Gay Marriage, Inclusion: Listen to the Parents

In the long move towards family equality and the broader struggle for full acceptance and inclusion for the LGBT community, in society and in the church, some of our strongest allies are our parents. Sometimes, the stories behind this support are tragic – others are heart warming. All of them carry important lessons.

Mary Lou Wallner, and The Slow Miracle of Transformation

I first heard of Mary Lou Wallner and TEACH when I watched the documentary movie, “For The Bible Tells Me So“, which takes a close look at the stories of half a dozen gay men and lesbians from devoutly Christian homes, and the impact of their coming out on their families.  Wallner’s response was to fall back on her received ideas on the Biblical view, and to tell her daughter that her lifestyle was sinful. The daughter gradually withdrew from the family, and when her attempt at a reconciliation resulted in the reply from her mother that she would continue to love her daughter, but could not accept here lifestyle, committed suicide.

It was then that Mary Lou Wallner began to test her previous assumptions, embarking on an extensive period of study and prayer on the subject of Christianity and homosexuality, and concluded (like so many others that have studied the matter with an open mind) that her earlier assumptions had been wrong.


Mary Lou Wallner, with husband

Too late to achieve a reconciliation with her own daughter, she has since been a tireless advocate for LGBT inclusion. She founded TEACH (“To Educate About the Consequences of Homophobia”), giving public talks on her experiences and the lessons she has learnt, and has written about them in her book,  The Slow Miracle of Transformation .

Jake Reitan and Family

Not every story of coming out to Christian family ends in tragedy – some of the others featured in For The Bible Tells Me So were inspiring from the start. When Jake Reitan came out to his family, they initially found it difficult, from their deeply religious background in small town America, but soon became fully supportive. One of the best sequences of the movie comes at the end, showing how a team from Soulforce, with Eric Reitan and his parents prominent, mounted a public demonstration outside Focus on the Family headquarters, insisting that they focus on all families, including those with LGBT children or parents.

A “Documentary that Changed the World”

At Entertainment Weekly, John Young has named For The Bible Tells Me So as one of 12 documentaries that changed the world:

Detailing how Scripture is interpreted to justify discrimination against homosexuals, Daniel Karslake’s film has become a godsend for gay youths coming out to their religious families.

Young’s view is obviously strictly personal, and I am not myself convinced that it has in fact changed the world – yet. It could do, though, if only enough people see it. I have done so twice (once in mostly atheist company, at a screening by the gay humanist association, and once with LGBT Catholics, after a Soho Mass), and been moved and inspired both times – possibly more so the second time around. The emphasis is heavily on the personal stories, but also includes extensive discussion on the scriptural basis of the traditional teaching, with speakers both for and against, and some amusing cartoon interludes. This documentary is at times laugh out loud funny, at times heart-breaking, always absorbing – but ultimately inspiring. See it, and promote it.

Our Parents’ Political Impact

Janet L. Duprey is a New York state representative who tells how listening to the parents in her district changed her vote on same – sex marriage from No in 2007, to Yes in 2009.

After the vote (in 2007), I said that I would continue to study this issue, meet with my constituents and keep an open mind.

For two years, I did just that. I met with people in my district on both sides and listened to their arguments. I received hundreds of phone calls, letters and emails.

I met with religious leaders and others who spoke passionately and intelligently about their beliefs. In all of those discussions, the ones who moved me most were parents who wanted nothing more than to see their gay and lesbian children share the same benefits, protections and love with their significant others as their siblings and other married couples do.

When the time came to vote on the marriage bill in 2009, I made a decision that I knew in my heart was the right thing to do. I voted for the bill.

A change of heart, for gay marriage – Times Union.

Duprey is a Republican, from upstate New York. In an important message to Republican politicos who lack the courage to do the right thing, for fear of losing re – election, she notes that a fierce and vocal backlash in her district did not have any impact on her re – election – nor that of any other Republican who has ever voted for marriage equality.

The lessons from these examples are clear. Even the most committed Christians, with the most traditional assumptions that the Bible is opposed to homoerotic relationships and that these are necessarily sinful, can and do change their minds when faced with the evidence from members of their own families and close friends, or when properly investigating the Biblical evidence as it is, and not as it is commonly abused and misrepresented. After revising their views, whether as family members or as pastors, these people frequently share a common characteristic of all converts – they can become effective and valued allies, arguing as committed straight Christians for full LGBT equality and inclusion – in society, and in the church.

In the original version of this post, I incorrectly referred to “Eric” Reitan, when it should have been Jake Reitan. I unreservedly apologize to Eric Reitan for my carelessness in this respect.

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2 comments for “Gay Marriage, Inclusion: Listen to the Parents

  1. June 20, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    A correction here: It is Jake Reitan and his family, not Eric Reitan and his family, who are featured in “For the Bible Tells Me So.” This is, perhaps, an easy mistake to make, since Jake Reitan has a cousin named Eric Reitan (me, actually) who is a vocal supporter of gay rights from a Christian standpoint and has frequently published on the topic. I am indeed a professor of philosophy at Oklahoma State University, but–being straight–I never experienced the anxiety and struggle of having to come out to my family. 

    • June 20, 2011 at 10:09 pm

      Many thanks for pointing out my error, and for the generous, courteous manner in which you have done so. I have already corrected the text, and I unreservedly apologize for my carelessness in this respect.

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