For Our Opponents: Talking to Your Kids About Same-Sex Marriage

Rob Tisinai

June 18th, 2013

Deborah Savage is a professor of philosophy and pastoral ministry in the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas. She writes:

Those of us for whom same-sex marriage has been, until now, almost impossible to contemplate, have some things to figure out. Of those, the most urgent is the question of what we are to tell our children…How is this supposed to work—actually—in the concrete world of a ten-year-old child and her mother? …So I am hoping those who advocate same-sex marriage have given some thought to this, eager as they seem to be to take on the task of parenting themselves.

I’ll give it a try.

Dear Deborah,

Thank you for reaching out to same-sex marriage advocates in your search for answers. Too often, opponents of marriage equality would rather assume we have given these issues no thought or, even worse, have little concern for children. In fact, concern for children’s well-being is among our primary concerns.

I have a simple answer for your ten-year-old daughter. Merely tell her this:

Same-sex marriage is now legal because the government has recognized that sometimes two men or two women wish to build life together, promising to have and to hold, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death does them part.

That’s it. Really. I could stop there, and perhaps I should.

However, you have more concerns, so let me address them. Fortunately, you wrote:

For starters, can we agree that, along with her father of course, I am still responsible to her for doing my part to raise her to be the intelligent, responsible young woman she is destined to be? If so, how should I help her grapple with what it means to know the truth about something? Doesn’t any claim to the truth have to begin with a grasp of what is actually so? Should there not be some sort of correspondence between what is so and what she thinks is so? At least, that is what I have been trying to teach her.

Exactly. You put this so well that I’ll coin a term, the Deborah Principle, as shorthand for there should be some sort of correspondence between what is so and what we think is so. We need only stick with the Deborah Principle and all will be well. For instance:

  • What you think of gay people and our relationships should correspond to who we are.
  • What you think of same-sex marriage laws should correspond to what they are.

And so on.

Now for your questions. We’ll start with this:

Can her efforts to come to grips with reality as something independent of her personal opinions still include the evidence of her senses—or not? Is she now required by law to doubt them?

More excellence. I’ll call this the Deborah Corollary: One’s opinion should include the evidence of one’s senses.

For instance, you’re worried about your daughter’s confusion, but I can assure you that children who know same-sex couples don’t find them confusing at all. My partner has 9 nieces and nephews. We’ve hosted them for overnight stays and for longer. Our relationship doesn’t confuse them — because their opinions include the evidence of their senses.

Now, children who know gay couples may get confused when the Deborah Principle is violated: when adults who oppose same-sex marriage make false claims about gays and lesbians, like “it’s just all about the sex,” or “they really only want to destroy marriage.” Children who hear these things see a gap between what they’re told to think is so and what is so. Fortunately, all they have to do is rely on the evidence of their senses, and they’ll be fine.

Of course, that means you should let your daughter meet gay couples instead of shunning them, but if you believe in your stated convictions that won’t be a problem.

Still, given our agreement over the Deborah Principle and Corollary, I don’t know why same-sex marriage is making you ask these questions, and your next sentence doesn’t help:

In other words, if she sees a man—or a woman—walking down the street, whether together or alone, is she now required to pause before drawing any conclusions about them?

Don’t you agree children should be taught to pause before drawing conclusions about strangers? You ask if they are “now” required to do so, but I was taught this decades ago by conservative parents as an example of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Your question is actually a bit disturbing, so perhaps you could be more specific.

By the way, while I think people should pause before drawing conclusions, nothing in same-sex marriage law requires them to do so — not that such a provision would be enforceable if it did! Your concern seems to violate the Deborah Principle, a gap between what marriage law is and what you think it to be.

And you go on violating it:

With her child’s natural grasp of real things, she already knows that married people have babies, and she knows it has something to do with mothers and fathers. But since our state has declared that the categories of mother and father are no longer relevant for marriage, that marriage has nothing really to do with children, how shall I explain to her where babies come from? She already knows that little people like her would not even exist in a world where same-sex marriage was the norm. Do I get to make any claims about the fact that only a mommy and a daddy can actually produce one?

A few key points, to bring more correspondence between what is so and what you think is so:

  • Some married people have babies, but not all.
  • Same-sex marriage doesn’t say “marriage has nothing really to do with children,” certainly no more so than allowing elderly adults to marry.
  • Same-sex marriage law still allows for mothers and fathers.
  • Many same-sex couples want the right to marry precisely for the welfare of their children.
  • “Little people like her” wouldn’t exist if celibate priests and nuns were “the norm” but that hasn’t made you resign your position at a Catholic University, showing that you understand having multiple “norms” does not spell the end of civilization.

But this confounds me:

…how shall I explain to her where babies come from?

Exactly as you did before. The passage of Minnesota’s law does not change the basic mechanics. Any notion to the contrary clashes profoundly with the Deborah Principle.

I’ll skip over your next few paragraphs, which seem to be about transgender people, but are so vague that I don’t know what you’re getting it. Being more specific might help you clarify your concerns, might even answer your questions entirely. As a starting point, I suggest the Deborah Corollary: find some people who are transgender and spend time getting to know them, so that your opinions can begin to include the evidence of your senses.

Then you ask us this:

Oh, and will I now be required by law to sit silently when, a few years from now, I find her school has introduced a module into her sex education class on how homosexual persons go about having sex?

Well, no. No such law exists. No such law would pass Constitutional muster. You seem to be throwing your own Principle and Corollary to the wind.

You continue:

Any suggestions on how I should help her with her homework for that class?

Sure. I can’t speak for lesbians, but when it comes to gay male sex, we don’t do anything that straight people don’t. So you’re fine.

At this point in your piece,you stop asking questions and start making a speech, so I’m not sure what else there is to say, except to point out that again and again your caricature of gay people and what we believe represents a tragic gulf between what is so and what you think is so.

The only way to fix this is to stop learning about gay people through intermediaries. If this issue is so important to you, befriend some of us. Spend time in our homes. Spend time with our families. Confide in us. Let us confide in you. And then you’ll regret writing:

For when you ask my daughter to accept that a man may marry another man, that a woman may marry another woman, you are asking her to suspend her capacity to judge the world around her and judge it truly. You are requiring her to declare that 2 + 2 = 5 as an act of victory over her natural inclination toward the true and the good. You are trying to trap her in a world where nothing is as it seems.

Befriend us and you’ll see that we are asking her to do nothing more than to judge the world around her and judge it truly. Befriend us and you’ll understand why folks who know gays and lesbians, folks whose opinions include the evidence of their own senses, are more likely to support our rights. Befriend us and you’ll recognize that 2 + 2 = 4, along with marriage, along with love, along with family — along with everything else that is true and good — is just as true and good for gay people as it ever was for straights.


Rob Tisinai

UPDATE: I’ve received a lovely and complimentary reply from Dr. Savage. She promises to give this article further thought and will try to write more about it in July.

Priya Lynn

June 18th, 2013

Way to go Rob! Great response.

Ben In Oakland

June 18th, 2013

As always, rob, you knocked it out of the park.

I would add something to the paragraph ““Little people like her” wouldn’t exist if celibate priests and nuns were “the norm”…”

Just because we are gay doesn’t mean that we are not fully functional human beings, and that we don’t value love, family, children, and romance, and all that these things entail. The existence of gay people does not negate the existence of heterosexuals, or the values of love, family, and children, or require any of it to cease to exist. If being gay were the norm– and it’s not, and never will be– what you might find is that there would be far few children who are unwanted accidents, whose parents are unwilling or unprepared to care for them.

Richard W. Fitch

June 18th, 2013

Ben: I will say my thoughts when reading the article parallel yours. And the hypothetical “What if everyone …. ” is 99.999% too absurd to give a response.

Lightning Baltimore

June 18th, 2013

I think it’s nice that she posted an article demanding answers on a site that does not allow responses.


June 18th, 2013

Too many words. In short, gay does not equal sex. When you see a couple, same sex or different sex, you don’t have to speculate about what they do in bed. In fact, you should not. Tell your kid about sex when you think it’s time. All you have to say about couples is that they love each other and want to be together.

Sex education, where allowed, is concerned with helping kids avoid disease or unwanted pregnancies. This involves a certain amount of mechanics, but probably isn’t a How To course. People who have lurid fantasies when confronted with the idea of gay reveal more about themselves than about real life.

Priya Lynn

June 18th, 2013

“And the hypothetical “What if everyone …. ” is 99.999% too absurd to give a response.”.

My response is “If being gay is bad because if everyone was gay the human race would die out then being male is bad because if everyone were male the human race would die out.


June 18th, 2013

Great response.


June 18th, 2013

Priya Lynn: I especially love the variation where they say “if you put all the gay men on one island and all the lesbians on another and don’t come back for 100 years, both will have died out.” They never seem to think that through to the realization that if you did the same thing with straight people, you’d get the same result.

On the article: well done! It’s too bad she may never even read your response and almost certainly won’t bother with a reply of substance.

Joseph Singer

June 18th, 2013

My question is does Deborah really _want_ her questions answered or has she already made up her mind to be prejudiced against something because of beliefs she has acquired on her own? If she truly knew gays or lesbians she might feel differently but it appears that so far she has not and thus thinks all these negative things about gays and lesbians.

Rob Tisinai

June 18th, 2013

UPDATE: I’ve received a lovely and complimentary reply from Dr. Savage. She promises to give this article further thought and will try to write more about it in July.


June 18th, 2013

How awesome that she replied and is being thoughtful. It speaks well of her that she is questing rather than crusading. I’m hopeful she can navigate some of this thoughtfully, although I expect it will be difficult for her to make room for new thinking (doing so is intrinsically difficult). But, let’s see what happens. In the meantime, it’s a nice change from the usual cynical drive-by attack I’ve become more accustomed to with blogposts and essays on this subject from the anti-gay-marriage perspective.

Timothy Kincaid

June 18th, 2013


I will bet you a whole pitcher of Marix’ kick-ass margaritas that her thinking about it will not sway her opinion one iota.

But, for what it’s worth, I really hope I lose that bet.


June 18th, 2013

As is often the case with these people, all of her objections could apply to gay human beings simply existing, not just getting married. But few religious conservatives have the nerve to object to gay people in general anymore.


June 18th, 2013

How do you talk to your children about Viagra ads?


June 18th, 2013

I don’t understand people that don’t know how to talk to their kids. I’ve never had children and will never have children, but when asked, I can answer any question my nieces or nephews have in a way that satisfies their curiosity and comports with my siblings and in-laws’ child-raising styles.

Richard Rush

June 18th, 2013

Deborah might consider telling her daughter that gay people are increasingly fulfilling a vital societal function in mitigating the tragic results of rampant irresponsible breeding by so many straight people. Tell her that we need more, not fewer, gay people to adopt the excess children that straight people discover they don’t want, can’t afford, or are otherwise ill-equipped to raise.

For example, there is a lot of admiration among fundamentalist Christians for The Duggars (Jim Bob & Michelle) and their nineteen (and counting) children. If other couples begin to emulate them, there will be a flood of children needing homes – because every family is not going to be able to parlay their excessive breeding into a wildly successful business, complete with their own TV “reality” show.

PS: The Duggar’s oldest son, Josh, has just accepted a position with the Family Research Council.

Timothy Kincaid

June 18th, 2013




June 18th, 2013

“Can her efforts to come to grips with reality as something independent of her personal opinions still include the evidence of her senses—or not? Is she now required by law to doubt them?”

Well, Descartes said that our senses can be tricked into perceiving things that are not true. As for the statement about truth value I have to wonder about this claim coming from a person who works in a field where no one seems to be able to give an definitive answer on many true values.

“You are requiring her to declare that 2 + 2 = 5 as an act of victory over her natural inclination toward the true and the good. You are trying to trap her in a world where nothing is as it seems.”

No, we are not asking her to do that. You are making the assumption that marriage is naturally between a man and a women as if this were natural law. Marriage is a human construct and is different from what we call math. 2+2 will always equal 4. Marriage on the other hand is always change and is never the same.

I kind of lose respect for this women by that last statement. Apparently marriage equality is not “true and good.”


June 18th, 2013

Children don’t just assume that marriage must be between a man and a woman. It’s not an intuitive idea at all.

Parents who ask this question are either projecting their own beliefs onto their children or afraid their child will find out Daddy/Mommy was incorrect.


June 19th, 2013

“Oh, and will I now be required by law to sit silently when, a few years from now, I find her school has introduced a module into her sex education class on how homosexual persons go about having sex?”

And I get yet another reminder of how unusually comprehensive my high school’s sex education course was. The idea that you could talk about safe-sex without mentioning the existence non-vaginal intercourse is crazy. As you say later on, straight people do this stuff too!

Jamie O\'Neill

June 19th, 2013

2+2 will only equal 4 if the base is 5 or higher.


June 19th, 2013

What is disturbing is that a university allows someone as stupid as this woman teach there.

Ben in Oakland

June 19th, 2013

I also wonder how she explains to her little one that2/3 of the people in the world think the idea that Jesus died for your sins is quaint nonsense, and half of the people who do believe it probably don’t beliee it all that much.

Maybe she should consider explaining to her little one that people inthe world disagree about all kinds of very important things–but not that 2+2=4– and that they can disagree without being disagreeable about it..

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