1. Opinion

Column: Hope for an end to Florida's ban on gay marriage

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Published Dec. 18, 2014

It's that time of the year. The tree is up, lights on the house, whispers of presents for the grandkids and a sense of awe as we proceed through the Advent calendar. For my wife and me, Christmas has always been a joyous time, filled with family, festivities and a sense of wonder.

Our kids are grown, have made families for themselves and are spread out across the world. So this year my wife and I will go to Northern Virginia, where one of my sons lives with his wife and children. There our other kids and grandkids will converge for a few wonderful days together.

Being able to gather with family over the holidays is a privilege and blessing, no matter where you are. But since October, Virginia offers one distinct advantage for our family in particular: Unlike Florida, Virginia now respects the marriages of committed same-sex couples.

You see, my younger son is gay. He and his husband will be traveling from their home abroad to join the rest of us to celebrate this Christmas. And because we will gather in Virginia, he and his family will enjoy the protections that only marriage provides. The same is true for 35 states across the country. But if they were to come here to Florida, their legal marriage would be void and they would be treated as strangers in the eyes of the law.

Courts in Florida have already ruled in favor of recognizing and allowing the marriages of committed gay couples like my son and his husband. But state officials are tying up these rulings in court with endless appeals. Just this week, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi continued her quest to prevent same-sex marriages from taking place, filing yet another appeal, this time to the U.S. Supreme Court. Now it's up to the Supreme Court to decide whether to allow marriage for gay couples in Florida next month.

As someone who grew up, worshiped and served as a pastor in an Evangelical Christian context, I didn't always know that I would become an advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans.

My own journey on this issue began long before my son told his mother and me that he was gay. When I was young, I don't remember ever once hearing the idea that gay couples could be married. But as a pastor, I had many gay and lesbian parishioners come out to me, seeking spiritual counseling and wanting to reconcile their faith in the Scripture with their inner knowledge that their sexual orientation was not a mark against them but rather part and parcel of God's gift of life.

So when my son came out to us and told us he was gay, I had a very powerful reaction. As a father who loves his child unconditionally and only wants for him the best that life can offer, I told my son that he will always be my son, that I love him, and nothing can change that.

I worried how others would treat him, which made me all the more determined that in our family, our son would know he was safe and loved. When we met the man who would become his husband, my wife and I felt our family was being enriched immeasurably. I was honored to be asked to preside at the blessing for their wedding. It was one of the happiest days of my life.

Marriage is a lifetime promise to be together and look out for one another, in sickness and health, for richer for poorer, in good times and hard times. It's a commitment you make in front of friends and family to grow old together. Marriage is important enough and strong enough to include gay couples as well as straight couples.

As we prepare for the holidays, I look forward to the day when my son and his husband can come here to Florida, hang some tinsel on the tree and spend the holidays with us, knowing that Florida pays their marriage the deep respect every marriage deserves.

Brian D. McLaren is an author, public speaker and theologian. He lives with his wife in Marco Island. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.