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My mom longed for a gay wedding. Specifically, my gay wedding.
In the months before she died, her repetitive question was:
“When will you and Jerry be married?”
I offered, “When it is legal in Washington State.” I don’t know if her declining health and the impermanence of life drove her insistent questioning. At 79, she had done a 360-degree turn on her gay son. I wish she were alive to watch history being made on Election Day, when Washington voters seem poised to join those in Maine and Maryland in approving marriage equality.
When mom first asked the question about our marriage, I wondered if her lifelong mischievousness and proclivity to stir the proverbial pot was at work. While that was part of her DNA, she had also acquired a new perspective from living with us in the United States for a year. She freely offered her unsolicited critiques of U.S. laws on topics from gun control to marriage equality.
“Can you imagine,” she said reflecting on her life in South Africa, “we approved marriage for couples like you a decade ago.” With a twinkle in her eye she added, “Are you all just slow or scared of marriage?” Her capacity to change and become more generously expansive about life was instructive and hopeful.
Like many LGBT people, I remembered all too clearly the night of my coming out to my parents over three decades ago and the ensuing years fraught with volatile tension. Her anger at herself, my dad and me found expression in going to see our pastor to tell him that I was gay in order to try to prevent me from being ordained in a church that she knew all too well was homophobic.
But here she was, decades removed from that terror, on a farm in rural Eastern Washington, longing for a gay wedding! She and my father had been married for 53 years and she never fully reconciled to her grief following his death in 2006. Over tea one afternoon she brought out photographs of their wedding day, telling stories about each person in the wedding party. Unexpectedly she said, “I know you two love each other like we did; someday you’ll treasure the photos of your wedding.”
That afternoon she wanted me to know how pleased she was that we had decided not to get married in New York or Massachusetts, because her physical challenges would prevent travelling to the wedding. She was glad it would be in Washington so that she could attend! She wondered aloud what we would wear. This really was going to be her gay wedding.
The arc of her journey was one in which fear, anger and disillusionment over having a gay son had been replaced with pride, tenderness and hope. It mirrors the journeys that tens of millions of Americans are making about marriage equality.
I miss that she is not here to track the developments around the upcoming ballot initiatives on marriage equality along with the bonus of her freely offered unfiltered comments.
If the people that I speak to in rural Eastern WA are anything to go by, there are countless parents and grandparents, siblings and other family members in small towns and cities across America who are thinking about freedom to love and freedom to marry. Their gay and lesbian family members are no longer objects of fear, grief, terror and hushed conversations. Instead we are people whose love they know; a love that invites and demands equality.
Mom will be here in spirit to celebrate the ballot box victories: both our wedding, and her wedding.
Robert V. Taylor is the author of “A New Way to be Human: 7 Spiritual Pathways to Becoming Fully Alive