More than 150 people, mostly academics but also some social workers and adoption advocates, attended the two-day conference called "Real Families, Real Facts: Research symposium on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) headed families."
The event was sponsored by the LGBT Center at the University of Pennsylvania and the Washington, D.C.-based Family Pride Coalition. Panel discussions ranged from "Learning From and About Gay Fathers" to "Gay Adoption and Foster Care" to "Advocacy & Academics: The Interconnectedness of Research and Politics."
Organizers were not shy about saying that part of the conference was about looking at ways that 30 years of social-science research on gay and lesbian parents could be used to influence policy, particularly at the state level.
"We are targets of the far-right," said Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of Family Pride, who is raising twin daughters with her partner.
"We can't let those lies go unanswered.We have to change the nature of the debate," she said in an interview, adding that the majority of American children no longer grow up in typical two-parent households. "We need to come to terms with this, as opposed to try and legislate back to the 1950s."
Many gay-rights advocates believe that's just what a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages would do. Last week, the U.S. Senate judiciary committee voted along party lines to send the measure before the full Senate for debate. (Two-thirds of the House and Senate have to approve it before an amendment can even be considered by the states.)
In addition, efforts to ban gay couples from adoption by law or ballet initiative are under way in more than a dozen states.
But in a move hailed by gay-rights advocates, the Supreme Court this week declined to review a Washington state court ruling that is allowing a gay woman to seek parental rights of a child she raised with the biological mother.
Proponents of a constitutional ban believe that since Massachusetts legalized gay marriage two years ago – and has been making headway in states like California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wound up vetoing similar legislation – a constitutional amendment is the only thing that would prevent other states from following suit.
"For all of America's history, marriage has been defined as the union of a man and a woman. In fact, all major religions honor marriage," Robert Knight, director of Concerned Women for America's Culture and Family Institute, stated to the Maryland House Judiciary Committee.
"Marriage was created by God, and is protected in the law because it is indispensable to human social order. Morality is not bigotry," he continued.
But many participants said that while they support gay marriage, they insisted that the event was meant to focus on the reality of same-sex parents, and not the politics of their legal status.
During her keynote address, Susan Golombok, a social scientist at the University of Cambridge, said that opponents of same-sex parenting often cite the best interests of the child, and claim that growing up in such a household is detrimental to a child's development.
But she told the audience in the Radisson Plaza Warwick Hotel's ballroom that study after study has shown that children of gay parents are no more likely to experience developmental problems – or, for that matter, turn out to be homosexual.
David Bloom, a 43-year-old father of two and a Miami entrepreneur, had traveled all the way to Philly to learn about the latest research concerning gay fatherhood. He and his partner each have a biological child.
He was also hoping the conference would help generate momentum that would overturn laws, such as those in places like Florida, which effectively ban gay couples from adopting.
Declared Bloom: "Our family is just like everyone else."
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