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Community Viewpoint: Key in parenting is stability, love

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As a pediatrician, I have the privilege of caring for a wonderfully diverse spectrum of children and families -- different ethnicities, religions, and ages; families with single, married, and divorced parents; and families with gay, straight, and transgender parents.

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These families may look different, but they all serve a critical role in nurturing their children and helping them grow into independent, healthy, loving adults. Recently, the Minnesota Legislature took up legislation regarding how our state defines marriage. As a pediatrician, I feel compelled to speak up about the potential benefits of this legislation for Minnesota's children.

Families -- no matter what form they take -- are the center of strength and support for kids. As the Minnesota chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says, "There is ample evidence to show that children raised by same-gender parents fare as well as those raised by heterosexual parents. More than 25 years of research has documented that there is no relationship between parents' sexual orientation and any measure of a child's emotional, psychosocial, and behavioral adjustment. Rather, children's optimal development seems to be influenced more by the nature of the relationships and interactions within the family than by the particular structural form it takes." (MNAAP.org) All kids are better off when they have a stable, long-term relationship with a loving adult or adults. This includes kids born or adopted into families with same-gender parents.

So, why marriage? Marriage is how we legally recognize families, and it carries real financial, legal, social, and psychological benefits that are important for family stability and child welfare. These might include access to health insurance, family and medical leave, and other benefits; recognition of joint parenting rights, such as the ability of either parent to sign a school permission slip, or to make health care decisions for a child; and survivor benefits and inheritance rights. In its policy statement released last week, the AAP asserts, "If a child has two 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." (Pediatrics 2013;131:827-830.) Denying same-gender couples the privileges of civil marriage means we are withholding the accompanying family privileges from both them and their children.

And what message do we send our kids if our state designates one group less entitled than others? Does that fit with our belief that all people are created equal? I worry about the kids I see -- about the young child who is told by a friend that she doesn't have "a real family" because she has two moms, or the gay teen who struggles to see what his future might look like and where he fits in. The Minnesota AAP points out that limiting " ... the freedom to marry may lead to an increase in bullying and violence against LGBT youth and greater intolerance for them and their families. These children are already more prone to bullying and suicide than their heterosexual counterparts."

The discrimination against same-gender couples ingrained in our society is deeply damaging, not just to the adults involved, but to many Minnesota children as well. As MN AAP states, every Minnesota child and family has a right "to the legal, financial, and psychosocial security that results from having legally recognized parents who are committed to each other and to the welfare of their children."

This bill does not attempt to change whether or not your church, synagogue, or mosque performs or supports marriage for same-gender couples. It only guarantees civil, legal equality for all adults, and thus all families -- same responsibilities, same privileges. The bottom line is that same-gender families are just families. They work to get kids out the door to school in the morning; to juggle activities like soccer, hockey, dance, or baseball; and to get kids to do their homework and go to bed at night. They also struggle with employment, paying taxes, obtaining health insurance, and supporting family members during major life events. Surely all Minnesotans, kids and adults alike, are entitled to the same protections and benefits.

Dr. Catherine Crosby-Schmidt, MD, FAAP, of Woodbury, is a pediatrician with Central Pediatrics and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The views expressed here are her own and do not reflect a position taken on behalf of Central Pediatrics.

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