Q: I received an invitation to attend the wedding of my gay cousin, Dave, and his partner, Sean, in New York State, where gay marriage has been legalized. (Note: all names in this article have been changed.)
I have a lovely, loving relationship with Dave and a warm friendship with Sean, who has been a virtual family member for years. We see each other at annual Thanksgiving celebrations, a holiday tradition the extended family has observed since 1977. Since the death of my parents a few years ago, this ritual has carried special meaning to me because it keeps me connected to my mother’s family. My husband and I are devout Christians, and the rest of the extended family reflect various other religious affiliations but are not particularly observant. Dave’s branch of the family—including his mom, “Aunt Sue"—all seem to fully accept the idea of gay marriage, perhaps because they love Dave and have grown to love and accept Sean. I’ve already decided to not attend the wedding ceremony because it’s contrary to everything my faith teaches about marriage and sexuality, but should I send a gift?
—Your friend, Laura
My good friend Laura asked my advice even though her gut told her that, for her, recognizing the marriage in any way would be inconsistent. I agreed, not that she really needed my opinion. Laura is one of the most principled people I know. She always does the right thing.
To be clear, Laura 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 Laura figures life has moved on. She looks forward to Thanksgiving because she loves being with her family.
But last week, Aunt Sue called to drop this heartbreaking bomb: Laura and her husband and children are uninvited to Thanksgiving because Laura refused to attend Dave’s wedding. No discussion. No tolerance for Laura’s religiously based decision. No understanding. In fact, when Laura attempted to explain herself, Aunt Sue hung up on her.
Did I mention this is a thirty-five-year family holiday tradition? And that Laura’s parents are gone, leaving only this extended family to connect her to them?
I thought so.
Suffice to say, Laura is devastated.
Some readers might be thinking that Laura is probably one of those judgmental Christians who would snuff 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, Laura called her twenty-four-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.
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, Laura’s aunt is excluding her because of the beliefs and principles that define Laura’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 Laura 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 judging Laura, Aunt Sue is hypocritically demonstrating the very intolerance she claims to abhor. Not to mention, she’s spoiling a beautiful Thanksgiving tradition of love for her entire family.
My dear friend’s family story is a teachable moment for us all, for surely we love many people whose behaviors we can’t support or whose opinions we don’t share. This Thanksgiving, let’s give thanks for the many people God puts in our lives to challenge us with his Son’s most difficult command: “Love one another!"