Family Diversity In Books: A Child’s View of DOMA

Update: June 26, 2015

It’s official. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 5 to 4 in favor of marriage equality (see Justice Kennedy’s closing paragraph summation which poignantly concludes, “it is so ordered.”)

Here’s hoping this “kidlit” gets revisited with fresh eyes and an empathetic lens to see how profoundly meaningful this is for children whose families have been denied this right for so long.

Nice to see a closing chapter with a happy ending!

June 29, 2013 With the repeal of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) sending whoops of joy among civil rights advocates throughout the nation and critics shouting about the upending of traditional values, it’s important to shine the spotlight with unity and clarity on how noisy, polarized media rhetoric impacts children, both in and out of the family diversity conversation.

As “All Children Matter” ( reports, roughly 2 million children are being raised by LGBT families, and it’s not just the legal and social inequities that can harm kids, the media mud-slinging and incivility among adults who disagree on this topic can sear into the soul like a branding iron.

A new children’s storybook Operation Marriage by Cynthia Chin-Lee, published by Reach and Teach is a true tale told through the lens of a child, capturing the essence of how discrimination lands on kids with pain and confusion.  

The storyline? “Eight-year old Alex has a fight with her best friend, Zach, who says he can no longer be her friend. Why? Because “her parents (both women) aren’t married.”

You can see where this is going, complete with subtext and political Prop 8 lawn signs creating neighborhood tug-o-wars about banning gay marriage…It poignantly speaks to how children get caught up in the tornado spin of conflicting ideologies as innocent bystanders of sociopolitical jockeying.

Beautifully illustrated by Lea Lyon, characters Alex and Nicky urge their mothers to get married “while they can.”

Operation Marriage received a Gold Medal in the annual Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards, in the Spirit/Compassion category, for dedication to children’s books and literacy and for inspired writing, illustrating and publishing.

I enjoyed meeting the ‘real life’ characters at the Kepler’s book signing launch last year, and found the timeless over-arching theme of fairness and family diversity appeals to every age and stage, as the publisher aptly states:

“…Where there is love there is family; where there is family, there should be respect, dignity and support.”

So here’s my thinking as the DOMA deluge in media emerges this week and the Respect for Marriage Act is reintroduced to assure all married couples equal treatment for all federal programs and purposes:

Let’s raise a white flag in the name of all children, everywhere, to ask political pundits to surrender harsh verbiage and be “media mindful” of how epithets land on the youngest voices in our society.

These are children’s families being bumped and bruised in the political chess game.

Children have the least protection to process the negative spewage of venom and vile that’s become a talk show staple for profit and ratings.

Even if kids are not exposed directly to the baiting of media outrage, much like racism, any overheard adult fodder of intolerance, stereotypes and slams often gets parroted and perpetuated by peers.

So let’s ‘surrender to civility’ shall we? I see it as a first strike hit in the verbal arms race of media controversy…

Even if public opinion polls claim the freedom to marry is overwhelmingly positive by popular vote, there IS going to be a dust up…

Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie are hitting the cover of The New Yorker which in itself is being dissected by critics in pro and con critical thinking of why it is and isn’t a good choice to represent the human rights victory…

…The ‘are they or aren’t they gay’ cartoon conversation…

…A social media post detailing when the cover art originated, (hint: a year ago) and countless parents’ rights conversations about letting kids be kids without having to explain so much, so often, so early–(separate post forthcoming on the role of media in social norming)

Then there’s the news that hit TV show Modern Family is considering marriage for Mitch and Cam…

And the so-called Hollywood gay agenda conspiracy that has “come out” in the press, along with  Glaad’s detailed infographic “paving the way on the road to marriage equality”…You see my point, right?

This all foreshadows some serious outrage baiting media warfare which could put children smack dab in the blast zone as collateral damage…Maybe media producers will ‘behave’ with civil discourse instead of polarizing hateful slurs…but I’d brace for a backlash.

Whatever your personal convictions are, please fact check your tongue before engaging, put the kids first, and use positive media to instill your own family values of love and universal truths.

Full disclosure, it’s no secret I’m in the “straight against hate” contingent, supporting family diversity of every race, creed and color…

I’ve purposely used media like the Berenstain Bears books over the years to be a springboard for socio-emotional learning, from empathy to life lessons…So in addition to resource roundups like “Modern Children’s Books Help Families Explore Diversity” and specific titles gleaned from Publisher’s Weekly newly launched “Openly YA Tour” here are a few facts to frame the macro lens on gay marriage and parenting from a wellness and public health perspective:

The American Academy of Pediatrics four-year study Promoting the Well-Being of Children Whose Parents Are Gay or Lesbian affirms,

“…children have similar developmental and emotional needs and receive similar parenting whether they are raised by parents of the same or different genders. If a child has 2 living and capable parents who choose to create a permanent bond by way of civil marriage, it is in the best interests of their child(ren) that legal and social institutions allow and support them to do so, irrespective of their sexual orientation.”

(Here’s the full AAP report from the committee on psychosocial aspects of child and family health, Mar 2013)

As I watch an entire tribe of suburban teens dress up in rainbow regalia for this weekend’s Pride Parade (some gay, some not, none caring about who is/isn’t, but all united in a ‘freedom to marry’ human rights belief system) it heartens me to realize that youth have the courage and convictions to carry forth a torch of love over hate for the next generation…

Let’s hope youth get equal if not more media time than the blowhards and hate bait…“Operation Marriage” will no doubt continue to be a battleground for quite some time…

Sample book reviews from experts via the Reach and site:

Children need a permanent and secure nurturing family to help them thrive. Decades of research have shown that children’s social, academic, and emotional development are similar whether they have two mothers or a mother and a father. Their parents’ marriage gives children the security and the legitimacy they need to dispel stereotypes and to thrive in school and society.” -Ellen C. Perrin, M.D., Division of Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, Floating Hospital for Children, Tufts Medical Center, Boston, MA

Even 3rd-graders know that commitment ceremonies are not weddings and domestic partnerships are not marriage. Operation Marriage shows how important marriage is to children and that they understand that anything less, is less than equal.”– Dr. Davina Kotulski,  Psychologist, Motivational Life Coach, and Author of Why You Should Give A Damn About Gay Marriage (2004) and Love Warriors: The Rise of the Marriage Equality Movement and Why it Will Prevail (2010)

Operation Marriage is a well-constructed, age-appropriate story with an appealing cast of characters. Spunky Alex doesn’t let her best friend’s abandonment get her down; instead, she enlists her brother in a campaign that is filled with humor-blasting wedding music throughout the house, making a fake wedding program-things that will ring true to all children who’ve found creative ways to beg their parents to do something for them.  — Lyn Miller-Lachmann, author of Gringolandia a 2010 ALA Best Book for young adults. Click here to read the full review.



  1. As I was making sushi for a gathering at our shop this evening featuring the photographer who created Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus, my husband suddenly shouted “Five to FOUR!!!” And???? Which way?????? Love won.

    We never would have believed how quickly the pendulum would swing from Proposition 8 in California to marriage equality across all 50 states.

    The power of story-telling wins the day here, as so many people in these last few decades answered the call to come out, as GLBTQ, as parents, friends, colleagues, co-workers, etc.. of GLBTQ people, as ALLIES, or even just as people who saw this as a simple matter of justice, equality, fairness.

    Thank you!!!!

  2. Congrats, Craig…as so many have voiced on Twitter, it’s still ‘one issue’ vs several in a slew of LGBTQ equality disparities, but it’s an impt one especially as this book indicates so strongly from a child’s eye lens!! (Thankful you still use the comment feature, you’re one of the few that takes the time and your writing is always a treat)

    Wish I could attend the event tonight to support but will tweet out/update that prior post too…the weekend timing has gotten away from me with sidewinders and family arriving out of the blue. (a cousin I haven’t seen in 20 yrs arriving Sun. sunset?)

    Meanwhile I wish you and Derrick all the ‘pride’ and joy you both deserve…and know you’ll celebrate far beyond rainbows of love and pride platitudes. Hugs and high fives!

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