A friend sent me the following question in my comments section asking how to talk to her Catholic mother about the marriage issue. My reply follows:
So how do I reply to people like my mom, who insist that gay marriage is a moral issue, not a civil rights issue? She claims that her position on gay marriage is not a judgment on the gay community. She thinks that gay marriage affects *every*body, because if gay marriage is normalized (God forbid!), then it will have to be taught in schools as ‘normal, acceptable behavior.’ It feels silly even just typing this out, but she seems to be drinking the Kool-Aid :(
Don’t feel silly. Your mother’s feelings are understandable given the amount of fear-mongering about gay marriage that has been floated out there. Here are some thoughts. I invite my other commenters to chime in, too.
The truth is that schools do not teach marriage—straight or gay. Schools often teach about family structures, which in your mom’s eyes could be just as frightful if she finds the idea that “families are formed in a lot of different ways” scary. But that is the reality today, and it has been for a while. There are between 8 and 10 million children being raised in gay households in the U.S.
Your mom may believe her position isn’t a judgment on the gay community, but if married gay parents being considered “normal” in school bothers her so much that she would advocate legislating against their being treated equally, it most certainly is a judgment on the children of gay parents. Your mother is right. This is a moral issue, and I can’t imagine that she wishes to make sure our government treats these children’s families differently.
Would your mom prefer that a kid with two dads be taught that his family doesn’t exist or that his family is second best, faulty, dangerous or immoral? That is what legislating a prohibition of his parent’s right to marry says to that child. Even if she believes these couple’s unions to be inferior to ones with differing genitalia, how would she know? She really needs to get to know gay families to make such an important call accurately.
For now, we’re back to school, where, by the way, genitalia only come up in conversations about reproductive sex so you can’t blame gay couples if kids see pictures of parts in a classroom. Since sex discussions happen in older grades anyway, let’s focus on younger kids.
Consider a children’s book called King and King. Some teacher in Massachusetts read it aloud to her elementary students, and a couple of parents decided that their kid hearing it was one of the worst things that could happen to him. Here’s a summary (We own the book, and know it well. Are you ready for it?):
The story is about a prince whose mom is trying to marry him off to one of the many women in nearby kingdoms. He is pretty bored by the whole affair until he meets one of the prospect’s brothers. They enjoy hanging out, decide to be together forever, and the queen throws a wedding and a big party for them. The End. It’s kind of a Cinderella story with two guys.
The moral of the story isn’t that boys should marry boys. It doesn’t teach marriage any more than Cinderella does. The message is that finding whom you really love is something to be celebrated. I don’t know what bothered the parents of the child. I suspect it was the same thing that bothers parents of people who believe creationism is more scientific than evolution. They tell their kids one thing. The school tells them another. The result is home drama the folks don’t enjoy.
But the school still has a responsibility to do the right thing. Even if gay marriage is not yet legal in your state, why should children of gay couples be ignored or taught that their families are inferior simply because of another’s religious beliefs? To them their family is normal. As long as the parents’ relationship is mutual and does not disadvantage one of the parties (polygamy, incest, marriage to minors) what is the problem? I can assure you that most gay families are not teaching their children that straight families are bad.
At the end of the day, religion is often a matter of the heart. I don’t know that your mother would do it, but the best advice I could give her is to become very good friends with families of gay people. Though not all the kids at Broadway Methodist Church are in gay families, many are. I even know some incredible gay-and-at-Mass-every-Sunday-Catholic families I could introduce her to.
But I should warn her; the gay families I know are terribly normal. They stay at home and watch Disney movies on Friday night because the parents are too tired to go out. They struggle to keep on top of laundry and to keep healthy food on the table and to stay away from McDonalds. Their kids read the gospel lessons from the pulpit at church on Sunday. Seriously mundane. Feel free to pass on the information to her anyway.
Finally, here is some encouragement for you. Don’t give up on changing your mother’s mind. I have found that I am most likely to win arguments when I gently (okay, at least I try to be gentle. It’s hard sometimes when the discussion is so personal) keep coming to the table. And you never know who else is listening as you do.