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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

By Marianne Duddy-Burke, DignityUSA Executive Director 

Blessed Pride! What a year it has been! With the recent enactment of marriage equality in Rhode Island, Delaware, and Minnesota, it is estimated that one in five same-sex couples now live in places where they can be legally wed. We await decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court that could well overturn both California’s Proposition 8 and the Federal DOMA restrictions on same-sex couples. Equality is on the move, and Catholics continue to lead the march toward greater justice.

I celebrate Pride this year with a new appreciation of the work done by so many to achieve so much. During May, I had the great privilege of representing DignityUSA at the annual conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, held in Zug, Switzerland. LGBT Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants from approximately sixteen European nations gathered for three and a half days of networking, workshops, worship, and shared meals. Although I was there to present a session on the LGBT Catholic movement in the U.S. and to meet with the Forum’s Board of Directors, the real benefit came from meeting with individuals and small groups of Catholics, hearing about their experiences and the work they are doing, and learning just how much Dignity’s work has inspired so many.

From French Catholics angry about their bishops’ role in inciting violent opposition to samesex marriage, to Germans who seal their official records to hide same-sex marriages from Church registrars who regularly seek this information, to Polish activists who have launched a campaign promoting public images of lesbian and gay couples in committed relationships, to those across Eastern Europe who march in Pride Parades despite being pelted with rocks, bottles, and flaming rags, I met people whose lives and work are deeply inspiring. As conference attendees followed the reports from Minnesota’s marriage debate, many of our European sisters and brothers commented how astonished they are by the freedom we have in the U.S. and the many groups working for LGBT equality. Many, many told me they follow DignityUSA’s work and the work of our chapters, and often base their own efforts on things we have done. One Polish Catholic told me he felt they were “dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants” when he compared their activity to what Dignity has accomplished. I felt the work he and his colleagues were doing echoed back to our earliest days when visibility was dangerous, but we did the very necessary service of creating awareness and making conversation and change possible.

On Saturday afternoon, conventioneers traveled to Zurich for some sightseeing, followed by a Eucharistic liturgy held at a church built in the 1200’s by Augustinian friars and staffed by that community for over 800 years. It is now an Old Catholic Church, and the pastor welcomed us with a profound graciousness. I couldn’t help but think of the generations of Catholics whose prayers and faith 

had sanctified that space, as I looked at the rainbow cloths draped around the church, and heard the bells pealing in welcome as we gathered. To hear the Lord’s Prayer recited in each worshiper’s language reminded me of the first Christian Pentecost, and gave a thrilling sense of the diversity and potential of our movement world-wide.

During the closing ritual on Sunday morning, conference attendees witnessed the commitment blessing of a lesbian couple from Russia. The two young women had been unable to find anyone in their area who would dare to perform the ceremony. It was a powerful thing to see representatives from across the continent, from England to Russia, affirm and bless this relationship. What a powerful, significant way to end a truly remarkable experience. I returned home deeply aware of our connection to one another in the Body of Christ, and of how that Body’s pain and joy coexist.

As we mark Pride this year, may our awareness of others’ situations be expanded, and may we rededicate ourselves to working for the fullness of justice for all people.