For Gays Set to Marry, Some Obstacles Remain
Massachusetts Couple Struggling With Issues of Family and Religion
By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 15, 2004; Page A03
NORTH OXFORD, Mass. -- Chatting in their living room a few days ago, Diana Cutaia and Monica VanBuskirk fit the part of soon-to-be-newlyweds showing off homespun wedding favors, completing each other's sentences and offering hugs when the conversation turned to painful topics.
Amid the lesbian couple's excitement over legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts beginning Monday, there have been many hugs over painful times, too.
The women are Catholics who sought out the premarital counseling the church requires before priests will marry anyone. They found a priest to do the counseling but not the wedding -- they may not be married in the Catholic Church.
They are daughters of devout Catholics and said they have been ostracized by many in their families. Their parents will not attend their wedding, and VanBuskirk's mother offered to take her siblings on a vacation to Ireland so they are out of the country on their wedding day.
"Sure, in an ideal world, we'd like our whole family to be there and a full ceremony in a Catholic church and all that," Cutaia said. "But at the end of the day, it's not about those other things -- it's about us."
While the weddings of several thousand gay and lesbian couples are under legal challenge in San Francisco, here in Massachusetts, history will be made on Monday: Marriage licenses will be granted, and the first officially state-sanctioned same-sex weddings ever in the nation will take place.
The legal and political obstacles to the day were overcome by gay activists and their supporters. But for many same-sex couples, family and religious challenges remain.
Many mainstream churches will not conduct same-sex weddings. The Catholic Church, which is also a cultural and political force in Massachusetts, has been among the strongest opponents of the decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that ruled prohibition of gay marriage unconstitutional.
Boston Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley has cautioned against "vilification of any group of people, especially our homosexual brothers and sisters," but said in statement this week that "the creation of a right to same-sex marriage in the end will not strengthen the institution of marriage within our society but only weaken it as marriage becomes only one life-style choice among many others."
"When you hear things like that it sounds like they are preaching hate," Cutaia said.
Even more hurtful has been the response of Cutaia's and VanBuskirk's parents.
"I love my daughter, and I always will," Diana's father, Anthony Cutaia, said in a telephone interview from Boca Raton, Fla., where he lives. "But to me, there is no marriage. That's what it comes down to. Whatever exercise they go through is fine, but it's not a marriage."
VanBuskirk's parents declined to be interviewed for this article. Her uncle and godfather, Ed VanBuskirk, sent her a Bible study book two months ago, referring her specifically to a chapter titled "How Can I Resist Evil?"
Ed VanBuskirk, who lives in Kansas City, Mo., said in an interview that he has called Monica several times in recent months to try to better understand why she decided to marry a woman. "I haven't figured it out. I don't think anybody has," he said. "I am not trying to scold her, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't pray that she'd change her mind."
Cutaia and VanBuskirk met at a conference in Las Vegas three years ago. Cutaia had already been married once, to a man, for four years. VanBuskirk was about to enter her senior year at Smith College, in Northampton, Mass.
They have lived together, more or less, ever since. Cutaia, 31, is a basketball coach and sales manager at a fitness club. VanBuskirk, 23, works for the sports television network ESPN.
They are good for each other, both say. Cutaia, a pragmatist and occasional workaholic, had never taken a vacation without leaving a cell phone number on her answering machine greeting, until VanBuskirk encouraged her to really get away.
Laid back and bubbly, VanBuskirk said she is inspired by Cutaia's organization and ambition. Adorning their kitchen are a series of posters Cutaia made, listing various career and personal goals, some labeled "achieved" in blue marker. No. 6 is "get married."
"They really are so in love it's disgusting. There is no doubt in my mind they were meant for each other," said Cutaia's older sister Dawn Cutaia-Watchilla, who will be coming from York, Pa., for the wedding. In February, Cutaia-Watchilla wrote an e-mail to her diocese objecting to the church's stance on same-sex marriage. "My sister, Diana, is gay and this issue has completely divided my family," she wrote. "It seems as if only Catholics with a narrow mind are welcome at Church anymore."
Cutaia first proposed to VanBuskirk two years ago. They anticipated having a commitment ceremony and sought out the pre-Cana classes required of all Catholic couples planning to marry. But finding a priest willing to work with a gay couple was hard.
"I asked everyone I knew in the Catholic world if they knew of anyone who might be willing to do this," Cutaia said. "When I found him, he said he wasn't sure and that he had to pray about it for a couple of weeks. He got back to us -- he said he would put us through the same thing he put straight couples through. He said it would last a year, which seemed pretty long. Some people only go for an hour or two, but he is very by-the-book."
The priest, whom the couple described as an active member of the clergy in his fifties, would not be interviewed for this article for fear of being censured by the church, Cutaia and VanBuskirk said.
They said they have either met with him in person or spoken with him on the phone for an hour every two weeks since the classes began last summer. "He taught us to think about our relationship as a triangle, with God at the top and us on the sides," VanBuskirk said. "The closer we are to God, the closer we are to each other."
They joined a gay Catholic community called Dignity Boston, where up to 150 members worship each Sunday in an Evangelist church in Beacon Hill.
They pray together almost every night, though these days with Cutaia working normal hours and VanBuskirk on the 4 p.m.-to-midnight shift, they sometimes have to do so over the phone. "One of our favorite things to do is attend Mass together," Cutaia said. "We knew from the start that faith would have to play a major role in our relationship."
Then, on Nov. 18, the court announced its decision, outlawing prohibition on same-sex marriage. VanBuskirk called Cutaia at work. "Oh, my God," she recalled sputtering into the phone. "It's going to happen." They began plans not for a commitment ceremony but a wedding.
They are also being trained as Eucharistic ministers, and on their wedding day, June 5, will participate for the first time in a Mass, led by the priest who has counseled them. After that, the priest will depart, before the ceremony begins. "He told us he can't be part of that. He has a lot to lose," Cutaia said. The actual marriage will be performed by a justice of the peace at a community center.
Each has a sister serving as maid of honor, and Cutaia's 22-year-old brother will be master of ceremonies. It will be a traditional ceremony with a few exceptions: a Pablo Neruda poem subbed for one of the liturgical readings, and a 26-year-old flower girl, a friend of the couple's. The couple invited more than a hundred guests, though many family members will not be coming.
When she told her parents she was gay a few years ago, her mother took it the hardest, VanBuskirk said, writing in one memorable line from a 17-page letter to the couple: "You are turning your faces from God."
Her 12-year-old sister sent her an e-mail recently, begging her not to get married and asking, "What happens if you meet Mr. Right?"
"I called and told her," VanBuskirk said. "Diana is Miss Right."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company