Queer + Christian is a monthly column by Shae Washington, in which she explores the blessings and challenges of both having a deep faith and a beautiful wife.
Being the 80s baby that I am, the word “congratulations” can’t come up without me immediately thinking about the late artist Vesta Williams, and her song of the same name. In the music video, Vesta rushes over to the church her ex is getting married in, after finding out that morning through a mutual friend how much her ex had truly moved on. She stands looking in from the outside of the church in full 80s regalia—big earrings, bigger hair, shoulder pads, solid blue wrap dress. With great vocal skill, she belts out “CONGRATULATIONS,” adding about seven more syllables than the word already has. In agony she sings, “I thought it would have been me, standing there with you.” This is indeed a sad song, but given its age and iconic time period, it has become more of a parody in my mind, as I remember being a little girl trying to imitate everything Vesta did and get in all those syllables while singing along. I’ve been grateful for the laughter during such a time of mixed emotions in my life.
Since being engaged and now married to my wife for the past six months, I would say that the word “congratulations” has trended in my life. Used to express good wishes on a special occasion, I’ve come to really appreciate how this one word can express love and expand a sense of community when spoken over those who are celebrating an important time in their lives. Given the influx of “congratulations” to my wife and myself, it has also made the lack of this expression glaringly obvious and painful by those in our lives that we love. The pain is increased in knowing that some justify their lack of “good wishes” because of their Christian beliefs that being gay is a sin, and marriage is only legit if it involves one man and one woman.
Soon after getting engaged I remember contacting two of my closest friends to share the news. My friendships with them had already been strained since coming out, but we had engaged in some healing conversations and were cautiously moving towards a better relationship. I was nervous to tell them and sat on the news for a few weeks, wanting to preserve my joy just in case the reveal went badly. I finally built up enough courage to…..text them. With enthusiastic emoticons I expressed that Melissa and I were engaged. I waited for their response… three years later I’m still waiting, ya’ll! Their theological beliefs didn’t line up with mine, fine. But would “congratulations” have killed them? Some Christians act like Jesus will actually love them less for showing some love to us gays! Ironic, given that our greatest commandment as Christ followers is TO LOVE (side eye). Acting like one of the most important times in my life wasn’t happening—not so loving.
As I reflect on everything my wedding and marriage symbolizes to me, I can’t help but feel like, “what’s not to love?” For me, getting married felt like a little revolution. As a black person in this country, as a queer person in this country, getting married has been long denied, fought for, and then gained as a right by my people. I do not take for granted the history of enslaved black folk jumping brooms and knitting together family with courage and ruthless love in the face of fear and the reality of most likely being sold away from each other. I do not take it for granted that the LGBTQ community, often ostracized by their families of origin and religious communities, kept fighting for love until we could all say “Love Wins!” And I do not take it for granted that I have an amazing partner who with me, despite what some Christians believe marriage to be, pledged our love to each other and asked Christ to be the center of our marriage for the rest of our lives.
As Lin Manuel Miranda said in his acceptance speech at the Tony Awards, And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside. I am SO here for it, and I’m grateful for those in our lives who, regardless of their biblical understanding, didn’t hold back their love from us. Keep your heads up Queer fam. Haters gonna hate, but Lovers gonna congratulate!
Meet Shae Washington: Obsessed with podcasts, coffee and her wife, Shae lives in the Washington, D.C. area. She writes and speaks about social justice issues and her life as a gay Christian.