How to handle homophobic family members who won’t come to your wedding

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A study done by the Gay Wedding Institute (which is a thing that exists!) found that, as of this year, there have been 390,000 legal same-sex marriages in the United States. Considering there are still 13 states where equal marriage is not allowed, the number of actual weddings is likely in the 400,000s. That’s a lot of weddings!

One of the biggest issues a same-sex couple can face when planning their ceremony is the refusal of acceptance from family members. This is not unique to gay and lesbian couples, but certainly a part of our reality. If you are facing a homophobic parent, sibling or extended family member, we have some advice on how to handle the situation without canceling the entire thing or losing your mind.

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Dr. Lara Embry is a clinical psychologist and co-vice chair with the Trevor Project. She has done extensive studies in the areas of “resilience, family psychology, youth homelessness, and psychobiology” and her private practice focuses on issues “related to adolescent development, family dynamics, anxiety, depression, as well as sexual and gender identity.” We asked Dr. Embry about best practices in taking on not-so-friendly family.

AfterEllen.com: When is it not a good idea to invite your homophobic family members to your wedding? Is there harm in sending them an invite if you don’t think they will attend?

Dr. Lara Embry: A wedding is a celebration of love and commitment. Having family and friends witness the ceremony is both meaningful and practical. These are the people you want there to support your marriage when times are tough, and all marriages get tough at times. 

The family it is important to have around you are the ones who mean something to you, whose support you value and who are a part of your life. Even if a family member is not able to come, because of fear or prejudice, inviting them can be a way to welcome them to the relationship. Presuming that the marriage lasts, there will be more opportunities to celebrate the union in the future, and opening the door by inviting them, rather than closing it. You also never know, it could be time for them to make a different choice. But making the choice to invite means “letting go” of what the response will be, because you can’t control the outcome and you don’t want to set yourself up for disappointment at such an important celebration. I would say invite, unless that person is not really important to your life’s journey. 

 

AE: If you or your partner really wants your family member to attend but they say they can’t, how can you begin to feel okay about their decision and getting married without them there?

LE: If a family member says they can’t come, find compassion for their limitation. That person is making the choice they have been taught is ‘right’, even though it is limiting their ability to share in joy and love. The response of compassion may open the conversation in the future. If a very close family member makes this decision, it can certainly be hurtful, but we have the choice to focus on our own sense of loss, or understand that the person is doing the best they can at this moment. Love means acceptance, and that rubs both ways.  

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AE: What kinds of stress can your family member’s lack of support put on your relationship, and is there any advice you can give to moving through it with your partner?

LE: Family members support for your union is so important. If a family member isn’t supportive, they can, at best, fail to support your marriage and, at worst, even work against it. In situations like this it is so important to talk about the feelings and vulnerability with your future spouse. The same is true if you have a good friend who doesn’t support the marriage: The conversation has to address the potential impact of the absence of support on the long term viability of the marriage. You will need to create a support system for the marriage, making sure you have people you can turn to in times of distress. 

 

AE: What’s the best response to a family member who expresses distaste for your same-sex wedding?

LE: Compassion is the best medicine, and will keep the experience positive and loving. Letting someone’s fear and rejection invade your experience is letting them influence your life at a key moment in a negative way. There is a southern expression that may be useful: “Bless her heart…” But really, that is the best they can do.  

 

AE: Do you have any other suggestions on how to deal with homophobic family members?

LE: If their support is important to you, keep inviting them in. Homophobia is a social construct, usually grounded in fear. The treatment for fear is exposure, in a supportive environment. Don’t push, but welcome. This will create the best chance for change, so you will have done your part, whether they get there or not.

 

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