My Son at 5 on Same Sex Marriage

The talk here lately about same sex marriage put me in mind of something I wrote after Bush was elected the second time around. It was about a conversation I had with my son two days after the election, and I was driving my son to school. He was five at the time, and he asked me pretty much out of the blue why George Bush was against gay marriage, I explained to him as simply as I could that there are people who think, many for religious reasons, that only men and women should be able to get married and that these people are afraid of the idea that two men or two women might get married because they think it will destroy the kind of life they believe their god tells them they should live. My son sat quietly for a while and then he started laughing, “It just doesn’t make sense!”

“What doesn’t make sense?”

“The whole thing. I mean everybody is gay. You love your cousins, and some are boys and some are girls, and kids love both their parents.” (His point being, of course, that people of the same sex love each other all the time, and I know he was thinking of his own relationships with his cousins.)

“Well,” I said, “the people who are against gay marriage say that kind of love is okay, but that two men or two women shouldn’t be able to live together like maman and I do and be each other’s partners and have a family.”

“How ridiculous is that?!” He snorted a five-year-old’s snort of ridicule. “Anybody should be able to marry anyone. Look, even those two buildings”–he pointed to two large Manhattan buildings standing side by side–”they’re married to each other. What’s the difference if it’s two men or two women?”

The conversation continued like this for a few more minutes, with him pointing at various people, animals and objects and insisting that they all ought to be able to marry each other in any combination they wanted. I turned around and said to him, “I really like the way you think.” His whole face lit up and it was time to park the car and take him to his classroom.

I often think of that conversation when people try to explain why same sex marriage is so ineluctably wrong, and it still makes me smile and it still gives me hope.

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14 Responses to My Son at 5 on Same Sex Marriage

  1. 1
    Aftercancer says:

    It really is amazing isn’t it. My seven year old doesn’t see the problem with marrying his best friend but he does understand that we don’t shop in certain places because we don’t like the way they treat Uncle Ben and Uncle Paul.

  2. 2
    CataStar says:

    If only the politicians asked the children of this country what they think – so many of them have a pure, intelligent understand that we as adults have long since forgotten completely.
    My son is nearly two. I can’t wait until he’s this age; I can only imagine some of the insightful, eye-opening things he’ll say.

  3. 3
    Decnavda says:

    Sorry to pour a little rain on this parade, but I remember reading a column by a conservative describing her little one contemplating same sex marriage (presumably men) and wondering who nurses the baby, and that columnist used that as a “wisdom from the mouth of babes” anecdote. In both cases, I suspect that the child was reflecting your own beliefs more than you realize, and/or you are engaging in selection bias as to where your child is revealing wisdom versus when he or she is confused and needs guidance.

    The sunshine I will add is that when you put your anecdote together with the conservative’s, it shows how very little traditional roles can be described as “natural”. Babies may not actually be blank slates with regard to HOW they think, but they are with regard to WHAT they think, and most will end up assuming that whatever situation they grew up with is “normal”. People who think they are protecting children from something they are too young to understand by not wanting them to learn about gay relationships are doing far more to shape what they want the children to think is normal rather than protecting them from a culture shock when they have not yet acquired a culture.

  4. 4
    PG says:

    In both cases, I suspect that the child was reflecting your own beliefs more than you realize, and/or you are engaging in selection bias as to where your child is revealing wisdom versus when he or she is confused and needs guidance.

    I think it’s more that, as you say in the second paragraph, the child is reflecting what s/he has been exposed to. If every married couple the child knows is opposite-sex and has children for whom the mother is primary caretaker and whom she breastfeeds, then it makes sense that a same-sex male couple will confuse the child because of the kid’s built-in assumptions about marriage: it entails children, those children are the mother’s responsibility, and she’ll breast-feed them. If your kid doesn’t automatically think all that, it’s probably because s/he has been exposed to a different kind of family — at minimum, one that occasionally bottle-feeds so that the kid is aware that babies can be fed somewhere besides Mom’s breast, and better yet one where Dad sometimes does that bottle-feeding.

    I assumed until I had 4th grade sex ed that only married couples could have babies because that really was all that I was exposed to. Thankfully, I also was exposed to instances of men taking care of children, including bottle-feeding them, so I was aware that this was not an impossibility.

  5. 5
    RonF says:

    If only the politicians asked the children of this country what they think – so many of them have a pure, intelligent understand that we as adults have long since forgotten completely.

    Oh, I don’t think that this is something you have to wait for. Given that this child doesn’t know the difference between a father-son relationship and between a homosexual couple and he conflates the relationship between two buildings standing next to each other are married I’d have to say that his grip on reality pretty much approximates that of the average politician already.

  6. I don’t know, RonF, I’d say that’s a pretty unkind thing to say about my son. /tongue-in-cheek

    (At least I assume you were writing with your tongue in your cheek as well.)

  7. 7
    Ampersand says:

    This post reminded me: In this episode of This American Life, Dan Savage tells the story of how his small son opposed gay marriage. (Savage himself, as I’m sure most folks know, is gay.) It’s both a hilarious story and very touching — my eyes were wet.

    The episode as a whole, by the way, includes some of the funniest stories I’ve ever heard on TAL. (ETA: The funny is in act 1 — acts 3 and 4 are rather sad stories.)

  8. 8
    Jon says:

    Thanks for that link Amp — that’s an awesome This American Life.

  9. 9
    chingona says:

    That link was great. I had heard it when it first aired, but I had forgotten how good it was.

    A confession: When I was in first or second grade, we were singing some song in music class about being merry and gay. The kid next to me leaned over and, giggling, asked me if I knew what “gay” meant. “Sure,” I said. “It means happy.” “No, it’s when a boy likes a boy like he’s supposed to like a girl,” he told me. I looked at him like he was crazy and said, “There’s no such thing.” This, somehow, despite having a gay uncle whose partner I was raised to consider my uncle as well, the same way my father’s sister’s husband was my uncle. But I had never heard him or them referred to as gay, didn’t know that was the word for what they were, and it had not occurred to me that they were more than friends. Of course, I had a pretty limited understanding at that time of what “more than friends” consisted of. Even after I learned about sex, I spent many years under the impression that you could tell how many times someone had had sex by how many kids they had, so … yeah.

  10. 10
    Renee says:

    You know this just goes to show you that all of the harm nonsense that conservatives preach when it comes to talking to children about the fluidity sexuality is pure bunk. If we are open and honest with them and speak in terms that they can understand what they will pick up is a basic respect for others. Conservatives resist this because equality is counter to their privilege. If children are taught to actually acknowledge their privileges and truly believe others are equal our dissonance will dissipate. It is this that fuels their fear.

    Recently they decided to attack shockwave.com because they introduced a version of the board game Life that includes couples that are gay and lesbian. Of course they carried on about the harm playing a game in which people had the ability to choose to marry someone of the same gender would do to children. To me the biggest harm we can do to children is to teach them to hate and raise them to be little automatons. Due to class differentials we cannot all offer our children the same benefits but we can all tell them the truth.

  11. 11
    RonF says:

    Oh, yes, it was definitely tongue in cheek. Your son has the understanding of the world that one would expect of a 5-year old. I wasn’t intending at all to degrinate him ….

  12. 12
    Lilian Nattel says:

    What a great story. Thank you for sharing it.

  13. 13
    Nick Kiddle says:

    Even after I learned about sex, I spent many years under the impression that you could tell how many times someone had had sex by how many kids they had, so … yeah.

    When my mum was pregnant with my little brother, I read through the booklet the hospital gave her and got thoroughly confused by the method for working out the due date. I didn’t see why they had to muck about with the date of the last period when it was obvious when you got pregnant. I mean, everyone knows when they had sex, right? Even when my mum explained it, I was still confused.

  14. 14
    djw says:

    Great story. If he has a typical childhood experience, he’s encounter a lot of socialization and pressure to express and internalize homophobia in the next decade or so of his life. Hopefully conversations like this will help him resist it.