(Page 2 of 3)
Though Regala’s parents were influenced to some extent by the stereotypes and prejudices of their time, they raised their children to believe that everyone is equal. It’s why Regala never listened to those who warned her, in 1968, that she shouldn’t marry her husband, Leo, who is Filipino. “God never intended for races to intermarry,” one woman told her, disregarding the fact that interracial marriage had been legalized nationwide the year before. “That’s why He made us different colors.” Confronting discriminatory comments at that time was an experience that deepened Regala’s growing awareness of the ways prejudice and insensitivity can permeate social, cultural, and religious values and mindsets.
Differences in their backgrounds weren’t limited to race, either. Although baptized Catholic as an infant, Debbie Regala grew up attending the Presbyterian church located across the street from her childhood home, following her mother’s faith tradition. The adobe mission-style church with its inviting curves and distinctive bell tower is located just down the tree-lined street from the Catholic parish she would later attend as a wife, mother, and grandmother. Proximity to both churches shaped her life in rich, deep ways: neighbors included Reverend Long, the innovative, philanthropic Presbyterian pastor who helped Regala attain her dream of attending college after graduation from Stadium High School, and a handful of nuns whose collective presence once inspired her to dream about joining a convent. Regala recalls that the pastor and the priest were great friends who worked together to address social ills affecting their shared community. Her paternal grandmother, who also lived nearby, was nicknamed “Father Godley’s Alarm Clock,” due to her dashes up the rectory steps each Sunday at dawn to make sure the priest was awake and preparing for Mass.
Leo Regala, in contrast, was raised Catholic and attended Bellarmine Preparatory School, an esteemed Jesuit Catholic institution in Tacoma whose mission strives to “graduate students who are open to growth, intellectually competent, religious, loving, and committed to doing justice.” There, Leo learned that Catholic men and women have the responsibility to inform and follow their consciences, and even question elements of their own faith traditions that may contradict personal beliefs or insights thoughtfully and prayerfully arrived at. Their deepening friendship introduced Debbie Regala to new (Jesuit) ways of thinking about faith, public service, and moral conscience that she found, and continues to find, socially inspiring, mentally challenging, and spiritually uplifting. In Leo’s words, “The Catholic Church supports free will, and I was taught to question.”
They were married at the time of the Second Vatican Council, when Catholic tradition and theology were revitalized and made more accessible through the substitution of vernacular speech for Latin during the liturgy, an extension of roles and responsibility within the Church for laypeople, and an encouragement of interfaith and ecumenical relationships, among other teachings. Over the next four decades, their parish church served as the setting for those most significant sacramental moments that mark the seasons of a Catholic family’s life: baptisms, confirmations, weddings, confessions, blessings, funerals. Debbie Regala was an enthusiastic, active parishioner, serving at various times as a lector, a member of the parish council, and a pre-marriage counselor, an experience that helped her "think about what marriage and lifelong commitment is really about.”
Leaving decades of memories and family history behind proved a wrenching process for Regala, especially since it was a choice she never imagined she’d have to make. She reflects that her support of marriage equality shouldn’t have come as a surprise, after all, considering her previous voting record. Regala’s public support of the LGBT community can be traced back to 1996, when, in her second year as a state legislator, she delivered a speech to colleagues on the House floor in opposition to Washington’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Around that same time, a friendship with Sen. Ed Murray, a longtime champion of gay rights and lifelong Catholic, was fostered. Regala remembers that she and Murray would attend Mass together when the archbishop was passing through Olympia, choosing seats front and center so that, despite differing views on some social issues, it was clear that their faith was important to them and, in Regala’s words, “they weren’t going anywhere.”
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!