Nana & Dot were a couple for 50 years. And they had to pass as sisters for all of it.
Nana, my grandmother, met Dot at a time when same sex couples simply could not live openly. In many states they risked criminal prosecution. For many couples it meant being ostracized from their families and friends. This was true for Nana & Dot, who moved to California in the post-war years with my Nana’s two sons, my dad and uncle, in search of a life together as a family. They always faced the possibility that my dad and uncle could be removed from their home and my Nana’s parental rights removed, and that if one of them was in the hospital the other could be denied visitation rights, or worse if one died, the other’s family could claim all of their belongings, leaving the other nearly destitute.
Nana & Dot were also the strongest influences on my Catholic faith growing up. Their home was a place of prayer and pious devotion. They were Eucharistic Ministers at their parish, bringing communion to home-bound and hospitalized elderly. They taught me to pray the rosary. More than that, they showed me the values of love, fidelity, and mutual care. And, just as they adored that I was an altar boy in my youth, they would be deeply happy that I’m just months away from my own diaconate and priestly ordinations in the Jesuits.
This weekend, I’m thinking about Nana & Dot as the Supreme Court has ruled that marriage is to be considered a civil right for all couples, without exception. This week, thousands of couples in the United States will not have to endure a life of secrecy and legal uncertainty. This ruling means that their unions have the law behind them. Their families will be treated equally by the states, they will not risk losing their children and property because someone else disapproves of their union. As of today, as Justice Kennedy notes in his opinion, “This Court’s case and the Nation’s traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of the Nation’s social order,” and gay and lesbian civil marriages will be respected, as far as the law is concerned, as part of the foundation that contributes to our civil and social order.
I know there will continue to be objections from those who believe that gay and lesbian relationships are immoral or that same sex marriages can simply not be recognized as proper marriages, fellow Catholics and other Americans of good will among them. While they may have run out of legal options to prevent civil recognition of same sex marriage, they will continue to press for the freedom of religious institutions and individuals to live out their lives of faith according to deeply held beliefs. The issue of civil marriage recognition may be settled, but debates about the morality and legality of how individuals and institutions interact in a pluralistic society will continue.
The trending hashtag on Twitter this weekend is #LoveWins. I hope that this will be true for everyone of goodwill in this nation, regardless of their view of this decision. While the legal case may be settled, it does not bring everyone into agreement. But I sincerely believe that when they’re at their best, the United States of America and the Catholic Church are about the same thing: enabling and inspiring people to greater love, fidelity, and mutual care. Nana and Dot were both American and Catholic and these are the things they taught me to value most. It is my prayer that this ruling, which brings gay and lesbian people more openly into the mainstream of American society than ever before, can be an opportunity for greater understanding and mutual love and concern for each other.