Community Voices: Expanding the circle of love

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

So says 1 Corinthians 13:13, a verse often recited at weddings to underscore the foundation of a lasting relationship.

But for many families, the “greatest of these” isn’t met with the greatest of ease when the person or couple in question is gay, lesbian or transgender. That can be especially evident in historically conservative counties like Fayette.

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality last year, increasing numbers of family, friends, neighbors and co-workers aren’t just coming out of the closet, they’re also – happily and legally – walking down the aisle.

This more open regard for same-sex relationships, however overdue, can be a challenge for people who have trouble reconciling what they’ve been taught to believe and how they naturally feel toward their own loved ones. Sometimes perspectives change when one of “them” is really one of “us.”

Fortunately, a place to talk that through became available four years ago in Peachtree City with the creation of a support circle sponsored by the nonprofit group PFLAG – Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

The meetings are led by David Stivers and his wife, Tori, at St. Andrews-in-the-Pines, an Episcopal church whose congregation split over the issue of gay clergy and other denominational disagreements in 2007. It’s an informal gathering that welcomes anyone who wants to discuss personal stories in a confidential and supportive environment.

The Stiverses had to re-examine their own beliefs after their college-age son told them he was gay – not long after the couple had voted in favor of Georgia’s gay marriage ban. David says it’s not uncommon that “when a child comes out of the closet, the parents go in,” because they think they or their children might be shunned.

“It’s easy to condemn a group, but once you find a face that you love in that group, you just can’t turn your back,” he says. And besides, he says, why should the state have a say in his gay son’s relationships but not those of his straight daughters?

David says his experiences getting to know other families of gay, lesbian and transgender people have been vastly rewarding, on par with his work as the director of music at the First Presbyterian Church of Peachtree City.

That church is led by the Rev. Morgan Hay, who was hired after its congregation also became divided over social and doctrinal issues. Hay has officiated two same-sex weddings there since last fall, the first of which was for two members who married on the 35th anniversary of their personal union.

“Welcoming is a high priority for our church,” says Hay, adding that biblical translations and cultural context play a role in how different people interpret Scripture.

As for me, my relationship with my brother didn’t change one bit after I learned he is gay. He’s the same great guy, and now he’s married to another great guy.

Love will always bring people together. That’s why it’s the greatest.