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ANNE AND CHAD GIFFORD

Our family's values

ON FATHER'S DAY 1993, we received news that totally changed our world. We learned that the son we had raised and loved for 19 years was gay. Many of the hopes and dreams we had for him vanished, and we began a confusing journey into unfamiliar territory. We worried that we would not see him marry and raise a family as we had done and as his three siblings would do. Would our son be the target of discrimination, violence, and hatred? We felt we had somehow let him down, and it was heartbreaking to realize that he had lived so many years in pain, loneliness, and fear of being discovered.

We are the parents of two sons and two daughters. As time went on and our family spent hours listening to and learning from our son, we began to better understand the pain, not to mention the terrible waste, when an individual feels he or she cannot be who he really is. We realized how we take for granted the fundamental need to be understood, accepted, and respected.

Today, some will celebrate and some will vilify the one-year anniversary of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. Some will talk about activist judiciaries, and some will talk about equal rights for all citizens, but we would like to focus on those affected by this historic event.

Gay marriage conjures strong feelings on all sides. For many, religious beliefs simply prevent the acceptance that two individuals of the same sex should be legally married. We understand that change can be threatening, and in fact, we must respect differing opinions. However, we believe that same-sex or equal marriage is a right that must be supported and preserved. Why is this simple human desire, this simple human right, so difficult to accept?

Our initial period of concern and confusion and the subsequent learning has, at times, been tumultuous. But how could we as parents not do all we could to embrace our child? How could we not do all we could to strengthen our family? Many object to equal marriage because it represents an attack on family. This is tragic and wrong. Family means love and support for all, not the marginalization of one member of the family.

We have now had one year of legal same-sex marriage in our state. Despite predictions, we have not witnessed any threat to so-called ''traditional marriage." There has not been an attack on family, and almost all would admit that very little has changed. In fact, however, something has changed. Many of our citizens have experienced the joy of marriage for the first time where the laws of our state have said, ''You are equal." We have seen that joy in our son. To take that away would be an injustice. It would be devastating for our family and the real values we believe family should represent.

After seven years in a committed relationship, our son and his partner exchanged vows in front of 125 friends and family members. It brought home the reality that marriage is about two people who love each other and who desire to commit to a life together. We now realize how far our entire family has come in 12 years. Those hopes and dreams we had for our son prior to June 1993 have, in fact, now been realized. What more could we have wished for than to have our son find happiness and share his life with someone he loves?

Anne Gifford is a community volunteer. Chad Gifford is chairman emeritus of the Bank of America.

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