When it gets personal

I’ve been wanting to have a conversation with Kent about gay marriage for a long time now, ever since I found out last year about Chick-Fil-A’s “charitable” contributions to Focus on the Family.  We had been regular attendees with friends at Chick-Fil-A’s family night, scoring a free kid’s meal and fun activities and generally enjoying the kind employees and kid-friendly atmosphere.  I thought Chick-Fil-A was fantastic.  And then I found out almost a year ago that whenever I bought a salad or a milkshake or a fruit cup for my kids, some of my money was going to organizations that directly oppose one of my most fervent beliefs, that of the right of two adults in a loving relationship to marry each other, even if they happen to be of the same gender.  This was long before Chick-Fil-A’s owner had made public statements about his beliefs, spurring a nationwide debate—I was having my own private boycott long before that.  When the flames leapt up this summer and suddenly *everyone* was talking about Chick-Fil-A, I felt more than a little vindicated.

My dad was gay, so this is very personal for me.  He and a lot of other people I knew boycotted Cracker Barrel when it became known that the restaurant chain fired any employee it found to be gay.  (Cracker Barrel reversed its policy several years later and now explicitly forbids discrimination against gays and lesbians in its restaurants.)  He also told me about visiting San Francisco and not being able to order Coors in any bar because of the company’s anti-gay policies and contributions.  And while I agree that a company has a right to contribute money to whichever organizations they want to support, and even that the COO of a company has the right to say crazy things, I also have the right not to give them any of my money to use in support of their beliefs.

About a month into my boycott, I found myself hungry, driving past Chick-Fil-A, and I turned into the parking lot thinking, “Well, maybe I can just get a sandwich anyway.”  But then I thought about my dad.  And I realized that I couldn’t stomach the idea of even one penny of my money funding a hate group that saw my dad as less deserving of rights because he wasn’t heterosexual.  It was pretty easy to turn back around and keep driving at that point.

Kent loved Chick-Fil-A, too, and he definitely noticed that we weren’t going there anymore.  But he was four, and I had no idea how to explain it to him.  The issue is just so big, and simultaneously so personal, that I was afraid I was just going to start spewing vitriol about the whole corporation if I got started, and I didn’t want it to be like that.  So I skirted the issue each time he asked if we could go there.  I’m not so proud of that.  But I was kind of stuck mentally, turning it over in my head and trying to figure out what level he'd be capable of understanding.

The conversation finally began yesterday.  I was talking to a friend about how her son Emerson has decided with Kent that they want to live together when they’re older.  Emerson and Kent don’t want to get married necessarily, just live together and possibly marry other people.  (I told my friend that this was a relief to me, since Kent had previously told us he wants to live with us forever and have Dean move out.  She said jokingly that maybe Emerson was just planning to move in with *us*.  Uh.  We’ll hammer out the details later.)

In the same conversation, she mentioned that when marrying someone of the same gender has come up with her kids, she’s explained that some states just have “bad rules”, so they’d have to go to a different state if they want to marry someone of their own gender.  Bad rules.  Yes.  Brilliant.  I had my inspiration.

In the car on the way home from school, I begin.  First I talk to him about how most men want to marry women, but some men want to marry men because that’s who they love.  This makes sense to him (because seriously, why shouldn’t it just MAKE SENSE??).  I say the same is true for women.  Then I say that unfortunately, not everybody believes that men ought to be able to marry other men, even if that’s who they love, because they think that if *most* people are a certain way, they think everyone ought to be that way.  I mention that in Virginia, men can’t marry other men, but I use the word “yet” and convey to him that I think it’ll eventually be okay in every state.  He asks about Louisiana, and I say no, it’s not okay in Louisiana either.  Yet.  Kent seems to think it’s wildly unfair that men can’t marry men if they want to, if that’s who they love, and I tell him that of course I agree with him.  I tell him I think that by the time he’s a grown-up, it’ll probably be okay everywhere, but it takes a long time for people to change their minds.  Then I tell him I would be so sad if I was told that I couldn’t marry the person I love, and then I ask him what if he had to feel that way, or Dean, or one of their friends or their cousins?  He’s still worked up about it and can’t understand why anyone would want to prevent marriage between two people who love each other and want to spend their lives together.

Yes.  Exactly.

We’ve been having another interesting issue in our house lately surrounding the presidential campaign; namely, Kent supports Mitt Romney.  It literally started with me talking about how I want President Obama to win the election, him asking, “Who’s the other guy?”, me answering, “Mitt Romney,” and him saying, “Oh, I like him better.”  I have no doubts that he supports Romney in an attempt to distance himself ideologically from us, which is okay, but it makes for interesting conversations.  Like what kind of yard signs we’re putting up.  And when I got my Obama sticker in the mail, he asked when he could get a Romney sticker.  Hmm.  I don’t want to quash his interest in politics by totally dismissing his perspective, but I do feel a bit like an old codger, rolling my eyes and saying, “You know, these kids today are just totally uninformed when it comes to politics…”

Anyway, back to our conversation about gay marriage: sensing an opportunity that I don’t want to let pass, I then mention that one of the reasons I like President Obama so much is that he believes men ought to be able to marry men if that’s who they love.  Kent asks, “What about Mitt Romney?”  I tell him Romney doesn’t believe men should be able to do that.  Kent asks why.  I reiterate how some people think everyone should be the same, even if that’s not the way they feel or who they are inside.  Kent thinks for a minute, then says, “Then I agree with Obama.”


I tell him it’s okay to like a candidate and not agree with everything he says, so it’s okay if he still likes Mitt Romney, but I’ll be interested to see where this leads, whether we’ll have more substantive conversations about policy and politics in the coming weeks.  That would be very exciting.

I also mention that there are different kinds of love, love you have for your friends, and love you feel for a person you want to marry, and that he might not feel the second kind until he’s a lot older.  But I’m pretty sure he didn’t understand that part at all.  Because at the end of the conversation, he exclaimed, “I’d better hurry up and marry Emerson while Obama is still the president!”

We haven’t talked about Chick-Fil-A yet.  He hardly ever asks anymore anyway, but I figure if Chick-Fil-A comes up, he’ll already have a framework for understanding why I won’t eat there anymore.  And hey, maybe Chick-Fil-A will make some progress, not just the hemming and hawing they’re doing right now, and we might actually eat there again.  I did like their salads.  I would happily reward them for changing their minds, because, as is becoming increasingly clear in our national conversation, it *is* possible to be Christian and pro-gay marriage.  I shied away from calling myself a Christian in high school and college, because I felt like the Religious Right had a stranglehold on Jesus and there wasn’t any room for me.

Thank God, literally, that that isn’t the case.

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Amazing, Erica, the conversations you are having with Kent, and the bravery that you and your friend have in tackling the subject. So far ahead of what the families I work with can even handle.

When the issue of Chick-fil-A first came up, I looked at it as the franchises do not necessarily support what the owner does, but I too have found myself looking there and avoiding it. I haven't had the money to eat out much these days, but weeks ago, I wanted a spicy chicken sandwich and the carrot salad so badly. However, I didn't get it, because I thought of all the people I know who I love and support who are gay, lesbian, transgender or bi-sexual, and it wasn't worth it. Luckily, I was never a big Chick-fil-A person. I have always felt that it is ridiculous to make someone pay more to get lettuce, tomato, and may on their sandwich and call it a deluxe.

Go Kent for tackling politics! Such an analytically fair thinker you have there.
This is great. I am sure Emerson is ready to marry him asap. I'm not sure of Obama's stance on cousins marrying though ;)
Oh, it was about his friend Emerson, not cousin... sorry, I can see how that's confusing! I did have to tell him a while ago that he couldn't marry me, or Dean, or anyone else he's related to. Emerson from school is the friend he's planning to move in with, so that's who he was saying he wanted to marry in a hurry. :)
I love this. Love it.
Obama is pretty young, could be a president for a number of years. He got elected, anything is possible. As others have said, this is a great post, and Kent is a great kid, even if he did support Mitt for awhile. Lots of other folks with more education and experience made the same decision. They will get over it.
“I’d better hurry up and marry Emerson while Obama is still the president!” LOVE it! Erica, this was a really great post. Such a smart little guy. You and Jack are such great parents, at least from this non-expert's perspective.
-Steve J.
Love this and I'm glad we are friends.
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