, work and play in neighborhoods where they know they will be accepted. Beginning with the adoption process, both couples sought out agencies that were willing to perform gay and lesbian adoptions. For the adoptions to be made legal, their lawyers had to identify a judge that was sympathetic to their situation. After those two hurdles were crossed, day care became a consideration. Robin and Karen interviewed many nannies to take care of their kids in their home, but they began every interview by being upfront about their lesbianism. With schools, churches and temples, both couples were the same way. They made sure that these places would be receptive to their lifestyle choices before they became involved or involved their kids. Because of their initial legwork, neither of these families has had to face many ugly prejudices so far.

By the time Emmie grows up, maybe "Alternative Families" won't seem so alternative

This doesn't mean that these families live totally free of homophobia. Roger assures me that as a nation, we really "need to get the legal situations cleaned up better to protect the kids." Since there are no states where lesbians and gays can legally get married, there are also no divorce procedures for when those couples decide they can no longer stay together. This means that separations can get pretty messy, especially when kids are involved and there are custody issues. Also, there is the matter of adoption. Currently, there is no legislation in Texas that prohibits gay and lesbian couples from adopting children, but there are certainly people who want to change that. As alternative families become more popular, the conservative backlash becomes stronger to try and keep these families from forming.

Our daily issues are the same issues everybody's got

To combat this discrimination, it is important that we change the media-hyped image of the perfect "American Dream." Stable, loving relationships, strong ethical values and sincere attention to the growth and well being of children can come in many different forms. Once our society accepts that each family is different in its own way, this variety will enhance all of our lives.

When Robin plays the board game LIFE with her son Ethan, she chooses two pink pegs to put in the front seat of her car game piece. Ethan chooses a blue peg and a pink peg for his car, and that's ok too. Because in this house, the most important rule to the game of LIFE is that everyone accept each other's differences. Just as Robin and Karen, Roger and Steve chose the path that they needed to follow, they will encourage their kids to choose relationships that feel right to them.


Please email me at: rebecca@ustrek.org


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