Is Gay Marriage Won if Mom Won't Attend?

Joel Engardio and Lionel Hsu

Joel Engardio and Lionel Hsu

By Joel P. Engardio

Republican candidates for president were recently asked if they would attend a gay wedding.

Ted Cruz dodged the question, saying he’s never been invited to one. Rick Santorum said no, because attending the ceremony would be against his faith. Marco Rubio said yes, but only if it was a family member or someone he cared for – and he would still disagree with their “choice.”

Rubio’s nuanced statement was instantly skewered in social media and parodied in TheNew Yorker: “I would go to a gay barbecue. But I would not talk to them, except to ask for more food.”

Funny stuff. Yet even if the ridicule is warranted, should we be making fun of the fact that 40 percent of Americans are opposed to same-sex marriage?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter with the Supreme Court poised to grant same-sex couples a Constitutional right to marry. The case will be heard this week and a ruling is expected in late June, which means gay marriage could be legal nationwide by July.

But a Supreme Court ruling won’t magically convert the remaining hearts and minds. Nor will antagonizing the people who fear change. They will only resist it more, which will keep divided families from becoming whole.

Maybe we should continue showing patience and compassion to calm the fearful.

Demonstrating that level of patience isn’t easy, especially after gay people had to start the journey to equality with the premise that our relationships were criminal. Being gay is still very much a liability in many places around the world.

In the U.S., gay people can be fired in 28 states just for being gay. Then there are the state laws we have to fight that give individuals more license to discriminate against gay people in the name of “religious freedom.”

Having to constantly prove one’s worthiness is tiring, which is why it’s tempting to dismiss the 40 percent of Americans who won’t attend a gay wedding. But I choose to keep engaging them.

My mom wouldn’t come to my wedding. Her absence was noticeable when my husband’s mother and seven of his family members traveled from Taiwan -- a country with no gay marriage -- to see us get married in San Francisco recently.

Even if people want to think my mom is a terrible person, she isn’t. She likes my husband and we visit her in Michigan, a state that is one of the last hold-outs against gay marriage. My mom’s deeply held religious beliefs are in conflict with the happiness she wants for us, and that is the reality we must face and manage in this period of societal change.

It can take a long time for true equality to catch up to a legal victory. Women won the right to vote nearly a century ago, but they only comprise 19 percent of today’s Congress. Interracial marriage was legalized nationwide in 1967 and a Cheerios cereal commercial featuring a mixed-race family still generated backlash in 2013. I expect aversions to gay relationships will linger for years to come, but I don’t want to give up on my mom or anyone who won’t attend a gay wedding today.

I felt validated to see Democrat Hillary Clinton launch her presidential campaign with a video that featured a gay couple talking about their upcoming wedding. Yet as a Democrat, it was Republican Marco Rubio’s statement on gay weddings that gives me the most hope for the work that remains.

Rubio may disagree with the “choice” of a gay family member to marry, but his willingness to attend the wedding is what makes a change in attitude possible. Experiencing a room full of love is the best way to realize there is nothing wrong with it.

Also published in San Francisco Examiner April 26, 2015

Joel Engardio speaks to the wedding guests after marrying Lionel Hsu on February 21, 2015 in San Francisco.

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