Dear Civilities: My partner and I recently got engaged and are planning our wedding for next summer. We are in New York. My parents live in San Diego. Neither of my parents called or e-mailed with congratulations on the engagement; in fact, they’ve avoided contact with us altogether. With this kind of behavior, I don’t want them to come to the wedding. Is it reasonable to not invite them? — Iced out from 3,000 miles away
A: Let me make sure I’ve heard you properly: You and your girlfriend, now your fiancee, have heard nary a peep from your Mom and Dad about your engagement, not even a quick e-mail that reads, “Congratulations.” Now you’re angry and hurt, and you’re considering axing them from the guest list. I’m wondering whether this is because you don’t really want them there, because you want to punish them for their bad behavior, or because you’d rather snub them than risk having them decline the invitation.
When I posed your question on my Facebook page, many respondents were quick to validate your hurt feelings and support your inclination not to invite them. Wrote one gay man: “If they didn’t acknowledge my relationship, I would not want them there.” A heterosexual mother echoed the sentiment: “Tell them you prefer they not be there. It’s your day. They will cast a negative shadow and steal too much of your light.”
It’s hard not to hear and feel the hurt behind these sentiments, and I can understand. That’s why it’s even harder for me to try to lead you along a different, higher, road. Again, those commenting on Facebook nailed two of the main reasons to turn the other cheek and invite them:
●“Give them the opportunity to grow up and show up. What they decide is up to them.”
●“The wedding day should be about inclusion and not exclusion. It’s possible that once the parents see your commitment and happiness they will change their minds.”
There’s wisdom in these words, especially since your parents’ beliefs may evolve when they see two loving brides walk down the aisle. They would not be alone; support for same-sex marriage has grown significantly in the past decade, with 51 percent of Americans now in favor, according to a recent Pew Research Study.
To boot, a majority of proponents (85 percent) and opponents (59 percent) agree that “legal recognition of same-sex marriage is inevitable.” In other words, the marriage express left the station long ago, and I wouldn’t be surprised if your parents hop on board at some point. Why not give them the chance to do that by coming to your wedding?
(However, if you think your parents will cause a disruption or in any way distract attention from the meaning of the day, I’d be sure to tell them beforehand: “We’d love for you to be there, but we need you to honor us at our wedding.”)
But there are two other reasons to extend the olive branch by sending them an invitation: If you don’t, you’re matching fire with fire, which is to say you’re being just as intolerant as they are. Second, if you take the low road, you’ll lose the significant moral ground you’re standing on and forever be remembered as the daughter “who didn’t invite her own parents to her wedding.” Who would want that?
Now, I also have a word for your parents: There are no retakes when it comes to weddings. If you miss it, you’ve missed one of the most important days of your child’s life. In choosing to attend and express your love to this couple, you’re saying “family first.” No one’s asking you to vote for same-sex marriage; no one’s asking you to make a donation to Freedom to Marry; no one’s asking you to change your religious beliefs. All they’re asking is for you to be present and support them.
In fact, I asked Bryan Fischer, a director of the American Family Association (a nonprofit organization that opposes same-sex marriage rights) for his advice to your parents. In an e-mail, directed to the letter writer’s parents, he said: “I understand your inability to affirm your daughter’s lesbian relationship. You have good reasons for your reluctance.” Then he added: “But if your daughter invites you to the wedding, I’d encourage you to attend, simply out of love for your daughter and because this is an important event for her.”
To your parents I’d say this: Why not pick up the phone today and say, “Congratulations. How can we help?”
Finally, let me end with these words from another mother who wrote to me. At first, she didn’t support her son’s marriage to another man and as a result wasn’t invited to the wedding. “Invite them with love. Explain as necessary. And leave the decision up to them. My son and his partner didn’t even tell us about theirs. I was so hurt and felt very left out. Give your parents the chance, please.” In this case, Mom knows best.
Agree or disagree with my advice? Let me know in the comments section below.
Every other week, Steven Petrow, the author of “Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners,” addresses questions about LGBT and straight etiquette in his column, Civilities.
E-mail questions to him at email@example.com (unfortunately not all questions can be answered). You can reach him on Facebook at facebook.com/stevenpetrow and on Twitter @stevenpetrow. Join him for a chat online at washingtonpost.com on June 17.