What Does Marriage Mean?
by Erika Lewis
On a day just like any other school day, Zane was sitting at the school bus stop, waiting for the bus that would take him home. Usually Zane was in a good mood while he waited for the bus because he was looking forward to playing with his dog and talking to his moms about his day.
Zane wasn’t happy today. Tear stains still covered his face, even though he had tried to wipe them off at the end of school. He was thinking about what had happened that day at recess. Some of Zane’s classmates had been talking about their families and how many brothers and sisters they had. Zane told them about his moms and their dog, Lucy.
“Two moms can’t get married,” Sam had said. “My dad told me that’s illegal!” Many of the other kids had agreed.
“But my moms are married,” Zane had tried to explain. “They had a ceremony and everything.”
Sam said, “My dad says that’s against the law, and two moms can’t do that.” Kelly nodded and said, “That’s what my mom and dad said too when I asked them.”
Zane was sad and confused by what his classmates had said to him. He knew that if a person did something to break the law, they could get in trouble. He was pretty sure that his moms were good people—they loved him and cared for him—so why would they break rules that would get them in trouble? As he sat on the bus, Zane was imagining police cars racing down his street to take away his moms from him because they had broken the law by getting married.
Has something like this ever happened to you? Maybe it’s happened to one of your friends. It can be so scary to think that your family might be illegal. But the truth is that a family with two moms or two dads is not breaking any rules. It’s not illegal. The other kids in Zane’s class are confused, and now Zane is confused, too. Zane is upset because he thinks that his moms are married illegally. He’s afraid that they will get in trouble, and maybe the police will come get them.
What can you do if someone at school tells you that your family is illegal? How could you help a friend who was confused about families with two moms or two dads? The first thing is to understand why some kids (and even some adults!) might be confused.
When two people are married to each other, it means that they want to live together and share their lives with each other for a very long time. Sometimes it means that they want to have kids together and raise a family.
Some people think that the word “marriage” can only mean the commitment between a man and a woman. But many other people think that “marriage” can mean commitment between any two people who love each other and want to share their lives for a long time.
When two people get married, the government helps them in a lot of ways. Sometimes the government makes it less expensive for someone in the family to go to the doctor when he or she is sick. Sometimes they can make it easier for the two married people to buy a house together. Sometimes they make it easier for them to have children or to adopt children if that’s what they want to do. These good things that help married people be together, or raise a family, are called “benefits.”
In most places, the government only gives these benefits to a man and a woman who get married to each other. In these places, two men or two women who get married do not get these benefits from the government. This is what people mean when they say that it’s not “legal” for two women or two men to get married in those places. It means that they can’t get benefits from the government. In the United States, and in many other countries, it doesn’t mean that they are breaking the rules, or that they could get in trouble for loving each other, or wanting to share their lives for a long time, or raising a family together.
In some countries (like Canada and Norway) and a few states in the United States (like Massachusetts and Vermont), two men or two women can receive these kinds of benefits, or good things to help them raise a family, when they get married to one another. In many other states and countries around the world, people are working to change the laws so that they are fair for all families. They want the government to help all families equally.
So what if someone tells you or a friend that families with two moms or two dads aren’t legal? What could you do or say?
The first thing is to tell yourself, or your friend, that your moms or your dads are not going to get in trouble because they are married. They are not breaking any rules because they love each other and are raising a family together.
It might be true that the government where you live does not give families with two moms or two dads the same benefits that it gives families with a mom and a dad. But your moms or dads, or your friend’s parents, are having a terrific family without those benefits, and nobody can take that away from them or from you.
Next, you might want to get some help from a grown-up. You can always talk to your moms or dads to get help understanding what’s true about marriage and the government where you live. If you’re at school, you could ask for help from a teacher. No matter what people think is true about families, it’s not okay for anybody to say mean things to you at school.
There might be some things you can do at school, if you want to, to make sure that your school is a fair place for all families. This is something you can talk about with your parents, your teachers, and your friends. It’s also okay if you just want people to leave you alone about your family.
If you want to do more to make marriage equal for all families, you can read on Rainbow Rumpus about what some other kids have done. Marina Gatto and Jeff DeGroot both have two moms, and both of them have worked hard to make a difference for their families and other families with two moms or two dads. You can also check out the website for Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE) at www.colage.org—there are lots of ideas there.
No matter what you choose to do, the most important thing of all is to know inside that your parents love each other and you and that no one can take that away.