Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Tale of Two Weddings: Ostracism vs. Familial Love, and the anti-gay lady who failed to discern the look of ostracisim

By Rev. Steve Parelli, Bronx, NY
Saturday, April 29, 2012

Last weekend (April 20-22, 2012) I presented at the annual retreat of Connecting Families, a Mennonite/Brethren fellowship for gays and their straight families who support them (parents and siblings).  It was the perfect place to tell my tale of two weddings.  Using my PowerPoint, I displayed the two photos that dipicted the two weddings.

The First Photo:
Me demonstrating for
Marriage Equality with
a photo of me and my
husband on our
wedding day.
The first, I explained, was taken on my wedding day, August 25, 2008. (See the photo at right.) The second, was taken on the eve of my nephew's wedding day in September of 2011 during the reception held for family members and the wedding party - a time to mix and meet the bride and groom's family and friends.  (See the photo below.)

The story of the first photo plays out at the June 20, 2011, Marriage Equality rally in Albany, NY. I had enlarged our wedding-day photo of my husband and me and had it mounted on a carrying board to hold high over my head (for security reasons, the poster could not be attached to a stick).

While demonstrating in the halls of the capital building, a lady who was demonstrating against marriage equality walked up behind me and, without stopping, spoke into my ear from over my shoulder.  "You don't look happy in that photo," she said.  She continued walking pass me. I never saw her face.  Only her back.  She was a slight bit taller than me, slender and well dressed, and had brown, shoulder-length hair. 

Funny, but I didn't fault her for not making eye contact; for not looking me in the face.  The people from the opposing side were, after all, representative of my own flesh and blood family - my parents, my siblings, my children and ex-wife.  And I understand their religious, cultural disdain, knowing just how ingrained their sentiment is.

Further more, she was right, I didn't look totally happy in my wedding-day photo.  But if only I could have explained to her in what sense she was right.  There is just the slightest sadness in my face on my wedding day.  But not for the reason she implied, that gays can't possibly be happy.  Just the thought - that gays can't ever be really happy - reminds me of a book I read in the 1970s by Tim LaHaye, The Unhappy Gays.  Every reason he gave in the book as to why gays must be unhappy have proven all irrelevant in my own 14 years of living with my significant other.  In fact, I was unhappy before I came out!

Why then was I somewhat sad on my wedding day?  For this one single reason: ostracism.  My accuser should have allowed me my own explanation as to my sadness.  For just about 11 years (from October 1997 to August 2008), I was completely cut off from my immediate family.  The two years leading up to my grandmother's death my father had told me that if I were to show up at his mother's funeral he would take a bat to my head.  Some time prior to that, my father had told me I was dead to him and that if my mother were to die a premature, stress-related death, I would be the cause.  My mother wrote me a letter in her own hand writing telling me she willing stood with my dad in rejecting me.  My four children, following in their grandfather's step, refused me contact and declined to invite me to their graduations and weddings.  I have three daughters, and the two who married publicly refused to invite me.  My father had placed street-clothed policemen at the wedding of my second daughter to throw me out in the event I may have come on my own.  Cards I sent to family members on various occasions were returned.  At Christmas time and birthdays, gifts I sent were never acknowledged (although checks were always chashed).  Ostracism of the most fundamentalist, separatist, religious-right kind was maintained.

When I married my significant other in California, I was fortunate to have at our side my husband's cousin, his wife and their daughter.  They were every bit family to us.  They loved us, and welcomed us into their home in Sacramento.  But, on this day - one of the happiest days of my life - , there was not a single immediate family member on my side who recognized me (my brother had just/ or was in the beginnings of reconciling with me, I don't recall just when; and my aunt and uncle on my mother's side had accepted us right along, welcoming us into their home - they were a real blessing and comfort). 

The Second Photo:
My husband (far left) and me (second from left) at
my brother's son's wedding-eve reception.  My first
family event in almost 14 years!

The second photo, of my nephew's September 2011 wedding-eve reception, was taken just three months after the lady's uninformed comment at the Albany capital demonstration.  For the first time in almost 14 years I (and my husband with me) was invited to a family event on my side.  My brother and his family had since reconciled with me.  Jose (my spouse) and I were invited to the wedding.  Ironically, my brother's family had separated from my father because his extreme, religious rigidity in other moral matters he deemed important was taking a toll on everyone.

In the second photo you can see the unbelievable look on my face!  How hilariously happy I am.  The ostracism over, at least with my brother and his family!  Yes, I did not give away my own daughters at their wedding, but here, at my brother's son wedding, my husband (Jose) and I are completely surrounded, and loved, by family.

If only the lady who had made her undiscerning (and cutting) remarks about how unhappy I was on my wedding day had really known the cause for the sadness, the hole in my heart that only family can fill.  If she had stopped to talk with me she would have understood that marriage equality and the full acceptance of family, church and society, makes the differeence in how happy a gay individual may be.  In society, in the church, and among our families, gay singles and gay couples need to be fully recognized and loved.  Watch then how our faces will light up with happiness!  Her charge against me falls on her own head - the cause of unhappiness lies not in being gay, but in being wrongfully ostracised.

So, was I happy on my wedding day?  Yes, for the right reasons; and no for the right reasons.  Yes, for the love of my significant other and for his family that supported us in love; no, for the reason that my immediate loved ones still were, after 10 years, completely ostracising me.  They could not be happy for me, nor with me.

God forgive the anti-gay lady who wrongly judged my wedding-day photo and bless the state of New York for granting marriage equality, for knowing better than my own family members and the evangelical church in which I grew up, how to love, accept and shun discrimination and inequality.