Contraception, sex, and gay marriage

September 2, 2006 | 9 comments

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.


  1. Jim McCullough

    Compared to the culture, and to many, many of us in the Church who have only learned gradually to swim against the riptide of the culture, you are a fast learner. Congratulations, thank you for joining, and pray for us all.

    DRE in Greensboro, NC

  2. Adoro Te Devote

    Thank you, thank you, and thank you again. You have put a certain clarity on this issue which is difficult to find! God bless you!

  3. Jennifer F.

    Jim – you’re too kind. I don’t think it’s as much that I’m a fast learner as it is that the truth of Catholic teaching is so obvious that it hit me upside the head like a 2×4. It’s hard to deny. 🙂

  4. John Weidner

    You might find interesting DREADNOUGHT, the blog of conservative gay catholic John Heard…

    Or maybe not. It’s pretty strange stuff, and I’m not sure what to make of him myself. He’s definitely thought-provoking…

  5. Bekah

    Yes, I’ve long argued, even in my pre-Catholic days, that contraception leads directly to gay-union. What is the difference, if we accept fruitless-by-choice unions between heteros? There is none. Thank you for your well-stated observations of the issue.

  6. Jason

    Those are some compelling thoughts even for an extremely protesty Protestant like me. I don’t think the whole gay marriage argument hinges on reproduction (or lack thereof), but it’s clearly a significant part of it.

  7. ELC

    I blogged about this a few years ago: “I would like to add that our society was set on this course [accepting, first, homosexuality, and next pedophilia] when it became widely accepted that (1) sex is not properly related to procreation, (2) sex is not properly related to marriage, and (3) marriage is not really a life-long exclusive commitment. IOW, when immoral behavior among heterosexual adults became widely accepted.”

  8. Amy Caroline

    This has always been a hard issue for me, as my sister is a lesbian. I, of course, would want her to know the beauty of a committed marriage sanctioned by God and all. It is hard to look at her and say she can’t have it. But that is the thing, it isn’t sanctioned by God. It is hard to have those you love, friends or family, choose this lifestyle. As I was practically raised by her I have such a hard time.
    Everything you say here is true, I just wish… ah sigh… just pray, wishing is a waste of time.

  9. Dan Muhlenkamp

    Well put. I especialy like the fact that you recognize what society calls marriage as different from what the sacrament of matrimony is.
    This is why I like the idea of "civil unions". If what society calls marriage was called "a civil union", the it would be much more difficult for everyone to confuse their unity of couples with the sacrament of matrimony, a unity of souls.

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