Two weeks ago, an official Vatican decree pierced my bubble of newlywed bliss.
Last month, an Episcopal priest blessed my same-sex wedding. The experience moved me deeply; it offered something unexpectedly profound. But the recent decree banned Catholic priests from blessing same-sex unions of any kind. So I know that queer Catholics have reason to grieve this lost hope: The ban stands to deprive them of something more substantial than a ceremony.
Being a member of the queer community and a church community feels like quite the balancing act. When my wife and I sent out the invites to our February 2021 Zoom wedding, I considered including a trigger warning — something like, “It’s going to be church-y.”
Among many queer people, churches are a common source of trauma. Religious heterosexism legitimizes homophobia. It makes the world less safe for us. When stigma and dogma become conflated, hatred can feel like holiness. Many harmful inclinations have found justification in churches: from ostracizing queer kids to legitimizing conversion therapy to justifying homophobic violence. Using doctrine to justify discrimination reinforces prejudices and gives existing social stereotypes moral legitimacy. It even pushes people around us to question our morality and belonging, suddenly excluded from the social supports tied to our houses of worship.
So it felt like a lot to ask our queer wedding guests to celebrate in a place tied to explicit nonacceptance, and even hatred, of them.
Some of our religious guests had reservations as well. A handful of our conservative Christian relatives felt a lesbian church wedding was offensive. A few refused to attend.
For various reasons, some loved ones struggled to imagine the two of us starting married life in a church. But my wife has a remarkable ability to imagine herself in spaces that can’t imagine her.
A South Carolina native, my wife grew up in church. It’s fundamental to her culture and family life. When she realized she was gay, she weathered the stigma within her church and family. She collected scars and kept going.
My wife interpreted being gay as a God-given layer of spiritual complexity. She stayed at that church, determined to discern the lesson and gifts within her queerness.
My childhood church was also non-affirming. I was taught that my body was a sin. As a queer person, to love in the way God made me was a sin. At the same time, I was taught that God is love. The hypocrisy fractured my spirit. After enough injury, I left. That was 15 years ago. I am not quite as shame-resistant as the brave woman I married.
In July 2019, we picked out rings and I proposed. She asked me if I would marry her in a Christian ceremony. It was deeply important for me to honor her spiritual courage.
We found a little stone church in our Manhattan neighborhood with a rainbow flag and a Black Lives Matter banner outside. They believed in a version of God that resembled the God of our childhoods, but one that didn’t seem to make people hate themselves and, by extension, each other.
For more than a year, we met with an Episcopal priest for premarital counseling. We dug deep into meaningful questions — equality, goals and God. I was always waiting to find out we didn’t qualify after all. Whenever we prayed or read scripture, I mentally replaced the words “God” and “Jesus” with the word “love.” It worked for me. It helped me think about what was being said rather than the bigotry that is so often perpetrated under those names. I started to enjoy the meetings.
Then, the world changed. We weathered a few family and health crises. Coronavirus hit. Church and counseling moved online. We replanned the wedding three times. Gradually, our priest became a source of comfort and guidance. We ultimately decided: Feb. 13, 2021, would be our wedding date.
When I saw my wife for the first time on our wedding day, I will never forget the expression on her perfect heart-shaped face. She looked hopeful, trusting, unguarded. I felt like I could see her at every age she had ever been. I could see her heart hoping again for things she had let go of. I could see her as a child. I could see her little feet dangling off the pew, learning not to dream of walking down that aisle to marry another woman. And then I saw her younger than that, before anyone told her to be smaller.
Our priest met us at the little stone church.
Friends and family dressed up and gathered virtually. I don’t think anyone knew exactly what to expect. What they witnessed and affirmed was blessedly familiar: We promised our lives to each other. There was music, readings, prayers, tears, rings and abundant love. Our priest wore robes with a clerical collar, looking every bit the symbol of the Church. She joined our hands, wrapped them in the stole of her vestments, and asked God to bless this holy union. In that moment, I felt old injuries starting to heal over.
Far from being a trigger, it was a balm. We stood on holy ground. I felt fully known and seen and honored. Cultural traditions bind people together through generations. They remind us of our shared humanity. My heart aches, knowing many of my LGBTQ siblings are still deprived of this.
The Vatican is banning priest from blessing same-sex unions because they “cannot bless sin.” “Sin” is one of those sharp, emotional, words that stir up impenetrable, nebulous guilt. But sin is simply anything that comes between God and us.
Marriage is a holy sacrament in the Christian religion, ordained by God. To my Catholic LGBTQ siblings, please know that marriages like ours are not sinful. They draw us closer to each other and to the divine. Preventing priests from invoking God’s blessing is sinful.
The priest who blessed our union didn’t have any special powers. She is just a person like the rest of us. But clergy who convince people that God’s love is too small for equality are also just human beings. People in positions of authority have a responsibility to help restore what their institutions have taken.
Our church wedding accomplished something in our family that years of theological debate and hurtful arguments at the dinner table couldn’t begin to address. It afforded us the dignity to reclaim our place in the church community. God felt present. Maybe God is love, as my priest believes, or Jesus, as my wife believes, or ineffable goodness, as I think I believe.
My heart is softening to the idea that perhaps there isn’t a meaningful difference.
Katherine Hunt is a freelance writer based in New York City.