Marybeth: Family breaking apart over gay marriage, intolerance (but it’s not what you think)
This is a story about my dear friend, “Erma.” [Finger quotations to protect my friend’s privacy. I don’t actually know anyone named Erma.]
Erma called me several weeks ago with a dilemma. She had received an invitation to attend the wedding of her gay cousin and his partner in New York State, where gay marriage has been legalized. Let’s call her cousin Dave and his partner Sean. [Again with the finger quotations.]
Erma has a lovely, loving relationship with Dave and a warm friendship with Sean, who has been a virtual family member for years. They see each other at annual Thanksgiving celebrations, a holiday tradition the extended family has observed since 1977. Since the death of Erma’s parents a few years ago, this ritual has carried special meaning to her because it keeps her connected to her mother’s family.
Erma and her husband are Evangelical Christians. The rest of the extended family reflect various other religious affiliations, but not particularly devout. But they know that Erma is a believer, and that her Christian faith is central to her life.
Dave’s branch of the family – including his mom, whom we’ll call Aunt Sue [fingers] – all seem to fully accept the idea of gay marriage, perhaps because they love Dave and have grown to love and accept Sean. Erma loves Dave and Sean too, but simply can’t reconcile herself with the concept of gay couples marrying.
Erma’s dilemma: Having already decided she could not attend the wedding ceremony because it’s contrary to everything her faith teaches about marriage and sexuality, should she send a gift? Her gut told her no, that recognizing the marriage in any way would be inconsistent.
I agreed, not that she really needed my opinion. Erma is one of the most principled people I know. She always does the right thing.
To be clear, Erma never took a stand with members of her family about the wedding. She simply declined the invitation to the marriage ceremony and didn’t acknowledge it with a present.
Fast forward: The wedding takes place, weeks pass, and Erma figures life has moved on. She looks forward to Thanksgiving because she loves and misses her family.
But last week, Aunt Sue called to drop this heartbreaking bomb: Erma and her husband and children are uninvited to Thanksgiving because Erma refused to attend Dave’s wedding. No discussion. No tolerance for Erma’s religiously-based decision. No understanding. In fact, when Erma attempted to explain herself, Aunt Sue hung up on her.
Did I mention this is a 35-year family holiday tradition? And that Erma’s parents are gone, leaving only this extended family to connect her to them? I thought so.
Suffice to say, Erma is devastated.
Some readers might be thinking, Erma is probably one of those typical judgmental Christians who would flame out a relationship just to take a stand on gay marriage. But thinking this goes to show you how quickly people jump to the wrong conclusions.
Grief-stricken to imagine that she has lost her extended family, Erma called her 24-year-old son, “Scott.”
Scott is gay.
This is the conversation she shared with me…
“Scott, you know that I love you unconditionally, right?”
“Yep,” he says reassuringly.
“You know that I love Dave, but I could not attend a wedding ceremony or recognize a marriage in which he stood before God and married another man, right?”
“Yep,” he says understandingly.
“And you know that if you choose to marry another man, I can’t attend that ceremony either, right?”
“Yep,” he says compassionately. “Mom, what’s the matter?”
When she tells Scott why the family has been excluded from Thanksgiving, he reassures her that Aunt Sue is way out of line. And she’s a bully.
Scott knows that his mother is completely capable of loving him and Dave and Sean – and anyone – unconditionally, but at the same time, of remaining true to her convictions. Rejecting the idea of gay marriage is not the same as rejecting those she loves.
But now, Erma’s aunt is bullying her because of the beliefs and principles that define Erma’s character and inform her behavior.
This tragic family story reflects a twisted notion in our American culture: the idea that love always means total acceptance of another person’s life choices. This is emotional immaturity on a socially grand scale.
As Erma points out, she is capable of loving her gay family members but rejecting gay marriage, in the same way she is capable of loving her heterosexual daughter but would reject her decision to live with a boyfriend, and wouldn’t celebrate a cohabiting housewarming party or allow the unmarried couple to sleep together in her home.
Living authentically according to our principles means using those principles as a guide for behavior, while at the SAME TIME, loving and accepting unconditionally the people God puts in our lives.
Sadly, by bullying and judging Erma, old Aunt Sue is hypocritically demonstrating the very intolerance she claims to abhor.
Not to mention, she’s spoiling a beautiful tradition of love and Thanksgiving for her entire family.