Why I cried when marriage equality was legalized
Ashton Weber | Tuesday, March 2, 2021
On June 26, 2015, I woke up at my grandparents’ home in New Hampshire. As I walked downstairs, I saw that the TV was on and that President Obama was addressing the nation, but I went to get breakfast instead of paying attention. A few minutes later, I returned to the living room where the TV was set up and saw the CNN commentators talking about marriage equality. The president had been sharing the outcome of Obergefell v. Hodges and affirming the right to marriage for same-sex couples.
Immediately, a rush of tears came to my eyes and I began to share the news with everyone I could find.
I’m sure you assume that I was sharing this news out of excitement, but I was sharing it out of disgust. As I’ve written before, I attended an incredibly conservative Catholic high school and didn’t come to reject that political identity until 2016, as Trumpism became more prevalent among my peers and I began to recognize its danger.
Seeing as this all took place in 2015, I was still indoctrinated by conservative Catholicism and took the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ position on same-sex marriage seriously. As I told the other members of my family the news, I explained how marriage equality would be the downfall of the American Catholic Church. That’s what I believed: If people of the same sex were permitted to wed, Catholic priests would be required to perform those marriages and the whole institution of marriage would crumble, bringing the Catholic Church along with it.
Perhaps this sounds dramatic, but considering the effort the USCCB put into their attempts to sway the court away from its decision, the conclusions of my 15-year-old brain felt logical. Don’t believe me? Read through the amicus brief the USCCB wrote to the Supreme Court, urging them to uphold laws that declare heterosexual marriage the only acceptable form. Or perhaps read what they posted after the decision was made. It includes a few lines like this: “The U.S. Supreme Court decision … is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us.”
Author’s note: I recognize that the USCCB is not representative of the Catholic Church as a whole. Throughout this column, when I am using the word Church, I am referring to the community of Catholics in the United States whose culture is heavily influenced by the USCCB and its decisions.
I was reminded of the USCCB’s position on marriage equality and the ways their position affected my adolescent mind when I logged onto Twitter this week to see that they had released yet another toxic opinion, this time regarding the House’s passage of the Equality Act. The Equality Act is a piece of legislation that seeks to amend civil rights laws that have already been passed so that they will now include protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Its passage will allow for more consistent protections against the discrimination of LGBTQ+ individuals, especially in areas like housing, employment and education.
This legislation should be celebrated because it works to fully affirm the humanity of LGBTQ+ people and to allow us to live proudly without experiencing discrimination that is deemed lawful. However, in the words of the USCCB, this legislation should not be written into law for the very same reasons. They name several “problems” with the Equality Act in their statement, but the one I want to focus on is that the act “forces faith-based charities that serve all people to violate their religious beliefs, and threatens the welfare of thousands of beneficiaries of charitable services such as shelters and foster care agencies, by forcing a multitude of them to be shut down.”
This language is ambiguous, but the USCCB outlines why the Equality Act would “harm” its ability to operate charitable organizations in another paper. You can find it here, where it argues that the problem with the Equality Act is that it would no longer allow the USCCB to discriminate. It explains in one example that, should it pass and require the USCCB to provide affirming housing for transgender individuals who experience homelessness, its charities would simply rather shut down. In another example, it claims that its passage would require adoption agencies to serve LGBTQ+ couples. However, they explain that its adoption agencies are so dedicated to the idea that children need to have one AFAB and one AMAB parent to survive that it would rather close than build families for LGBTQ+ couples.
Much like I believed as a 15-year-old, it seems that the USCCB is arguing that the passage of the Equality Act would be the downfall of the Catholic Church in the US and its charitable-industrial complex.
Much unlike my 15-year-old understanding, I now recognize that the closure of hospitals, adoption agencies, shelters and more is not inevitable with the passage of the Equality Act unless the Catholic Church in the US refuses to engage in affirming care for all human beings. The Church’s unwillingness to recognize the dignity of LGBTQ+ lives is what’s dangerous, not a law that would affirm this dignity and require it to be upheld.
The USCCB seems to be so worried about the dangers of equality legislation for children, but it forgets what this staunch anti-LGBTQ+ position does to children within our community. A recent Gallup poll revealed that 15.9% of American Generation Z adults identify as LGBTQ+, also showing that the number of people who identify as LGBTQ+ has consistently increased with each successive generation. Therefore, we can logically assume that there are a significant amount of LGBTQ+ children growing up right now.
As someone who grew up entrenched in homophobia because of the Catholic environment I grew up in, coming to terms with my sexuality was an incredibly painful process. The Catholic Church taught me that it was wrong to be myself and to love in the way I was created to, so I spent far too much time obsessed with the compulsory heterosexuality they taught me.
It breaks my heart that my internalized homophobia made me cry tears of fear instead of tears of joy on June 26, 2015. It breaks my heart even more that there are probably quite a few Catholic LGBTQ+ youth who feel the need to defend the Church’s position on the Equality Act today, lest they be outcast and deemed no longer fit to receive support from their communities.
The shame that the Church’s positions empower is far more harmful than legislation that affirms the humanity of queer people. Perhaps the USCCB should write a brief about that.
Ashton Weber is a junior with lots of opinions. She is majoring in gender studies and economics with a minor in sociology. Ashton can often be found with her nose in a book, but if you want to chat about intersectional feminism, baking blueberry scones, growing ZZ plants or anything else, she’d love to hear from you. Reach Ashton at [email protected] or @awebz01 on Twitter.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.