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Review of 'The Right to Love: An American Family'

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Author's note: I've decided to write my review of the film, 'The Right to Love: An American Family,' in the form of a letter to a friend who, because of his religious convictions, does not support marriage equality. The letter is written not to any particular friend, but to many such friends with whom I continue in relationship, though we disagree on this issue. For the sake of convenience, I've imagined this friend as a college classmate.

Dear Friend,

I'm writing to recommend a wonderful documentary film called "The Right to Love: An American Family." The film is about a family in which a brother and sister have parents named Bryan and Jay. The only remarkable thing about this family is the fact that Bryan and Jay are both men. In the film we watch the family pray together and then tuck into dinner. We watch the dads walk their children to school. We get introduced to the fathers' extensive collection of Star Wars trinkets (they are total Star Wars nerds). If the parents weren't gay, the movie would be just excellent cinematography, cute kids and Cosbyesque family functionality. Instead, it is at once heartbreaking and inspirational, because the normalcy of Bryan and Jay's household is profiled against the backdrop of California's Proposition 8, and the national fight over same-sex marriage.

So before I finish recommending this movie, I want to talk to you about same-sex marriage. I've chosen to address this issue in letter-form because this is a topic that can, at times, inspire serious passion among people of faith like you and me, and I am hesitant to talk with you directly on the subject because you are my friend. I treasure our relationship and I don't want to argue with you. I do, however, want to be honest with you about my opinions surrounding what people like me call "marriage equality." I hope my letter is persuasive in a way that will help you to change your mind, but I won't hold my breath. As you and I settle into the onset of middle-age, I don't really expect you to change your mind. People like you and me get set in our ways.

Back in the day we used to agree on the topic of same-sex marriage, but about 15 years ago I changed my mind. It wasn't exactly an epiphany. I can't remember when I decided I was agreeable to the idea of people falling in love and pledging their troth, and building homes and families together even if such arrangements involved two husbands or two wives. All I know is that in college I believed the institution of marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples, in seminary I decided it wasn't my job to be in charge of other people's love lives, and after a few years of pastoral ministry I started speaking out in favor same-sex marriage. At first it felt risky to be an advocate for same-sex marriage publicly -- I am, after all, a Presbyterian minister -- but with the passage of time, I have gotten used to it. So has my congregation who, for the most part, are glad for the support I've offered to their gay and lesbian friends and family members.

Because I am a Christian, in order to support same-sex marriage I have had to make peace with the fact that the Bible condemns same-sex intimacy on the few times it addresses the issue (short answer: after having read everything the Bible has to say about human sexuality, I decided the Good Book is not a sex manual; for the extended version of what I think about the Bible and sex, see this piece I wrote for a friend's website). I also have had to reconcile myself to the Calvinist tradition (more on that, if you are interested, here), but the most important factor in changing my mind has been the friendships I share with folks who are in committed same-sex unions and marriages.

This brings me back to the movie. Most of the film is made up of video clips Bryan and Jay shot of themselves and their family. The clips show everyday life in the home Bryan and Jay share with their children, and they portray a happy, almost boringly normal family. This is exactly the reason I want so much for you to see "The Right to Love": I want you to know what it is you oppose when you speak out against or cast a vote against the legality of same-sex marriage. You don't oppose a moral abstraction, you oppose people like Bryan and Jay. You condemn the stability of the parental bond Bryan and Jay share with their children. You need to see this movie so that you can feel the weight of what you oppose.

Now, I know what you are thinking. You are wanting to tell me that a person cannot trust a film to tell the truth about a family headed by two men, that the filmmakers worked with an agenda, and only showed the family's happy moments and omitted the bad parts.

Well, here's the thing. I met Bryan and Jay last December. I got invited to an advance-screening of "The Right to Love" at Skywalker Ranch in Marin County (I know! how cool is that!). Bryan and Jay were at the screening, as were their kids. They seemed as normal, happy and faithful offscreen as they were onscreen. They were a bit lost in the wonder of being in the place where George Lucas created large chunks of the Star Wars movies, but who can blame them. So was I.

Seriously, I'm curious to know how watching "The Right to Love" affects your opinions on same-sex marriage. Watch it and let me know what you think. I promise we can talk about baseball too -- spring training is just around the corner, after all -- but this is a conversation I've been wanting to have with you for some time now, and talking about "The Right to Love" is a good place to start. I remain

Your Good Friend,

Ben

P.S. "The Right to Love" will have it's official premiere on Feb. 6 at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. If you happen to be in the City that day, check it out.