Last year when I first started to feel drawn to Christianity I spent a lot of time worrying about how this would affect my relationship with our friends who are gay. Three of our very dearest friends are homosexual men and it made me cringe to think about having to defend Christian beliefs on their lifestyle.
Though I was eager to tell everyone else about my spiritual journey, I kept this part of my life hidden from my gay friends. Also, at the time the issue of gay marriage was the hot topic in our state. When I thought of the subject coming up at an upcoming dinner party where we’d be the only heterosexual couple there I decided I’d just have to pretend to choke to death on my food to avoid having to talk about it.
My guilt around the issue should have been a sign that something was amiss. I didn’t feel guilty about defending other areas of Christian teaching, but this stood out as an uncomfortable issue for me. And now I understand why.
Back then I was arguing from our modern, contraception culture’s view of marriage. If I’d taken the time to write out a definition of “marriage” it would have been something like: a commitment to sexual monogamy that you enter into when you really like someone, usually involving an exchange of rings. That’s it. The beauty I saw in it is that it was two people coming together who really, really liked each other. Coming at it from this point of view, where many married couples are not much different than roommates, the whole thing about it being between a man and a woman seems pretty arbitrary. I still had a vague gut feeling that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and I believed that that was probably also the “correct” point of view to hold as a Christian, but I had a hard time defending those beliefs.
Until I discovered the Catholic Church. As with so many other things in my life, it all fell into place. I shouldn’t have been surprised that looking at it through the lens of Church wisdom, sanctioned by God and honed over 2, 000 years by some of the greatest minds in Western civilization, made everything clear.
It immediately struck me that I was applying God’s laws unequally. I saw one standard for behavior applying to those who are attracted to people of the opposite gender, and another applying to those who are attracted to people of the same gender. By arguing from the modern, pro-contraception view of marriage I was saying to my gay friends, “We can use sex as a recreational activity but you can’t.” It didn’t feel right.
My acceptance of contraception — something I’d never even thought to question before I discovered Catholicism — necessitated the view that marriage does not have to go hand in hand with the creation of children. That makes the purpose of marriage difficult to discern but it’s basically just sexual monogamy. And (per that acceptance of contraception) sex isn’t even that big of a deal anyway. From there it seemed downright rude to tell gays and lesbians that they couldn’t get in on that.
It didn’t take too much reading of the Cathecism to realize where I’d gone wrong.
As I delved further and further into the Church my view of marriage changed drastically. I was intimidated by the huge, almost crushingly heavy responsibility that comes with accepting Catholic teaching. Yet I knew I’d found truth here. And I knew that I would no longer be holding myself to a different standard than my friends who had same-sex attractions.
Though my opinion is that gay marriage is not the same thing as heterosexual marriage, I don’t feel guilty about it. As a Catholic, those opinions are based on teachings that are heavy for me as well as for my friends with same-sex attractions. Just because I’m married doesn’t mean that I get a “Get Out of Sin Free” Card when it comes to sex; that by virtue of being heterosexual all I had to do was exchange some vows and then go on my merry way; that casual sex is OK as long as it’s done by a married man and woman. To practice what I preach when I say that respect for the gravity of the sexual act is what separates us from animals, that it’s not to be used for solely for personal pleasure, that the act should always involve openness to life, is not easy.
As demanding as Catholic teachings on sex and marriage are, it’s actually been easier to defend. I no longer get wrapped up in the confusing back-and-forths and circular logic involved in trying to defend the sanctity of marriage while accepting pretty much any two people as “married” as long as they’re heterosexual and they exchanged some rings. I actually have even more sympathy for my gay friends on this issue now. They don’t see anything particularly unique about the unions that our anti-life, pro-contraception culture calls “marriage” that would exclude them. And, frankly, neither do I.
UPDATE: I posted on this here as well.
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