And I said, “Well, yes, a little bit. Thank you, buddy!” It just came out.
He’s four and three-quarters years old, and I found, in that moment, that I am not ready. I don’t even know where to begin. He knows about prejudice and discrimination, and loves the story of Rosa Parks standing up for herself by keeping her seat. He knows that in our family we believe that who a person is matters more than what he or she looks like. He knows that different people belong to different faith communities and are differently abled. He knows that families with two moms or two dads are somewhat unusual. (The other day he quite confidently turned to a friend from school in the middle of a conversation about grownup life and said, “Boys can marry boys, it just doesn’t happen that often.”)
But I don’t think our son has any idea that many people in this country cling to a “conjugal conception of marriage as the exclusive monogamous union of sexually complementary spouses,” as Princeton Professor Robert George, who helped draft the dead-in-the-water Federal Marriage Amendment, has framed it. How would I explain to our son the existence of strangers who persist in the belief that our family is somehow a threat to them and their way of life? That people are fighting tooth and nail to prevent our family obtaining full rights under the law, as if that would somehow undercut their rights, as if there’s only but so much justice to go around. Our little man has no idea that every year for the last 13 years, as I complete my tax return, I check a box labeled “single” with a wrenching feeling of betrayal in my heart.
I don’t think he needs to know.
The laws are the laws, but they don’t need to intrude on my son’s happy life just yet. He knows that my partner adopted him – every spring we celebrate “Forever Family” day – and that we had to stand before a judge and promise to take care of him forever, and I think he likes that idea. (In fact, these days if you ask him what he wants to be when he grows up, he’ll say, “A judge. Or maybe a wrestler.”) He doesn’t know that without that adoption our state and federal governments would consider my partner and my son to be unrelated. He doesn’t know that we had to pay hundreds of dollars for a “home study,” in which a total stranger came to our home and asked a slew of invasive questions in an effort to determine our fitness to parent.
What D does know is that he is loved, and that his parents love both him and each other. He knows that snuggles are good for all kinds of hurts, that apologies and forgiveness help your heart feel better, and that if you hear a little voice telling you that something’s not right, you should take a moment to think about that. What he knows about marriage is that it is for people who love each other and want to stay together and be a forever family. For us and for our son, marriage is about commitment and warmth.
Did I lie?
The laws are the laws. But yesterday, New York's Court of Appeals (the highest court in that state), heard more than two hours of oral arguments on four marriage-equality cases. The New Jersey Supreme Court heard similar arguments in February. A decision in either case could presumably come before D’s next birthday. Our son has been to one same-sex wedding (in Massachusetts, of course), so he knows it’s possible. Maybe the next time he asks me about marriage, I’ll be able to give him an answer that reflects our family’s definition, one that I’m not afraid will hurt his heart. An answer that will enable me to buffer the discrimination by locating more of it in the past. An answer that is less about exclusion, and more about warmth.
(Thanks to Mama Says Om for the loving nudge.)