Jason Ripley and Jason Karoumy were married on October 24, 2015. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey McIntyre Fine Art Photography & Design

Unconditional Love Trumps Prejudice

BY KATE OPALEWSKI

Jason Karoumy will never forget the day he came out to his parents. His text message read, "I'm gay. I'm engaged to the person you thought was my friend and I'm getting married this year."

Three bombs dropped all at once. "They didn't take it well," he said. "I didn't do it the best way though. It was really really bad to text them, but I was too terrified to do it face to face or to call."

What happened next though was even more terrifying for 27-year-old Karoumy.

"They kept calling, wanting to argue," he said, noting his mom, a traditional Middle Eastern woman, has a bad temper. "When I didn't answer the phone, they came to my house. I didn't answer the door. I kept hearing loud noises outside. It was scary so I called the police and had them removed."

The arguing continued for weeks.

"They told me they don't want to talk to me and I'm not their son anymore," he said.

Karoumy's parents are from Iraq. Their conservative Christian beliefs are extremely prejudice towards his lifestyle as an Arab gay man.

"A family's reputation is huge in the Arabic community. This was the worst thing I could do. They would rather I marry a woman and do this on the side," he said, adding that his mom took the news much harder than his dad. "She might never fully accept it and probably would have reacted the same way regardless of how I told them."

Admitting who he truly is came at the cost of losing his family.

"It was very rough," said Karoumy about the price he was willing to pay for the freedom to be himself, but he was tired of being "fake" and having to live a double life.

And he was in love.

"It was instantaneous," he said. Karoumy met with Jason Ripley, 37, for the first time in person at Starbucks in Royal Oak in April 2012.

"I was most attracted to his confidence, energy, and openness. We talked on the phone once before meeting and I felt so comfortable around him as if we had known each other for a long time," said Ripley. "I would later marry him for this and that he shares my motivation to achieve goals, be active, and most importantly he loves my children."

Ripley is father to Zachary and Abigail, a gift from his previous marriage to a woman. After telling his wife he was gay, Ripley said things worked out for the best.

"We separated very amicably and still talk to each other often as we still are parents to two wonderful children. My family and friends were nearly all supportive. Looking back now, I know I would make the same choice even if I knew things would not turn out as well for me."

Jason Ripley with his children, Zachary and Abigail, and his husband Jason Karoumy. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey McIntyre Fine Art Photography & Design

Karoumy said he enjoyed being a father figure to six younger siblings, a few of which he is still close with.

"I actually liked the fact that he has kids. I always wanted to have kids," he said, describing the first time he met Ripley's kids as "exciting and not awkward at all. They are pretty open-minded and we clicked."

Just as he clicked with the rest of Ripley's family.

"They are very accepting, the exact opposite," said Karoumy, realizing that his situation is a lot to deal with. He said Ripley "only put up with this because he wanted to be with me."

On their three-year anniversary, Ripley proposed at the same coffee shop where it all began.

"This has been eye-opening to say the least. I was very unfamiliar with Arabic culture before I met Jason and was not prepared for the level of close-minded, hurtful, and even violent response there was to his coming out," he said. "Even two years after coming out, it is torture for me to watch his parents torment him while I can do nothing to help the situation."

Ripley said he recognizes the struggle and can "only be there to love and support him along the way in any way that I can each day."

This is a commitment he made during their wedding on October 24, 2015 at the Lakeland Banquet Centre in St. Clair Shores. Officiant Robert Yelverton married the couple in front of 150 of their friends and Ripley's family.

Not one in attendance was from Karoumy's family.

"They knew about it. I was scared they would do something so we had security there," said Karoumy. "It shouldn't be terrifying on this day, but it was. Threats were made, but we kept pushing through. I told them this is what I want and I'm sorry that you don't accept it. Thankfully nothing happened."

Despite not having his family there, Karoumy said their wedding was complete with a bow tie-themed ceremony and reception. Several of their best "groomsmaids" were at their sides. Their colors of choice were Orchid and silver. Their three-tier vanilla and banana cake was made by Mannino's Bakery in Sterling Heights.

Upon return from their Carnival Cruise Line honeymoon for 11 days, the couple settled into their Royal Oak home together.

Karoumy said he is in a better place now.

"I am so much more relaxed. I no longer have anxiety attacks," he said.

Although Karoumy does not see his family as often as he might like, he still gets his cultural fix in a number of ways.

"Jason appreciates my ethnicity. I speak Arabic. He tries to learn. What's amazing about him is that he cooks Arabic food. It tastes a little different, but it's his version of it. I cannot cook, but I am glad he can," said Karoumy. "He follows recipes to make all the meals. We eat a lot of Thai and Indian food, too. And we like to travel to different countries together."

Ripley said they are both happier having made the choice to be together.

"I'm not a very religious person. I understand and respect other's beliefs, when they aren't affecting me," he said. "However, I've found it is simpler to live by my own set of morals and to strive to be a good person rather than follow the direction of others, especially if they are telling us it is a sin to be who we are."

When asked what he would say to other Arab men who struggle with being gay, Karoumy said he would say to them what he said to himself.

"Do you want to be consumed by worry? Or do you want to live comfortably and happy? What is more important to you? What people think of you? Or your own happiness. Just be yourself."

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