If we made our love for family members conditional on their holding the very views we do, then I suspect most of us would be living in dysfunctional families, if in families at all. But in fact millions of people live in ambiguous situations like the one in which Mary and I find ourselves. And I imagine that they, like we, are often reticent to speak out against the extremism in our midst.
When my family was first introduced to Mary’s partner, Becky, at the beach about six years ago, she had obviously been coached by my sister to arrive with gifts in hand—Veuve Cliquot and several good bottles of bourbon. As a family we’ve learned that there’s little that can’t be smoothed over during cocktail hour.
But we didn’t need any liquor to accept Becky. Becky knew how to handle all of us with grace and dignity. She, like Mary, understands our differences. More importantly, she won us over with her warmth, her quiet kindness, and her generous spirit. Even my unflinchingly conservative father recently remarked to me “how good Becky is for Mary.”
She has brought joy not only to my sister, but to us. And yet my views on marriage remain the same, stemming as they do not from particular affections, but from time-honored principles. Happily, what Mary and Becky have shown me is how easy it is to love gay individuals and even gay couples, despite disagreement on the meaning of marriage.
Twenty years ago I would have never imagined writing a piece like this. I had just come out to my family, and the news was not met with a great deal of enthusiasm. My sister, Elizabeth, tried to explain to me that my feelings for women did not mean that I was actually gay—just going through a phase. For their part, my parents expressed concern about my mental, spiritual, and physical health and then went mostly silent. I had a conservative upbringing in South Louisiana, where “coming out” was reserved for debutante balls—a tradition in which I did, ironically, also participate.
I had a contentious relationship with my family throughout my twenties. I was never shut out completely, but I was also never made to feel welcome or accepted in “pursuing a gay lifestyle,” as they put it. That aspect of my life was more or less ignored. We had all mastered a dance that allowed us to spend time together while simultaneously avoiding any acknowledgment of my personal life or feelings, and also avoiding any “uncomfortable” topics. But things changed when Elizabeth had her first daughter. Our entire family focused on a beautiful new life, and our shared love for Anna provided neutral ground where we could connect at last.
My role as “Aunt Mary” is something I relish. I currently serve as President of “The Silly Crazy Club,” an association invented by my niece for people who love dogs and love doing crazy things, like scaring people, making silly videos, and dressing up. I myself don’t have children, but I know how important it is for kids to have adults who give them love and unconditional support. Sometimes a child needs things that even parents can’t provide, and Elizabeth knows that I’ll be there for her family. I love her children as I would my own.