written by Bobby Clark
Those who God has joined together, let no one put asunder.
These words came from the Rev. Canon Dana Colley Corsello, who serves as the Vicar at Washington National Cathedral, while she presided over the marriage ceremony of me and my husband, Kris.
As Dana read the verse, she bound our hands together with part of her vestments in a symbolic gesture.
Kris and I are worshipers at the Cathedral. For many Americans, their relationship with this incredible place is from a distance. Presently that includes us, ever since the Cathedral moved to online services as part of its efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Under normal times, this is a place that serves as host to important moments in our nation’s history. It’s where America celebrates new presidents and mourns the passing of patriots. But for us, it’s where we attend church every Sunday morning.
We chose this congregation as our faith family for many reasons, one being that the Cathedral holds itself out as a place of worship for all people – no exceptions. As gay Christians that was especially important for us. So, when we decided to get married, we knew we wanted the ceremony to take place there.
It is cliché to say, but our wedding was the best day of our lives. It was everything we had hoped for and much more. We worked hard to create a service that reflected who we are as a couple, our values, our love for one another and our love for all those who attended. It perfectly encapsulated our story of how “Kris” and “Bobby” came to be “Kris and Bobby”.
The day was complete with one exception – Kris’s parents were not there to celebrate with us.
Kris’s mom and dad have a deep and abiding commitment to their Christian faith. Their religious beliefs have permeated every dimension of their lives: they influence their relationship with one another, how they raised their children, and yes, their views about homosexuality. Over the years, they have struggled to reconcile their religious beliefs with the fact that their son is gay.
If you have read this far, you are probably thinking, “this sounds familiar.” This story would be so much easier to tell if it followed the expected storyline; if I could paint Kris’s parents as villains or religious zealots who disowned their kid because he was gay. But, that’s not this story.
Rather, our tale is about choosing to stay together in spite of deep, and sometimes painful, differences. It’s about answering God’s call to be reconcilers in a world full of divisions and finding ways to fill the breach.
Kris and his parents have worked hard to maintain a relationship in spite of disagreements over religion and sexuality. The fact that Kris is gay has been something he and his family has grappled with since he first came out.
Kris was unwilling to give up on his Christian faith or give in to the idea that he, as his authentic self, was somehow at odds with the loving God that created him. He studied scripture and consulted experts. He concluded that the teachings of Jesus do not preclude him from being openly gay or being in a loving relationship with another man.
In tearing down the walls between his faith and sexuality and embracing his full self, Kris found that his relationship with God became fuller and richer.
This was a point he and his parents would not see eye to eye on. But they were able to move beyond the dispute and find a way to maintain their relationship.
At first, it was simple: like many families who aren’t comfortable with their child being gay, it became something that wasn’t talked about. Kris compartmentalized his life; living openly in Washington, DC but keeping his romantic interests hidden from his family back in Michigan.
Things changed when Kris and I began to date. As he and I grew closer he realized he couldn’t continue partitioning his life the way he had been. No longer was Kris willing to give his family a pass on not knowing who he was dating. If his parents wanted to be involved in his life, they needed to be involved in every aspect of it. That meant meeting and embracing the man he was falling in love with.
This did not come easily, and was an abrupt change from their carefully crafted detent. But Kris’s parents came to realize this wasn’t negotiable for their son.
They came to Washington to reconnect with Kris and meet me. That weekend we broke bread, we drank, we got to know one another. And we quickly realized there were building blocks to form a relationship; most importantly our mutual love for the person sitting in between us – Kris.
In the years that followed, we all would grow closer. Kris and I would return to Michigan in the summer and visit during Christmas. His parents would meet mine. A picture of me and Kris was displayed with other family photos in his parent’s home.
Then Kris and I got engaged. From the get-go, his family’s reaction to our decision to marry loomed over us. While we made a lot of progress in our relationship with them, we knew attending our wedding might be a bridge too far. Was this going to be a non-negotiable for Kris’s parents?
We did not demand an answer immediately. We wanted to give them the space that they would need to carefully think and pray about whether they could celebrate our marriage. Kris made clear that he would not want his parents to attend our wedding under duress or do something that put them at odds with their religious convictions. Still, we were hopeful that they would find a way to be there.
We were wrong.
Two months prior to our wedding, Kris received a note explaining that his parents had reached a decision: they were not able to attend the wedding.
His parents recognized the pain this would cause both Kris and me and apologized for it. They also thanked Kris for the gift he had given them: the ability to make this decision freely and to stay true to their faith.
Even though we knew this was always a possibility, it hurt profusely. It hurt Kris for the obvious reasons, and it hurt me because I had to watch the person I love suffer rejection by the parents he cares for so deeply. It was our turn to need space.
We knew this was a tortured decision for his parents to make and one they did not take lightly. We had pledged that there would be no retribution because of their choice and we were committed to keeping that promise.
But, we also had to be equally honest in the fact that we didn’t know what the relationship would look like moving forward, how we would get there, or how much time it would take.
We wouldn’t see or speak much with Kris’s parents for most of that year. Again, not out of a desire to inflict hurt or pain. Rather to reflect and contemplate on our next steps. We didn’t feel the need to come to an immediate conclusion, nor could we see a clear path forward.
We sought advice from our pastor, Dana. We received counsel from friends—both gay and straight—who had difficulties with their parents at the time of their weddings. And Kris spoke with a family therapist.
The path started to take shape.
If we wanted a relationship with Kris’s mom and dad moving forward, we had to look beyond their absence at our wedding. This was a tall order. Kris and I realized we had to do the heavy lifting to repair the relationship and it seemed unjust: we felt like we were the ones wronged, so why was the emotional burden on us to remedy the situation?
The answer is because our faith commands it. The Bible instructs us: do not judge, do not condemn, and to forgive.
We have forgiven Kris’s parents and have made a lot of progress in rebuilding and redefining what our relationship looks like with them. We remain committed to this process because, as we were reminded by our faith leaders at the Cathedral, God calls us to be healers, reconcilers, bridge builders, repairers of the breach, builders of the beloved community.
In some ways, this experience has been liberating. The pain and self-reflection made us more confident than ever in our relationship. It has freed us from what was once a constant desire to avoid upsetting the delicate balance we struck with his parents or convince them that our relationship is loving, normal, and adheres to Christian values.
We have now firmly drawn boundaries and declared our relationship is not up for debate or judgment – no exceptions.
I wish I could tell you Kris’s parents no longer have differing views about homosexuality or religion. That’s just not the case, and it may never be. But they afford us the respect we require as a married couple. They believe that I’m a positive part of their son’s life. We believe that they are a positive part of ours. And we love one another.
We know we’re going to have to keep figuring out ways to stay together and redraw the contours of our relationship if we want to succeed in remaining a family. The same way Kris and his parents have been doing, time and time again, since they first realized he was gay.
Those who God has joined together, let no one put asunder. Our minister spoke these words regarding the ties that bond Kris and I together in matrimony. But, this experience has shown me that there are very real ties that bind us all together: in marriage, family, friendship, and community.
The world often feels that it is full of divisiveness. Perhaps now more than ever. When confronted with people who disagree with us or who appear different, it’s easier to let go of the ties that bind us to one another instead of choosing the difficult path of reconciliation.
But often we do have a choice. When the knots we once wove become undone or frayed, you can choose to tie new ones and hang on – with the aid of some grace, patience, and faith.