Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Life also changes for kids of gay newlyweds

The 10-year-old twins, Omar and Hady Jadallah-Karraa, figured it was about time their moms did the thing that couples tend to do.

Isaac Hanley and his two brothers thought Daddy and Poppy already had, which was true. So John and Dennis Hanley sat them down to explain how the knot got untied.

"We thought they were married already. Yesterday they said they weren't," said 8-year-old Isaac. "We all just screamed."

The five neatly dressed boys from two Oakland families took their turns Monday night gawking at Ron Dellums' high, white marble coif, then hugging their parents when the Oakland mayor pronounced them married in a City Hall ceremony for the first 18 same-sex couples to wed in Alameda County.

For the children, reactions to the marital frenzy range from been-there, done-that ease among older kids, to excitement at the public cheers and wedding tears. Some, like Omar and Hady, said they hope it means unwelcome teasing or questions at school — "Are your parents married?" — can now dissolve with a simple affirmative.

For others, it may settle some troublesome thoughts.

"They said they got married but then they took the license away. I was wondering a lot," said Chase Crawford-Herold, 8, as he waited for his two fathers to marry Tuesday morning in Martinez. "I figured out those people that weren't letting my parents get married were just being a little bit cruel."

Beyond the sharp divisions over same-sex Advertisementmarriage is a fact that was set in bold relief across the Bay Area early this week: the sheer number of same-sex couples raising families regardless of the state's view on marriage, and the many children who have grown up with a booster-seat view of a galvanizing issue.

Eight of the 18 weddings performed at Oakland City Hall on Monday night featured a total of 13 children. Across California, at least 52,000 same-sex couples are raising at least 70,500 children, according to a study last year by a coalition of Bay Area advocacy groups.

The study found that in Alameda County, more than one in five same-sex couples have children. It did not break down Contra Costa.

The intense debate that began four years ago in San Francisco has filtered into classrooms. That has helped children of same-sex couples more openly discuss an often sensitive topic, said Meredith Fenton, program director at COLAGE, a national support organization for children of same-sex couples.

"There's still homophobia young people have to grapple with. But knowing the way the state is treating your family is equal, that is really important," she said. "The language of marriage is something young folks can understand in a way domestic partnership or civil union doesn't really translate."

It's been hard not to take the public criticism personally, said 17-year-old Jaclyn Mullins of Dublin, whose parents, Rudi and Dianna Gewing-Mullins, plan to wed July 22.

"It's just going to be a party, validation. It's gonna' be cool, but it's not any different," she said. "They've always been married, just not legally."

For children and their parents alike, familiar signs marked the first same-sex weddings in Contra Costa history.

Brian Herold and Greg Crawford of Antioch exchanged rings. They teared up.

They hugged. Then came more tradition. Chase and Sage squirmed.

"They were afraid," said Crawford, "that we were going to kiss."