You’re getting married???? What for? That was what I heard in the muffled silence that befell our dinner table the evening I announced to my family that Eileen and I had gotten engaged. For a couple of weeks, I had been anticipating telling my siblings, anticipating their joy and excitement about our news. After all, they had been thrilled when I first told them that I had a serious girlfriend, and were full of compliments when they got to meet Eileen. But now, when the time came to herald our marriage, their reaction seemed to come across like a dull thud on a concrete floor.
After glancing around the table, my niece, a 25-year-old Oberlin graduate living in San Francisco and working for social justice, responded, unable to hold back her enthusiasm. “That’s so cool! I think it’s great that you’re going to get married. Congratulations!” While her reaction offered me a tinge of relief, I still wanted to cry. What had happened? Why wasn’t my closest family giving me support for the very thing that they so wanted for me – happiness, the stability of marriage, and the love that one gets from a openly committed partner?
I was baffled, and didn’t know whom to turn to. Eileen was far away, unable to join me for a family visit, and when I told her over the phone what had happened, she had little to say. In fact, this was the sort of reaction she expected and received from some members of her own family. So it was difficult for her to sympathize with what I was going through. But my family was different. They were progressive, socially liberal, and enamored by my choice of Eileen as a life partner.
To maintain my composure, I began to develop hypotheses about the reasons for my family’s lack of support and excitement around the idea of my marriage. One thought was that maybe they didn’t quite believe me. Why would their little sister do something so traditional all of a sudden? Or, maybe they just didn’t expect us to get married, because most gay couples don’t. Or, at least they haven’t in the past. Even though it’s legal for same-sex couples to marry in some states (including where two of my brothers and their wives live), it seems they couldn’t fathom the need or desire for two women to get married.
The next day I felt bold enough to bring up my dismay with my oldest brother. He gave me an entry when he told me that he had told wife, who had also been absent when I made my announcement, our news over the phone. She was thrilled and sent her heartfelt congratulations to us both. Phew, I thought, someone in our generation is on our side. But, I wondered out loud, why was my brother’s reaction so different? After all, he had remarried after being widowed and raising two sons to near-adulthood. And, neither he, nor his second wife, were planning on having more children. So why did they bother to get married? Isn’t our situation similar?
He had not thought of our situation this way, and once presented this perspective he found himself acknowledging that my point was well taken. “I see what you mean. Yes, getting married is a good idea.” I grinned, knowing that his wife’s approval and enthusiasm had rubbed off on him, knocking some common sense back into his head and his heart.
I never did find out why my other siblings responded the way they did, but rather than belabor my disappointment, I chose to focus instead on the positive reactions that I got from friends and acquaintances when I told them that Eileen and I were organizing a wedding ceremony and reception. Almost all of them, including some people I hardly knew, were happy for us – just as they’d be happy for any couple who had been together for many years and had decided it was time to tie the knot.
Now, almost a year has passed since the engagement announcement. Eileen and I have been married for two and a half months, and are still receiving compliments from wedding guests, including my family. “It was such a joyous occasion. The love and affection from the family was evident. I’ve never seen so many people smiling all the time.” Well, how’s that for a turn around? Is it possible that I misread the cues that evening at the dinner table?
No. I don’t think so. Instead, I think what occurred is an example of people’s ability to change. In this case, my family learned that same-sex marriage is a human rights issue. They grew to see that the value of marriage for us was the same as for any two people who love each other, regardless of their gender. And they now understand why we would want to celebrate our commitment and reap the enjoyment of a wedding with friends and family, just as they had done. Those lessons, in addition to our marriage, were worthy of joy and festivity on everyone’s part.