In anticipation of the Supreme Court decision on the right of same-sex couples to marry that is expected later this month, our theme for June is marriage. From time to time we share the essays and letters of guest bloggers. This week, we are pleased to publish another letter from Michelle Dooley to her son Matt. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
A couple of things have compelled me to write to you. I came across the beautifully written “A Love Letter To My Anti-Gay Christian Friend” by Susan Cottrell in her blog Freed Hearts. She said what I have longed to say to several of my well-meaning friends, not with anger, but with real love and forgiveness. In fact, her response to her misguided friends was more Christ-like than that of so many Christians today.
Since your very public coming out, I had many wonderful friends and family members express their unconditional love and support for you and our family. I was approached by well-meaning friends who offered to pray for you. They were sure that you would be led back to the “path of righteousness” and choose to be a heterosexual. They talked about how their churches offered successful reparative therapy. I was caught unaware. Being new to this, I had actually never even heard of reparative therapy. I was thunderstruck by their ignorance and naivete.
I am ashamed to say that I held my counsel. Not knowing what to say, I just thanked them for their concern. In hindsight, there are so many things I wished I had said. Cottrell’s post provides a blueprint for doing so in a kinder manner than I might have, if left to my own devices. Like Cottrell, I love my friends, even the misguided ones. Her words give the courage I need to respond to their misconceptions in a loving, but firm way.
It is very difficult for me to understand how anyone could assume that homosexuality is a choice. You don’t have to be an expert in biology or psychology. The truth is plainly written in the coming out stories of so many in the LGBT community, which, like yours, are often punctuated by a suicide attempt. You very succinctly recounted how when you could no longer deny your sexuality, you felt you could no longer live with it. You made a very serious and credible suicide attempt. You then surgically cut your family from your life for nearly a year, leaving us trying to guess what we had done wrong. This doesn’t sound like a choice to me!
I would like to turn the tables on those who hide behind the bible to say that homosexuality is wrong. These same people will tell you that God does not make mistakes. I agree. God does not make mistakes. He was the one who chose to make you gay my perfect and wonderful son. If this was NOT a mistake, it should be embraced. When faced with a difficult situation, Christians often console themselves with the belief that God has a larger plan. Indeed He does, and He has a plan for your life, too.
Cottrell’s post highlights in my mind why so many in the LGBTQ community, and I am including the family members like myself, struggle with finding a church. Many leave the church all together. This is a frequent topic of conversation in our PFLAG meetings. Some recount stories of overt condemnation. Others talk about exclusion. Our organization keeps a list of churches in the community that are LGBTQ friendly. San Antonio is the 7th largest city in the nation. There are ONLY 10 churches on the list.
Her words also help me to understand why so many in the LGBTQ community consider themselves atheists or agnostics even if they have been raised in a church environment. It is difficult to sit in a congregation that doesn’t welcome you while listening to condemnation from the pulpit? Jesus called us to love one another, not just those we deem worthy. There was no exception clause for members of the LGBTQ community.
On a separate, but related note, the first same-sex marriage took place in Texas this spring. Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant were issued a marriage license in advance of the Supreme Court ruling because Goodfriend has ovarian cancer. Her fragile medical condition led to a compassionate issuing of the license as there is some fear that she may not live long enough for the ruling expected later this month.
What should have been a very happy day for the couple was marred by actions taken by the Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, who, within hours of the ceremony, announced that the marriage was void. Paxton was quoted as saying “I will continue to defend the will of the people of Texas, who have defined marriage as between one man and one woman, against any judicial activism or overreach.” Recent polls in Texas show the population split down the middle on the issue with an increase over four years for the support of gay marriage. I wonder if Paxton is really listening to his constituents.
Because you are still in school, you are insulated from much of this. It is my fervent hope that these issues are resolved, and by that I mean they have become non-issues, by the time you graduate and can participate in real life. I’m hoping that you can choose to get married anywhere you want to in this great country of ours. I am praying that every church will open its doors to all of God’s children, not just a select few.
And, while I love my friends, if forced to choose, I always choose you.
In an age of disembodied voices on the GPS I still like to unfold a map. In a way it’s our family’s legacy, going back to my grandparents, who opened a map, who packed up their few belongings, who bought steerage to travel from a flyblown town in Italy, make a way to a new world. They had the courage to travel alone and forge a new life.
In the movie Godfather II a young Vito Corleone takes this journey. In a heartbreaking scene, he is sequestered on Ellis Island. Alone in a tiny cell he sings to soothe himself, to quiet his nerves and give himself courage. That scene moves me, helps me to see my son traveling cross country by himself in a small blue car, camping out along the way singing to himself as he made his way to a new coast 3,000 miles from his Western New York home. Then making the even more frightening journey to accept himself and then to proudly proclaim that he is not to going to live the old route, the hidden route, that so many gay men and women had to take before. He began to make his own path.
Six months later he took the journey back to his east coast home, a journey he has taken hundreds of times since, but that time he made the decision to tell us, his parents. The fork in the road. For us as a family. On a cold March day our map was crumpled. A future we foresaw for him–for us–was unalterably changed. We have unfolded the map and with many stops and starts we have plotted a new route.
Multiply that experience by thousands of gay men and women. Thousands who said we refuse the margins of society. We refuse to live in the shadows. To live bifurcated lives of public and private but to claim our birthright bought by brave forbears who opened a map, who said that they see a different journey. Those thousands and millions began with the angry drag queens and street kids at Stonewall and began marching down these new paths through bedrooms, boardrooms, voting booths, family rooms and even small bungalows in the backwaters of Buffalo, New York to say a new route is opening.
So here we are in 2015. Our son legally married with a family. Our life different but connected to the past and looking to the future for our grandchildren. But as in any route there are roadblocks. Unanticipated construction. Traffic jams. And worst of all, backlash.
Never would I have thought that the religion of my youth, the religion that shaped our family, the religion that gave my grandparents comfort on that long journey from Italy would be used as the wedge to batter my son and so many gay people. Recently in Time magazine I saw a map outlining states with Religious Freedom Restoration Acts. It shocked me. So many states! Religion used in those states, as in Indiana, as a battering ram against hard won gay rights. It is used as an excuse to discriminate against gay people in a time when many states and many courts are affirming the basic human right of gay people to marry.
A map shows us that the route will have to be made over and over again. Just last week conservative Catholic Ireland affirmed the right of gay people to marry. They rejected the message of the Catholic Church to continue discrimination. I pray our Supreme Court makes that right universal here in the U.S. So that the map does not have to be a crazy quilt of affirming states and ones that encourage discrimination. So that the map can be laid out for all citizens to affirm their basic human right to love whom they choose.