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Austin has two daddies 

Gay parenting comes out of the closet

One of the unfortunate realities of being gay or lesbian is a feeling of isolation, of not fitting in. So imagine Karla Drenner's frustration at having to live through those youthful emotions all over again in her 30s as Georgia's first and only openly homosexual state legislator.

Some fellow House members conspicuously avoided riding the elevator with the freshman Democrat from Avondale Estates. Others welcomed Drenner by declaring her sexual orientation "morally reprehensible" or making it clear they equated homosexuality with pedophilia. One particularly clueless pol, in apparent earnestness, drawled: "I don't know any gays -- and there are none in my district."

Then there was the day she was summoned to the Capitol office of a senior party leader -- she won't say who, for reasons easy to guess. After awkwardly referencing her already notorious sexuality, the elder statesman surprised Drenner by asking if she were raising her two adopted children to be gay.

"I hope not," she replied. "I don't want my children to be treated like I'm being treated."

After a moment's thought, she added: "But then, my mother didn't raise me to be gay."

If Drenner's lesbianism was a Gold Dome mini-scandal, the fact that a gay woman was raising two kids was truly seen as an affront to old-fashioned family values. That is, until she brought the two 5-year-olds to work with her and they sat, full of disarming cheer, on the laps of some of the same folks who had vilified their mom.

"After seeing how friendly my kids were, people told me, 'You know, you're a good mother,' as if the fact that I'm gay should automatically mean I'd be a bad mother," Drenner says.

But, the simple truth is, gay parenting is still a relatively new concept to many Americans -- especially those who, like some of our elected leaders, don't seem to get out much.

The rest of us already know, however, that we're in the midst of a so-called "gay-by boom." You can scarcely swing a pool cue in downtown Decatur without hitting a lesbian couple strolling with their new toddler. In Piedmont Park, in-line skaters must dodge a gay dad helping his 4-year-old maneuver on training wheels. On TV, Jerry's kids are old news; Rosie's kids are the flavor of the month. And how many jokes have you heard in the past few years for which the punch line was "David Crosby"?

There's something of a grassroots social revolution taking place in Atlanta and across the country, one family at a time. And it's happening in plain view, for anyone who cares to notice.

Gay couples -- including an increasing number of men -- who once may have resigned themselves to being always godparents, never parents, have woken up to a new reality: that they, too, have the opportunity to change dirty diapers, wear puke-stained shirts and stumble down the hall every night for 3 a.m. feedings.

After all, the biological clock keeps ticking, no matter which team you play for. As Drenner notes, "There is no difference between a gay person and a straight person wanting to start a family; it's the same emotional desire."

But, as with most slices of reality, this one's not without its complications. You see, the current upswing in adoptions and artificial insemination by gays and lesbians has not come about because wise, far-sighted Georgia lawmakers saw fit to strike down unfair barriers to parenthood. Rather, it's a result of recent advances in fertility technology, an expanding global baby market, less domestic adoption red tape -- and perilous ambiguities in state law that have gay activists looking over their shoulders and describing their success stories in hushed tones.

The concern is that if right-wing fanatics get clued in to this trend toward alternative domesticity, they may try to come up with new restrictions on gay families. After all, only a few years ago the state was still sending guys to prison for violating the 19th-century sodomy law -- talk about letting the punishment fit the crime. And it was Georgia's own Bob Barr who penned the "Defense of Marriage Act" allowing states to ignore same-sex marriages granted by another state.

To see what could go wrong here, the worriers say, look across the state line. As Rosie O'Donnell has pointed out, Florida specifically outlaws adoptions by gays and is aggressive about enforcement -- "Don't ask, don't tell" doesn't fly in Anita Bryant country. In Alabama, Chief Justice Roy Moore, in explaining a February state Supreme Court decision denying a lesbian mother custody of her three kids, declared homosexuality to be an "inherent evil against which children should be protected." And we thought the Taliban was hard-line.

Georgia isn't immune from gay-hostile jurisprudence where children are concerned, as evidenced in a 1999 ruling by a Cherokee County judge forbidding a gay father from discussing his sexual orientation with his three daughters -- even if they ask him -- at the risk of losing his visitation rights.

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