A SOMA Kid's View of Marriage Equality
A local kid takes gay families for granted and is surprised that the law doesn't
South Orange resident Leslie Carmine reflects on today's headlines.
The 10-year-old came into the room with a copy of today’s paper. “So why is this a big deal?” he asked, showing me the headline that announced New York State’s passage of a marriage equality bill. “Were they, like, the last state to make gay marriage okay? Like the grand finale.” He pronounced finale like final, as in final exam.
“No, sweetie,” I say. “Very few states allow gay marriage.”
“Why not?” he asks. “Don’t other states want to be like us?”
“It’s not legal in New Jersey, sweetie,” I say. “Didn’t you know that?”
Long pause while he thinks. “Wait a minute,” he says at last. “Jason’s moms aren’t married? What about Ethan and Carina’s dad and papa?”
I shake my head as he lists families around the neighborhood, active PTA volunteers in his school, and my brother and his partner.
“None of them are married?” he asks again. “Is that legal, that they can have kids and houses and dogs and everything and not be married?”
“It takes a lot of paperwork, except for the dogs. Well, maybe even to have dogs. For the other things you need lawyers and court.” I tell him as his eyes glaze over, “but yes. It’s legal.”
“Not married?” he repeats in surprise, walking away. “Does Jason know his mothers aren’t married?"
It’s a funny world and great time to live in it. This South Orange – Maplewood kid thinks nothing of same-gender parents or alternative family arrangements because that’s what he knows. I admit that I feel a twinge when he refers to Jason’s mothers as “the one who always comes to baseball” and “the fat one.” One of my resolutions is to find out what all parents of the kids’ friends prefer to be called, especially when there’s possible confusion. But the kids don’t think twice.
I heard a story last year from a parent who was killing time at the middle school, waiting to pick up her child. She was watching eighth grade boys try to impress eighth grade girls by being loud and tossing around a toy that had been a prize at the school event.
“That’s so gay,” said one of the boys about the toy.
One of the girls finally paid attention.
“What does that mean?” she asked.
“It means it’s stupid,” explained another boy helpfully.
“Then say that. Gay doesn’t mean stupid,” snapped the girl.
The boy was defensive. “It’s okay. I can say that. My uncle is gay.”
“Would tell your gay uncle that’s he stupid?” challenged the girl, who, I hope, has found a home on the debate team. “Say what you mean.”
She turned back to her friends and rolled her eyes. “I bet he doesn’t even a gay uncle. He’s just saying that to be cool."
I don’t know what the rest of South Orange and Maplewood are discussing today as they consider the headlines. Many adults are celebrating. The Cupcake Corral had special rainbow cupcakes. But I’m pretty impressed with the matter-of-fact kids around here. Family structures that were invisible when I grew up are their norm, here in SOMA. Couples come in different forms than those I knew. And one kid at a time, they’re changing the discourse. The 10-year-old is stunned that the law hasn’t kept pace with life as he knows it and the eighth grade girl is flipping a word inside out from “stupid” to “cool.”
In other words, the future voters are speaking. Politicians, take note. Parents, be proud.