With the quickly changing landscape of discussions surrounding homosexuality in the broader culture has come the advent of new ways of describing the varying situations that same-sex attracted Christians find themselves in. One of these situations is being married to the opposite sex.
These types of marriages have often been pigeon-holed into one of two narratives, depending on who is evaluating them. For many conservative Christians, these marriages have been used as a sort of sign-post declaring that one has “arrived” and has experienced re-orientation, or the change from a homosexual orientation to a heterosexual one. Thus, whole ministries have been geared around the goal of having participants get married to a woman.
This narrative, however, fails on multiple fronts.
First, those who have embraced this story as their own and used their marriages as symbols of orientation change face intense pressure to hide any recurrence of their attractions to the same-sex. This narrative cultivates an environment where honesty must be subordinated to the premise that one has “changed.”
Second, the past twenty years have shown us that many of these marriages built on the premise of complete orientation change were really nothing of the sort. In many cases, the spouse who had supposedly changed, actually continued to experience same-sex attractions, and the pressure to hide those attractions eventually led to the dissolution of the marriage. Suffice it to say, holding up heterosexual marriage as a sort of panacea to cure gays and lesbians is misleading and harmful.
Another narrative that such marriages get forced into by those who react against the emphasis on orientation change is that these marriages are not real at all. Some would suggest that those in such marriages are basically deceiving themselves and trying to “fake it till they make it.” The idea is that if I am attracted to men but married to a woman, I am essentially lying to myself, that the love that I have for my spouse is not “real” marital love, and that these marriages uniformly lead to pain and hardship for all involved. However, the suggestion that these marriages are all faux-marriages can be just as misleading as the first narrative.
How do I know? Well, I’m in one. For me, my attraction to Christy began emotionally. She was someone that I enjoyed spending time with. I loved her personality, her interests, her passionate pursuit of God. I thought she was attractive, but more in the sense of “she’s cute” and less in the sense of “I want to lust after her.” As we started getting to know one another more and began dating, I saw my emotional attraction toward her develop into a very real physical and sexual longing for her. I had been attracted to a few girls before, but nothing as substantial as what I felt for Christy as our relationship blossomed.
One of the key moments for me in the process of evaluating our relationship was the two-week span before we got engaged in the fall of 2009. I had to really wrestle with the question, “Am I in love with Christy the person or am I in love with idea of being married to Christy?” Now this is a question that everyone who is contemplating engagement ought to ask, regardless of their attractions. And though it might seem that it would be easy to distinguish between the two, the number of people that get divorced within the first few years of marriage suggests otherwise. I had to ask hard questions like “Would I still marry her if the laws changed and I could marry a guy?” or even harder, “What if the church changed its views and allowed for same sex couples to get married? Would I still marry Christy?” Although they were just hypotheticals, these questions did help me sort out my feelings enough to know that I wanted to be with Christy and no one else—guy or girl.
Christy and I have been married a little over three years. She has known about my sexual orientation from the start and has been my greatest support and encouragement in pursuing faithfulness to the Lord in the midst of ongoing struggle. My marriage is not a sign that I’ve arrived and am now completely straight, nor is it fake. Rather, I like to think that it is as full of love, joy, hardship, and struggle as any other marriage. We watch the TV show “Parenthood” together and dream of having kids. We get in fights. We read books aloud to one another on road trips. We argue over finances. When I consider my life as a married man, I can honestly say that I’m deeply in love (eros, philia, agape—all of the above) with Christy.
Some people describe our situation using the term “mixed-orientation marriage.” Typically the term is used to refer marriages in which one spouse has a heterosexual orientation, while the other spouse has a non-heterosexual orientation (i.e. has a bisexual or homosexual orientation). Thus, the label “mixed-orientation marriage” is more a description of the sexual attractions experienced by each spouse than a description of the nature of the marriage itself.
Now Christy and I never have (and still don’t) call our marriage a mixed-orientation marriage. We typically call our marriage, well, a marriage, just like anyone else. However, mixed-orientation marriage can be useful shorthand for explaining the reality that I experience ongoing sexual attraction to the same sex, while being very much in love with my wife. As with many folks who are in my somewhat unique situation, the attraction that I experience toward my wife is emotional, spiritual, and physical. This doesn’t mean that my attractions have changed broadly speaking. I’m still primarily attracted to men. But I am also very much attracted to my wife. Thus, in no way do I feel as though my marriage with Christy involves “faking” attraction toward her.
However, I see a few short-comings to the term “mixed-orientation marriage.” First, the term can be used to encapsulate a wide variety of situations (i.e. where there is not sexual attraction toward the spouse, or the straight spouse was not aware of the other spouse’s attractions, etc.), some of which are more commendable than others. Second, the term can suggest that these marriages are sort of special kind of “second-class” marriage (i.e. not the real thing). Third (and this follows from the second), the term might suggest that the expectations and responsibilities for each spouse in these marriages are somehow different. I don’t think that this should be the case.
Whatever term you use to describe my situation, I hope you will be willing to recognize that my story, while by no means normative for everyone who is gay, is one worth recognizing as a legitimate vocation for some Christians who long for the companionship of marriage.
Kyle Keating is a M.Div. candidate at Covenant Theological Seminary and teacher of Bible and Theology at a small Christian school in St. Louis, Missouri where he lives with his wonderful wife Christy. He can be followed on Twitter: @KyleAKeating.
though i may have theological issues with your stance, as long as you allow others the god given choice of their own story i have no quarrel. good post, fair and personal.
You have described my own situation, pretty much to a T. I’m a few years further down the road than you, since my wife and I have five young children. As I’m sure you can tell, there are unique challenges to this type of marriage. The biggest unique challenge, however, you are obviously facing quite well: openness. It is extremely rare for a couple to be open about one spouse’s same-sex attraction, even among close friends. But the more people in our situation that are open, the less the “you’re just closeted and leading a double life” narrative will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It’s no longer shameful, in American culture, to be gay (for the most part). But to be strongly attracted to men and married to a woman? There’s a heck of a lot of shame thrown at people like that.
Nice to meet you,
Thanks, Kyle and Daniel. As someone in a situation similar to yours, these stories are important for me. Similar stories have also appeared recently on Rachel Held Evans blog and in Jeff Chu’s book. I thank God for his grace in allowing these narratives to come to light.
What I would like to see discussed more is whether a “mixed orientation marriage” can be considered legitimately valid, given the psychological profile of homosexuality held by many of the orthodox. Specifically, how can someone whose orientation identifies him as potentially “affectively immature” (to use the terminology of Rome) give the requisite consent for marriage?
To Irksome12: How many “straight” spouses are “affectionately mature”? Any? I doubt it highly. Is anyone truly able to give the requisite consent? I think the fate of marriages in our society, even among Catholic Christians says otherwise. One never knows. When I was a Pentecostal preacher I approached a marriage with great trepidation, and ultimately saw nearly all the couples I joined end up separating. We can only do our best, and “mixed orientation” is often a far lighter barrier to success than other common societal factors. Rome certainly does (or at least should) recognize the validity of a marriage in which one spouse ultimately proves unable to keep faithfulness. If it did not, divorce would be recognized.
My own story: I am definitely homosexual, but I was strongly attracted to and in love with one woman, my late wife Dorothy, there were no others, and the attractions that I still experienced toward males gave me no serious trouble while she lived.. The 14 years until she died were years of challenge, yes, but also of love. I was then a preacher, and believed I had been “healed” of that affliction. That was never true, and our marriage would have been smoother if we could both have recognized that, but neither of us could. I realized when she died that it was still guys I wanted, but Lady Celibacy still has my heart. We with SSA have a hard row to hoe, but ultimately have the same choices before us as any other Christian.
I think “affective immaturity” is said to come in several different flavors of which homosexuality is just one. Obviously an affectively immature heterosexual would be just as incapable of marriage as an affectively immature homosexual. My understanding is that homosexuality is always>/I> reckoned a sign of affective immaturity.
Also, Rome always presumes the validity of any marriage until evidence surfaces that says otherwise. So, an immature couple who attempt marriage without really knowing what they’re doing may well have their marriage declared null as soon as the immaturity becomes apparent. If one spouse says publicly, “I’m gay,” wouldn’t that constitute evidence of affective immaturity sufficient to nullify the marriage? Why or why not?
A wonderful post Kyle. You and Christy have one of the most loving and intimate marriages we know of, and you inspire us! Thank you for being a godly, loving, wonderful husband to our daughter! We are so thankful that you are a part of our family! 🙂
Kyle–much thanks for sharing your experience. I think it’s tough for married guys like us to tune out both the “He’s cured; thanks be to God” response and the “He’s deluding himself and destroying his family” response we hear when people find out we’re gay (or whatever a guy in our shoes calls it–gay works for me). My wife has always known about my sexuality, and, like you, our relationship began through a deep emotional connection that grew into something far greater. I still question my decision to get married sometimes, but I figure most married people do regardless of orientation. We love each other for who we are which I think counts for a lot.
Your openness with your story is encouraging to me. The secret and the fear of judgment and loss have been far more difficult for me to bear then my desire for relationship with another man. I’m taking steps to be more honest with the people I love, and your honesty is inspiring.
So good to see so many people in similar situations to mine! Very encouraging as I awkwardly walk this out.
Kyle, thanks for continuing to share your and Christy’s story in an open manner. We lovingly support both of you! Dad and Mom.
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Thank you for sharing this. My wife and I have been married for eight years and our situation is similar to yours. I’d like to share more details about what we are dealing with and hear your thoughts.
For now I have this question. Do you see your homosexuality as sin that ideally you would be free from, or do accept that as part of who you are and not something that needs to be changed?
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I’m reading this really late, so I don’t know if I’ll get a reply, but…
Is experiencing SSA, while married to someone of the opposite sex but to whom you are also attracted, any different from what many (or most or all) heterosexual people experience in a marriage? (This is a sincere not a rhetorical question; I’m honestly not sure.) That is, you are attracted to your wife, but you also find yourself attracted–possibly even more attracted at times–to certain other people.
I have several female friends who are attracted to their husbands, to some fair degree…. But they’re not overwhelmingly attracted to them. And sometimes they are overwhelmingly attracted to other men. (They don’t cheat; they just view this as a challenge of monogamy.)
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Excellent pieces by Kyle, et.al., and something we need to keep alive in telling our stories of consecrated marriage. At forty years, my wife and I agree that “mixed-orientation marriage” IS NOT helpful terminology and only serve to pander to the overly adjectival vernacular of our times! We believe that fidelity and love deepen and expand over time, eclipsing all descriptors that would “qualify” marriage or consecrated friendship.