Marriage in a Loving Family
An act of social obedience
by Keith W. Swain
© February 23, 2005
She was 80 years old, stoop-shouldered, her face weathered from life as a farmer’s wife in the San Luis Valley. She made her way down the aisle toward her grandson, a rosary in her trembling hands.
When she got to the altar, she nodded to the priest, who stepped aside as she turned to face the two young men who stood side-by-side in front of the church. In a soft, almost crumbling voice, she spoke.
“I was married to Jose Contreras on May 19, 1921, by a circuit priest. I remember how he took our hands and placed them together, like this … ” she said, turning to the young man on the right, her grandson, taking his hands and placing them into the other man’s open palms.
“Then, he took this very rosary, and wrapped them around our wrists, saying a prayer in Latin, explaining that from this point on, we were bound to each other, that we were tied to each other in the eyes of God. We were standing in a field. There was no church nearby; there was no town hall for us to go to. We were married in the eyes of God. That’s all that counts.”
She kissed each young man on the cheek, then slowly headed to a seat in the front pew. The priest wrapped the two men’s hands with the rosary, said a prayer in Latin, and turned and announced to the congregation that Jeff and Richard had been bound to each other in the eyes of God.
I wept like a baby. I had never experienced such an act of pure love, familial acceptance, and social disobedience all rolled into one.
But was this marriage instead an act of social obedience? Richard had been raised in a large, loving Hispanic family where the primary rule was la familia prima, your family is foremost. And he couldn’t have agreed more. His family also believed in a God who said, “Love one another as you love yourself.”
At the reception afterward, I asked Richard’s grandmother about her feelings toward her new son-in-law. “Well, he’s gringo, but other than that …” Her black eyes twinkled at her joke. “My grandson loves him. He follows his heart. He is soft like me. He feels love deeply, so I love him, too. Jeff is now family.”
I wanted to marry into this family. I wanted a grandmother, a father, a brother-in-law, a kid sister, all of whom were there, supporting me and trusting me to know what was best for me. In Richard’s family, there was no disagreement over law or church doctrine. There was no need to head to city hall for a marriage license, because they all knew the truth: Richard and Jeff were married in the eyes of their God, their family and their community.
Recently, Focus on the Family and its leader, James Dobson, announced the need to better protect Colorado marriages, its families and its children through a constitutional amendment. I couldn’t help but think of Richard’s family. Would Dobson feel that the state was better off if Richard had not made a marriage commitment, and instead chose to live apart, disconnected from family and tradition?
Would Dobson feel that the marriages of Richard’s parents and grandparents had been lessened in value by his own marriage? In his family’s eyes, Richard’s continuation of the family traditions, a marriage for life, in the eyes of God, was a nod of approval to the family he had been raised in. Richard’s act of following tradition actually strengthened his family’s values.
But here’s a bigger question: Does Dobson think he knows what religious beliefs Richard and his family should follow? And, if so, who is James Dobson to be telling them how to practice their faith?
I suppose we could say that the larger church does not condone such marriages and that “allowable” marriages are simply questions of majority rules. But, if so, should we then disregard Jewish marriages performed in Colorado? The total population of Jews in Colorado amount to only around 1.7 percent, while gay men account for 4 percent.
But we do recognize marriages of various religious faiths and practices, regardless of the size of their membership. We do so as an act of respect. We believe that adults know what is best for them when it comes to their choice of religious beliefs. Can’t we also trust each other to know whom he or she loves as well?
I can understand the confusion that the arrival of gay marriage has brought to our state. New things can be uncomfortable. I had never been to a gay wedding before the marriage of Jeff and Richard, and honestly I had two concerns: the “kiss” and what to bring as a gift. I did O.K. with both. And, as a state of good, decent people, we will do the same. We may be awkward at first, unsure of what is expected of us. But as we learn that gay marriages actually strengthen families, most Coloradans will be supportive of those gay men and women who want to support ongoing traditions of love and faith. These acts of social obedience are surely something all of us can support.
Keith W. Swain is a psychologist and a professor
at Front Range Community College, Colorado
Reprinted by permission.