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My Sister Won’t Accept My Same-Sex Partner. What Should I Do?

My Sister Won’t Accept My Same-Sex Partner. What Should I Do?

#Sister #Wont #Accept #SameSex #Partner

You, too, are practicing tolerance, of course: You are putting up with the mistaken belief that there’s something wrong with the exercise of your sexuality. Although your family members belong to a creed you’ve rejected, you have reached a modus vivendi with them that seems mostly to have worked. You keep your self-respect by making it clear whenever they do wrong by you.

That happened when your non-estranged sister allowed your oldest sister to spend time with your son after you explicitly asked her not to. Yet (the voice of tolerance says) the sister looking after your child was in a difficult situation, with an angry sibling at her door. It’s understandable that she took the easier way. And you’d like your son to continue having a relationship with his grandparents and his aunts. So, now that you’ve made it clear what you think, there seems little point in trying to get them to acknowledge they erred in indulging your intolerant sister. What you can insist on is that you won’t leave your son with your parents again unless they promise that he won’t be with your oldest sister or otherwise exposed to disparagement of your relationship.

And they’ll accede to this only if they can persuade themselves that it isn’t a rejection of their eldest daughter. Yes, this is all maddening, and yes, there will be people who will zealously urge you to sever your ties with the lot of them. But for you, I suspect, amputation would leave you with phantom limb pain; you’ll still be fuming about their baseless claims and rehearsing majestic, irrebuttable arguments.

How much contradiction can you live with? Many philosophers, over the generations, have thought it terribly important that all our beliefs be consistent; according to “coherentism,” a belief is justified if it coheres with our other beliefs. In real life, the normative and factual beliefs we hold are a patchwork quilt. (I suppose that’s particularly obvious to me, having grown up on two continents with friends and family members belonging to very different ways of life and modes of thought, but it’s true for all of us.) Hence your family’s seemingly untroubled desire to maintain a loving relationship both with you and your intolerant sister. Concord, not coherence, is the goal.

Your most consequential choice is about what you want from your stringent sister. Christian traditions are rich and complex. As a result, people often pick out the parts that suit them. I confess to preferring the more open and loving side of Christianity — Christ’s caution that we shall be judged as we judge, that we ought to mind the beam in our own eye before we attend to the mote in the other fellow’s. So don’t give up quite yet: Remind your sister of these teachings. Even if homosexuality were wrong, hatred or contempt for conscientiously mistaken family members would be wrong, too. And unlike your sexuality, your sister’s attitudes are something she has it in her power to change. In this context, the Watchtower Society specifically directs our attention to its rendering of I Peter 2:17: “Respect everyone.” You have choices to make. So does she.


Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy at N.Y.U. His books include ‘‘Cosmopolitanism,’’ ‘‘The Honor Code’’ and ‘‘The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity.’’ To submit a query: Send an email to [email protected]; or send mail to The Ethicist, The New York Times Magazine, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10018. (Include a daytime phone number.)

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