Last week, a California man by the name of Robert Oscar Lopez made his second trip to Minnesota’s Capitol in the space of a month. On both trips, he urged Minnesotans and their lawmakers to consider his life story a cautionary tale about the perils of same-sex marriage.
On the first trip, he introduced himself to the crowd packed into the Capitol rotunda March 7 for a Minnesotans for Marriage rally as a children’s activist on a crusade to make sure that kids grow up with a parent of each gender.
On March 12, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee a convoluted story about growing up with a lesbian mother, falling himself into a life of drugs and promiscuity as a young gay man and finally marrying a woman and becoming a father. The experience, he testified, scarred him for life.
“Couples deserve to have love recognized, but I know as a child raised by my lesbian mother and her partner that there is something missing when a child is raised by two same-sex parents,” he said.
“We’ve heard a lot from same-sex marriage activists who feel they’ve earned property rights to children,” he added. “But we haven’t heard enough from children’s rights advocates in a full debate.”
There’s more, but the story of how Lopez, an English professor at California State University-Northridge, made his way to the hearings is instructional.
Childrearing is at the center of the debate over same-sex marriage and a body of mainstream research says they do just fine. In recent years, opponents have worked doggedly to provide evidence that children thrive best in the care of their married, opposite-sex biological parents.
Two of those efforts are relevant to Lopez’s appearances at the Capitol. The first: In 2009, the main group working to outlaw same-sex marriage produced a document that outlined its strategies. One was to identify unhappy children of same-sex couples and to document the damage that had been done to them.
The other was to fund scholarly research that could be cited as countering evidence during electoral campaigns, legal challenges — including the ones now being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court — and legislative proceedings.
The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and its allies had more luck with the latter. In 2011, with California’s Prop 8 potentially headed to the high court, the Witherspoon Institute, a think tank started by one of NOM’s founders and several other religious right leaders, funded a study that its own correspondence demonstrates was confident it would find the right results.
In February 2012, before University of Texas Sociology Professor Mark Regnerus — who had previously published work critical of LGBT rights — had even finished collecting his data, an academic journal accepted it for publication. Social Science Research did so on the advice of a member of its editorial advisory board who was a consultant on the study and a former Witherspoon fellow.
Some of these ties were not made public when the study was first published. The Texas attorney general recently ordered the university to turn over a series of documents to the publication the American Independent. Its conclusion: The study was politically motivated.
But none of this was clear when the New Family Structures Study was published last July, so it seemed at first blush to be a groundbreaking study. Children of LGBT parents, it found, were more likely to suffer a host of problems, including sexual abuse, chemical dependency and divorce. The report is referenced in several U.S. Supreme Court briefs.
Noting a number of what they said were fatal design flaws, other sociologists shredded the findings. The controversy has generated tens of thousands of words, but the gist is that Regnerus compared the experiences of people who grew up in unstable households in which one parent at some point had a same-sex relationship to those who grew up in intact heterosexual marriages.
Among the countless Internet commenters who had something to say pro or con was Lopez, who posted about his unsettled childhood. Regnerus — under serious fire at that point — contacted him.
Subsequently, Lopez was commissioned to write a lengthy first-person account of his life for The Public Discourse. From 1973 to 1990, when his mother died, he lived on weekends with her and her female partner in a trailer in an RV park in upstate New York, he wrote.
The rest of the week the two women spent in separate households. Lopez was the only one of his siblings not raised by his mother and father, according to the account:
“Quite simply, growing up with gay parents was very difficult, and not because of prejudice from neighbors. People in our community didn’t really know what was going on in the house. To most outside observers, I was a well-raised, high-achieving child, finishing high school with straight A’s.
“Inside, however, I was confused. When your home life is so drastically different from everyone around you, in a fundamental way striking at basic physical relations, you grow up weird. I have no mental health disorders or biological conditions. I just grew up in a house so unusual that I was destined to exist as a social outcast.
“My peers learned all the unwritten rules of decorum and body language in their homes; they understood what was appropriate to say in certain settings and what wasn’t; they learned both traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine social mechanisms.
“Even if my peers’ parents were divorced, and many of them were, they still grew up seeing male and female social models. They learned, typically, how to be bold and unflinching from male figures and how to write thank-you cards and be sensitive from female figures. These are stereotypes, of course, but stereotypes come in handy when you inevitably leave the safety of your lesbian mom’s trailer and have to work and survive in a world where everybody thinks in stereotypical terms, even gays.”
Controversy notwithstanding, Regnerus has continued to mine his data, blogging about a supposed correlation between women’s desire for sex and their political leanings and a correlation between men’s porn use and their support for same-sex marriage, according to the American Independent.
“Young adult men’s support for redefining marriage may not be entirely the product of ideals about expansive freedoms, rights, liberties, and a noble commitment to fairness,” he is quoted as concluding. “It may be, at least in part, a byproduct of regular exposure to diverse and graphic sex acts.”
Lopez, meanwhile, hit the speaking circuit. Last week’s remarks to the Minnesota Legislature were in keeping with his writings. Minnesota for Marriage, the main group working to persuade lawmakers not to legalize gay marriage, was quick to circulate his testimony.
(An aside: On Friday, “Johnson Park,” the first of a trio of “Mean Gay” novels penned by Lopez, went on sale. Its plot centers on five gay men who “become interlocked in a web of grudges, anxieties, and rivalry. They have little in common, other than the fact that they fear one another.”
It’s set in Buffalo, New York, “a lesbian paradise and a gay man’s Purgatory. Really, I’m serious. It’s blue collar, endlessly butch, full of bowlers and snow-plowers and people who like to get drunk and throw bottles at each other in front of lost tourists looking for Niagara Falls. Lesbians love it.”)
Finally, along with another of last week’s testifiers, National Capital Tea Party Patriots co-founder David Mainwaring, who is gay and who lives with his ex-wife, Lopez last month submitted an amicus curiae brief in one of the gay marriage-related cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.