How can I unlearn this toxic lesson when it’s so deeply embedded in our everyday lives?
They didn’t profess their discriminatory leanings from the beginning, of course. Back when my now-husband and I signed the photography contract, we just knew that our photographer’s website made clear her devotion to “God” right there on the homepage. We were cool with her being a God’s girl. My husband is an Atheist’s guy. I am maybe a Buddha’s girl. Freedom of religion! It’s our Constitution-given right.
What mattered the most to us was that her portfolio was fantastic. We liked her aesthetic, and it did not hurt that the estimate she quoted us was about 40 percent of the going rate of vendors in our area. The partnership practically wrote itself.
During the signing process, the friend who introduced us to the photographer and her second-shooter husband was careful to find time to bend our ears.
“Jury’s still out if they’re down with same-sex marriage,” is what I remember.
It did stop us in our tracks, but seeing as how “By the way, we don’t support gay marriage” didn’t come up in any of our conversations with the photog team, we didn’t act on it. We also didn’t know how to act on it.
Do you just call up your aspiring wedding photographer mid-signing and go “Hey, are you cool with same-sex marriage?” “Do you have a problem with one-third of our wedding party being gay?” “Are you going to cut out my godmothers because they’re lesbians?” Is any of that even legal to ask?
You don’t talk religion and politics with working relationships, so we simply didn’t broach the subject. As long as our photographer didn’t actively omit our friends and family, we’d be OK. Since we never asked, we gave the team the benefit of the doubt.
The magic started with our engagement shoot. The photographer made us beautiful. I forever want to remember my husband and myself this way. The photo set spoke for itself so much that it was featured in a prominent wedding blog, earning our photographer her biggest press to date.
The photographer and her husband brought the same excellent coverage to our wedding day. I treasure the images so much that I printed select photos to include in our thank-you notes, wanting to be sure that our friends and family received celebratory mementos complete with the chance to see themselves looking so beautiful.
Then, Friday June 26th, the Supreme Court came out with its 5-4 decision to ratify gay marriage across all 50 US states, and my home feed ranneth over with Pride flags and rainbow emoji. I was starting to marvel at how unanimously positive my Facebook network was when I came across the photographer’s husband’s public status, tagged #MarriageEquality.
I’ll paraphrase it because I don’t want to “out” him for reasons I’ll outline below, but the gist was this: “For people who support the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, where does the slippery slope end? If I want to marry my dad is that wrong? If the Supreme Court rules gays can marry, then watch out. There may be more to come. #MarriageEquality.”
I tried to not get involved. I knew my agnostic point of view (wedded at a Buddhist venue, by the way) would never be able to come to agreement with, let alone sway, the photographer’s staunchly Christian perspective. But I did.
I just went in there, strictly answered his questions, and hoped we'd all stay calm. Discourse! Clumsy Facebook debating followed:
I opened with how we were not going to agree, but that he asked for answers and so I’d give mine. I addressed each of his questions in a bulleted list. I even ran my comments by two people to make sure I wasn’t delivering any emotional “tone” or abusing sensational language.
He replied with canned responses that seemed to come straight out of a Christian pamphlet, the stuff I heard shouted from the streets of busy city corners.
I specified that I believed in the separation of church and state, and though he initially did not address it, in a later comment he asked, “Who is the Supreme Court to tell me who I can marry?”
I pointed out how interracial marriage was not ratified until the 1960s; he said that was awful but he didn’t see the comparison to gay marriage. I closed saying that I expected the Constitution to give the freedom to marry as much as I expect it to maintain freedom of religion; he asked how I could say that when Islamists are beheading Christians.
He also wrote how God loves me, asked who else loves me so much that they would send their son to die for me, and said that even though my wedding had no religious elements in it, the Lord’s grace still granted me my marriage.
I was careful to wait at least another day before responding. My husband told me it wasn’t worth the emotional energy, but I was losing sleep and couldn’t just fall silent.
In other comments to his original post, I saw the photographer’s husband pulling the most extreme anecdotes to negate anything outside of his evangelical position. Excerpts from the Old Testament. Convenient dodging of counterpoints. Non-constructive hypothetical questions. Illogical comparisons.
Though he demonstrated great care in writing back to every comment, he was floundering in his arguments and delivery. Obviously he was never forced to join Speech & Debate, and nor did he have much experience facilitating contentious discussions online. I gave it one last go.
After another series of line-by-line responses, I ended my last comment with a decline to his invitation to talk more in person and told him to carry on, that I’m done. He responded very civilly one last time, addressing none of my final arguments, and that was that.
My loss of sleep over four days of engaging with this measly Facebook thread came out of a place of hurt. The proportion of LGBTQ attendees at our wedding probably outweighed the proportion of invitees who follow any religion.
That’s a lot of our favorite people who the photographers believe don’t deserve marriage. It hurts to think that I let these people into the biggest party we’ve ever thrown to chronicle the most intimate ceremony we’ve ever shared. I feel active guilt for rounding up all these friends in front of these two “professionals.”
Prone to advocacy since birth, I keep trying to find ways to correct what I feel like was a partial mistake. I don’t want to write the photographer the glowing testimonials I was so ready to offer before. A part of me is curious if I can appeal to her personally, supersede the contract granting her “unlimited” use, and ask her to remove our wedding’s imagery from any of her marketing materials. (Currently we take up one-third of her web portfolio.)
At first, my repulsion was driven by a feeling of vengefulness, but after cooling off a bit, now I’m worried someone will happen upon my words and name on her site, and assume I think the same way she and her husband do.
What if she revamps her website, for instance, and takes on a firm stance against same-sex marriage in a new FAQ? I want no part of it.
To be clear, she hasn’t written semi-permanent text anywhere agreeing with her husband’s statements. She’s probably savvy enough not to align herself that way when her business entirely rests on other people’s civil unions. Yet, conferring with the original friend who introduced us, there is zero possibility that my photographer thinks any differently than her husband.
So here is my conundrum. Is disassociating myself from a one-time vendor based on their personal beliefs bigoted? A strike against freedom of religion, freedom of speech?
This is essentially the same reason I won’t eat at Chick-Fil-A, except in this situation the business in question is a two-person venture in an industry where word of mouth is a primary lead generator for new business.
It’s also not like the couple purposefully shrouded their beliefs on the subject -- the fault could just as easily be ours that we didn’t ask. But how acceptable is it to even ask that question? When do you present it in the dating phase for a wedding photographer?
Is my impulse to divorce myself from any visible ties to this couple the type of action that silences religious friends around me? Am I being anti-COEXIST?
For now I’m agreeing to disagree. The photographer and her husband are not bad people; we just come at the debate from opposite ends that will never meet. Yet I will forever feel like I have betrayed my LGBTQ friends, as if we had invited them to a safe space where everything would be about love, but in reality there was an underlying current of exclusion coming from the people in charge of memorializing every second.
From my godmothers to my significantly gay wedding party to the last ones standing on the dance floor, I will forever regret not really asking myself “What if I knowingly hired an anti-gay marriage wedding photographer?”
No one has been unfriended at this point, but I still rainbowed the fuck out of their pic of my husband and me enjoying our wedding cake for Facebook.