Debate Magazine

Snakes on the SCOTUS Bench: My Personal Childhood Experience as a Reflection on the Kennedy SCOTUS Decision

Posted on the 27 June 2015 by Doggone
Image result for snake clipartI was mostly a pretty good kid except for those moments when I was creatively, spectacularly bad.  Not evil bad, not mean bad, but I was strong willed and.......horribly innovative, from the point of view of adults.  By which I mean I did things, took initiatives to act, that other children pretty much just did not do.  As a result, I had a childhood experience that provided me an insight into the reasoning of Justice Kennedy that I believe makes his explanation for the decision remarkable.  I understand from my own experience what he meant about protecting children from feeling their families were 'lesser', or in some way inferior, and from humiliation (or attempted humiliation) by bigots.
In contrast, the dissenting opinions asserted that so long as no one is prevented from being a gay unmarried couple by imprisonment, the couple and any children they may have are not adversely affected or damaged by being unable to marry, or the denial of any of the benefits that go with marriage.
Back in 2010, this is what those kids and the rest of their families were subjected to courtesy of conservatives trying to deny marriage equality, demonstrating exactly the kind of disrespect and humiliation that conservatives have heaped on those families, and NOT confined within the boundaries of religion.  From the
While the name of the Catholic priest was not disclosed, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, who sent the priest, is headed by the infamous Archbishop John Clayton Nienstedt (image, top,) who in 2010 began an anti-same-sex marriage campaign by producing and mailing to Minnesota residents 400,000 DVDs proclaiming the sins of same-sex marriage. Nienstedt has banned gay prayer services, “refused the Eucharist to students wearing rainbow buttons,” and has publicly banned “open dissension” from his priests on matters related to same-sex marriage.
That would be on top of the crap dished out by the likes of Santorum, Huckabee, Cruz, or Bachmann, as a few examples of incivility and abuse.
I beg to differ with the dissenters, and would point out in particular the incident at a Minnesota Catholic High School back in 2012 when the pedophile shielding Archbishop Nienstedt was busy actively and expensively involving the church in the politics of gay marriage, including the propagandizing and bullying of senior students.  The attempt to push through an anti-gay marriage amendment failed, and the following year same sex marriages became legal in Minnesota, but there remain those who actively try to stigmatize everyone in those families.  Likewise protestant evangelicals, of the extremist right, also demand as religious freedom the right to bully not only LGBT students, but those who have LGBT parents.
Here is an excellent example of what those kids who have same-sex parents have to contend.  From the STrib, back in April 2012:

Tevlin: DeLaSalle kids have a few words with archdiocese at marriage talk

..."The first three-quarters of the presentation were really good," said Bliss. "They talked about what is marriage and how marriage helps us as a society. Then it started going downhill when they started talking about single parents and adopted kids. They didn't directly say it, but they implied that kids who are adopted or live with single parents are less than kids with two parents of the opposite sex. They implied that a 'normal' family is the best family."

"When they finally got to gay marriage, [students] were really upset," said Bliss. "You could look around the room and feel the anger. My friend who is a lesbian started crying, and people were crying in the bathroom."

Bliss was one of several students who stood up to argue with the representatives from the archdiocese. One girl held up a sign that said, "I love my moms."

"We weren't being rude," countered Lydia Hannah, another student who spoke out. "But people were upset, and we weren't just going to sit there."

Hannah said students were anxious when they heard about the program and were suspicious because only seniors were required to go. "We put two and two together," said Hannah. "All of us will be able to vote next fall [on the constitutional amendment that limits marriage to same-sex couples]."

Hannah said the presenters briefly brought up the amendment but backed off when students got angry.

A priest and a volunteer couple presented the information. When someone asked a question about two men being able to have a quality, committed relationship, the couple compared their love to bestiality, Bliss said.

"Most people got really upset," said Bliss. "And comments about adopted kids, I found those to be really offensive. There were at least four kids there who are adopted."

Hannah, who is adopted, said one of the presenters said that adopted kids were "sociologically unstable." She called the comments "hurtful" and comparisons between gay love and bestiality upsetting.

"My friend said, 'You didn't just compare people to animals, did you?'" said Hannah. "I think everyone has a right to their opinion, and I don't judge them on it. But we don't force people to sit down so we can tell them their opinion is wrong."

Nothing quite like an authority figure, representing either the full authority of government or worse of God piling on to kids about how abnormal they are or how inferior or even evil their parents are.
From an adult perspective, looking at my childhood behavior, I now have enormously more sympathy for my own parents and for all parents than I did when I was a child.
I was adopted, and I credit my parents for having told me from as early as I can remember.  They did an excellent job of making me feel that made me special, telling me I was even MORE wanted and MORE loved than other children.  Perhaps in my case that might have been a dangerous thing, to feel so very confident of love and acceptance.
When I was around the age of 3, I took extreme objection to a babysitter hired by my parents.  I told them that I did not consent to being in the care of that babysitter, although I used more basic terms to express that the babysitter was not going to be staying.  My parents thought this was quite funny, and because they still thought of these sorts of declaration as coming from a more, shall we say ordinary, less initiative taking tot, they asserted that children did not have rights, and that I had to make the best of the situation, because THEY WERE THE ADULTS.  I tended not to be overly impressed by adults.
That sitter status quo lasted less than an hour before I drove the mean old bat out of the house by putting a small frog in her glass of.....whatever she was drinking.  It was nominally a soft drink, but I suspected that was not all that was in the glass.  And I stuffed her purse with garter snakes.  By stuffed, I mean filled to capacity with a significant quantity, like the snakes that appear in an Indiana Jones movie.
The sitter called me many names, including demon spawn. I remembered it carefully in order to ask my parents what that meant -- and they told me.  I suspect the concept was floating around in their minds at the time as well, when they had to return home after barely leaving.  When they demanded that I apologize to the sitter (they still harbored thoughts of persuading her to stay) I emphatically refused at the top of my lungs, and insisted that the only apology I would be making was to the snakes.  (Yes, I was on rare occasions a really spectacularly bad child.)
As a result of that altercation with the babysitter, I was dressed up and dragged off to an adult event where I was ordered to be on my best behavior on pain of death.  I was told that the only acceptable thing for me to say was "My mommy says children should be seen and not heard."  I was provided a half-full glass of ginger ale with a little grenadine to make it pink, and allowed to roam about whatever the heck the adult event was taking place.  Mostly I was patted on the head and ignored by lots of dressed up old people.
Except for one woman, who took a dislike to me.  She clearly knew who I was while I had no idea who she was (and still don't to this day). She called me a rotten kid, and I laughed at her.  I was feeling pretty cocky at that point in the evening, in spite of my parents displeasure.  That irked the old bag even more, prompting her to observe that I was only spoiled because I was adopted, so my parents had to buy me things to make me feel loved.  I considered that premise, and volunteered that I liked that, that it was a pretty good deal for me.  And yes, I had a sense that was the opposite reaction she was seeking, that she was hoping to hurt my feelings on some very deep and fundamental level. My failure to act as expected angered her much more, and she called me a 'red haired bastard child', before storming off.  (I had vividly red hair, so that part made sense to me.)
I was unfamiliar with the term bastard, so I asked my parents what it meant. I described my interaction with the mean lady, and tried my best to identify who she was, absent having her name.  I found the whole thing funny, like being called demon spawn; and was laughing;  but my father was enraged.  I don't think I had ever seen him that angry.  My mother was not worried about me - I was clearly unphased by the conversation, but she was very worried what my father might do. The only explanation provided for the word bastard was that it was a bad word; so I thought my father was going to wash out the mean old lady's mouth with soap.
He sought out the woman, and told her off in a particularly heated and rude rant that - I'm told - created a bit of a scene.  That was also fine with me, because now my parents were angry with someone else instead of me.  I was an unusually pragmatic child in that respect; nothing was going to dampen my delight in getting rid of that babysitter.
On the way home from that big social event, whatever the heck it was, my parents revisited the "You know you're adopted" narrative, concerned that someone had attempted to make me feel badly about it.  I think they were surprised, both that I did fully understand that someone had tried to belittle me for that facet of my existence, but even more that I was perfectly happy and confident in spite of the attempt.  I remember repeating what I had said to her - about being spoiled because of being adopted being ok with me, and that she got angry, and that when I laughed at her she got really angry, and I thought her head was going to explode, so I walked away smiling, after telling her I put snakes in the baby sitter's purse. 
It might have been the release of nervous tension, but I remember my mother starting to laugh, and  she kept on laughing for what seemed like a very long time.  My parents lightened up considerably after that in their concerns over how I felt growing up, dealing with the world knowing I was adopted.  I remember my parents laughing when they overheard me telling my younger sibling about my adventures with garter snakes, and how if someone tried to make you feel bad, you should just think about the snakes while looking them in the eye, that it worked like teflon -- their hurtfulness would just slide right off of you.
Being adopted has far less potential stigma attached to it for being different than other families than having two mommies or two daddies.  While there are religious entities that treat families of adopted children as inferior to biological children,  it is nothing like the rants by politicians that the nation is going to be punished by god or that having two mommies or two daddies is an abomination, hateful to God, or akin to bestiality and pedophilia.  It is nothing like being told your parents had to take a case all the way to the Supreme Court to be able to have both their names on your adoption papers either.
My younger sib for a time while growing up was fascinated by herpetology, and kept pet snakes.  Reading about the offensive dissenting opinions of the SCOTUS justices, I thought about them individually, and   I thought about snakes. 
Maybe it's just me, but it seemed a perfectly appropriate pairing of thoughts.  Justice Kennedy had it right, and not for the first time, the political right has it wrong.

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