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Video puts Santa Rosa 7th-grader in same-sex marriage spotlight

Daniel Martinez-Leffew, right, 12, with his parents Bryan and Jay Leffew and sister Selena, 8.

Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat
Published: Monday, March 25, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 6:58 a.m.

Daniel Martinez-Leffew, a Santa Rosa seventh-grader, never imagined that his four-minute video would score a hit on YouTube with more than 200,000 views, earning him interviews on CNN, MSNBC and other media outlets.

"I thought it would be a little hit-and-run video," Daniel, 12, said Monday afternoon, hours before addressing a crowd at a gay rights rally in front of San Francisco City Hall.

But his topic -- the U.S. Supreme Court's hearings this week on two major same-sex marriage cases -- and Daniel's status -- an adopted son of two married gay men -- put him in a national spotlight.

In most of the video, Daniel read a letter he sent last week to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, urging him -- as a parent of two adopted children himself -- to vote for marriage equality.

"If Prop 8 is allowed to stand, imagine the pain we would feel knowing that we are not considered equal to everyone else," the letter said.

The high court is scheduled to hear arguments today on Proposition 8, California's ban on same-sex marriage, followed by a case challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act on Wednesday.

The court's rulings are expected in June.

A Healdsburg winemaker, John Holdredge, joined legal arguments against both measures, and Santa Rosa Bishop Robert Vasa articulated the Catholic Church's arguments against homosexual marriage.

"Our family is the same as any other family," Daniel said Monday in a telephone interview from San Francisco, where he spent the day with his fathers and sister.

At school, he said, other students know he has two fathers and "it's not an issue at all."

Public opposition to gay marriage is another matter. "I don't get it," said Daniel, who recently finished fourth in a club fencing tournament. "There are a lot of people who don't like gay people. It hurts a little bit."

Daniel's audience is far older than his peers. The video had more than 207,000 views on Monday and was most popular among men and women ages 45 to 54, according to YouTube.

Jay Leffew, a San Francisco County sheriff's deputy, said the letter was Daniel's idea after learning that Roberts was an adoptive parent.

"He's a very bright kid," Leffew said.

Leffew and his husband, Bryan Leffew, a stay-at-home dad, are both Santa Rosa natives, raised as Catholics, who have been together for 18 years and married five years ago, when same-sex marriages were briefly legal in California.

More than 100 people attended their wedding at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel in Santa Rosa.

Intent on raising children, the men adopted Daniel and his sister, Selena, 8, from the state foster care program in 2006.

Daniel, who has Goldenhar syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the left side of his body, had been labeled "unadoptable" because of the condition, his letter said.

A younger brother was adopted separately when Daniel was 3, and Selena was about to be adopted when the Leffews took them both.

"Lucky for me, that's when my two dads came along," Daniel said in his letter.

Jay Leffew said the match was immediate. "As soon as we met them we knew," he said.

Brian Leffew, who appears in the video with Daniel, said he and his partner had posted more than 300 videos as activists fighting Proposition 8, which 52 percent of California voters backed in 2008

"This seems to be the one that captured the public's attention," he said.

"We're so nervous about what could happen," he said, regarding the Supreme Court's pending decisions.

Holdredge's small winery, producing about 2,000 cases of pinot noir a year, joined corporate giants like Microsoft, Citigroup, Amazon, Starbucks and Levi Strauss in filing support briefs opposing Proposition 8 and the federal marriage act.

Holdredge, also a lawyer, said he expects the court to issue a "narrow ruling" on Proposition 8, possibly overturning it but applying it only to California instead of a broader finding that marriage is a "fundamental right" for all citizens.

"I think there is zero chance of that happening," he said.

The argument against the federal act is that it "forces employers to discriminate against same-sex couples in terms of benefits," Holdredge said.

Holdredge, who grew up in the era of civil rights and women's liberation, said it is "staggering to me that here we are still discriminating against people based on their orientation."

Bishop Vasa said the Catholic Church defines marriage as "a sacrament by which a man and a woman give themselves to each other in a committed union ordered to the procreation and education of children."

A same-sex couple can adopt children, but cannot conceive and therefore cannot fulfill all the definitions of marriage, Vasa said.

Modern culture has developed a significantly different definition, recognizing marriage as "a committed relationship between two adults for their fulfillment," he said.

Orlean Koehle of Santa Rosa, state president of the politically conservative Eagle Forum, said that marriage between a man and a woman "has been the foundation of every society throughout history."

Koehle, a mother of six and grandmother of six, said the family unit in the United States is "being torn asunder."

Since marriage is not mentioned in the Constitution, Koehle said she hopes the courts will leave it to states to set the standards.

Californians voted for Proposition 8 and "it should stay passed," she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

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