Over the past several months, this audience no doubt has heard others discuss this issue: congressmen, candidates, ministers - even the president. But what Justin McGuire has to say tonight is a fourth-grader's take on the subject, told from experience.
What Justin will say here he has already said many times. Once, he spoke at a press conference outside the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis. On the same day, he testified before a state House of Delegates judiciary committee hearing. He appeared at an American Civil Liberties Union press conference outside the U.S. Senate. He spoke at a town-hall meeting in Columbia. He addressed a crowd of 500 at the Johns Hopkins University, and people liked what he said so much they gave the boy with braces and long eyelashes a standing ovation.
This night he is about to speak to a gathering of predominantly gay couples at a town-hall meeting sponsored by the largest gay-rights advocacy group in the state, Equality Maryland.
He already has sat through tonight's panel discussion, although none of the topics - civil unions, partner benefits, constitutional amendments - interested him enough to draw his attention from the world of the video game in his hands.
Before the night is over, he will hear a man read passages from the Bible, criticize lesbians like his moms and call the white-haired minister moderating the discussion "an agent of Satan."
None of it, though, will keep Justin from his game.
What Justin is about to say is typed out and printed, so it will be easy for him to read. He's only a little nervous about speaking to the crowd. It helps that he didn't have any math homework tonight, and he feels confident about tomorrow's spelling test.
On the 1 1/2 -hour drive from his home in Overlea, he read the guidebook for his new game, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, which he bought with his own money. He read it even with his baby sister, Maya, who is 15 weeks old, crying.
When the time comes for Justin to speak, he has to bend the neck of the microphone down to where he can reach it. The sleeves of his Harry Potter shirt are pushed up past his elbows. He scratches his back, sets the toe of one sneaker on the heel of the other, and begins.
When he's done, he hurries back to his game. It seems the world is in trouble again, and it's up to Justin McGuire to save it.
The boy who became a spokesman for the gay-marriage movement in Maryland did not know there was a gay-marriage movement for a long time.
If you had asked Justin five years ago if there was anything unusual about his family, he would have said no. He has had two mommies for as long as he can remember.
There's his biological mom, Kathy McGuire, a 36-year-old accountant who picks him up from school and helps with his homework. He calls her "Mommy." Then there's his other mom, Whitney Conneally, a 35-year-old chef who has been a part of his life since he was 8 months old. She's the one who fixes his lunch, makes sure he's ready for school, and gets him to the hard levels of his video games when he gets stuck. He calls her "Whit."
Then there's his dad, Pat Depkin, who Justin sees at least once a week.
Justin has heard the story of how his moms have been friends since they were 12 years old and growing up in Bel Air. Kathy didn't know she was attracted to women, and she dated men - including one man off and on for eight years - until Justin was born. She sent Whitney a birth announcement and later confessed her feelings. Whitney felt the same. They moved in together, bought a house and a minivan, and their life hasn't seemed so different from the lives of other families in Justin's eyes.
"That's the funny thing," says Justin's uncle, Tim Conneally. "I don't think he was even aware of the issue. I mean I'm sure he was aware of it, but not that it could be such a big deal to some people or worthy of getting on the news."
There was the time in day care when he told his playmates that Kathy was his mommy and Whitney was their dog Farley's mommy.
Then there was the time "prejudice" was one of his spelling words, and his friend Michael said people are prejudiced toward gays like Justin's moms, and Justin corrected him, saying the word he meant was lesbians.