We live in a diverse world. And, when it comes to same-sex marriage, there are many detractors. We even had one at our wedding. That might be hard to believe considering how much everyone enjoyed themselves, and that we were overwhelmed with compliments for organizing such a happy wedding. But yes, we had a hidden skeptic. She beamed as she looked at us under the chuppah (Jewish wedding canopy), she smiled and laughed at the rabbi’s words, and she danced heartily at the reception. But, she was not a happy camper. She felt uncomfortable at what was happening and let us know in a subtle but revealing way.
Who was this closeted partygoer? And, why did she attend the wedding if she didn’t agree with what was going to happen in front of her? The answer to the first question: none other than Flora, the bride’s mother. Yes, it’s sad to say that Eileen’s mom was not thrilled about her daughter’s decision to marry another woman. But, it’s understandable. She is from the Philippines and is a Roman Catholic. For her, a wedding is between a man and a woman. No one else. It is one thing for her to witness the disruption of old world values by strangers in her adopted country, but it’s another – more hard-hitting – to see one of her key beliefs rejected by a member of her own family.
She was obvious with her disapproval. Since the day nearly eight years ago when we announced that we were a couple, she begged us not to get married. “Can’t you just be good friends?” she’d ask. Or, when same-sex marriage began to get a lot of coverage in the news, she’d say, “Don’t get married. It’s ugly.” Yes, those were her exact words. Years later, when we told her that we had, indeed, gotten engaged, she was equally distraught. She didn’t want to look at us. As time progressed, her pleas became more frequent, all the while knowing that they weren’t going to be heeded. At one point, she even threatened not to come to the wedding. She would certainly not walk down the aisle.
But, come she did, in fine dress and jewelry. And, she surprised herself at the pre-wedding dinner the night before (when we were legally married in the District of Columbia). She was so impressed by our rabbi that she asked if he was married, and then announced that she wanted to marry him! And, on the wedding day, she was very much part of the party, watching intently and joining in the merrymaking. Until it came time to sign the ketubah (Jewish wedding contract).
We had asked an artist, calligrapher friend to design a ketubah for us and to add an extra page for everyone to sign. Traditionally, the ketubah is signed by the rabbi, the couple to be married, and at least two witnesses who are supposed to be Jewish men not related to the couple. We bent the rules a bit and asked four friends, including my stepsister, to sign it. However, we wanted everyone present to have an opportunity to leave their names as witnesses to the ceremony, and requested that they sign the extra sheet during the reception. We would then frame both pages and put them on our wall.
The day after the wedding, I was curious to see if everyone had, indeed, signed the document. I had assumed that, with the busyness of the reception, a few people would forget to do so. However, when I counted up the names, it appeared that everyone had signed. Even our caterer and a few young children had left their marks. I was impressed and pleased. So, off we went on our honeymoon, happy as clams. Or, more precisely, as newlyweds who’d thrown a successful party and secured a complete record of wedding attendees.
That was our impression, at least. But when we returned from our trip, we visited Eileen’s sister, who related a story from the wedding. She was sitting with their mom at the reception and suggested that they go sign the ketubah together. Her mom refused. We considered it strange since both Eileen and I thought that when we had counted the signatures, hers was there. But, when we returned home and looked, Flora’s name was not to be found.
It was a real disappointment to Eileen, as she had hoped that her mother would come around, eventually supporting our marriage. While I, too, wished she could be more comfortable with it, I was not surprised. In fact, I admire Flora for what she did and how she handled an event that was (and still is) unsettling for her. She showed support for her family by going the wedding, and she employed her social graces and charm with everyone there. She participated fully – smiling, singing, dancing and socializing – so no one would detect her ambivalence.
Indeed, her emotions were mixed. She was clearly and openly happy that her daughter had found love and that she was getting married, in spite of the fact that she wished I was a man. But to her, signing her name on a legal document – a Jewish one, no less! – to prove she was a witness to an event that she didn’t uphold was too much for her. She stood firm on her principles. She did it silently. And, she did it elegantly.