Woman Volunteers to Be a 'Stand-in Mom' at Weddings for Same-Sex Couples Whose Parents Reject Them

Sara Cunningham
Facebook/Sara Cunningham

It takes courage to stand up for what you know is right, especially when it means upsetting other people. But that's the risk that Sara Cunningham from Oklahoma is willing to take after the wedding officiant noticed that many LGBTQ couples had to walk down the aisle without their parents. In July, Sara made a post a on her Facebook account volunteering to be "mom" to any LGBTQ couples who want a little parental love on their big day. Little did she know that her gesture of love and acceptance would go viral, and now the mom is sharing just how large her ripple of kindness has grown.

  • In her now-viral post, Sara publicly volunteered to be a stand-in "mom" for any same sex couples who wouldn't have their parents at their weddings.

    "PSA. If you need a mom to attend your same sex wedding because your biological mom won't. Call me. I'm there," she wrote. "I'll be your biggest fan."

    In her post which has been shared more than 8,000 times, the mom even joked that she would "even bring the bubbles" to any wedding where she was needed. 

    But she has also shared own struggle with acceptance. In an interview with CBS News, the mom admitted that her own son, Parker, came out to her when he was 21 years old. He told her, "Mom, I met someone and I need you to be okay with it," she remembered, and at first she wasn't sure how to feel. 

    "I'm a woman of faith. ... We live in a conservative town," she explained. "It sounds bad to say it, but I felt like I had to choose between my child and faith. I was under this impression it was the ultimate offense." 

    Sara loved her son and wanted to learn how to bridge the gap between her faith and her child. "I didn't know where to look for resources at first. I thought I was the only mom in Oklahoma with a gay kid," she recalled. 

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  • But things turned a corner after Sara went with her son to the Pride parade in Oklahoma City in 2014.

    "We stood with our son at a pride parade in Oklahoma City," she explained. "It was my first interaction with the community that I was so alienated from by my own ignorance and my own fear. ... And I realized this was a beautiful community." 

    Sara attended the parade the next year, but this time she showed up ready to celebrate, wearing a pin that read "Free Mom Hugs."

    "Anyone who made eye contact with me, I'd say, 'Can I offer you a free mom hug or high five?' And I went home with glitter all over me," she said. But what really hit home with Sara was when she spoke with members of the LGBTQ community. Many told her stories about being rejected by their families when they came out. "I heard horror stories that would haunt me," she recalled.

    And that prompted her to take action. Now the mom runs a Facebook page for moms of LGBTQ children called Free Mom Hugs, inspired by the pin she wore to Pride. She has also become ordained so that she can marry same-sex couples and shared that she usually asks the couples about their relationships with their parents. 

    "Many of the weddings I officiate, I'll say, 'How are your parents? Are they accepting?' And they say, 'Well, I don't know if I'll invite them or not. They don't acknowledge my relationship,'" she explained. 

    Which brings us back to her offer to be mom to anyone who might need her. Sara says that after seeing so many children rejected by their families on what should be the happiest day of their lives, she knew that she wanted to do something big to help them. 

    "I posted it out of frustration," she said in an interview with People. "So often I heard about parents who were not acknowledging these relationships or not attending the wedding. I made that post, not having any idea that it would go viral. But what happened is that, from all over the world, I heard from people … I got some invitations."

  • One of these couples was Marlee Castillo and Tabitha Cash, who asked Sara to officiate their wedding.

    But Sara would end up doing so much more. On the day of their November 3 nuptials, Sara assisted Tabitha into her dress, making sure there were no wrinkles or creases, helped her do her hair, and even cried as the two brides met each other before the wedding for their first look. 

    “My favorite part was seeing Marlee and Tabatha go through this process. They made history that day in their lives. What a beautiful thing to be a part of,” Sara said.

    “[Tabitha] is so beautiful, vibrant, independent, in a relationship that is a healthy relationship. It was bittersweet because I know she didn’t have a mom there. No matter how much she knew she was doing the right thing for herself, there’s still a part of her that’s missing, and that’s her mom.”

  • Sara said she has no plans to stop doing this work, well into the future.

     In 2014, she published her memoir How We Sleep At Night and has taken part in a short film about her work called The Stand-In. 

    Speaking of the work she does now as an advocate and a surrogate parent, Sara says she feels “complete joy” with what she is doing.

    “I experience God and humanity to a much greater degree than I ever thought possible,” she explained. “It is my joy.”

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