On June 26, 2013, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was struck down in a five- to- four decision by the United States Supreme Court. Gay activists south of the border were overjoyed. Here in Canada, it was just another marriage equality day since our Supreme Court redefined marriage with the passing of the Civil Marriage Act on July 20, 2005. Major cities have just hosted or will soon be hosting the spectacle otherwise known as the Gay Pride Parade, including Toronto and New York City.
Many people are rightfully concerned about the redefinition of marriage and its negative consequences on society but the issue is still removed from their personal lives. For others, gay “marriage” hits very close to home as gay family members get “married” and look for the support and acceptance of their relatives.
But what if you’re against same-sex “marriage”? What if your Catholic Christian beliefs cause division in your family? What if you choose your religion over family harmony?
Six years ago, two of my extended family members – my side of the family, not my husband’s side – decided it was time that the rest of us officially accept their same-sex partners as part of the extended family. Everyone agreed. Everyone except me. I calmly and charitably explained that although I loved my extended family members, I would not recognize their same-sex unions because of my Catholic beliefs. The fallout from my statement was upsetting as some of my relatives were furious at my uncompromising stance. They felt I should set aside my beliefs for the sake of keeping the peace. The hardest part was realizing that I didn’t have any allies among my extended relatives and it caused a rift which still exists today.
Those of us who have chosen our religious convictions over family harmony have been accused of being homophobic, fanatic, out-of-touch, narrow-minded, hateful. For some people one or more of those words may apply, but for others, our decision to follow Christ instead of giving in to family pressure is rooted in charity – love of God first and love of neighbour, including family members who are in same-sex marriage and those who support them.
When a person abides by the Gospel at the expense of the family, many challenges arise. One priest with whom I spoke said that family members who refuse to recognize the same-sex unions of their relatives experience much difficulty. He has counseled many parents who don’t know how to handle the news that their children are in a same-sex relationship. I know siblings who have stopped speaking to each other because of it. Jesus’ words resound: “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” (Matt.10: 35-36) Families that are divided over same-sex unions live His words every day.
It’s not easy to say no when the rest of our family has a different opinion and many anguished moments result. The last thing any of us wants to do is hurt the ones we love but they will inevitably be upset and angry when we disagree with them. Our conduct must be one of forbearance, forgiveness and charity, bearing in mind that we do not have the right to judge, condemn, vilify or hate because we too are sinners in need of God’s mercy and the plank in our eye may be bigger than the one in theirs.
When faced with this situation, it’s important to seek guidance. I sought advice from a few good priests who helped me through a very difficult time and I confided in close, supportive friends. My husband and children stood by me and as a result, my kids were strengthened in their religious conviction to uphold the Gospel first.
Pope Benedict said that “the truth is not decided by popular opinion.” His words ring true especially when the popular opinion is within the family. But it’s exactly for the sake of our family that the truth must be proclaimed in charity and lived without compromise. We hurt our family more when we make concessions and buckle to pressure in an effort to keep worldly peace. We may be the only beacon of light for family members living in the sin of same-sex lifestyle. Through our example, self-sacrifice and prayers, by God’s grace they may one day experience healing through a conversion of heart and have authentic peace – the peace of Christ.
Postscript: After I finished writing this post, I found a complementary article written by Fr. Denis Lemieux on his blog, Ten Thousand Places. Preach The Gospel with your Strife explains why as Catholic Christians, we are called to speak out against same-sex “marriage” despite our own sins and failings. He’s also writing a series of posts called A Question of Law and A Question of Love where he talks about “marriage, sex, the Church’s teachings, and the whole difficult issue of same-sex marriage and its civil recognition.”
(photo courtesy of protectmarriage.org.nz)