In our family, Easter is the time for breaking unsettling news to my parents. Divorce, illness, you name it, we save it for Easter. This has less to do with Lenten self-examination, than the fact that we haven’t seen one another since Christmas and there are some announcements best done face-to-face. My son’s engagement to another man was one of those.
William grew up in a time when homosexuality was beginning to be commonplace in daily life. One of his friends in elementary school had two mummies, and this same school celebrated ‘Coming Out Day’ when teachers and students were encouraged to do just that. I’m not sure any student took advantage, being mostly pre-pubescent as they were, but on at least one occasion a teacher stepped forward. My son told me she had cried. “Why do you think?” I asked. “Happiness, maybe,” he ventured. Maybe. He kept his own cards close to his chest. It wasn’t even until his first year of college that he came out to his best friend from childhood. Within hours, this friend ran to their boss at the Yacht Club and lied that William was smoking pot. Shame on the Yacht Club for not questioning the underlying motives of a misguided teenager, and pox upon the board member who later tried to use William’s sexuality as blackmail. By coming out just a little, William lost his best friend and his job.
He continued to keep his cards from me and my husband, but we’re pretty good at reading the tea leaves. As a toddler, William wore his older sisters’ dresses and was obsessed with Barbie, so it didn’t take a research psychologist to guess that something was brewing. In his teens, there was the occasional off-hand hint, but he never used the word “gay.” Some of that stemmed from the fact that he seems to be of a generation that prefers not to identify. If anything, he called himself “open,” a word used to separate love from gender. Gay, open, whatever, at the end of his junior year of college, he announced he was marrying Luke. The shock was not so much the choice, as the age. He was only twenty-two.
“Neither of you can be pregnant,” I said, “why the rush?”
We argued for weeks. They were in love, and they’d been around enough to know this was it. Same-sex marriage is legal in our state, so getting hitched offered considerable financial and legal benefits, not the least of which was spousal health insurance. Their marriage would not be recognized by the federal government, but it was a start. To seal his case, William pointed out that he was the same age I was when I got married.
Where do kids find out this information? We set a date in July and I became a mother-of-a-groom. From that moment on, I asked myself what would I do if this was one of my daughters, and then I did it. I sorted out responsibilities with Luke’s mom and went to work, calling our UU minister, the caterer, and tent company. The boys chose colors (blue and orange) and a flower (sunflowers) but otherwise had no strong opinions. No bride, no bridezilla.
Then came the guest list. My husband and I divvied up the relatives. Luke had been out to his family since forever, and perhaps had never been in, but we did not want people finding out William was gay by reading a wedding invitation. We also wanted them to know that if they weren’t comfortable with two grooms at the altar, they could sit this one out with no penalties. As we worked our way down the list, there was some befuddlement, but just about everyone was delighted. William’s step-grandmother invited the boys over for tea, and even the Christian Right took the news with unexpected grace. “You have to love them no matter what,” my sister-in-law said. Amen to that.
By April, all that remained were my very catholic parents. My husband and I met them in the driveway when they arrived for Easter lunch.
“I have news,” I said. “William is gay and he’s getting married in July. We love Luke and we’re very happy for them.”
My father expelled a short breath. “I knew it!” said my mother, immensely pleased to have her own suspicions confirmed.
“We hope you’ll be at the wedding,” said my husband, “but this isn’t a command performance.”
“We wouldn’t miss it,” my mother said. My father shrugged and we all went inside for a festive day with the happy couple and extended family.
Oh, we had a few moments along the way to the altar, where homophobia popped up in unexpected places, but the route was the same as for any couple: Crate& Barrel registration, shower, rehearsal dinner, then vows under the birch tree in the yard. My father opted out of the actual ceremony for fear of going to hell, but he was there for the reception, with nothing but joy in his heart.
The only drama on the wedding day was when the cake began to melt, a fact known only to me, the caterer, and the photographer, who had to be pulled from dinner to shoot the grooms cutting the cake so we could get the damn thing refrigerated. The next day, I put the top of the cake in the freezer for the boys’ one-year anniversary. Since then, the Supreme Court has shot down the Defense of Marriage Act, paving the way for legalization of their marriage on a federal level. That’s great, especially tax-wise, but legal status does not make a marriage. Love makes a marriage, and no court can bestow that or take it away. At their anniversary party, they sliced into the wedding cake, a great deal more solid than it had been the year before.
Have you ever tried to talk someone out of marrying young?
JoeAnn Hart is the author of the novels Float and Addled, works of fiction with a social conscience. Her short fiction, essays, articles, and poetry have been widely published. She lives by the sea in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The photo from her son's wedding is by Brendan Pike.
This article originally appeared at Brain, Child. Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.