Two weeks ago, I posted the tragic story of Martha, which was based on the real world. Here is the same story, which starts the same way, but ends very differently. This version of the story is based on the real world, too, at least the world we devoutly wish to provide for our most vulnerable population, our children. Please read on.
Once upon a time, about twenty-five years ago, Martha, a round-cheeked baby girl was born to Max and Mary. Over the moon, Max and Mary dressed their infant in girly finery, invited cherished friends to be her godparents, and had Martha baptized at their community church, in a Kansas suburb. Max and Mary were God-loving Baptists, active volunteers, and hard-working, honest, tax-paying Americans. Like stable, caring parents everywhere, they wanted only the best for their beautiful daughter.
Mary painted a pink and purple world for Martha, her cherubic, tow-headed girl. She spared no expense in dressing her to the nines and lavishing her with baby dolls and filigreed tea party toys, cute stuffed animals and super eighteen-piece baby-baking sets. Mary braided Martha’s pretty hair and tied it up with satin ribbons. Martha was Mary’s little princess.
In spite of all the sugary pink and purple that surrounded her, in the playground Martha ran and tumbled, climbed and scampered through the jungle gym, and wrestled with the boys. When she went with her mother to shop for clothes, she complained. She wanted to wear blue jeans and sweatshirts, sneakers and caps backwards on her head. She wanted to play with trucks and toy soldiers. She asked her dad for a football. Mary allowed Martha to dress like a boy, but they prayed and hoped that their tomboy would come around.
Max and Mary worried. Martha was resisting their parental guidance toward girlhood. Where had they gone wrong? Martha wanted for nothing, and yet she didn’t want what they gave her. “No daughter of mine is going to play with trucks,” grumbled Max. “No princess in our family is going to play football,” scoffed Mary.
The parents tried everything. They bribed, cajoled, scolded, shamed, and guilt-tripped Martha into girliness, until their efforts exhausted them. Martha wanted to please her parents. She loved them and knew they loved her. But she continued to resist the frilly, fluffy stuff, and to be drawn toward the rough and ready, trucks and football, and the dizzying, muddying slides into second base.
Always boisterous and confident, if too boyish for her parents, when Martha got to seventh grade, she became reticent, stayed in her room with the door closed a lot, and began to answer long questions with one-word grunts. She seemed to be disappearing right before her parents’ eyes. When they asked if anything was the matter, Martha said no; when they asked about school, Martha just shrugged. Her grades, always high, began to slip. Teachers complained that Martha was antisocial and kept to herself too much.
Max and Mary consulted with their pastor, their siblings, their friends, who reassured them that Martha was just having growing pains, and that she was bright and pretty and would grow up just fine, to fulfill all the dreams her parents had planted in her from the day of her birth.
But it was not to be. When Martha turned 16, she refused her parents’ offer of a sweet-sixteen party. A horrible argument ensued, with lots of yelling and tears on both sides. Finally, Martha screamed, “Don’t you guys get it? I’m gay!”
For two days Max and Mary refused to talk to Martha. They couldn’t even look her in the eye. They closeted themselves away and cried the bitter tears of disappointment and loss. They prayed that they had heard wrong, that Martha was just testing them out of teenage rebellion, that at worst she was just in a phase that would pass in due time. They went around in circles until they were dizzy; they talked themselves hoarse. They despaired and they grieved.
By the third day, after much tumult and self-examination, Max and Mary came to a decision that they vowed to own for the rest of their lives. They sat Martha down, and said, “Martha, we have searched our hearts and our faith to find a way to embrace everything you are, and everything you want. Yes, we love the Bible, and yes, we love our church, but we love you above all else, and we promise to try to understand. You are our daughter, and the most precious thing in our lives, and we will give you our unconditional support.”
Since then, Max and Mary have stood by Martha every step of the way. They stood up in church and declared their unconditional love and support for their child, and when their pastor and fellow parishioners accused them of promoting a sinful lifestyle, they said, “No. To turn our backs on our child would be the unforgivable sin. We would rather not be part of a church that tells us we have to reject our only child.” And, with heavy but righteous hearts, they left that church, and joined an inclusive, diversity-embracing church instead.
When Martha complained about how the kids in school were treating her because she was gay, Max and Mary sat down with the principal and Martha’s teachers, and said, “No. We will not allow our daughter to be bullied and ostracized just for who she is. We want to work with you to prevent this from occurring again, and we will never give up until the last bully has retreated.”
When Martha went to college, and fell in love with Laura, Max and Mary sat down with the young lovebirds and got to know Laura; they welcomed her to their home and came to love her as if she were another daughter.
Two years ago Martha and Laura became engaged, and Max and Mary wept tears of joy. They had saved for their only daughter’s big day, and they made a gorgeous autumn wedding for the young couple.
But because of laws forbidding same-sex marriage in Kansas, the family had to travel to Iowa, one of too few states with marriage equality, to give Martha and Laura a government-sanctioned wedding. And even then, their union was not recognized by the federal government, which continues to grant full marriage rights only to opposite-gender couples.
Last spring Martha and Laura became the proud parents of little Matthew. Now Max and Mary spend half their time with their daughters and their beautiful grandson, and the other half advocating tirelessly for national marriage equality. They will never rest until Martha and Laura—and every other loving couple—are given the same rights that they themselves have always taken for granted and enjoyed. They know what is at stake.
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