The other day, I received an email from a young woman who read my post titled, Gay Marriage: Getting the Conversation Right. Her parents divorced when her dad came out and she wanted me to know that they were all in a good place with it–and why couldn’t I be? I have removed any identifying details, but I thought I would share our exchange as a way of illustrating the real challenge at the heart of gay marriage and why standing for traditional marriage is not anti-gay, but rather, pro-child.
I know you don’t know me but I saw some things you had posted on gay marriage. My mom and dad divorced when my dad came out as gay. I love my dad and we have a great relationship. I’m really proud of him and I think he is very brave especially because he has to face bigoted people like you every day. I’m the oldest but I know my brother and sister feel the same.
First of all you need to open your eyes and realize that you are living in the 21st century and you need to get over the fact that there is all kinds of diversity in this world. people of different ethnicities, people of different beliefs, and people of different sexual orientation. do you have a strong dislike towards someone for the mere fact that their skin color isnt the same as yours or they arent a part of the same religion you are? probably not. so why on earth would you have a dislike towards a man who prefers other men or a woman who prefers other women? it makes absolutely no sense other than the simple fact it makes you uncomfortable. let me clue you into reality: MANY THINGS IN LIFE WILL MAKE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE, but there is nothing you can do about it. giving speeches makes me uncomfortable but i still have to do it.
Blacks are freed from slavery, women can vote, so why can’t gays have rights? they are the same as you and me- they are human beings. believe it or not, i am more than PROUD of my father for coming out to us. i have actually grown closer to him and we have a better relationship now. I can’t wait until the day he falls in love with a man and i get to be at their wedding, admiring the amazing father and person he is and has become.
the things you have said about gays, while they may be what you believe, they are out dated. go ahead and preach what you feel, but I am telling you now- you will be hearing from people about it. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church going to catholic school until i was going into 7th grade, yet I still hold no judgement against my father.
I’m not entirely sure if you are one of those people who believe homosexuality is a disease, but if you do try calling into work saying “sorry i can’t come in today, i’m queer.” yeah, i bet you won’t get very far. in my sorority there are about 50 girls counting myself, and of those girls 40 of them have gay relatives. open your eyes and accept people for who they are. while i don’t expect a response from you, i hope you at least read this.
i’m going to leave you by saying this: If Michelangelo had been straight, the Sistine Chapel would have been wallpapered.
(In closing, she attached a lovely picture of herself, her sibs, her mom, her dad and his new partner)
And here is my response….
Thank you for taking the time to write me. You are clearly an articulate and strong young woman. I have no doubt your parents are quite proud of you and that you are a credit to both of them.
I’m really not sure what things you think I’ve said about gay people. If you read my post on Gettting the Conversation Right about gay marriage, you know it has little to do with homosexuality and everything to do with the rights of children. I can tell you that I have never said anything–or even believe anything–even remotely similar to anything you describe. If you would care to point out what you feel are my offensive statements, I would be more than happy to–privately or publicly–clarify or apologize for anything that is legitimately ignorant, bigoted or prejudiced. If you knew me, which you admit you don’t, you would know that I take a very dim view toward so-called “Christians” who define themselves by those they unjustly hate more than by the loving God they serve.
Thank you for sending your family picture. You look like you all love each other very much. I think that’s wonderful and exactly as it should be. I also think it’s wonderful that you love your dad both for who he is and for the fact that your relationship has improved in recent years. From your letter, it sounds like there was a time when that was less true and I’m glad things have gotten better for you. At the same time, as you suggest in your message to me, it took an awful lot of work for you to get there. You guys have obviously been through quite a lot. You should be proud that you’ve all come though as well as you have. That’s taken a lot of courage and love and strength.
That said, I am a family therapist who works with many divorced families. One of things that both my experience and all the data on children-of-divorce shows is that divorce tends to cause kids to become “parentified.” That means that–more than young people raised in intact families–children of divorce (especially eldest children-of-divorce like yourself) tend to be too good at taking care of other people and not quite so good at letting other people take care of them. The child-of-divorce occupying your position (eldest)in the family often ends up being compelled, by circumstances, to try to hold the family together, take more care of their younger siblings than they should have to, and even take care of and defend mom and dad–both against each other’s anger as well as any critics outside the family.
Mid-divorce and post-divorce, as dad tries to figure out who the heck he is and mom is reeling from trying to sort out which end is up, the kids have to emotionally fend for themselves a whole lot more than they should ever have to. Usually, one of the kids ends up taking on the role of quasi-parent to both their siblings and even to the parents who just aren’t up to the emotional task of being there for their kids the way they ought to be. The fact that you took it upon yourself to write to me–some guy you don’t know, will probably never meet, and whom really you shouldn’t care two figs about–to defend your dad says a whole lot about both your big heart AND your degree of parentification. Your mom and dad should be defending you, not you defending them. You have your own life to live and you shouldn’t have to try to build your own future while constantly looking back over your shoulder to see if mom and dad still need your help. They’re grown-ups. Let them fight their own battles.
I know you’ll say that they didn’t put you up to writing me. I know that. I have every confidence that you reached out to me completely on your own. As I say, it is clear that you are a strong young woman with a big heart. And even though I know all of this is true, it is utterly besides the point. The mere fact that you felt compelled to write me–a total stranger– to defend him without any prompting from them is exactly what I’m talking about. Children have a right to be raised in an environment where they feel taken care of, not where they feel forced by their parents’ emotional immaturity to have to take care of themselves, or their siblings, and especially not their parents. You were deprived of that right in your home. You have borne up well under the challenges your family has faced. You are strong, but to be honest, circumstances have forced you to be stronger than you should have to be. I’m sorry for that.
See, what I’m really saying is that I don’t have any issues with your dad being gay. But I do think that marriage ought to be an institution that guarantees kids the right to be able to count on their moms and dads. I do have huge issues with your dad–or any man for that matter–making promises to someone, having children with that someone, and then failing to follow through on those promises so that they, themselves, can pursue what they have finally gotten around to deciding what makes them happy “now.” Parents owe kids better than that. Kids don’t ask to be born. Parents make them. That implies the promise, “I will always be RIGHT HERE. No matter what. You can count on me.” Not, “I’ll be here until I figure out what really makes me happy,” or “You can count on me until someone I want to sleep with more than your mom comes along.” I happen to think parents need to work that stuff out before they make promises to children by having children. You deserved an intact family, and nothing and no one had the right to rob that from you.
From your comments and the pic you sent, it looks like you guys have done an admirable job cobbling something good together after the divorce. That took guts, and good for all of you. I’m glad it’s better than it was, but that doesn’t make what you had to go through right. It just means that mom and dad couldn’t get it together enough to give you and your siblings what you deserved–what you were promised– from the get-go and so, you had to work a whole lot harder to try to get the love and happiness that was owed to you just for being born. I think you–and all kids–deserve better than that.
I do thank you for your concern for my ability to get along with a people who are different than me. You are absolutely right about the importance of that. I can assure you I am perfectly comfortable around all types of people; GLBT, straight, Christian, non-Christian, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, whatever. In fact, come to think of it, I am the proud father of an inter-racial family (although it seems weird to write that because it doesn’t often occur to me that we are. Nevertheless….) In my mind, people are just people. We’re all just trying to do our best. We’re all God’s children, and I am not threatened or uncomfortable around anyone.
But you know, it is possible to hold different opinions from someone without hating them. That’s something that can be hard to understand, but it’s true. Perhaps you and I have different opinions about things. That fact does not make me less than you, more ignorant than you, or more of a “hater” than you. Since you don’t know anything about me, it is rather presumptuous and, frankly, prejudiced, of you to suggest that is not the case with me–although I am sure you did so unconsciously and unintentionally. Still, you should be aware of your own tendencies to act out in unjustified prejudice–especially if you are going to make a hobby out of pointing out what you think to be prejudice in others.
Likewise, the truth is that while everyone is entitled to their own opinions, not every opinion is as well-informed by reason and healthy thinking as another. It’s really important to learn to evaluate the strength of an argument or an opinion based on its logic and reason, and the effects that opinion will have on other people, and not by mere sentimentality and emotion, which can often lead people to justify a whole host of unjustifiable things, including inflicting the pain on others which we, ourselves, have endured and overcome, but should have, by all rights, been spared.
Let me conclude by saying you are clearly a remarkable young woman. Good for you for speaking your mind. I truly wish you and your family all the best.