Why you should attend your gay loved one’s wedding

The following post is by Jason Bilbrey, our Director of Pastoral Care here at The Marin Foundation.  You can read more from Jason at his blog, www.jasonbilbrey.com

One of the most common questions I’m asked as the Director of Pastoral Care here at The Marin Foundation is about going to gay weddings. “Am I allowed to go?” “Will the couple assume that I approve of their union or same-sex marriage in general?”  “Will my church friends?” My answers to these questions are–respectively–yes, no, and possibly. But my advice is always the same: Go.

 

If this were a thesis paper, that would be my thesis: however conservative your theology, however rocky your relationship with the betrothed, you should never decline an invitation to your LGBT loved one’s wedding simply because it’s a gay marriage. And in the spirit of this premise, I’ll offer three supporting arguments.

 

First, attending that person’s wedding places a priority on the relationship you’ve built with him or her. When I first started writing on this topic, responding to people’s questions, I got it all wrong. I translated their questions from “Should I go to my sister’s (or son’s, friend’s, etc.) wedding?” to “Should Evangelical Christians attend gay weddings?” I treated the question like an abstract theological conundrum. But it’s not. The decision about whether or not to attend is always rooted and inextricably bound within the context of relationship. Making it about “the issue of homosexuality” ignores the real individuals behind this situation. We trade Stephan and Patrick for “gay marriage.” We trade Carol or Erin or Latisha for “homosexual.” It’s easier to talk about ideas than people. But when we academicize the question, our answer is likely to sideline both LGBT folks and those who love them–the very people who have the most at stake in this conversation.

When deciding how to RSVP for your loved one’s wedding, there’s a huge difference between your perspective and that of, say, your Pastor’s. It’s your friend or family member getting married. You are the one who is invested in that person and relationship. When Christian friends or leaders weigh in, don’t forget that they are missing a huge piece of the puzzle. The biggest piece, I’d argue. They don’t share the love that you have for that friend or family member getting married. It’s much easier for them to stand by some abstract principle and totally ignore everything else.

There is one party who–you can rest assured–will not be motivated by, nor even concerned with, abstract principles: the couple getting married. For them, it’s about each other. It’s about people. It’s about love. And your presence with them on that day? That’s also about love. They’ve invited you because they want you there to share in their special day, not because they want to coerce your endorsement of gay marriage. That RSVP is an important moment in the life of your relationship. How you respond is a statement about how much you are invested in that person. It could be the beginning of a deeper friendship. Or it could be the end of what you have.

Second, attending the wedding is not a declaration of your ideological stance on the  issues of homosexuality or gay marriage. It’s unfair for anyone to make those kinds of assumptions. In no other circumstance would we equate attendance at a wedding with an endorsement of everything the wedded couple is or does. Imagine how fewer weddings we would attend if this standard were applied across the board. Maybe a couple has been cohabitating before the wedding. Maybe it’s a Christian and non-Christian being “unequally yoked.” Maybe the couple is just not ready for marriage. There are any number of reasons why we might refuse to attend other weddings based on our personal convictions. But we go anyway, because we understand intuitively that individuals come before ideologies.

The one getting married will not misinterpret your reason for attending his or her wedding. But your friends might. And that’s okay. It’s okay to be misunderstood. It’s okay to allow others to believe your attendance means some kind of endorsement. If that presumption is unreasonable, then it’s the presumption that’s wrong, not your actions.

Third, attending the wedding is what Jesus would do. I’m convinced of this. Jesus took every opportunity to show favor toward those who were excluded from participation in worship and other faith practices. He harshly criticized the religious institutions of his day for systematically disenfranchising certain demographics. Jesus dined with tax collectors, touched lepers, played with children, talked to women and gentiles, and otherwise ignored social taboos. Suddenly the last were first, and the first last. When people were barred from coming to God, God came to them.

 No, Jesus never attended a gay wedding. (There weren’t any, of course, in Jesus’ day.) But he did dine at Zacchaeus’ house. He wasn’t supposed to associate with tax collectors, because doing so would be giving tacit approval to the Roman oppression of the Jewish people. But Jesus went anyway. How could he say no to that eager little man up in the tree? Jesus ignored the social issues in favor of the individual. And, in doing so, he wasn’t afraid to have his motivations misinterpreted.

Even if attending a gay wedding is somehow universally wrong, by some appropriation of a conservative biblical hermeneutic, I think Jesus shows how this would be a law worth breaking. When Jesus broke the letter of the law, it was always to show compassion toward people on the margins–to heal those with disabilities and defend those accused of sexual infidelity. And, in so doing, he demonstrated the spirit of the law, often summed up in the second of those two great commands upon which all the others hang: Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus wasn’t afraid to sacrifice his own comfort or blamelessness in order to stand in solidarity with the other. And neither should we. (I’ve written more about the danger of desiring blamelessness here.)

So, to sum up, you should go to that gay wedding. You don’t have to have all your beliefs settled first. You don’t have to abandon beliefs that you’ve already settled on. Do it for your loved one. Do it for the relationship you’ve invested in. Listen to your God-given inclination to honor that relationship and stand by that person in love. Go to your gay loved one’s wedding. Good Christians might not. But Christ would.

Much love.

www.themarinfoundation.org

About Andrew Marin

Andrew Marin is President and Founder of The Marin Foundation (www.themarinfoundation.org). He is author of the award winning book Love Is an Orientation (2009), its interactive DVD curriculum (2011), and recently an academic ebook titled Our Last Option: How a New Approach to Civility can Save the Public Square (2013). Andrew is a regular contributor to a variety of media outlets and frequently lectures at universities around the world. Since 2010 Andrew has been asked by the United Nations to advise their various agencies on issues of bridging opposing worldviews, civic engagement, and theological aspects of reconciliation. For twelve years he lived in the LGBT Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, and is currently based St. Andrews, Scotland, where he is teaching and researching at the University of St. Andrews earning his PhD in Constructive Theology with a focus on the Theology of Culture. Andrew's research centers on the cultural, political, and religious dynamics of reconciliation. Andrew is married to Brenda, and you can find him elsewhere on Twitter (@Andrew_Marin), Facebook (AndrewMarin01), and Instagram (@andrewmarin1).

  • Andrew Watson

    what if they want you to officiate or give the (bride?) away?

    • Jason Bilbrey

      Hi Andrew,

      That’s a really good question. I think what you’re getting at is a greater level of participation in the ceremony. So walking the bride down the isle requires more outward support than simply sitting in the pew. But it also signifies a greater level of relationship between you and the one getting married. The same with being a groomsman, bridesmaid or performer in the wedding. The fact that the relationship you share with this person means so much to him or her should only heighten your prioritization of that relationship. And just like attendance at a wedding is not an automatic endorsement of everything a couple is or does, neither is participation.

      Officiating can also be a matter of relationship, where you know the couple well, and they really want you specifically to marry them. If that’s the case, then that relationship should be a big consideration in your decision whether or not to do it (for all the same reasons I outlined in the post). But it could also not be a matter of relationship–that is, the couple asking you to marry them could be total strangers. If you’re a pastor, clergy member or some other kind of professional who is regularly asked to perform wedding ceremonies, you would have total freedom to decide based on who they are whether or not to marry them, just as you would any other couple. If you are the type to only marry those whose decisions and characteristics you completely endorse, then it’s likely that you have refused other couples–straight couples–in the past, since many people will presumably not meets your criteria. You certainly have the right and the precedent to refuse this request too. It seems like more like an issue of conscience in this case. Speaking personally, I think I would probably still accept the request to officiate.

      I hope that’s helpful. Again, great question :)

  • Oswald Carnes

    This is why gay people should end any relationship they have with a bigot. That way there are no problems like this, and you don’t have to worry what some jackass might say that could be a blight on your special day.

  • joel

    “Imagine how fewer weddings we would attend if this standard were applied across the board. Maybe a couple has been cohabitating before the wedding. Maybe it’s a Christian and non-Christian being “unequally yoked.” Maybe the couple is just not ready for marriage.” This is the most common (and frustrating) argument I’ve heard raised when this issue is brought up. It’s a very intellectually weak argument, in my opinion. None of these scenarios challenge God’s creation of marriage as an institution between male and female. In all those cases God, according to His Word, would view the couple as married. With gay marriage He wouldn’t, because it goes against His expressed will at creation and throughout history. Your article asserts across the board prioritizing of relationships over truth. Very thin ice, to me. And if Jesus would have attended a gay ceremony, He would have gone to redeem them and tell them to ‘sin no more’ (like the woman at the well), no?

    • Jason Bilbrey

      Hi Joel,

      Thanks for your comment. I think you might have misheard what I was saying. This is not a post arguing what the institution of marriage is all about. I’m not trying to challenge anyone’s deeply held beliefs about what marriage is or should be. What I’m saying is that you can and should attend your gay loved one’s weddings regardless of what you believe about gay marriage. When I talk about what Jesus would do, I’m referring to what he did all throughout the Gospels by putting the individual before the issue they represented in society. This is not about “the prioritization of the relationships over truth” as you say, because you don’t have to relinquish your convictions on whatever you understand the truth to be in order to prioritize the relationship. That’s what I’m saying here in this piece.

      As far as Jesus’ statement, “go and sin no more,” and the story in which it’s (importantly, inextricably) embedded, well…it’s worthy of an entire blog post unto itself. I’ll let two of my coworkers do the heavy lifting. Here’s Kevin taking about it: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/loveisanorientation/2010/11/go-and-sin-no-more/
      And here’s Michael talking about it:
      http://www.mjkimpan.com/me-neither/

      • joel

        Thanks for the reply Jason. I’ll check out those links. You said “you don’t have to relinquish your convictions on whatever you understand the truth to be in order to prioritize the relationship.” I’m not so sure about that. It’s just as likely that your attending the service will be seen as compromising your weak convictions, which will lead to pressure (and it is pressure) to compromise further. Plus, you’re assuming that not attending the wedding would automatically end or hurt the relationship. If that happens, then the relationship was based on a one-way expectation that you accept something you believe is wrong (which would be a microcosm of our society). It can be done tactfully and with grace. If that is not accepted, well, Jesus never promised us our relationships would be healthy if we followed Him.

        • jontrouten

          My in-laws didn’t attend my wedding. 4 years later, they wonder why I’m not super chummy with them.

          If a loved one thought enough about you on arguably one of the most important days of their lives and you dismissed them — tactfully or not — based off some moral objection to their new family, it’s unrealistic to imagine that they’ll shrug it off as if it was nothing.

          • joel

            Jon – that may well be so, but consider that it may have been unrealistic of you to expect them to put aside whatever convictions they may have to accommodate your wishes. Again, the “one way expectation” I mentioned earlier. Christian concern over and resistance to the redefinition of marriage is not merely ‘some moral objection’. The consequences for our society and for people of faith is absolutely enormous. I’d suggest considering that before expecting them to ‘shrug it off as nothing’.

            • jontrouten

              Those are my husband’s parents and I respect them as such. But I’ll readily admit that I hold it against them for purposely staying away from our wedding.

              But it cuts both ways. This was their only son’s wedding that they missed and they will never get that opportunity back. And the truth is that I am their son’s husband and the other father to their only grand kids. Grand kids who were old enough to notice who didn’t come to their parents’ wedding.

  • Getreal

    It is of interest to note no definition for marriage is rendered here as if any old relational combination qualifies. I wonder if Marin would attend a polygamous wedding? What about a polyamorous wedding? Perhaps an inter-generational wedding between a 12 year old and a 50 year old? How about endogamy? Hey if you are going to wave gender distinction and shrug your shoulders at it than why not wave the numerical requirement of two and overlook the monogamous qualifier as well? It is pure speculation to surmise that Jesus would have attended a same-sex marriage especially in light of His reaffirming the creational paradigm for marriage in Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:2-11 where He reaffirmed gender distinction, which is defacto reaffirmation of the numerical qualifier as well. Christ also reaffirmed monogamy, not Dan Savages “mongoamish” concept of open relationships. While Jesus ate with sinners, He never approved of their sin. He told the woman caught in adultery to “Go, and sin no more.” Attending a same-sex wedding is nothing less the unqualified approval of what amounts to sin, not to mention moral breakdown and cultural decline. I also note the use of “Love your neighbor” is deprived of the preceding verse to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, as if loving my neighbor can be adequately defined devoid of loving God first and foremost.

    A wedding is unlike any other function in that the guest is being asked to be a witness and approve of the union taking place. A wedding is not just a good festive time. it is not the same as being invited to a dinner party or picnic because it involves being a witness. While I would attend just about any other event, a wedding is of a different order. By attending you are sending the message “Go, and keep on sinning.” That doesn’t sound like true love for one’s neighbor to me, but the fear of man in drag.

    • Jason Bilbrey

      Hi Getreal,

      I’m not trying to take a stand either way on how to define marriage, whether as two consenting adults (as gay rights advocates and now my home state of IL define it) or as one man and one woman (as conservatives define it). I’m really not concerned with marriage as an institution in this post. (And I won’t engage in that debate here.) What I’m saying is that, whatever your conviction–and without giving up that conviction–you can and should attend your gay loved one’s wedding for all the reasons listed above. I think that advice is in line with both love of God and love of neighbor.

      I understand your perspective about weddings being a different event in that the attendee is required to be a witness. I think that’s a fair rebuttal to my argument, but I obviously disagree that witnessing equates endorsing.

      Thanks for your thoughts

    • Michael Albert

      I do wonder, Getreal, if you actually have any gay friends or family members for whom this would even apply? And similarly, what should I do about attending the weddings of heterosexual friends and family members? When the officiant asks, “is there anyone here with reason why these two should not wed?”, should I stand and proclaim my stance on the civil inequities regarding the institution of marriage when a class of people are unjustly denied? Or should refuse to attend because of that belief? Or should I, instead, go and just enjoy the event, dance, and make supportive comments on how lovely the bride looks in the Vera Wang because I love them (even when I think the marriage is a big mistake)?

  • jontrouten

    I think there are some folks who should stay away from the weddings of their gay friends and family. It’s our special day. We really don’t need it ruined by those with obvious disdain for our families.

    • Michael Albert

      I agree with you, Jon. So I would qualify Jason’s well reasoned and heartfelt treatise with this caveat:

      You should attend your gay loved one’s wedding ONLY under the condition that you are able to do so in the spirit of celebration and love which is called for by the occasion. In other words, can you behave yourself in a socially civilized manner? If you intend to fold your arms, roll your eyes, cluck your tongue, mutter snide comments under your breath, engage in dinner conversation which suggests the other guests are going to hell if their gift was worth more than $50.00, or otherwise behave obnoxiously or make a nuisance of yourself, then please (politely and without political comment) decline the invitation. I believe Miss Manners would back me up on this!

      By the way, Jason, in case you need the validation, Miss Manners DOES back YOU up on your proposition, minus the socio-theological underpinnings :-) :

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/miss-manners-attend-sons-wedding-reception-to-signal-you-support-him/2013/03/26/a6aac34a-925c-11e2-bdea-e32ad90da239_story.html

      • Jason Bilbrey

        Brilliant. Amen, Michael! I agree with both you and Jon.

        To clarify, I’m arguing that Evangelicals can and should attend WITH JOY and in the spirit of celebration!


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