Following my post earlier in the week where I share some of our story, I wanted to reflect on a few other aspects of marriage as it relates to same sex attraction.
There are a lot of bad reasons to get married, and there are perhaps even more bad reasons to get married when you experience ongoing attraction to the same sex. Bad reasons might include:
- To convince myself (or anyone else) that I am straight.
- Because it’s what I’m supposed to do.
- Because marriage will change my attractions.
There’s one primary problem with all these reasons: they are about me. And the first lesson marriage teaches you is, say it together with me, it’s not about me. Marriage is about the other—caring, loving, providing, and sacrificing for your spouse. That’s not to say there aren’t benefits for me—there are. But a marriage motivated primarily by selfish desires is a short marriage.
Here’s the thing: in many ways a mixed-orientation marriage really ought to be like any other marriage.
It ought not be any less covenantally committed (spiritually, emotionally, and sexually) than any other marriage. As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the problems I have with the term mixed-orientation marriage itself is that it suggests that my marriage is somehow of a different type or class from a typical marriage. In reality, it is marriage in the standard sense of the Christian vocation of marriage; it is neither a faux, nor second-class form of marriage. When I talk to straight friends about their marriages, there is more we share in common than not. Thus, it is reasonable to view marriages where one spouse is attracted to the same sex like any other marriage, with the same expectations, responsibilities, and privileges. Are there unique challenges? Certainly. But I’ve found more continuity than discontinuity between my marriage and those typical among my friends.
Like any marriage, a mixed-orientation marriage should not be entered into lightly. It should only be pursued when there is a strong spiritual, emotional, and physical attraction between two people. Like any marriage, an especially high value should be placed on honesty and transparency. No two people know exactly what they are getting into when they say “I do,” but for mixed-orientation marriages, it is especially important that both spouses have talked through the ramifications of sexual orientation in their relationship. There is a substantially greater temptation to be dishonest both with themselves and with others, about their attractions and experience. It is important for the homosexual spouse to clearly communicate the nature of his or her attractions, as well as how those attractions are experienced in life. The heterosexual spouse should also be honest about how he or she feels about the homosexual spouse’s attractions. A substantial gap between the heterosexual spouse’s perceptions and the homosexual spouse’s reality will likely set the stage for serious marital problems down the line. Like any marriage, the key here is honest communication.
For Christy and me, that meant talking through our feelings and expectations about my sexuality in premarital counseling, and continuing that conversation into our marriage. It’s not something we talk about every day, or even every month, but it is part of the ongoing self-reflection that takes place in our relationship. At times it is easy to try and avoid doing any self-reflection on these things as they carry plenty of emotional baggage, but as both Christy and I would attest, our conversations about the role of my sexuality in our marriage always leave us feeling closer to one another and more known and loved by one another.
I’ve seen too many people who experience same-sex attractions have marriages dissolve because there was not honesty up front. It is simply not a good idea to get married when you are withholding a meaningful part of your identity, sexual or otherwise, from your spouse. If and when your spouse discovers that you are gay (or bi), the devastation tends to be traumatic, even in cases where the spouse has not been unfaithful (and even more so in cases when there has been unfaithfulness!). I’ve seen some marriages survive the revelation of one spouse’s homosexuality, but I’ve also seen many that have not.
In cases where the homosexual orientation of one spouse is disclosed after marriage, couples should honestly evaluate the state of their marriage and seek counsel about how to proceed. Each situation is different and has different variables (for example, has there been unfaithfulness? to what extent?) which must be taken into account. But it is essential that in such a situation the church would engage each spouse compassionately and seek to walk through the evaluative process with them. I have seen people who learn that their spouse is predominantly same-sex attracted go through strong feelings of shame or betrayal—even if there has been no infidelity. This is the natural fall-out to learning that one’s spouse has failed to disclose such an important piece of information and it may create deep trust issues within the relationship. However, I have also seen situations where the disclosure of same-sex attraction has opened the door to greatly increased honesty and depth in their relationship.
As I hope I’ve already made abundantly clear, marriage does not function as a type of “cure” or therapy for homosexually-oriented spouses. Such expectations are unrealistic and set the marriage up for failure and disappointment when the expected orientation change does not materialize. But this does not mean that being married to the opposite sex will have no effect on same-sex desires. Rather, such an effect is at best measured in degrees, rather than in terms of a full, 180-degree change in orientation. More reflection is needed on this idea of “sexual fluidity,” but I’ll save that for another post.
It’s worth remembering at this point that while marriage can help heterosexual Christians to steward their sexuality in a Godly way, it does not mean the end of attraction to anyone other than their spouse. Faithful marital chastity does not mean the absence of temptation but a willingness to say yes to one’s marital vocation by saying no to temptation. This involves both channeling one’s sexual desires toward one’s spouse, and learning to make sexual intimacy an expression of self-giving love, rather than a merely selfish pursuit of pleasure. In many ways, then, someone like me who is predominantly attracted to the same sex, but is attracted to my spouse, faces many of the same challenges that any other married man does: that of shifting from simply being attracted to good looking women, to offering one’s sexuality as a gift to one particular woman.
Marriage is not an easy calling. Everyone called to marriage, regardless of their sexual attractions, must be willing to die to their own desires and expectations, in order to be transformed by their calling to marriage. This dying to self is not empty sacrifice, however: it is in the service of true love, a love which has the power to transform us so that we look more truly human (read: like Christ) than ever before.
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.