Five years ago, when we were living in Orange County, one of the neighbor kids shyly brought me her college essay and asked me to give it a look.
Hannah was, and still is, the sweetest of children, bright and friendly. I was expecting a little tale about her time on the swim team. She had written instead about her father.
“My entire life,” she began, in a teenager’s loopy cursive, “I’ve been faced with the fact that my family is different.”
The daughter of a gay man, Hannah wrote of the line she and her sister had to walk in a culture that, even as recently as 2010, was a far, far cry from the historic decision handed down Friday by the U.S. Supreme Court.
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She wrote of the low profile she kept at school, fearing rejection. She wrote of the kids who would come for play dates, never to return once their dads had met her dad.
She wrote of the time, in fourth grade, when she asked her father what the boys meant when they called someone “faggot,” and of how her father’s face had hardened.
And she wrote of her love for her father’s husband, who had been with her dad, by then, for more than a decade – through his divorce from her mother, through a battle for custody of her and her sister, through the social workers and judges who doubted, disgracefully, that two little girls could be raised by two gay men.
“I thought marriage was supposed to be between two people who loved and cared for each other,” Hannah wrote. “And in all my 17 years of life, I have seen few straight couples who are more in love than my dad and his partner.”
They had taught her, she wrote, a deep and abiding lesson – “the strength of love against the loudest shouters of hate.”
On Friday, as the nation celebrated the high court ruling that finally and fully clears the way for same-sex marriage, I thought of Hannah and her sister, Rachael. There are millions of reasons to applaud the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, but one of the best and most easily forgotten is kids.
More than 210,000 American children are being raised by same-sex couples. And, as Justice Anthony M. Kennedy noted in his landmark majority opinion, the long arc toward equality has been as hard on them as it has been on their parents.
“Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offer,” he wrote, “children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser.”
In fact, Hannah’s father, Jeff Hobson, told me on Friday, his children were a big part of why he and his husband, Steve Letterly, decided in 2008 to legally marry, driving to San Francisco City Hall to exchange vows on the marble stairs under the storied rotunda.
At the time, only about 40 percent of Americans believed same-sex marriages should be valid. Less than two weeks later, Californians would pass Proposition 8, which would eliminate the right until 2013, when the Supreme Court overruled it.
“We did it for the girls,” Jeff said, chatting by phone from the family home where he and Steve now live alone, the girls having launched happy, successful adult lives. “If anything happened, if I died, I didn’t want anyone coming and separating Steve from them. I was a paramedic. I had worked in emergency rooms. I knew what could happen.”
As he talked, we were both struck with how long ago those painful years seemed. More than 60 percent of the country now approves of same-sex marriage.
I thought of loved ones who, for generations, had had to hide their true selves. I thought of old friends, so young when they were lost to AIDS that they never even imagined spouses.
I thought of a recent weekend, when our family sat with Jeff and Steve and their girls on their back patio, sipping wine and clinking glasses, shouting over the fence to our other neighbors. We were all families like any family, joking about boomerang kids and boyfriends and the price of college. Hannah is 23 and Rachael is 25 now.
You blink for a moment and everything is different. And in that difference, there is something deep and abiding.
“My dad and Steve were lucky enough to be able to get married a few years ago, but today anyone can do the same! It’s about time!” Jeff’s daughters posted Friday on his Facebook. “#marriageequality #loveislove #twodadsarebetterthanone #lovemyfamily.”