Sept. 6, 2013, was a little different from our traditional Family Friday. That night marked the 15th wedding anniversary for my spouse, Becky, and me. Instead of our usual pizza and cable movie, we got Thai takeout and sat down to watch our wedding video with our two daughters.
From the moment the words from our wedding invitation -- "Becky and Marianne invite you to share their joy as they enter into the sacred covenant of marriage" -- scrolled across the screen, tears and laughter flowed in equal measure. It was profound grace to see 225 people, including high school and college friends, co-workers, four generations of our families, nuns, and dear friends from across the country all gathered as witnesses and celebrants for this nuptial Mass. The choir was sublime. The words of our homilists -- another lesbian Catholic couple whose strength and passion inspire us -- were prophetic in placing this sacrament in the time before legalized same-sex marriage was conceivable. Viewing our exchange of vows and rings as we stood together before the Gospel Book, the same vows we've renewed on most of our anniversaries, was another opportunity to recommit ourselves to one another. Seeing the more than a dozen loved ones we've lost since that day as they were in life was a gift. Watching ourselves give Communion to those present brought rich memories of the connections made throughout the day.
The greatest impact, however, was in reflecting on all that has happened during the past decade and a half. Since our wedding day we've made public commitments on two more occasions. We celebrated a civil union in Vermont in 2000 and were legally married in Massachusetts in June 2004, on the same day that we baptized our older daughter. We purchased a home and have gone through four job changes between us. We've had four cats and two dogs. We opened our home to an elderly friend with serious kidney disease who needed a place to stay briefly. She wound up being with us for over four years. We have adopted two amazing daughters from foster care. We've experienced child care transitions, pre-K, kindergarten, and elementary school, and now we have a middle-schooler. We've chaperoned field trips, been the Book Club Moms, and hosted sleepovers with gaggles of giggling, hungry girls of diverse racial, religious and family backgrounds. We have worked with a wide range of therapists to support our daughters in dealing with the effects of their early lives.
We struggle to manage work, school, our relationship, household chores, and time with friends. We've been the primary caregivers for one of our sisters during her three-and-a-half-year battle with cancer. We've buried her, as well as a brother and a sister-in-law, a cousin, and many friends. We've nursed one another through medical crises and dealt with the illnesses of other family members. We have taken some amazing vacations, both before the kids came along and with them. We ditched the convertible early on and drove our 1999 Subaru into the ground before replacing it with a minivan. As a family we have walked to raise money and awareness for people and causes we care about, shopped for holiday gifts and food for members of our school community in need, and donated time, money, and goods to many organizations. We have tried to get to liturgy with our community as often as possible and have been grateful for the rare opportunities we've had to take active roles in the Mass. We have lit Advent wreaths, placed the infant Jesus in the manger, prayed for peace on New Year's, and celebrated Holy Week liturgies and Easter Vigils. We've juggled bills and time priorities and do our best to enjoy the many cultural and environmental opportunities offered by our city.
In short, we've had a rich life as a couple and as a family. In lots of ways we are very similar to many other families all across the U.S. We've also had some challenges that other families don't have to deal with. Some have been cultural and legal, but those that have had the deepest impact have been religious.
When we first decided to adopt, Becky and I called Catholic Charities. We were told that they might train and certify us as foster or adoptive parents but would never place a child with us. Our first daughter went to Catholic school for kindergarten, which was a very positive experience for her, for us as parents, and, we hope, for many of the other families. However, we heard of children of lesbian and gay parents being expelled from Catholic schools and decided not to risk that happening with our kids. We've heard the pope say that we were doing violence by trying to provide love and stability for our daughters. We've seen our bishops lead efforts to deny marriage equality in at least 10 states, as well as at the Supreme Court, often using language and images that we find deeply demeaning. We've endured instances of fearing we'd be turned away from Communion during funeral or baptism Masses if our family was recognized for what it is. We've witnessed people like us being fired just for being who they are, or because they have or desire a loving relationship.
We've also had Sisters from the community where Becky once was a member proudly introduce us and our daughters to those gathered for a post-Mass brunch at the Motherhouse and have found respite from the demands of caring for two wounded children through the generosity of friends with whom we worship. Our community has gladly accepted Cheerios from a sticky-fingered toddler who distributed them carefully to those gathered around the altar, in her own expression of Communion. We've felt pride when our daughters offer prayers for people who are homeless or hungry, sick dogs, members of their birth families, and for those affected by natural disasters or violence as we join hands for grace before family meals.
The pope can ask, "Who am I to judge?" Cardinal Timothy Dolan can say the Catholic Church should be more welcoming of lesbian and gay people -- with no mention of our bisexual and transgender friends. But I wonder: Are these men and other church leaders ready to look at the lives of people like Becky, our daughters, and me and acknowledge that we are part of the church? Why do they focus so many of the Catholic Church's resources on opposing civil equality for families like ours? Why do they continue to deny that there can be holiness in relationships like ours? Why do they fail to listen to the millions of Catholics who already know this truth through their experience of LGBT family members?
We are blessed to be part of a Catholic faith community that affirms us and is unconditionally welcoming of our kids, and where lay people take responsibility for the life of our group. But most Catholics worship in more traditional settings, so these questions may be even more challenging for them. For us not to feel harshly judged, and to know the grace of true welcome, the laity and leaders of the Catholic Church need to engage one another on the role of LGBT people. And we who are LGBT Catholics need to keep lifting the truth of our lives into the light so that the dissonance of teaching and reality becomes ever more uncomfortable for all Catholics.
In the meantime, Becky and I will continue to live the values so important to us and hope that our daughters find a supportive home in the church we love.
Follow Marianne T. Duddy-Burke on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DignityUSA