Then I remembered my mother and her friends gossiping about the man next door who – gasp! – had married a Philippino! And later, about the woman down the street who was, dear lord, divorced!! I remembered hiding around the corner, listening, soaking it up and feeling, for a little while, that I was somehow better than their kids. They were less, so I must be more. One small dark spot was added to my soul.
I have given it some serious thought, because this really is a big deal: having respect for every other person as your absolute equal is essential to living a true, honest life and valuing your own individuality and potential. You cannot despise another person without letting rot into your own core.
So here it is:
Tell them marriage is a contract between two people who love each other, promising that they are and will always be on the same team. They will take on life together to accomplish whatever goals they have in mind, whether it be building a home, raising children, or saving the world. From that moment on they will have someone to stand beside them on their path, and guard their backs in times of trouble.
Tell them that marriage is both a cultural tradition and a legal contract. People celebrate marriage in as many ways as there are societies. They arrive on elephants, walk down aisles in churches, and stand under tents together to celebrate their joy in finding a partner. What matters is the validation of this contract with the people closest to them as witnesses, not the details of the particular tradition.
Marriage is also a legal contract, recognized by the laws of the land, and effects everything from how a married couple holds their money and owns their home to how taxes are paid and medical decisions are made.
You didn’t honestly think your kids would care which parts go where, did you? Your problems are not their problems, until you make them so.
What to say?
So, when your child comes home and announces that their new friend Chris has two moms, or two dads, the proper response is “… and?” in the exact same tone of voice that you would use if they announced that Chris had a mom and a dad. “Did you like them? Were they nice to you? Did you have fun?”
Problems start when society’s prejudices poke their nastiness into your child’s innocent brain. Humans don’t deal well with change, and in the matter of gay marriage change is certain. In the same way the fight for racial equality or women’s rights made tiny people do horrible things, the inevitability of equal marriage rights under the law is making people ugly. The future will view them in the same way we now view the forced feeding of women fighting for the right to vote, or the beating of Black men and women fighting for the right to an equal education, but for now we have to deal with their influence on our children.
No two people ever travel the same path, but fear pushes people into a dark pit that demands that their path is the right one, the only proper one, the one that everyone should travel. For them to be secure there cannot be options. These fearful people tend to be loud and righteous, and fling their knives without caring where they land and what damage they do. If you want your child to grow strong and straight, and not be ruled by fear and bigotry, you will need to do damage control.
What to do
Apologize for people’s narrow minded bigotry, and let your child know that you are glad they told you about that ugly thing they heard, or that they were confused. Explain that some people are damaged on the inside, and judging others makes them feel better, like putting a bandage on a wound; that some people are not terribly smart and cannot figure this stuff out; and, worse, some people actually choose not to think, because it is easier.
Explain that this is not acceptable behavior, and you hope that they will not be so thoughtlessly cruel to someone just because they can.
Explain that you hope they will follow their own path bravely, stand up for what is right, and not feel any need to shrink who they are when confronted with bullying and bigotry. Reassure them that your wish for them is to find someone to partner with who loves them, supports them in their choices, and can grow with them through the years of their lives; not someone of a predefined age, skin color, religion, or sex. Explain that you love them, and loving them without limits illuminates that dark pit so that you can love the rest of the people sharing their world a little better, respecting their lives and choices.