There was an enormous political protest in Paris today, filled with people from all over this expansive nation of sixty some-odd million, gathered together to protest gay marriage. Their individual sentiments were diverse, but they generally wanted to protect the family unit, preserve the sanctity of marriage, and ensure that all children were giving the ~essential gift~ of a parent of each sex. The story is old, but the frustration and hurt never truly subside. No matter how many times we hear their tired arguments and hateful ideologies — or how many times their inarticulate answers to reporters’ questions are skewered on humorous political shows — it is always upsetting to see them come out in such robust numbers in the effort to ruin someone else’s personal life. And the sentiment is made all the more egregious (especially in protests such as these, where huge amounts of their impressive numbers are filled out by large families coming up as a unit to join in the festivities) when you see just how many of the sign-holders are too young to know what any of this means.
Of course, I am against the protest today. I believe in equal marriage, equal adoption rights, equal everything-that-any-other-human has. I hate to see children being indoctrinated into this before they can even understand what the argument is about or what their sign actually says. It would be disingenuous not to clarify that I am more angry than ever when I see that the pathos being generated by their tiny little presence is geared towards such a hateful end. But even at the recent pro-gay marriage rally in Paris, I was upset to see that a large number of the sign-bearers were, again, children. Before they can read, before they can speak, before they are aware of what politics even are (or marriage, for that matter), they are being used to fill out crowds and add a family element to the debate. Regardless of the subject at hand, though, children should have no place at a political rally.
Aside from the obvious moral implications of making them agree to something that they cannot understand (or may possibly grow up to vehemently disagree with themselves), there is also the inherent unfairness in implicating them in a heated and often dangerous scenario in which they have no choice or agency. Should violence break out at an emotional political protest — and it often does — how could we justify a child being injured who had no say in his or her ability to attend? This is not to imply that the age of majority — 18 in our case — should be the age at which someone can consent to political ideals, but they should at least hold a basic understanding of the topic at hand and the ability to make a conscious decision to participate. If you can’t ask a participant “What are you doing here today?” and “Why do you believe that you are right?” expecting coherent answers, they should not be bolstering the head count.
And how could we expect to draw any ethical lines in the sand about using children at Westboro Baptist Church protests or anti-gay marriage rallies if we are not willing to do the same when it comes to our own political beliefs? We are just as passionate, just as convinced of our moral high ground, just as dedicated to the cause. If we are not willing to, across the board, say that children are not okay to use as political pawns, how can we expect that the side we disagree with will lay down their diaper-clad arms and agree to discourse only involving people who are old enough to comprehend? No matter how much seeing a child at a protest we vehemently disagree with upsets us, the fundamental issue should be that this child has no business participating in the first place. Regardless of message, the use of children is universally to gain numbers and sympathize your cause. It is to put a barrier between your cause and criticism, or possible violence. It is unfair in all cases, and to all children.
There is a good chance that your child may one day grow up to hold the same political beliefs as you. There is a possibility that they will, at some point, write the same politically-charged words on a sign as the one they are now holding. But that is unequivocally their choice to make, when they are ready. And you forcing them to do it any sooner only accomplishes one thing, and that’s making you look like an unethical asshole.