Jeff Chu is the author of “Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America.”
All eyes are on the Supreme Court this week as oral arguments take place in two of the year’s most anticipated cases, involving same-sex marriage in California and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Pundits will parse the justices’ questions for clues. Churches will pray, and activists on both sides will rally.
But whatever the court decides, it won’t matter.
My husband and I married last fall in Massachusetts. We had a wonderful wedding. Our pastor from Brooklyn, where we live, led us in making promises that we consider sacred. One of my aunts read my favorite psalm, the 121st, in Chinese, while dear friends read other Bible passages in English. But to most of my family, including my parents, who didn’t attend, our wedding was illegitimate, as is our marriage. And nothing as expedient as a court ruling could change that, not for me and my husband, nor for thousands of other American families that view marriage as more of a spiritual and moral arrangement than a legal one.
There are some funny parallels between court and church. In both, precedent has a powerful appeal. (In the case of marriage, many conservatives go back to the beginning, trotting out the line “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” which should be banned for its triteness, if nothing else.) In both church and court, we’re arguing over documents written long ago — one by the Founding Fathers, the other by the founding Father. The characters can roughly be classified as originalists, strict constructionists and so on. And in both, the fight, though often depersonalized into a political cause, has emotional and practical ramifications for real human beings.
But the court does not have the influence that faith does, at least not in families like mine. The justices can compel the government to give us tax breaks because we’re married. They can’t make my relatives add a seat for my husband at the Thanksgiving table.
These hard lines will be tough to soften. And this isn’t just a gay thing. Recently, a devout and conservative friend told me that his sister had wed her longtime boyfriend. My friend startled me — and prompted eye-rolling from his own wife — when he asserted that she wasn’t really married, “not legitimately,” because she hadn’t had a religious ceremony.
Some friends have suggested that I simply walk away: “Why go where you’re not wanted?” That’s precisely wrong. I am wanted. My parents pray for me — and for my husband. They desire what they’ve been taught is best for us and for our eternal souls.
What kind of love is extended only when and if I get my way? I’d no sooner leave my country because of a law I disagree with — there are plenty — than I would abandon my family. And given that ditching them would only cement the sentiment that I am, as a homosexual, somehow lost, how do I change anything if I don’t stay?
There is power in our presence. So we keep making our appeals, not through amicus briefs or oral arguments but through our mundane lives. We maintain what ties we have and try to tighten them. I send postcards from our vacations. I write e-mails with updates about what we’ve been up to, testifying to the normality of our home — how we had fried rice for dinner, watched “Top Chef” and enjoyed the sermon at church on Sunday. I include my family in my life, in the hopes that they will, someday, include not just me but us in theirs.
Progress, if it comes, will happen not through sweeping judgments but by small measures. In my family, for instance, we rarely show affection verbally, and we’re not big huggers and kissers, which is not unusual for Chinese clans. My mom, a wonderful cook, has always shown her love through food. Whenever I visit, she prepares a farewell meal for my plane ride home; it’s her affection, boxed up for the road — some dumplings, perhaps, always her fantastic fried rice, yellow with egg and fragrant with scallions. On my first visit to my parents after coming out to them, I feared that she wouldn’t. But on my last morning, there she was at the stove, crying while stir-frying. The fried rice that day seemed salted in equal measure by soy sauce and tears.
My husband and I have been together eight years, and we’ve lived together for three. My mom hasn’t visited since 2007. But she’s trying her best. Not long ago, she told me that she is going to work on loving my husband because I love him. Recently she told me that she’d like to visit us this summer. “I thought I would come cook you a dinner, if you want,” she said. In this court, that counts as a huge victory.
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