I was ladling some soup for my kindergartner one afternoon when he said casually, but a bit tentatively, “Mom, girls can marry girls.”
I knew this moment was coming. “Gay marriage” was not even an issue when my oldest children were little, but after the Supreme Court forced my hand, I knew I’d have to discuss it with my younger children.
I turned to my son, made eye contact with him, and replied in a calm voice, “Hmmm. Well, no, girls can’t marry girls, sweetie. Where did you hear that they could?”
“Katie said they can.”
“No, hon. Katie is a nice little girl, but she is wrong. Only boys can marry girls. That’s how God made families—with mommies and daddies marrying and then having babies. It is always very sad when little boys and girls don’t have a mom or a dad, isn’t it? So, even though you might hear strange things about marriage from your friends, or their parents, or even in the news, what you heard is not correct.”
Ideally, and in accord with what the Church teaches, we shouldn’t talk about “gay marriage” or homosexuality with our little ones unless it’s necessary.
We should do our best to protect our children’s innocence and not put them in a situation where they will be exposed to a distortion of marital love, be it same-sex attractions, polyamory, cohabitation, or the like. Sometimes this means making difficult choices that will result in our being socially shamed and rejected, which is why (if we are honest) many parents start to go along with the culture instead of gently but courageously speaking out against it.
If the issue becomes unavoidable (e.g., an uncle or sister is getting “married” to a person of the same sex), we should simply speak about God’s law being a very good thing and how sad it is when the people who make the civil laws forget this. You might say:
"Lots of times, adults who make the country’s laws make mistakes. Sometimes they are really confused and make very bad mistakes, like when they allowed slavery and abortion. But we are Catholic and we aren’t confused, so we have to stick with the way God has always wanted things. The way he made us is for a lady and a man to get married and have babies. If we do things God’s way, people are happy."
It’s important for our children to see us interact graciously and kindly with people who disagree with fundamental aspects of our faith. If your child faces hostility at school or in the neighborhood for speaking the truth that “girls can’t marry girls,” you can explain to your child that attacks often come from people who have deep hurts in their own lives. Tell them, and show them, that it’s possible to speak against lies without personally attacking the people who have been misled by those lies.
After our talk, my son seemed satisfied, understanding the need for children to have both a mother and a father, and he began to eat the soup I had placed in front of him. My answers made sense to him. A child’s heart unburdened by sin and untainted by error recognizes and accepts truth easily.
But other children, who have been wrongly taught or exposed to grave sin, might not have as easy a time understanding this, and they may push the issue with your kids. They may insist that “love is love” and that only a mean, hateful person would oppose letting people who love each other get married. You can remind your own child that most people love other people without marrying them:
"Even though you love Daddy, does that mean you could marry Daddy? No, that’s silly! Of course mommies and daddies love each other, and we should all love each other, but marriage is for the special love only mommies and daddies have that can make a new baby come into the world."
The culture conditions us to believe that all family structures are equal, even though, deep down, we know this is not true. Even people in secular Europe (where only about ten percent of Catholics attend Mass) understand this primal right of children to be raised by their married mom and dad.
Case in point: a few years ago, a million French citizens took to the streets in protest of SSM. They marched under the banner of “children need a mother and a father” and were led by two prominent gay French citizens, including Frigide Barjot, a flamboyant lesbian comedian who generally supports rights for same-sex couples. She told the New York Times, “The problem is not homosexuality, but human filiation. . . . To make a child, you need a man and a woman."
Other protesters who joined her at the Eiffel Tower carried signs that read, “Mother and father, it’s best for the child.” Anyone is capable of loving a child or being a caretaker, but nothing can replace the unique and complementary gifts that mothers and fathers provide to children.
Finally, let your children know that upholding the natural view of marriage is not about pitting people against each other, but about two competing—and irreconcilable—views of marriage: one that is solely about what adult people desire for themselves and the other that serves the needs and protects the rights of children by uniting a man and woman in a permanent, monogamous bond—a bond naturally designed to welcome and nurture the new life it produces.
- Make decisions about schooling, friends, and media that protect your child’s natural innocence.
- If the issue becomes unavoidable, talk about how sad it is when people don’t understand marriage and why mommies and daddies are so important.
- Remind your older “little kids” that marriage is a universal human norm from God and nature, and not something that the Church made up to force on everyone.
- Remind your children that, even though it may seem like SSM is the norm (they won’t remember a time without it), it wasn’t always that way. For all of history up until a few years ago, the whole world—even non-Catholics and people who don’t believe in God—knew that ladies only marry men, and grooms only have brides (not another groom!), and that this is very good. Point out how strange it is that, just recently, a few people wanted to change the law in a really big hurry, and now they tell us that the world’s age-old understanding of marriage is bad! Your children will get that something there is just not right.
For more about how to help kids understand today's tough moral issues, check out Leila's bestselling new book with Trent Horn, Made This Way, available now from Catholic Answers Press.