On the surface, two cases before the Supreme Court this week seem to have little to do with children. The challenges to California’s Proposition 8 and the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act might appear to involve the desire of a group of adults to participate in an institution that should be available to all. But, in very different ways, both the proponents and the opponents of gay marriage have suggested that these cases aren’t really about adults; they’re about kids.
This is far from the first time that children have been invoked in the rhetoric surrounding marriage equality. While it’s debatable what purpose marriage serves in contemporary society, both sides would probably agree that it comes with benefits (and the promise of government support with child-rearing if needed) and it symbolizes stability (considered an important factor in children’s development). On one hand, opponents have suggested that marriage should be reserved for those who procreate (and by procreate, they mean “the old fashioned way” – not the way many parents become parents today). On the other, many child advocates believe that denying gay parents the right to marry puts children at risk. Last week, The American Academy of Pediatrics came out in support of gay marriage because of the protections it offers children. And while today’s youth might be more accepting of families of different configurations (even my five year old knows that there is “no normal family”), receiving validation that their family isn’t lesser because of their parents’ gender clearly matters to children being raised by same sex couples.
If asked, which they rarely are, we could expect that most children of this cohort would see denying a group of people their rights was simply unfair. They are more informed than any generation before them on the need and desirability of diversity and the importance of inclusiveness. The Republican National Committee has recently acknowledged that the debate over gay marriage might in fact be a generational one (read: young people don’t get what bugs old people about gay marriage).
But children might also be confused about why they’re so critical to the discourse surrounding this issue. Many of them are likely to know children who are raised by loving, stable, responsible same sex couples. It’s likely they also know children whose families don’t look so nuclear – and who are just as loving. And, sadly, they probably know some children whose parents are married but don’t necessarily come from happy homes. Even young children are likely to recognize that marriage isn’t the “insurance” that adults sometimes suggest it is.
Does this mean that marriage equality doesn’t matter to youth? Absolutely not. Following through on our national promise of equal rights for all assures kids, tweens and teens today that they can expect to have their rights protected no matter who they are or who they might become.