Yep. I’m co-opting the battle cry of the opponents of marriage equality to address a more pressing problem. You still see it even in the aftermath of the landmark Supreme Court ruling to legalize marriage for all, gay and straight. “How am I supposed to explain this to my kids?” I’ve never understood why keeping millions of people out of a basic part of life was an acceptable price to pay for a few close-minded throwbacks not wanting to talk to their children, but it doesn’t matter anymore. The law’s done. It is no longer relevant for gay people and their allies to worry about what you tell your children. Whether they believe in marriage equality has no bearing on its existence. The time for swaying is over.
Here’s what’s pressing in on me as a parent, though; how do I explain people who still hate marriage equality to my kid?
It’s not a simple question like marriage equality is. Some of these people are people she’s going to love and some of them are at least people she’s going to have to find a way to interact regularly with. Just saying, “They’re hateful, mean people and you don’t have to talk to them” doesn’t cut it when it’s a family member that they really enjoy being around and enjoy the company of.
To explain it I tell me daughter a story. For a long time I had trouble swimming in swimming pools because I had a very paranoid, ridiculous delusion that somehow a shark would get into one. I honestly would have panic attacks about it sometimes. To this day I don’t like to swim alone (which is actually not a bad idea, really), but eventually I had to face the fact that what I was afraid of was impossible and wrong and all in my head.
I tell that story to my daughter and we laugh at how silly and weird daddy is. The moral is that grown-ups can be very, very wrong about something. They can still be smart and kind and logical and someone you admire, but sometimes on certain things they are just off their trolley. It’s the same with people who are still clinging onto the idea that allowing gays the same rights as straights will somehow hurt society. Never has. Never will.
The question I teach her to ask is, “Am I allowed to do something other people can’t do?” If the answer is yes, then there’s injustice afoot.
I make sure that she knows that she doesn’t have to argue with people she loves about it. There are better things to do than argue with a five-year-old (like, everything) and no one particularly has the heart for it. If someone presses the issue with her I’ve instructed her to say, “I think it’s OK. I understand you don’t and I still love you.”
Compounding my problem preparing her for the extinction burst of the American Homophobe is the fact that she is pretty fond of the church. Though I’m not a Christian myself I allow her to regularly attend church with family when she stays over. Jesus is as real to her as Doctor Who and Santa Claus are. She certainly doesn’t cotton to people badmouthing any of those three.
Like it or not, the entire marriage debate always was about The Bible. Some people say it’s clear in its condemnation of homosexuals, some say that Christ’s commandment to love one another trumps that, and a whole lot of people on both sides have no real idea what they’re talking about in any case. If you have an hour to kill one day and want to hear a really good dissection on what The Bible says about homosexuality I’ve got one for you here.
It’s all a bit dense for a young child, though, so I sum it up simply. The Bible is a very old book, and while it may have been written by people talking to God it was also written by people who didn’t understand how germ theory works, or gravity, or really anything. Your average modern child is worldier than the wisest person in scripture these days. God had to make it really, really simple for them back then. Concepts like a spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations would only come much later after much study and progress.
And sometimes, the people in The Bible made up silly rules that don’t really matter anymore in between the parts that still do. Yes, The Bible condemns sexual acts between two men. Using the same Hebrew word for abomination it also condemns lighting incense and shepherds, none of which we still consider societal sins worthy of hurting huge numbers of people over.
The point is that you can believe something wholeheartedly and it still be a stupid thing to believe, just like me and the pool sharks. That belief can be sincerely held, but I can’t go around insisting people make rules as if pools are going to suddenly see shark infestations because almost no evidence supports that. Just as no evidence supports that gay married couples are any different than straight ones.
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In short, I let her know people are wrong, not God… hopefully it will occur to her later than God making idiots is its own separate theological problem to tackle. Oh well, that’s what writing angsty poetry in high school is for.
This willingness to be conciliatory and kind, mind you, I let her know only applies to the people she loves. If she hears a teacher or someone like that making anti-gay statements or telling her that gay people are bad she’s to tell me immediately. I am willing to make allowances for the people who have sat by my side through trouble, pain and sickness, but bigotry backed by state authority is another matter. That cannot stand.
Luckily my daughter is young enough that marriage inequality will seem as distant and archaic to her as separate swimming pools for blacks and whites seem to me. The times they are a-changing, and she has always had positive gay people in her life. It’s as normal to her as tablet computers.
My only worry at this point is that she will discover same-sex attractions within herself and some well-meaning but clueless relative or friend will tell her it’s disgusting or wrong. All I can do is continue to show her the smiling faces of so many of my friends that are now legally wed in all ways, the families they raise and the love they share. All I can ask her is how is it really any different than mommy and daddy? So far she says it’s not any different. I live in hope.