Gay Marriage and Our Kids—Where We Went Right

Young people are leading the way in changing attitudes toward same-sex marriage, and they can thank us, their parents, for instilling the more accepting worldview

by Sandy Hingston
gay marriage image
Photograph: Shutterstock.com

Now that nine states and the District of Columbia have approved same-sex weddings, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review two appeals-court rulings on the subject.

No matter which way the ruling goes, the astonishing thing is that a new Washington Post–ABC News poll shows that the younger generation says gay marriage is no big deal—with two thirds in favor. The real surprise, though, is that the hippie, peace generation of baby boomers are on the conservative side of the issue—with only half in favor. I can understand that. I made it all the way to college in the mid-’70s without knowing that gay people existed. What can account for the generation gap?

Part of it is simply exposure. My daughter Marcy joined the Brownies at the start of first grade. By Christmas, her Brownie leader had left her husband and moved in with a woman. What do you say to a six-year-old about that? Call it cowardice or bravery, but I didn’t say anything, and she didn’t ask. Why would she? In Marcy’s world, men dressed like both RuPaul and her grandpa. In her high school, boys and girls openly identified as gay and dreamed about, dated and went to prom with students of the same sex. On TV, in magazines and online, Ellen DeGeneres gave way to Tim Gunn gave way to Cynthia Nixon gave way to Adam Lambert gave way to … To be gay was to be in red-carpet company. This is a social revolution of unprecedented magnitude.

But another cause, I think, was my generation’s parenting style. Boomers are generally accused of having been lousy parents. Somehow, though, we managed to get this one thing right as we were helicoptering around our kids. While the “trophies for all” mentality we pushed bred narcissism, it did convey the message that everybody has a place on the team. Beyond that, the driving force for us in child rearing was a negative reaction: We didn’t want to be like our own parents, distant and authoritarian. So we aimed to be our kids’ friends. And we succeeded. Need proof? Look at how they’re trooping back to us after college, sleeping in their old bedrooms while they search for jobs. It’s much easier to confess you’re gay to a friend than to a drill-sergeant parent who wields the belt.

At some point, years ago, my kids started tossing the word gay around as an adjective: “You’re so gay,” “That’s so gay.” I was mortified. But when I sat them down for a serious talk, I found that for them, being gay wasn’t the big, huge deal it was to me. It didn’t define their gay friends, condemn them to hell or even unhappiness. When Katy Perry kisses a girl and likes it, what, exactly, does gay mean?

That gay men and women long to get married is proof of just how mainstream they’ve become. Instead of defining themselves in opposition to the majority, they’re lining up to mime their oppressors. And as for us oppressors? We’re coming around. For most of us, gay children no longer seem tragic, for us or for them. So long as our offspring can openly marry, have children of their own, serve in the military and enjoy fulfilling careers, their sexual orientation doesn’t matter all that much. So when a longtime friend tells me over lunch that her Thanksgiving guests will include her son and his girlfriend and another son and his boyfriend, we don’t even discuss it. We just let it sit there at the table, in all its wonder and complexity.

Photo courtesy of andromina/Shutterstock.com

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First Published Tue, 2012-12-11 17:20

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