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When my cousin, Diamond*, asked me to be one of her bridesmaids, I was thrilled. When she mentioned the wedding was going to be in her beloved’s hometown, a hamlet located on the Iowa/Illinois border, I was less thrilled but still firmly on the right side of excited.
My cousin and I have been close on and off throughout our lives. Born two months apart and bound by blood, our friendship has survived things that would have torn apart a lesser love. Our early 20s found us bound at the hip; running around New York with various cohorts. Her friends were mostly guys, hopelessly chasing after her wide smile and affections. My friends were pretty girls in short skirts who liked to dance. Diamond was always the life of the party.
We started drifting apart in our late twenties. I married the woman I had been with since I was 21 and became more active in the LGBT community. Diamond found her place in the world by joining a hardcore Catholic youth group, where she eventually met her fiancé, Duke. I was happy that she was happy and had finally found friends with whom she felt a deeper connection with. But I was also worried about Catholicism’s attitude toward same-sex relationships.
Being Catholic or religious in general doesn’t preclude being accepting of gay people or being gay. But it’s undeniable there’s a long history of conflict and an undeniable war that’s being waged in our country by people who use religion as a shield for their homophobic beliefs.
I already knew that some of our family members didn’t approve of my lesbianism because of religion. It’s something that I accept and I treat all of my family members with love and respect. But I couldn’t bear the thought of Diamond joining their ranks. After a decade of asking paramours, “Do you think she’s cuter than me?” I know better than to ask questions I don’t want to know the answer to. As a result, we’ve never spoken about whether or not Diamond thinks my same sex orientation is going to land me in hell for all eternity.
Two nights before the wedding, those in our big Brooklyn clan who could afford the trip were preparing themselves for the culture shock of rural Iowa.
“Does Duke’s family know that there’s a lesbian in the wedding party?” my wife asked, as I frantically threw last minute additions into our suitcases.
“I’m sure she hasn’t told anyone. But maybe it won’t be a big deal? Iowa does have marriage equality.”
We were worried about the wrong issue. I knew I was going to stand up for my cousin in a traditional Catholic ceremony, thereby embracing the values therein. But I didn’t expect to be bombarded with anti-abortion rhetoric the entire time.
After a three hour plane trip and three hours of driving on the longest, flattest expanse of land I’ve ever seen in my life, the bridal party and Duke’s and Diamond’s families all met at the church for the wedding rehearsal.
“Look,” my nine-year-old cousin exclaimed, “there are babies on the wall!” She pointed to a wall covered in multiple four foot high posters showing fetuses at several stages of development. Matching pamphlets were fanned out on a low coffee table in the center of the room.
“Do you think that will be up for the wedding tomorrow?” my sister whispered. “I really hope not. Who wants to talk about abortion at a wedding, right?”
In case you were wondering, the answer to that was: just about everyone at this wedding.
The maid of honor, Diamond’s sister, Ruby, introduced us to the other bridesmaids, Theresa and Maria. Maria had a pixie cut and sexy tattoo script scrolling across her collarbones.
“This might be the last time I see Duke and Diamond again, ever.” She confided.
“Oh my god,” I exclaimed, “why?”
As I braced myself for her confession of love for one of the soon to be newlyweds (my money was on Diamond), she said, “I’m joining a convent in a few weeks. I’m becoming a cloistered nun.” She smiled and checked her iPhone -- her lock-screen was Jesus. “I’m never allowed to leave it again,” she said, looking back up. “I can have one visitor once a year but that’s it. So, this is probably the last time.” Another smile and a shrug, she moved next to her groomsman and began her practice walk down the aisle.
After the rehearsal and dinner, I went back to a hotel room with my wife while the rest of the bridesmaids gathered in a rented Victorian house.
“Is it fun there?” I texted my sister, feeling both left out and relieved.
“It’s...weird,” was the response.
The morning of the wedding, my wife dropped me off at the Victorian house armed with coffee and bagels for the hungry bridesmaids.
“Thank you so much,” crooned Maria, liberally slathering two bagels with cream cheese. Her hair was wet and she was wearing a T-shirt with a swaddled baby motif and emblazoned with the words, “Remember the unborn,” across her tits. “Duke wrote me a speech to give during the ceremony,” she said in between bites, “I feel so honored and so blessed.” I nodded and debated whether or not to tell her that her T-shirt made me uncomfortable.
“You know,” she continued wistfully, “this is going to be the last time I wear makeup.” I felt a flare of blind rage. I wanted to tell her that no one is making her give up makeup, it’s her choice. Meanwhile if she had her way, she would take away the right of other women to make much, much more important choices about their futures.
During the service, Maria read the speech Duke wrote for her, it was about praying for the unborn and how Our Heavenly Father created them and it was an abomination that we were destroying God’s gifts. I fidgeted from my place by the altar. According to the “1 in 3” campaign, one in three women will have an abortion during her lifetime. I looked out at the wedding guests who sat facing the dias and wondered how many of them felt singled out and shamed right now.
The anti-abortion rhetoric wasn’t left in the church. It followed us to the reception where the groom made a speech that ended with him yelling into the mic, “When does life begin? At conception. When does life begin?” He turned the mic out to his guests, “At conception!” he prompted. To my relief, audience participation was weak. One of my cousins turned to me and said, “Just so you know, my church isn’t like this.”
I am solidly and unwaveringly pro-choice. I understand that because of their faith, Duke and Diamond are anti-abortion. I have close friends that identify as Republican and we have an unspoken agreement to simply keep our political opinions out of our relationship. I can respect the differences in our opinions, but I have a problem with their wedding being a platform for them to push their views on everyone. Weddings are a celebration of love, of the entwining of two lives, of the exciting possibility of creating even more lives from this union. I didn’t expect to have to endorse a “pro-life” stance. And I do feel like I endorsed it by remaining silent.
Over a year later, I still wonder if I made the right choice. I don’t tend to challenge the moral beliefs of people I know in a social setting. I know I’m not going to change someone’s mind over drinks, or in this case, a wedding.
Whatever the groom’s personal beliefs about abortion are, I don’t believe they should have been addressed. Especially when chances are at least one of the guests, women he knows and loves, has probably had an abortion. Why choose such a special occasion to shame someone for their deeply personal choices?
But if I had to do the wedding over again, I would probably hold my tongue all over again. Because that’s what we do for those we love.
*Names have been changed