No Room At the Inn

Christmas is supposed to be a time where families and loved ones gather to share the season's greetings. But this year, like the other three years since this lesbian couple has been together, Beth and Liz will be miles apart on Christmas day.

They agreed to tell their story on condition that their names be changed to protect their privacy.

But their story is like so many other stories of lesbian and gay couples who struggle with the love for their partners vs. the duty to their families, and what to do when those two things clash, as they so often do at the holidays.

This is a Christmas story that seems as familiar and as old as the tale of Mary and Joseph unable to find a room at the inn. Even today, for so many gay and lesbian couples, there's no room at the inn when it comes to their love.

Beth hails from a plain Midwestern family where things like homosexuality are very awkward to talk about. It's not like Beth's family doesn't know that she and Liz are a couple. They've even met Liz a few times, on trips home together.

The family was very cordial. No one said or did anything out of place. At least, not within earshot.

But Beth's family are very devout Methodists, and they believe that homosexuality is a sin.

More than anything, they believe in their heart of hearts that Beth, who is in her early 40's, just hasn't met the right man. The family theory is that Beth's last heterosexual relationship was so traumatic for her, she ran away from men altogether into the “safety” of the company of women.

Though they've learned not to express it much anymore, somewhere in their hearts, they still seem to believe that one day Beth will meet the right man and stop this silliness.

Liz, in their eyes, is a big hindrance to Beth getting on with her life and finding the right man. So while they try not to be so harsh that they ruin any contact with their daughter, they clearly see Liz as an obstacle to what they perceive should be their daughter's happiness.

Meanwhile, the family has never banned Liz from coming up on the holidays. They've just made it impossibly awkward for her to do so.

“Of course she can come,” Beth's mother said one year. “We can even help her find a nice little place to stay.”

Another year, Beth's father asked, “Why would she want to come for Christmas? She's Jewish, isn't she?”

Well, yes, she is, but that wasn't the point.

Liz won't say why she is estranged from her own family, which lives in New York City, except to say that it doesn't really have anything to do with her being a lesbian.

Sometimes, she'll go back to New York for the holiday season and visit friends for a few days.

But mostly, like this year, she will stay in her South Florida home while Beth takes the short holiday trek alone.

Liz and Beth claim to be nonchalant about it.

Liz rolls her eyes and makes a joke about staying in the better weather. Beth recounts the tedium of the family Christmas dinner, and says she's probably just going to get drunk to muddle through. They both brush it off as just one weekend.

But they concede that it has caused a strain between them in the past. And that it continues to sometimes be more of a sore point than they like to admit.

Liz says she understands how tricky family relations can be. She'd never ask Beth not to go home for Christmas.

But part of her feels not just sad, but betrayed by Beth, thinking maybe Beth hasn't put up enough of a fight for her. Or that maybe Beth is letting her family come between them, even if it is just for this one time of the year.

Beth feels a little guilty sometimes, herself, and at times has a secret urge not to go home for Christmas.

But she's afraid that such a move would rupture her family ties to the point of making things worse, not better. The way to win them over, she says, is slowly and patiently, at their pace. Acting like a demanding ACT UP protestor, she explains, will only alienate them, maybe forever. And she doesn't want that, either.

Liz was hopeful that all the media attention and movement on gay and lesbian marriage this past year might ring a bell with Beth's family, that something might register in their minds that this was simply what Beth and Liz wanted, this is simply who they were: another couple, like anyone else.

But Beth's family, who voted for George W. Bush, feel even more vindicated by the outcome of the election and by the results of 11 states voting to add constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage.

Beth holds onto hope that, over time, her family will soften and Liz will slowly be eased into family get-togethers, eventually including Christmas.

Privately, Liz wonders how long she's supposed to wait, and whether or not Beth is deluding herself.

In the meantime, they both worry about how this tug of war might start to tear at their own relationship.

"It's supposed to be the happiest time of the year," Beth says, parodying a popular Christmas carol. "So why does it always make me feel so awful?"

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