While the issue of gay marriage is not a hot topic for toddlers, it is common for parents to be unsure about how to talk with their children about gay and lesbian family members. Many parents are learning how to have these conversations, since it was not a common discussion in many families just a generation ago. And while beliefs and attitudes on the topic will vary from family to family, it is best to use simple words to be honest and direct when discussing it with your toddler.
What They Understand
Toddlers don't comprehend the complexities of adult relationships, gay or straight. But they do understand affection and they know who is in their immediate family (mommy and daddy, mommy and mommy, daddy and daddy, just mommy or daddy, etc.). Extended family relationships are still not clear, especially if your child doesn't see those family members regularly—familial intricacies become more evident as kids move into preschool and school age years.
Young toddlers do understand simple love, but they can't yet distinguish between friendly and romantic love. So when talking with toddlers right now about the orientation of their family members, being clear and honest (but not talking too much!) sets a foundation for later, more in-depth discussions about relationships.
What to Say
This will depend on your family's particular circumstances, but here is a good starting point. Make sure you check in with your gay family member first about his or her comfort level and the language they use, but many will appreciate an open conversation.
When having conversations with toddlers about family relationships, include your gay and lesbian family members: "Mommy loves Daddy, Grandma loves Grandpa, and Uncle Jimmy loves Uncle Bobby." You can have these short talks after family events or create a family book for your toddler that includes pictures of all of your family, including gay and lesbian family members with their partners or spouses. No need to prepare your toddler unless you are talking about who is there—you wouldn't do that for any other family member!
Keeping things simple is important because this will not have the same meaning for toddlers as it does for adults (or even kids a few years older). You can also talk about all different kinds of families more generally when there is an opportunity: "Some kids have a mom and a dad, some have a dad and a dad, some have a mom and a mom."