Who Can Marry Whom? Inclusive Conversations About Marriage

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 26, 2016 that guaranteed the fundamental right of marriage to same-gender couples was an important moment in history. It is our job as educators to talk about diverse families and relationships with elementary students and to provide them with mirrors of their own lives so they can develop healthy identities as well as provide windows into other lives so that they become global citizens who embrace differences. It is important to teach your students about many different kinds of families, whether those particular families are present in your school or not.

Talking About Marriage

  • Marriage is about love, commitment and responsibility.
  • Weddings are about celebration and recognition of a committed relationship.
  • People can fall in love and want to be in a relationship, no matter their gender.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court decision allows for marriage equality in all 50 states.
  • All families deserve respect, including families with two moms and two dads.

Sample Conversations about Marriage and Family

“Can Jorge’s dads get married? I thought two men couldn’t get married.”

"Yes, his dads can get married. The U.S. Supreme Court decided in a court case that all the states should allow people of the same gender to get married."

"People of the same gender can get married in over 25 other countries around the world."

“Why would two women or two men want to get married?”

“Because they love each other and want to be together as a family – the same reason all people get married. They want to make a commitment to each other and care for each other for the rest of their lives.”

 “Tanya says she wants to marry Aisha. Can girls get married?” (The students are in 5th grade.)

“When people are adults they can get married.” 

"People of all genders might fall in love with someone and decide that they want to love and take care of each other as a family and get married." 

“If two men get married, doesn’t that mean they’re gay? Isn’t that weird?”

"You may have heard many different opinions about being gay. The word ‘gay’ describes people of the same gender who love each other. In our school, we respect all students and their families and we don't use gay as a put-down."

"It does mean they are gay and that they can legally get married. Here at our school we don’t use gay as a put-down. We want to be respectful of all families and relationships.”

“How can two women have children? Don’t you need a dad?”

"Children come into families in many different ways. Every family is different."

"Note: If you have a child with two dads or two moms in your classroom, it can be helpful to know how their parents talk about their family. This will help you respond to other students’ questions.


A Checklist for a Welcoming and Inclusive School Environment

Inclusive Language

  • Often a family’s and student’s first contact with a school is through forms whether completed online or in the school office. Are these forms friendly to different family structures? Do they use language such as parent/parent or parent/guardian? Check through student forms, handbooks and school/home communications to ensure inclusivity.
  • Do you model using inclusive language for students, for other staff and educators and for parents and caregivers when talking about families?

Mirrors for Their Lives, Windows to the World - Diverse Books and Images

  • Do the books in your school reflect the lives of your students? Do your books offer perspectives on families not found in your school? Do your books feature single parent families, adoptive or foster families, two-mom or two-dad families, grandparent-headed families, and multi-racial or multiethnic families?
  • Do classroom and hallway images show diverse family structures, people of different races, gender expressions, ethnicities and abilities? Do the displays encourage respect for all people?
  • Are your students exposed to diverse, positive role models in literature?

Speaking Up to Stop Mean Words and Actions

  • Do teachers and staff interrupt mean teasing or put-downs about a child’s identity or their family? Speak up! Ensure that concern for saying the wrong thing doesn’t keep you and others silent. Interrupt hurtful name-calling including the derogatory use of the word “gay” and race- or gender-based slurs.
  • Are you ready for teachable moments? Practice how to respond when you hear students say things like “That’s gay!” “You act like a girl!” or “You’re not a real family because you don’t have a dad!”
  • Does your professional development on bullying and harassment include the opportunity to practice interrupting and stopping bias-based name-calling or bullying and ways to respond to students’ questions on diverse families?

School and Classroom Climate – Setting a Positive, Inclusive Tone for All

  • When someone walks into your school, can they tell that all students and their families are welcome? Are there student drawings or written work featured in the hallways highlighting both diversity and commonalities?
  • Have you held events recognizing and celebrating family diversity that welcome all children and their families to your school community? Do you foster active relationships between your students’ families and your school?
  • Do staff and educators treat all families with respect and avoid stereotyping or judgment when communicating with two-mom and two-dad, single-parent, racially diverse and/or multi-linguistic families?
  • Do all students have an adult in the school they can connect with? Do families know that their children are respected and able to achieve to the best of their abilities? Connections with families are crucial to children’s lives.
  • Have you created and implemented clear classroom and schoolwide agreements with your students regarding respect, caring for classmates and not hurting each other with words or actions? Do students know and understand that this means no putdowns or harassment about who someone is or who their family is?
  • Do your written bullying policies specifically name groups that are historically bullied or harassed more frequently?