Last September, Krista and Jami Contreras of Detroit met with Dr. Vesna Roi for a prenatal checkup. Believing they had developed a strong rapport with the pediatrician, the couple returned shortly after the birth of their child for the newborn’s routine wellness appointment. When they arrived, another doctor informed them that, after praying on it, Roi had decided to refuse to treat the 6-day-old baby girl. The reason? Her mothers are lesbians.
Roi’s willingness to inflict collateral damage on an infant just to express her anti-gay animus obviously makes her a monstrously immoral person, as well as a terrible doctor. And her refusal to treat a gay couple’s child has already earned her a significant amount of warranted ire from the community. (Ire, by the way, is the sole remedy here: Under state and federal law, Roi’s actions were perfectly legal.) Even those conservatives who generally support legalized discrimination against LGBTQ people seem shocked by Roi’s decision. Who, after all, could have enough hate in their hearts to disadvantage a child just because of her parents’ identity?
Everybody who opposes same-sex marriage, actually. Few social movements actively harm American children—economically, socially, mentally, physically—as much as the battle against marriage equality. When states refuse to recognize gay parents’ marriages, they impose steep financial burdens on those parents’ children, forcing parents to pay more in taxes while preventing them and their children from obtaining state health care benefits and social services. (The Supreme Court focused on such harms on the federal level in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, though they remain a huge problem for gay couples in anti-gay states.) Children of unmarried gay couples could also be ineligible for health insurance through their parents on account of their state’s discriminatory laws.
Economic impediments are only the most visible of a broad array of emotional and social scars these cruel laws inflict on children. In some states, gay parents are not permitted to jointly adopt their children, forcing one parent to be a legal stranger to his child. With no custodial rights over his child, a gay parent may be prohibited from authorizing medical treatment for his own child in the case of a medical emergency. (In fact, some hospitals may refuse to let a gay parent visit his own child’s hospital bed.) And if the adoptive parent dies, the surviving parent may have no legal claim over his own child, who might be whisked away by relatives of his deceased partner’s. Without legal ties, this parent could be denied even visitation rights with his child.
Perhaps more distressingly, recent studies have confirmed that the stigma that conservatives foist upon the children of gay couples, married and unmarried, wreaks havoc on those children’s mental health. The often vicious debate over gay people’s relationships sends a message to their children that their parents are deviant, lesser-than—and that they, too, are inferior, for being part of an aberrant, ersatz family. We know, of course, that without this stigma, the children of gay couples would be just as happy and healthy as the children of straight couples. But thanks to the Christian right’s quest to demean and debase gay relationships, gay parents’ children are being saddled with utterly preventable stress and depression.
Before pouring buckets of outrage on Roi, then, keep in mind that her one act of discrimination pales in comparison with the broad harm inflicted on millions of children throughout the country. Krista and Jami Contreras may have been, in their own words, “embarrass[ed]” and “humiliat[ed]” by Roi’s rebuff, but for now, their baby has no understanding of the discrimination she faced. That will change soon enough. And I hope, for her sake, that anti-gay crusaders give up their fight before inflicting permanent harm on the next generation of innocent children.