Why a gay Christian will not marry

Eve Tushnet, a celibate lesbian, answers this question in The Atlantic: With so many options for gay Christians, why stick with the Catholic Church?

On the Biblical witness:

Both opposite-sex and same-sex love are used, in the Bible, as images of God’s love. The opposite-sex love is found in marriage—sexually exclusive marriage, an image which recurs not only in the Song of Songs but in the prophets and in the New Testament—and the same-sex love is friendship. Both of these forms of love are considered real and beautiful; neither is better than the other. But they’re not interchangeable. Moreover, Genesis names sexual difference as the only difference which was present in Eden. There were no racial differences, no age difference, no children and therefore no parents. Regardless of how literally you want to take the creation narratives, the Bible sets apart sexual difference as a uniquely profound form of difference. Marriage, as the union of man and woman, represents communion with the Other in a way which makes it an especially powerful image of the way we can commune with the God who remains Other. That’s a quick and dirty summary, but it seems to me more responsive to the texts, more willing to defer to historical Christian witness, and more attuned to the importance and meaning of our bodies than most of the defenses I’ve read of Christian gay marriage.

On celibacy:

So here are three things which are not my reasons for being celibate:

Because I’m not the marrying kind. I can be pretty helplessly romantic, I enjoy taking care of the people I love, and I need adult supervision. I am exactly the marrying kind in those respects. I loved having girlfriends when I had them. I loved all the aspects of being in a couple, including—this is awkward, I hope my parents don’t read this—what I am just gonna call the physical elements.

Because I think the Catholic Church is perfect when it comes to gay people. Oh, say that sentence with a bitter laugh! I spend a lot of time these days working with people who are trying to make the Church a home for gay people. It’s painfully far from that now. I’ve written about possible approaches to counseling in Catholic schools; anti-bullying efforts; my problems with some of the language the Church uses about homosexuality; repressive ideas of gender which would leave no room for St. Francis and St. Joan; and shame-based therapy and bad psychological theories.

A friend of mine wrote about the role played by Jewish converts to Catholicism in improving the Church’s relationship to Judaism. The gay, celibate Christians I know feel a similar responsibility toward our churches. I feel about the Catholic Church more or less the way Winston Churchill (maybe) felt about democracy. Or, to put it less cutely, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Because I think gay people aren’t called to love. If I believed that Catholicism condemned gay people to a barren, loveless life, I would not be Catholic, full stop. All people have a call from God to give and receive love. (My faith has often forced me to accept God’s love when I didn’t feel like I deserved it. In Catholicism God knows, loves, and forgives you, no matter what; your own opinion of yourself is interesting but irrelevant.) For me the call to love takes the form of service to those in need, prayer, and, above all, loving friendship. Friendship was once a form of Christian kinship—see Alan Bray’s beautiful historical study, The Friend. It was honored by society, guided by theology, beautified by liturgy. It wasn’t a sloppy-seconds consolation prize for people who couldn’t get the real love of marriage; it was the form of love experienced and most highly praised by Jesus himself. Renewing this Christian understanding of friendship would help to make the Church a place where gay people have more opportunities for devoted, honored love—not fewer.

The Church needs to grow and change in response to societal changes. We can do so much better in serving the needs of gay/queer/same-sex-attracted Catholics, especially the next generation. But I think gay Catholics can also offer a necessary witness to the broader society. By leading lives of fruitful, creative love, we can offer proof that sexual restraint isn’t a death sentence (or an especially boring form of masochism). Celibacy can offer some of us radical freedom to serve others. While this approach isn’t for everyone, there were times when I had much more time, space, and energy to give to people in need than my friends who were juggling marriage and parenting along with all their other commitments. I’ve been able to take homeless women briefly into my own home, for example, which I would not have been able to do as spontaneously—and maybe not at all—if I had not been single.

Moreover, celibate gay Christians can offer proof that friendship can be real love, and deserves the same honor as any other form of lovingkindness, caretaking and devotion. While nobody wants every friendship to be a deep, committed “spiritual friendship” of the kind championed by St. Aelred, many of us—including single straight people, and married people of every orientation—long for deeper and more lasting friendships. The cultural changes which would better nourish celibate gay Christians, then, would be good for everyone else as well.

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One thought on “Why a gay Christian will not marry

  1. Wow! Eve – so interestingly named – offers a lucid, compelling, and beautiful account of celibate love and the distinction between marital love and the love of genuine friendship, between eros and filios. I have been blessed to know many homosexual Catholic Christians living in accord with God’s plan, living in celibacy. They struggle but they remain steadfast and their heroic virtue is an inspiration. They carry their cross with a smile, not a wince. I hope her words and example may invite and encourage others who struggle with same-sex attractions or who have “not found their vocations yet” to embrace the fullness of Jesus’ teachings in the Catholic Church and not to fear chastity and celibacy. May the love of deep and abiding friendship be renewed, especially with the Holy Trinity.

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