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Same-sex marriage opponent Robert Oscar Lopez calls himself a ‘children’s activist’

MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Robert Oscar Lopez testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 12.

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.

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Jay Benanav on 03/18/2013 - 11:02 am.

    Doe anyone take this tactic seriously?

    So here we have 1 man blaming his same sex upbringing for his problems later on in life and claiming that how none of this would have happened to him if he was raised by an intact heterosexual couple. Now, I haven’t researched this but I am willing to bet that there are millions of people raised by heterosexual couples have or are leading dysfunctional lives committing crimes, etc. Let’s get real!

  2. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/18/2013 - 11:12 am.

    Blame your misery on everyone but yourself

    There are lots of components to depression and misery. However, in every case, there is at least one factor in common–yourself. Now, I’m not saying that being miserable is your fault, per se. However, it doesn’t mean it’s anyone else’s fault. People from all walks of life have a chance to grow up miserable. Since there are endless variables in how people grow up, there can’t be any single factor, other than one’s self, in common. People with straight parents sometimes grow up gay and/or miserable. Sometimes they even get married to the opposite gender, regardless of their sexual orientation. It is obvious that the only component that is the same between that situation and the situation of Mr. Lopez, is the existence of a miserable person. And perhaps it was compounded by bigotry and harassment by other people (even if you claim it wasn’t), but certainly, lesbians haven’t cornered the market on parenting miserable children. Besides, it’s pretty clear that there are lots of other issues related to your childhood that might have a bigger impact than who your mother was in love with. Like custodial visiting schedules and locations. But you know what? There are lots of kids who deal with that and don’t have a lesbian mother, and are just as confused and miserable as you were.

    Mr. Lopez, at this point in your life, as an adult, the only person to blame for your misery is you. You have the opportunity to face your problems and either get help (such as it’s available) or not. But quit blaming lesbians for your failure to get past childhood misery. Of course, being the cynic I am, I would imagine that the motivation has become the spotlight you get for telling such a sorry tale. You probably even get paid for your revenge on your mother.

  3. Submitted by J.E. Smith on 03/18/2013 - 11:22 am.

    Red herring of an argument

    Some gay couples are going to be less-than-ideal parents in the same way that some straight couples are less-than-ideal parents. (Though, as the APA stated in their 2005 landmark study on gay parenting, the kids overall are alright (

    That being said, none of this has anything to do with whether gay Minnesotans should be afforded access to civil marriage and the various legal protections it offers families. Plenty of GLBT couples do not have children and do not intend to have children. They should still be allowed to marry.

  4. Submitted by Kelly Guncheon on 03/18/2013 - 12:11 pm.

    Apparently critical thinking isn’t part of his teaching job

    I don’t know this guy, nor have I heard him speak, so I can only respond to his assertions in this article. But if this is any indication of being the best anti-gay marriage he can offer, I’m dumbstruck.

    First, he isolates his mothers’ sexuality as being the cause of his difficult childhood, but minimizes the facts that he grew up in a mobile home where his parents were together for him only on weekends, or that he was separated from and raised differently than his brothers and sisters.

    Then he resorts to stereotypes to describe fathers as being uniquely qualified to teach children how to be “bold and unflinching,” while mothers are relegated to sensitivity and how to write greeting cards?

    Finally, he demonizes household for having a gay partnership because it’s viewed as being unusual? By the same token, I guess we should criticize minority households for being minorities, poor households for being poor, and generally any discriminated person for being different from the one who’s discriminating. Rather than help campaign for acceptance, he’d rather suggest that normalcy is the discrimination he obviously suffered from when he was growing up.

    I’ve no doubt that he had a difficult childhood, but to ascribe those difficulties to one aspect of what was clearly an unsettled home is hardly a compelling argument when so many other factors were at play.

  5. Submitted by Beth-Ann Bloom on 03/18/2013 - 02:00 pm.

    Credible source?

    As Minnesota’s legislators make important decisions about our legal and social lives it is important that they receive the best information possible from credible sources. This article discredits both the Regenerus study and Mr Lopez as reasonable sources for our decision-makers.

    Perhaps (in the tradition of Roger Maris’ homeruns) an asterisk could be placed next to the record of this testimony to warn legislators and all Minnesotans to ignore testimony tainted by prejudice and misinformation while making decisions about extending the freedom to marry to all Minnesotans.

  6. Submitted by Gary Doan on 03/18/2013 - 02:41 pm.

    What chidren wouldn’t be confused, having gay parents?

    The government should stay out of marriage completely. Any and all benefits of marriage should be transferred directly to children, no matter who their parents are. Gay relationships and gay marriage defy logic, nature and common sense. There is a big different between getting married to create children and having a same sex pal, then wanting to say you are married. It is not illegal to be gay, but to confuse the legality of being gay with the right to claim the legal marriage benefits created for children’s well being, is a joke.

    • Submitted by J.E. Smith on 03/18/2013 - 03:09 pm.

      Re: Gary Doan

      Plenty of straight people marry without the intention or ability to have children, and yet they are allowed access to civil marriage. Marriage does not exist solely for the reason of procreation in our society, nor is marriage a necessary condition for procreation among heterosexuals. I’m not saying this is a good thing–I think children are best served by having stable, two-parent homes–but this has nothing to do with whether gay people should be allowed to marry.

      Second, many of the state and federal benefits conferred upon married couples–for example, social security survivor benefits, the ability to file taxes jointly, transfer of property following the death of a spouse–have nothing to do with children.

  7. Submitted by Bruce Johnson on 03/18/2013 - 02:43 pm.

    It might be dangerous to speculate from such a small sample but it appears that growing up in a trailer with a lesbian mother impairs critical thinking skills later in life.

  8. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 03/18/2013 - 03:47 pm.

    Confused Children

    Why would children be anymore confused about having gay parents than to have several parents as a result of divorce or having no parents because of divorce, alcoholism, spousal abuse you name it? The bottom line is a man and a women being married doesn’t mean it was made in heaven. Most of them about 61% are made in hell and the poor kids are in the middle being pulled every which way. I suppose those opposed to gay marriage think it is alright for their father to come home late at night from his girlfriends and beat their mother to a bloody mess. Yep, gay marriage certainly would be confusing to those kids.

  9. Submitted by Sean Ryan on 03/19/2013 - 09:06 am.

    Unfortunately he sounds like a confused individual looking for another cathartic outlet who is simply happy for the press.

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