Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How to Decline a Gay Wedding Invitation

Mark and I were legally wed nearly two years ago.  Two of our guests were Andrew and Brenda MarinHe blogged about it and there were bunches of comments, including a question from a woman named Linda Anne who wanted to know how to decline an invitation to a gay wedding without being a jerk or disrupting a friendship:
Linda Anne: As a friend to a gay couple such as this, if I choose to not attend the wedding for some of the reasons already stated in the comments, are there other ways that I can show tangible love to these friends? It seems to me that my refusal to go might make such a bold (cold?) statement, that further efforts at tangible, real, authentic love may seem empty or false. Does a refusal to go handicap my efforts of being a friend? Building a bridge? Or not?

Jon: Not everyone who’s invited to a wedding can actually attend the wedding, for whatever reason. Why not simply send them a card wishing them well?
Linda Anne ultimately clarified that she was basically trying to make the observation that it would be a shame to waste the chance to be real and to support those you love by refusing to attend their wedding invitation.  That said, there are many people who are friends and family members of gay people and several of those folks do not support gay or lesbian families.  They love their family member and/or friend, but they do not support gay or lesbian weddings. 

How should they react if they receive a wedding invitation from their lesbian relative or gay co-worker without coming off like a jerk?  The solution seems simple, but for many it's not.  I found an interesting article on the subject and thought I would share it.

WikiHow listed four different steps.  Personally, I'd chop off the first step.  Then again, others might find it helpful.

1. Speak to a religious leader about your faith's position on attending a same-sex wedding.  I don't get the need to consult with one's pastor about the wedding.  Either you disagree with the concept of the wedding or you don't.  Do you really need to get feedback from your pastor before formulating a response?
2. Appreciate your friend or family member's wish to include you in an important life event.  Gay and lesbian couples already know that people look down on our marriages and families.  You might not respect or value our families, but that doesn't mean that our marriages and families aren't precious and valuable to us.  You were honored with a wedding invitation.  Be mindful of that before you send out a pile of Chick Tracks to the blushing brides.
3. Consider attending the wedding despite your personal beliefs.  WikiHow asks an important question: Would you decline a wedding invitation for any other reason?  You can attend a wedding, eat some cake, and dance a little jig without fully endorsing the wedding.  In theory, at least.
4. Decline the invitation without citing a reason.  This ultimately reflects my response to Linda Anne: Why not send them a card wishing them well?  I invited people to my wedding with the idea that they very well couldn't (or wouldn't) attend the wedding.  For one thing, the wedding was set in early January.  I have family who couldn't attend due to icy roads.  I have friends who couldn't attend due to other obligations.  And it's very possible that there were some people who couldn't attend because they object to gay weddings.  Fortunately, if that's the case, they were tactful about the matter.

WikiHow offered some additional tips and one warning. Some are more helpful than others:
*Many invitations include an RSVP section with contact information (phone numbers, addresses, email addresses) for the couple or their wedding hosts. Use this information to contact the party and let them know you will not be in attendance. Consider sending some sort of present in recognition of their pending relationship change when declining the invitation as a matter of politeness.

*Do not use your refusal as an opportunity to preach or lecture to your friend or family member. This would be entirely inappropriate. Under no circumstances should you use disrespectful words.

*If possible, speak directly to the brides or grooms, in person or with a phone call. People may ask them why you didn't come, and the couple will be even more hurt to hear second or third hand that you're not coming because you do not approve of their union.

*Do not accept if you think you have any religious issues but will try to be respectful. If you end up attending and bring up religious issues or otherwise end up causing a scene, it will likely cause permanent rifts with friends and family that you may never be able to fix.

*If you are compelled to admit that you do not approve of same-sex marriage, your friendship may well end or your familial relationships may become extremely strained. You may feel that this is unfair, but not everyone wishes to maintain a relationship with someone whose views are so fundamentally incompatible with theirs.


Anonymous said...

I read your blog with interest - from the perspective of a gay person who has had non-approving guests. My first thought is: Why invite them? Why put them in the awkward position of not wanting to offend you? Surely anyone close enough to invite to your wedding, is well-known enough to you that you should know of their beliefs/morals. YOU created this awkwardness, not them.
Second thing: Why oh why do oppose people discussing things with their pastor? Don't you ever ask for advice from a professional in their field? A doctor? A lawyer? A carpenter? The guy at the fishing supplies store at the lake? Even experts consult other experts. Why not consult your pastor in theological questions? Just because YOU don't consult that professional, doesn't make it wrong for THEM. I bite my nails, but I don't oppose people seeing a manicurist.

My advice is:
1. Consult with you pastor, psychiatrist, hairdresser or anyone whose professional opinion you trust in this matter. Hey, consult your sister's college room-mate's ex-boyfriend, if that works for you.
2. Discuss with the person who invited you WHY they invited you. Explain that the situation is awkward for you (Perhaps they didn't realise you pray for their immortal soul every night) - with a mutual understanding that you not have to agree 100% (after all, married couples don't agree 100% - why should friends?)
3. If your decision is to not attend, be bold, be honest, and be honourable. If others can't accept your life choices, ask why they expect you to accept theirs. Tolerance goes both ways.

If you really want equality, you must give equality. Even to those whose opinions differ to yours.
If you want to win friends and influence people, understanding and compassion are vital. Confrontational in-your-face demonstrations just drive them further away.

You are friends for a reason. Hold onto that, and agree to disagree on the rest.

Jon said...

Thanks for commenting, Anonymous. I guess I'm a little confused about your first paragraph. Why did you -- a gay person who invited non-approving guests -- invite those guests if you are afraid of making them feel uncomfortable?

As for why oh why I "oppose" people discussing things with their pastor? I don't. Obviously, people seek advise. This particular blog post gets hits every week. There are lots of people looking for ways to decline attending a gay wedding. So if they're turning to the internet, why not turn to their pastor? On the other hand, why do you need reinforcement here from your pastor? Just decline the invitation and be polite about it. It seems like common sense to me.

Ultimately, people need to stop treating gay weddings as gay weddings. They are weddings. You typically invite your parents to your wedding. You typically invite your siblings to your wedding. You typically invite your grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins to your wedding. You typically invite select friends, neighbors, co-workers to your wedding. Most of the time, people treat this like an honor.

Except for when it's a gay couple who are planning one of their most precious memories. Then it's "awkward."

We need to rethink how we as a society think about (and think down about) gay couples and families.