Nowadays, whenever a state is about to vote on gay marriage, anti-gay political groups will always use one very special tactic: They tell people that if gay marriage is legal, then their children will be taught about gay marriage in school. They do this because it works for them. It’s a homophobic dog whistle that plays on the fear of children coming into contact with anything gay. It relies on the perception of gay people as a threat to children, and encourages the idea that kids will be “recruited” into being gay. When they talk about “teaching gay marriage in schools”, what they want you to hear is “teaching your kids how to be homosexuals”.
These smears and misconceptions have been floating around for decades. There’s hardly anything new about this, aside from the use of coded language now that it’s no longer feasible to say outright that gay people are going to molest your children. But what’s really disconcerting here is the response to these scare tactics by marriage equality groups. Every time it’s claimed that gay marriage will be taught in schools, they either let this pass unaddressed, or they fervently insist that this would never happen. But why is this something that should be refuted? If anti-marriage groups make a certain claim, are we obligated to contradict it, simply because they said it? In the rush to discredit these allegations, it seems like they’ve forgotten to question what’s so bad about this. Why shouldn’t it be taught in schools?
Let’s take a look at what’s at stake here. First, what does it mean to “teach” gay marriage? Well, what is there to teach about it? It’s not a complicated thing. If two people love each other and have a committed relationship, they can get married, just like straight people. Whatever a school might be teaching about marriage already – and there’s not very much to teach – this isn’t really anything new.
Of course, according to anti-marriage groups, this is practically the end of the world. They’ll offer up plenty of examples of the terrible things that can happen when gay marriage is legal. For instance, teachers might read their class a tasteful and age-appropriate book about a prince marrying another prince, much like all those other books where princes marry princesses. Or a class of first-graders might be invited to their teacher’s wedding – hardly a rare occurrence, but somehow completely awful because their teacher is gay. Students might learn that there are all kinds of different families, including families with gay parents, which apparently isn’t something they should even know about. Or they might be taught that bullying people for their race, gender, disabilities, or sexual orientation is unacceptable – and telling them not to harass people for being gay is obviously just beyond the pale.
Have you noticed what all this outrage has in common? It’s based on the assumption that there’s something substantially different about gay relationships, something threatening and inappropriate for children. Heterosexuality is always given a free pass, but the mere existence of gay people is seen as something that children either cannot comprehend, or are mentally unprepared for. It signifies that we’re not the same, and it blatantly suggests that we’re somehow dangerous.
It’s easy to understand the tactical reasons why marriage equality groups would deny that this will be taught in schools. They want to assure people that this is just about equal rights, and it has nothing to do with their children. But when they repeatedly claim that students won’t be learning about this, it raises an obvious question: If our marriages are nothing to be afraid of, then why do children have to be protected from them? If we just want to be recognized as equal, then why is this something to treat differently? Why do classrooms have to be purged of any mention of gay people, while straight people are accepted and celebrated without question? Why should we buy into the premise that this is something to be kept out of schools? Do we agree that children shouldn’t be at gay weddings, or that they shouldn’t learn that gay people can get married, or even know that gay people exist? Of course not. So why are we legitimizing the argument that this is something to fear?
Banning gay marriage wouldn’t stop schools from teaching about it anyway. They can do that whether it’s legally recognized or not, and they should. Gay people still exist, no matter what the law says about their relationships. Some of these students will grow up to be gay. Some of them have gay parents and gay relatives. And all of them will eventually know someone who’s gay. Pretending that everyone is straight is not education. It’s ignorance. This is the last thing we should be agreeing to. If we’re looking for affirmation of our equality, then it’s time to stop acting like we’re something less than equal. Gay marriage does belong in schools, and there’s nothing wrong with that.