BOSTON — They live in a non-descript house on a non-descript street with a Honda minivan in the driveway and Halloween pumpkins, ghosts, and skeleton heads all over the small front yard. Fini, 11, came back from Party City yesterday with her zombie ballerina costume and black lipstick. Emily, 12, has her Native American Princess outfit all set to go. A few minutes before 6, mom Becky came home with takeout from Pizza Hut and handed it out before a hectic night of homework, cleanup, showers, and early bedtime.
Nothing unusual here. Just a typical American family on a typical American school night, save this:
Becky is married to Marianne.
Fini and Emily have two moms.
Mom Marianne is Marianne Duddy-Burke, national executive director of Dignity USA, a 45-year-old organization pushing for change in the Catholic Church’s teachings on gays and lesbians.
And yesterday the Duddy-Burkes had an extraordinarily successful day: two moms and two kids’ prayers were answered when Catholic bishops at the Vatican released a preliminary report calling for the Church to accept gay couples and the children of their unions.
“We have no illusions that this document is going to be a silver bullet. It’s only an interim document. But to move from calling us intrinsically evil to that kind of language, well, it’s a significant signal,” Duddy-Burke said Monday in her Boston living room.
“Just imagining how it could be, to have our kids fully included in the Church, no questions about whether they can go to Catholic school, whether they can be baptized and welcomed to the sacraments,” she said. Whether out of the blue, when all seems regular and normal and nice, somebody will drop a dime to the priest or local bishop — even here in gay marriage Massachusetts — and whisper that Marianne Duddy-Burke is married to a woman. And two daughters are living in that unholy home. And something must be done.
“We call them snipers,” says Duddy-Burke of those lying in wait. She’s seen their victims over and over. Partners named as partners in an obituary. Suddenly they’re fired from a church job. Funerals — one for a close friend’s father in Massachusetts — where the priest announces before Communion: gay people should not “present themselves for the Eucharist.” So the daughter of the deceased man was marooned, humiliated, in her pew. Duddy-Burke has seen volunteer church ministers asked to remove themselves from ministry, including one young gay man who wrote on his Facebook page about attending a Dignity event.
Dignity runs numerous programs and weekly services for gays and lesbians and their families who would remain in the Catholic Church, but feel they can’t because of blatant prejudice against them or worse, their children. In Boston, the Dignity Mass, as they call it, takes place every Sunday at St. John the Evangelist Church. Sympathetic priests, and sometimes lay servers, preside.
Duddy-Burke doesn’t think yesterday’s Vatican move will put Dignity out of business. “But the Vatican has never said anything positive about same-sex relationships,” she said. “And in this document they’re (praising) long-term commitment and its sacrificial nature. They’re saying the rights and needs of the kids should be paramount.”
Yesterday, her kids said their family is no different than anybody else’s. “One of my closest friends has two mothers,” said Emily. “Another friend who’s homeschooled has two moms, too. It’s not a big thing.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke grew up the eldest of four girls in a devout New Jersey family. Catholic grammar school. Catholic high school. She was the youngest church lector in her parish, the youngest cantor. For much of high school, she went to daily Mass with the nuns and helped a blind chaplain at the altar. At Wellesley College, she was president of the campus Newman Center, a Catholic group, until “the chaplain somehow heard I was a lesbian. He asked me about it. I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ He said, ‘We can’t have someone like you representing Catholics on campus,’ and forced me to resign. I was devastated, without a community.”
Later she found a new community at Dignity. She met Becky, a Catholic convert and former nun, at Easter “Mass.” When they decided to adopt, they first tried Catholic Charities. But it rejected them because they are gay. They eventually adopted through the state Department of Children and Families.
“I remember Emily was in our home, but not adopted yet, when the Vatican started saying placing children with same-sex couples was causing violence,” Duddy-Burke said. “This was in the midst of sex abuse scandal. I’m thinking, ‘What’s violent about us? We’re just another family.’ ”
Eating her cheese pizza Monday night, Fini Duddy-Burke said she feels what her mother says: She’s just another kid in another family who’s pretty excited about Halloween. If she had a chance, she’d tell Pope Francis herself. “It’s good to have two moms. They’re the best. And we love them,” she said, even when “they yell at us.”
(Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the age of Dignity USA was incorrect.)