How to Talk About Marriage at Holiday Gatherings

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December 21, 2012

During the holiday season we often find ourselves spending time with family and friends. It’s a great chance to catch up with people we may not see very often throughout the year, but it can also mean spending time with people who are not shy about voicing disapproval of same-sex couples who marry or wish to marry. With President Obama’s support and the recent election’s pro-marriage victories in four states, this topic is likely to come up. If you have the opportunity to respond (and want to), here are some suggestions to have a good conversation:

Don’t argue, just share. Chances are you won’t change someone’s mind right away. However, sharing your perspective in a calm and caring way can leave someone thinking. This is true whether you are LGBT yourself, or an ally who can share your feelings about LGBT people in your life. Getting to know the personal stories of people who experience discrimination is the best way for someone to look at the topic from a different perspective.

Every conversation helps. Talking about marriage with someone who disagrees with you can be difficult. As members of a legal organization that regularly faces strong antigay arguments in court, we at Lambda Legal know what it’s like, and it’s even more fraught when you disagree with people you love. However, every conversation helps – as more and more people understand why marriage is so important for LGBT families, we get closer to the day when gay and lesbian couples will have the freedom to marry.

Be confident. In the last few years, we’ve seen growing momentum in our efforts to win the freedom to marry, and we are no longer in the minority. Before the November election, marriage for same-sex couples had never won at the ballot – ever. The victories for marriage in Maine, Maryland, Washington and against an antigay amendment in Minnesota were not just historic firsts, they signal changing perspectives in the whole country.

Permitting same-sex couples to marry will not infringe upon anyone’s religion. Frequently, people say that they oppose marriage for same-sex couples because they fear that permitting same-sex couples to marry will force their church to adopt different teachings. However, allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry will never affect a church’s ability to uphold the teachings of its faith, nor will a church ever be forced to marry a same-sex couple. State and federal constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and the separation of church and state long have protected faith communities from government intrusion while ensuring that religion is not the basis of our governmental structures or laws.  These protections for religious freedom and the autonomy of churches remain unchanged when governments issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on equal terms as to different-sex couples.

Civil unions are not enough.  By excluding same sex couples and their children from marriage, the government brands them as inferior families, which invites others to discriminate against them in school, in workplaces, in hospitals and elsewhere.  Children of couples in a civil union grow up with the message that their family is different and undeserving of the same treatment as that of their peers. Civil union partners in emergency situations, like a visit to the emergency room, are subject to questions that someone who is married would never be asked. Everyone understands what marriage is.

Love is love.  Same-sex couples want to marry for the same reasons all couples do – for love, commitment, and shared responsibility, and often because they wish to start a family together.  For same-sex couples, just as for the rest of us, marriage is about sharing a life with all its challenges and joys.

Family structures are different for everyone. Children are raised in all types of families -- the variations are too numerous to list. Many studies have shown that children raised by lesbian and gay parents show no difference in academic achievement, psychological well-being and social abilities from children raised by non-gay parents.

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