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.