Life is busy and there’s just so much news out there that I’m not always on top of the key things happening around the world. So, I didn’t realize until recently that there was a vote happening in Australia on marriage equality. We’ve had marriage equality for about 15 years here in Canada, but I know there are many countries that don’t, so I wasn’t entirely surprised that Australia didn’t. What I was surprised (no, shocked) to learn was that marriage equality was being put to a vote. Like, a fundamental right – equality – is something that should be decided based on the popularity of the idea, rather than being a basic entitlement in life. What’s more, as someone who has worked with elected politicians, I was highly unimpressed that the Prime Minister of Australia – a world leader – didn’t have the leadership skills to do what is right, instead he chose to put fundamental rights to a vote. In politician speak this means he is too weak to make a tough decision that might disappoint his base so he went the route of “letting the people speak.” It’s sad and weak, and certainly not the behaviour of someone worthy of leading a country. But I digress.
So, I was chatting about the vote with a friend, and my kids (age 6 and 12) overheard the person say something to the effect of : “Well, gay marriage wasn’t always legal here.” My children stopped what they were doing and, stunned by this, Sen (my 6 year old) asked in a very confused tone: “Marriage wasn’t always legal?”
I said, “No, honey, gay marriage wasn’t legal at one time in the past.”
Remaining confused, he elaborated on his perplexity: “So, no one could get married?”
Then, Ronan, my older child added: “I’m so confused. I thought there was always marriage.”
I realized in this moment that my children don’t know the term ‘gay marriage’. Marriage of any kind is marriage to them – there is no marriage and gay marriage. They, in fact, thought that their dad and I were in a gay marriage, you know, like a happy marriage. To them, saying that gay marriage wasn’t allowed was the same as saying marriage wasn’t allowed, because they had no sub-categories of marriage types, marriage was two people getting married; end of story.
So, here’s the thing, in our parenting style and among our community of friends and family no one uses the term ‘gay marriage.’ It’s not an explicitly intentional omission, it’s just that we don’t really care or need to describe a union beyond the over-arching terms ‘marriage’ or ‘partners.’ I realized how beautiful this accident was because the children had no notion of there being subsets of marriage. Beautiful because, often times, when you start to distinguish groups and subsets from each other hierarchies emerge, norms are established. The simple lack of a descriptor before marriage shaped their perception and worldview on marriage. And what a beautiful perception they have.
The way we use (or don’t use) language is so important and shapes what we think, what we see as possibilities and what we see as boundaries. Language should free the imagination, not imprison it. It should open the heart, not enclose it.
Back to the story. So, I had to explain what gay marriage was to them. Basically, I explained that it meant that the two people getting married are of the same sex (which usually, but not always, aligns with their outwardly expressed gender). Meaning the definition of gay marriage came down to body parts. To which they reacted with complete confusion, astonishment and bewilderment, because why would the union of two people who share a life be described based on body parts you have no control over. Essentially, it came down to this: “That makes no sense and is totally unfair!”
I agree, guys, I agree.
So, once the idea of gay marriage set in for them and then the idea of people voting on whether to allow it started to process in their minds, their protests started. Rightly, they couldn’t believe that a country would leave it up to citizens to vote on who can get married, isn’t that fundamental right? Isn’t love a good thing? Don’t we want to be inclusive? Don’t we want to show people we care for them? Yes, yes, yes, all the yesses.
Children need parents to teach them things like how to cross the street safely, how to set an alarm clock and how to make their beds (so far my kids have 2 of those things perfected). But they absolutely do not need adults to teach them what is right, what is moral and how to be good people. Children innately know how to be good, they know how to be compassionate, kind, loving, trusting, and what’s more, they want to be these things. I see so much parenting and cultural conditioning that undoes this perfect state of mind children are born with. Adults need to turn to children, the younger the better, to learn how to live a good life. Because I’m pretty sure with a child’s perspective on life and love, this planet would be a peaceful, loving place, where marriage is always just marriage.