When Obama Says “Mazel Tov” to Your Marriage
On May 20, 2012 – only 10 days from now! – I will be marrying E., the Jewish woman I love. (I call her E. here because as a therapist, she maintains strict boundaries between her professional and private life.) We will stand under the flowing, stunning, yellow, orange, red, and turquoise chuppah that she designed and painted on silk (a painstakingly challenging design process for a beginner, but that’s another blog post). We will drink from a sparkling, cobalt blue wine goblet that says in Hebrew, “Ani leh-dodee veh-dodee lee,” “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.” And, because none of our parents are still living, we will wonder: What would they have thought? For me in particular, Would my parents have attended our nuptials? And: Might the pronouncement of President Barack Obama – the first sitting U.S. president to vocalize his support for same-sex marriage – have changed their decision?
I met E. in 1999, one month after my father died at age 86. My mother had passed away four years earlier at age 70. It took until the last year of my mother’s life for her to invite me back into that life. Fundamentally, she could not accept that I would choose to be with a woman. She maintained a twisted belief that harkened back to her relationship with her own mother: If she refused to see, to talk, to connect with me, her only daughter, I would forego “the unnatural path I had chosen.” My father was also discomfited by my preference for a relationship with a woman, but he could not accept my mother’s decision to banish me from the household. We scheduled regular lunch visits where he came to Manhattan to treat me to his company and fine food in upscale restaurants.
Some of my mother’s anger, I realize, emanated from a poor decision I had made years earlier. When I first came out to my parents, we argued. They wanted to send me to a therapist to be “cured”; I refused to “be cured.” Impasse. Finally, we reached an agreement: We would both see the therapist in separate sessions, and all of us would agree on the therapist. Therapy ensued. The therapist assured my parents that the relationship was over and coached me to lie to my parents, saying that “My current relationship is over.” It was an awful lie that came back to haunt us years later. After I was emotionally stronger and came out – again, for good – my mother could not bear it. For two terrible years, I was a persona non grata in her life.
Then she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer and I was allowed back in to her life to support her before she died.
A great portion of my parents’ difficulty with this issue lay in their upbringing and isolation from alternative ideas. In their closed (closeted?) Jewish culture, this was a shanda that would make the family look bad. They didn’t know people – or many people – who would think positively of my choice. They were afraid to ask and find out. They certainly didn’t hear the president of the United States say that he supported gay marriage.
On May 20, 2012, while holding hands with my beloved, I will look up through the transparent silk yellows, oranges, and turquoises of the chuppah she so beautifully designed, gaze into the heavens, and wonder: Mom, Dad, would you have been celebrating with me now? Are you here now with me?