We were supposed to continue discussing logical fallacies today but the topic of marriage equality came up very early in. Quite a few staff and students attended last Saturday’s rally so the topic was fairly hot on people’s minds.
It can be risky for teachers to discuss topics like this with students given how emotive they are. It’s very difficult to create an atmosphere where students feel safe sharing their (potentially unpopular) opinions and also avoiding any element of ‘religion bashing’. Obviously there is a very strong religious component to this debate so you have to be careful.
What I did feel safe talking about was the marriage equality issue from the sceptical viewpoint. Can we ignore our personal feelings and upbringings and examine both sides from a purely empirical stance?
The argument against marriage equality that interested the students the most was the claim that children raised in “non-traditional” marriages will suffer psychologically. My students didn’t appear to like this claim overly much. One had a friend who was raised by two mothers and two fathers and is apparently quite a well-adjusted young lad. Another student mentioned that some people don’t think that single people should be allowed to raise children and asked what happens to widows and widowers? Do they have to hand over their child after losing a partner?
One student wanted to know if this argument could be extended to any non “nuclear” families. If a mother and a father have five children, is that damaging to the kids? What about only children?
Ultimately it all came down the evidence. Is there evidence showing that same-sex raised children suffer psychologically? Short answer, no.
Some people disagree with this, but I mentioned that if there was compelling evidence against same-sex marriage the sceptical community would probably be against it as well. Our duty if you will is to follow the evidence despite how unpopular this makes us.
Fortunately this isn’t the case here.
The idea of “traditional marriage” was also raised. Yes, a traditional marriage today is between a man and a woman, but don’t traditions change over time? A while ago a traditional marriage meant a woman married to her dead husband’s brother. Or a man married to his slaves. Those traditions changed so my kids weren’t too sure why they couldn’t change again.
The biggest point raised by a student was how important it is for us to understand everybody’s point of view. This student didn’t believe it was necessarily a religious debate but more an idealistic one. There are a lot of people who firmly believe that their way of life is the best one available. They were raised a certain way and they turned out fine so therefore everybody else should be the same. A great discussion followed about how hard it is to accept the fact that what’s right for you isn’t right for everybody.
It’s really touching to see how many students would rather see things from another’s point of view than simply argue with them. Now I’ve seen these kids argue and they are formidable but they also know when a softer touch is better.
Next week we may continue our discussion or we may move on. I really wanted to share this session with you all though because of how proud it made me. It wasn’t the side taken by the students that impressed me but more the way the argued their cases. With the exception of two of them they were all 14 years old and younger. One day I’ll stop being amazed at how deep these kids are but I hope that doesn’t happen soon.