Same-Sex Couples in the Church

Fr. James Martin – a Jesuit priest who has written quite eloquently on LGBT issues a number of times before – has a column in the latest edition of America magazine, “Simply Loving,” in which he asks why “so many gay people say they feel hatred from members of the church” despite the fact that most Catholics claim not to hate gay and lesbian people.

Fr. Martin suggests that one reason – aside from the obvious fact that a lot of LGBT people don’t agree with Catholic teaching about homosexual acts – is that it is very rare to hear many Catholics “say something positive about gays and lesbians without appending a warning against sin.”

The language surrounding gay and lesbian Catholics is framed primarily, sometimes exclusively, in terms of sin. For example, “We love our gay brothers and sisters—but they must not engage in sexual activity.” Is any other group of Catholics addressed in this fashion? Imagine someone beginning a parish talk on married life by saying, “We love married Catholics – but adultery is a mortal sin.” With no other group does the church so reflexively link the group’s identity to sin.

“What might it mean,” he asks, “for the church to love gays and lesbians more deeply?” Firstly, “it would mean listening to their experiences – all their experiences, what their lives are like as a whole.” For gays and lesbians who are already members of the Church, it would also mean “valuing their contributions to the church” and reminding ourselves that gays and lesbians are “an important part of the body of Christ” without which we as a Church would be poorer.

When thinking about adequate pastoral responses to those LGBT Christians who do not agree with Catholic teaching about homosexual activity, it seems to me that loving gays and lesbians more deeply might also mean a more nuanced appreciation by the Church of the love that exists in many same-sex relationships.

For example, one Catholic priest who advocates the tired “Love the Sinner and Hate the Sin” approach to LGBT issues offers an example of how not to offer pastoral care for same-sex couples, arguing that gays should not “get off the hook” just because “their sin is attached to a political agenda” (N.B. being gay isn’t actually a “sin”), and comparing granting hospital visitation rights to same-sex couples to granting “visiting rights for partners in crime.”

So let’s imagine the scenario. An elderly, disabled lesbian is admitted to a Catholic hospital, and her same-sex partner of perhaps forty or fifty years, who has already been her sole caregiver for some considerable amount of time, is not even allowed to see her because the Catholics in charge at the hospital have decided their relationship is worth nothing more than a criminal pact between two bank robbers. Does such an obstinate refusal to recognize love staring us in the face really further the Church’s claim to be speaking on behalf of a God Who is Love?

Even if the Church’s sole concern were simply about getting across its teaching on homosexual acts (and that shouldn’t be our sole or even primary concern), as I’ve said before, the refusal of Christians to recognize the obvious reality of love where it exists between same-sex couples actually makes the Church’s teachings on sexual behavior less rather than more compelling. It makes the Church appear to be scared of reality, and that makes people less likely to believe that the Church’s teachings about anything at all are grounded in appreciation of the truth.

I generally think it’s disrespectful to start speculating about other people’s sex lives, and I don’t understand why many people apparently do not seem to be able to look at couples (straight or gay) without immediately wondering how much sex they are having. But since the issue of same-sex couples’ sex lives is already out there as a matter of public discussion, let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that the average sexually active same-sex couple has sex about as often as the average married couple – between once per week and a few times per month. Bear in mind this statistical average would include some same-sex couples who have more sex than this, and also some who don’t have any sex at all, just as some heterosexual married couples don’t (particularly after they have already been married some time).

There are 168 hours in a week. So, for the statistically average sexually active gay or lesbian couple, for 167 or more of those 168 hours per week, life must consist of something other than having sex (who knew?). Gay couples share meals together and take care of their home. They mow their lawn. They may be raising children together, along with all of the sacrifices that raising children always entails.  They may support and love one another “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health,” and provide one another with “mutual society, help, and comfort.” In other words, even if their relationships are not marriages from the Church’s perspective because they lack characteristics the Church considers essential to marriage, the relationships of many gay and lesbian couples still embody many of the goods that the Church values as part of marriage, and therefore as goods that make an important contribution to the common good of Church and society as a whole.

Some Catholics think that the reason many LGBT people are alienated from the Church is because the Church just needs to come up with better arguments as to why same-sex couples should not be doing what they are doing that one hour or less per week. I tend to think alienation results more from the fact that this is all the Church ever appears to speak about. Unless we as a Church can start speaking about – and recognizing the potential goods that are embodied in – those other 167 or more hours, many LGBT people will continue to view Catholics as ignorant and homophobic, and not entirely without good reason.

aarontaylor50Aaron Taylor is a Ph.D. student in Ethics at Boston College. He previously studied at the Universities of London and Oxford, and worked for a London-based research institute dedicated to raising the quality of thinking about public policy in civil society. He can be followed on Twitter:@AyTay86.

46 thoughts on “Same-Sex Couples in the Church

  1. This is the first article that I’ve read on this site that I really have trouble with. Part of it is the tone which I find condescending and sarcastic. There is a lot of reference to the Church and what the Church needs to understand or do. I’m part of the church and a Christian sister. But I’m puzzled as to exactly what it is that I’m supposed to understand. This post leaves me wishing for more of a Biblical (or at least in my view, Biblical) analysis of the situation rather than what almost reads as a rant. I certainly don’t mean to offend anyone. But what I have enjoyed about this site is the strong commitment to orthodoxy and how that applies to real world situations. I find that lacking in this piece.

  2. Hmmm I actually think this is one of the best posts I have ever read – and I have read many good ones here.

    I really get sick of Christians thinking that they have to qualify forgiveness or love for gay people when they do this with few others.

    a while back I was talking to a pastor about how seldom I hear the church talk about forgiving homosexuality. He said, “Christ forgives homosexuality but one should not use forgiveness as an excuse to sin sexually” Well, duh, I’m a 53 year old virgin – I think maybe I have that figured out. It made me wonder if he even knew me at all.

    A week or so after that another pastor with whom I had been open asked me how I was doing with “that gay stuff.” I said, “well I’ve been a little lonely lately.” He responded, “no, I mean, are you avoiding temptation?” Again, I just wanted to scream “I’m 53 and a virgin – temptation isn’t all that I experience in life!”

    Kristin, I think the whole point of the post is in the statement “…that this (sex) is all the Church ever appears to speak about.” It seems many Christians only know how to define gay people by our sexual temptation, like they see nothing else about us at all.

    The fact is that there are indeed many good things that gay couple have in their relationship that have nothing to do with sex, good things like friendship the Church seems unwilling to give.

  3. Pat Robertson has recently been justifiably criticized for the sort of rhetoric that you describe. Love the sinner, hate the sin, don’t accept them as they are, yada yada yada. I really hope that more leaders in the Church hear (or rather, see) your words.

  4. One of the strongest arguments for using the term “same-sex attraction” for those of us who are non-straight but celibate has been made right here in this article. The reason, or at least one of them, that sin is, and needs to be, mentioned when talking about “gays in the Church” is to differentiate between the inclination/orientation of the person, which you rightly state is not a sin, and LGBT or “gay,” which, whether we like it or not, is fraught with ambiguity regarding the sexual practices of the person or persons involved. I do not refer to myself as “gay Christian” nor will I. I am a Catholic Christian. That is my identity as a person and child of God. I happen to have attractions towards those of my own gender (using gender in the traditional sense) and that does not change my standing before God and the Church. That is what SSA is. There is a movement, and this site seems to have bought highly into it, to start calling ourselves “gay Christians,” or, even more offensive to me, “queer Catholics,” even with those who are celibate and attempting to follow Church teaching. I am not “queer” anything, nor was I when I was growing up and made fun of for not being as “masculine” in certain areas as society expected, particularly a few years ago. You cannot have it both ways. We cannot expect people to differentiate between the condition and the actions if we ourselves do not. That is where the need for clearer language exists. Call me what I am–a Catholic Christian brother in Christ–and then invite me over for dinner and really get to know me. But do not quit calling sexual activity outside of marriage something other than sin.

    • Richard, thanks for your comment. No-one here is calling you gay or queer or suggesting you should identify yourselves with these terms if you do not feel they accurately describe your own experience. However, it’s one thing to say you prefer to describe yourself as “same-sex attracted” rather than “gay,” and another thing to say that all those who do currently identify as gay must stop doing so and start calling themselves “same-sex attracted.”

      A devout virgin and a gay porn star can both conceivably be described as “same-sex attracted.” You say that “gay” is “fraught with ambiguity regarding the sexual practices of the person or persons involved.” Well, so is SSA terminology. Simply saying you are same-sex attracted doesn’t tell me anything about whether your attractions are wanted, or enjoyed, or whether you act upon them sexually (not that I want to know, actually).

      As I mooted in the article, I think people’s sexual behavior is largely a matter for them and their confessor (and the confessor should of course be guiding them based on what the Catechism and traditional principles of moral theology tell us about good and bad forms of sexual behavior). However, IF you want public terminology that tells you something about someone’s lifestyle and commitment to Church teaching then “gay celibate” actually tells you a lot more than “same-sex attracted.” Why insist on this “SSA” terminology that blurs the distinction between desires and lifestyle?

      • Out of curiosity, do you know of any gay porn stars who refer to themselves as “SSA” or same-sex attracted? I have never heard of any that do. The term that is ambiguous on the behavior part is “gay,” not SSA. The very term SSA came into more common usage specifically to separate those of us with the inclination from those who are actively LGBT. I certainly do not condemn others for referring to themselves as “gay celibates,” but I do find this movement of being more closely identified with a community I have chosen, by God’s grace, to step back from, troubling. Ironically or perhaps not, we agree that both terms need clarity. However we see that clarity through opposite lenses. And I would rather simply identify as a Catholic Christian man, and, when appropriate, “SSA” than to hang on to the secular world’s way of identifying those of us from that background. I am not quite sure why so many within the Church are moving in the opposite direction. I do not choose my attractions, nor are they sinful. But being actively LGBT is. To me that is the difference. And we therefore agree to disagree. God bless.

      • It seems to me that you’re blurring words and actions. Being actively LGBT is sinful. So is acting on same-sex attractions. If someone tells me that they’re SSA, I know nothing about their behavior. They may be acting on their attractions or not. If someone tells me that they’re gay and celibate, they’re telling me that they’re not acting on their attractions.

        You’re wrong about the history of the term SSA. It has been used in the way you suggest. But it was originally used as a value neutral term to describe those who are sexually attracted to their own sex. It was later picked up by Exodus/Courage/NARTH. But it has never exclusively referred to those who follow Church teaching, nor was it used to distinguish them from other people who are same-sex attracted but who act on their desires. Indeed, it would be extraordinarily puzzling to use it in that way. A promiscuous gay man is still same-sex attracted, and so is a gay porn star (unless he’s just “gay for pay”).

      • Once more, Richard, no-one is telling you to call yourself gay, and I don’t why you’ve even raised the subject. You say don’t condemn those who identify as “gay celibates,” but then you say later on you consider being LGBT as “sinful,” which makes your earlier claim somewhat less plausible.

      • And, no, I don’t know any gay porn stars who identify as “SSA,” because I don’t know any gay porn stars, period. I do know of Christians with “same-sex attractions” who would vehemently deny being “gay,” but who still, curiously, seem to end up going out and having gay sex. Simply slapping a label on someone saying “SSA” is not a magic spell that guarantees chastity.

  5. I am not sure if links are allowed on this site but if so, here is one to an article I recently had published in Witherspoon Institute’s “Public Discourse–” You will note that I agree in principle with most of what was said in the above article. The link is:
    and hopefully it brings more clarity to my comments directly above. I appreciate much of what is done on this site. I just think that the answer does not lie within what can be easily perceived as watering down of the sin. “Loving the sinner” does of necessity include hating the sin, and that goes for all sinners and all sins! It is very unfortunate that those words have been used against any group of people, when they specifically say to accept the person on their journey while yet being accountable to one another. And we do need both, no matter what our struggle happens to be.

  6. I’m quite sympathetic with the argument, but wonder if it holds if you change the scenario (re: hospital visit). Since the sin part is the illicit sexual nature of the relationship (not the orientation), would you approve of the hospital visits of a mistress to a gravely ill married man? Surely their relationship is more than sexual as well, if by sexual you mean only the acts of sexual arousal and consummation. Does their shared love deserve to be recognized apart from their illicit sexual relationship? I’m not presuming an answer, but I do find reframing these issues around similar situations (obviously not exactly the same – that’s difficult to do) helps.

    • Thanks for your comment. It’s a fair question. I think the important thing in these situations is to pay attention to the actual people involved rather than to make blanket determinations based on shoehorning people into a category.

      For example, what if the married man’s wife actually left him years ago to run off with another man, but he can’t obtain a divorce, because he doesn’t have the money for a lawyer, or because he’s from another country where divorce is much more difficult to obtain than the US (i.e., most countries in the world)? And what if his “mistress” is actually a woman whom he met after his marriage had already irretrievably broken down, with whom he has had a monogamous relationship for a number of years, and who helped him raise the children abandoned by his wife.

      That relationship would of course probably be “adultery” according to the Catholic understanding (probably even if he had obtained a divorce, which we don’t necessarily believe in anyway). However, its clearly a very different situation to some happily-married guy having a sex with a woman he met in a bar.

      I’m not saying every gay relationship is good and loving. Some are, some aren’t. What I am saying is that pastoral care is about the individual soul, and we should look at the complex realities of the individuals involved rather than making blanket statements based on the fact that the person is a certain “type” of person.

    • This is the problem when you look at all sins the same, really. Clearly, I and many others would consider a mistress in an adulterous relationship different because such a relationship was selfish, harmful, and led to the breaking of an oath. Can you really say the same of two gay men who have spent their life together? Are these really the same?

      I know they are the same in God’s eyes if one believes homosexuality to be disordered/sinful but it is okay for God to see sins as equal because He doesn’t have to live with their consequences; as an omnipotent being, He fundamentally can’t possibly have the same empathy for us that we do for each other because that degree of necessity requires personal experience with said pain.. That is what omnipotent means – invulnerable, all powerful, etc.

      I am less comfortable with humans adopting such positions. It tends to feel like a lack of empathy.

  7. Of course friends should, in general, be allowed to visit each other in hospital. That holds even if their friendship is forged in a partnership that is essentially or intrinsically or in some other way significantly wrong, or if their friendship is forged in partnership in crime. (Though, of course, you might find it difficult visiting a friend who falls sick while you’re in prison.) Allowing or even encouraging such visitation doesn’t necessarily constitute sanctioning the terms of the friendship. Hospitals shouldn’t be so restrictive in determining who can visit patients.

    What was that statistical estimation of the proportion of time a same-sex couple spends having sex supposed to show? Would such an analysis be relevant for an unmarried heterosexual couple? Or a polygamous arrangement? Or an adulterous relationship? These are all relationships that can “embody many of the goods that the Church values as part of marriage” because they are friendships.

    So yes, the church needs to realise that there can be good in forbidden relationships, just as it needs to realise that there can be bad in commendable relationships. And it needs to say that. That’s part of us having moral clarity in general, part of us recognising the complex ways in which good and evil mix.

    But it sounds as though you think that sex is the only (or primary?) wrong of same-sex relationships, and that it isn’t enough of a wrong to condemn those relationships. Neither of those positions seems orthodox; neither seems to “embrace the traditional understanding that God’s…plan for sexual intimacy is only properly fulfilled in the union of husband and wife in marriage” (to quote this blog’s About).

    Also, what do you mean that “love the sinner, hate the sin” is “tired”?

    • Thanks for your comment and questions. Yes, I agree that “God’s plan for sexual intimacy is only properly fulfilled in the union of husband and wife in marriage.” Note the use of the word, “sexual” in that quote you used. It doesn’t say all non-sexual intimacy and love belongs only in marriage as well (a rather odd notion, I’m sure you’d agree).

      To quote the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales:

      “In so far as the homosexual orientation can lead to sexual activity which excludes openness to the generation of new human life … it is, in this particular and precise sense only, objectively disordered. However, it must be quite clear that a homosexual orientation must never be considered sinful or evil in itself.”

      So yes, so far as the Church itself is concerned, sex is the only possible *intrinsic* wrong in a same-sex relationship.

      As for the question of whether a relationship as a whole should be condemned just because it involves illicit sex, its just not as simple as a “yes” or “no” answer that applies as a blanket rule to every case. Again, let’s allow the Church to speak:

      “If a homosexual person has progressed under the direction of a confessor, but in the effort to develop a stable relationship with a given person has occasionally fallen into a sin of impurity, he should be absolved and instructed to take measures to avoid the elements which lead to sin without breaking off a friendship which has helped to grow as a person. If the relationship, however, has reached a stage where the homosexual person is not able to avoid overt actions, he should be admonished to break off the relationship.” (Principles to Guide Confessors in Questions of Homosexuality, 1973)

      In other words, the Church seems to suggest that in some cases the first reaction of the pastor confronted with a same-sex relationship should not be to condemn a relationship but to encourage growth toward chastity within the context of the relationship.

  8. Pingback: The Problem with “Same Sex Attraction” | Spiritual Friendship

  9. What do you mean it’s the only intrinsic wrong? That it’s the only wrong that’s a part of the constitution of those relationships? That it’s the only wrong that’s common to them all? Both? Or do you allow that there are (or may be) other wrongs common to them all, but which are all derivative of that sole, intrinsic wrong?

    I’m not a Roman Catholic, and while I respectfully consider statements from Catholic authorities like the one you gave, I sometimes exercise my Protestant prerogative to disagree with them when they seem to be out of line with Scripture. I disagree with this one. (Incidentally, I think it may also be out of line with other Catholic magisterial pronouncements, but I don’t know enough about those to make a serious case there.)

    Yes, I agree that non-sexual intimacy and love ought not to be restricted to marriage. But I also think it’s plain that God’s plan for sexual intimacy isn’t restricted to just sexual acts. Without going into theological details, it’s clear that a realisation of this fact is required by any understanding of the wrong of certain sexual acts that takes seriously verses like Matthew 5: 28 (But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.), the Biblical restriction of sex to marriage, and the meaning of faithfulness to God in obedience to his commandments. I’m worried that your eagerness to constrain the wrong as tightly as possible so as to create as much space as possible for pastoral care and (your understanding of what is entailed by) love runs a very serious risk of rendering the prohibition unintelligible and forsaking orthodox teaching on this matter.

    Maybe it’s because I lack some wider context, but I don’t see how the quotation from the Principles to Guide Confessors in Questions of Homosexuality helps your case. It just sounds as though the person is being advised to reform the relationship or end it; both seem to presuppose a condemnation of the relationship as it is.

    • You are welcome to exercise your Protestant prerogative to disagree with Catholic authorities. This is an ecumenical site. But ecumenical doesn’t mean reducing everything to the lowest common denominator, particularly when we are talking about real-life pastoral situations. Real people are members of actual churches, and the language of this piece was pretty clear that I was addressing the actual situation of Catholics (although I hope perhaps others may learn from it). There are plenty of other pieces on here addressing the situation of Protestant churches, from a different angle than my own. So yes, you are welcome to disagree with Catholic premises but I’m not going to enter into a Catholic vs. Protestant debate with you.

      On the meaning of “intrinsic” wrongness in moral discussions, see here:

      Finally, I’m not interested in “constraining the wrong as tightly as possible” but in defining and specifying it correctly. I’ve never seen a coherent account, which doesn’t break down upon questioning, of the supposed wrongness of some kind of (usually vaguely and imprecisely defined, in the accounts I’ve read) “homosexual relationality” that isn’t homosexual sex acts or the desire to engage in those acts (which desire falls under your Matthew 5:28 quote). Of course lust is wrong, as you point out, precisely because lust is the desire for/delectation in considering the thought of, wrong forms of sex.

  10. Aaron, first thank you for your words above, they made me do some soul searching and that’s always good. They prompted me to question whether or not I hate gays. And I believe that I don’t. I really do. But you can judge by yourself after reading my post…

    In regard to same-sex couples, and same-sex sex I need to say the following:

    First, one of the big problems of the Church is overemphasizing homosexual sins while understating heterosexual sins, particularly sex before marriage. This is a problem in the Church. A big one. Society at large seems less hypocritical in this regard. Society claims that homosexual sex “doesn’t hurt anyone”. The same goes for heterosexual sex before marriage. I believe both this situations to be sins, no one greater than the other, and as such they do hurt people, they are not just a matter for the private sphere.

    Second, how do I handle myself in regards to these types of situations? I have an obligation to my daughter to teach her what’s right and what’s wrong so I try to meditate about all of this concerns. I am the oldest of four siblings. I’m married in the Church. I’ve had many problems with my marriage condition over the years. My sister, the one that follows me, is divorced and remarried. Her first marriage didn’t last six months. She goes to mass every Sunday and doesn’t take communion. My brother married his girlfriend last year, civil marriage only. He seems to have become either an agnostic or atheist (I’m not sure). My youngest sister married her boyfriend last year, civil marriage only. I’m not sure what she thinks of the Church, I know she goes to mass on occasions. They all break my heart. They all had sex before marriage. When they were still single I made sure they understood that they were always welcomed in my house but that I would not allow them to sleep in the same bed with their boyfriends/girlfriends under my roof. One of my sisters just did not stay overnight, the other did stay and followed my rules. My brother came by himself to my house for Christmas once (maybe his girlfriend was not kin to my rules so she didn’t come?). If I ever host a homosexual couple in my house the same rules will applied.

    Third, how do I take my siblings marriages? As I said, they are only married in a civil ceremony. And one of my sister is divorced. However I did celebrate their marriages and I do allow them to sleep with their spouses in my house. But I will not celebrate a “gay marriage”, nor will I allow them to sleep together under my roof. Why? Am I being hypocritical? Not in my heart. You see marriage has different elements some of then you can have in other types of human relationships, mainly friendship is an element of marriage and I’m sure it is also an element of gay relationships, sexual or not. But what makes a marriage such is the sexual complementarity and the heterosexual sex, open to both, the unifying principle and procreation. Thus even though my siblings lack the Church’s blessing (and this makes me very sad, and heavy in my soul) they indeed have all elements of marriage. This is just an impossibility when it comes to “gay marriage”. There is just no such thing as “gay marriage”

    God bless

    • Rosa, thank you very much for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate your willingness to examine your own motives. It’s part of what makes a good Christian a good Christian.

      But I do have to disagree quite strongly with some of the things you are saying here. What makes a marriage a marriage, according to the Catholic Church, is not simply “heterosexual sex,” but also sexual and romantic exclusivity, stable permanence, and openness to procreation. *All* of these things are *essential* to the Catholic understanding of marriage.

      Jesus did actually speak about divorce. He did not say “he who divorces his wife and marries another has ‘all the elements’ of marriage.” He said that someone who gets divorced and then marries another person “commits adultery” (Matthew 19:8). From a Catholic perspective, how can someone fulfill the “unitive” meaning of marriage with a second spouse when they already have a previous spouse still living to whom they have already pledged themselves wholly and entirely until death? I am not saying, of course, that just because people aren’t married in the eyes of the Church therefore their relationships should not be entitled to respect from the Church’s members. The whole point of what I’ve written was in fact to make the opposite claim. What I’ve said above about gay relationships would also of course apply to divorced and remarried straight couples. They should be treated with equal sensitivity and kindness.

      To be clear, I am not calling your siblings adulterers. I don’t know them or their situations. Perhaps their first marriages weren’t even valid? There will be all kinds of circumstances of which I’m not aware. Its not my place to judge them, or you, and your family life is frankly none of business. You are also of course welcome to adopt whatever policies you like in your own home regarding sleeping arrangements, that’s none of my business either.

      So my intention here is not to enter into a discussion of the specific situations you are referring to but just to point out that I think the view of marriage you are defending is deeply flawed from a Catholic perspective. From a secular, legal perspective, of course, I’m not saying that the law must reflect all the teachings of the Church and that everyone must be forced to live like perfect Catholics. But from a religious perspective, speaking within the Church, it is a tragedy to reduce the Catholic Church’s rich and beautiful teaching on human sexuality and the sacrament of holy matrimony to the claim that pretty much anything is OK as long as it’s not gay, and the man and woman involved have a piece of paper from the courthouse.

  11. Hi Aaron,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond.

    Heterosexual sex is so important in the eyes of the Church with respect to marriage that the marriage is considered invalid if it is not consummated. All the other elements that you mention are just fine additions. But heterosexual sex, which is the only kind that can be opened to procreation, is a must. However I’m not an expert in Canon Law, maybe you can get a dispensation for this as there have been cases where marriages are valid without sex (?). In other words, a marriage might lack romance or even friendship and still be valid but it must be consummated.

    I’m painfully aware about my siblings irregular marriage situations in the eyes of the Church (and thus in my eyes too). With respect to my youngest sister and my brother, there situation is a bit better because they had no previous marriage or divorce. However, my understanding is that the Church takes civil marriages seriously, bu t I am not an expert in Canon Law. So to regularize their relationships they should get marry in the Church.

    My other sister… She is worse off. She might be in a situation of adultery, but then again she might not, it depends on whether or not her first marriage was valid. She has not had the strength to seek an annulment. However annulment is the formal declaration of nullity. It is the recognition of nullity but not the fact itself. Even without an annulment her first marriage might be in fact null and thus she might not be, in fact, committing adultery. Still I pray that she will regularize her situation.

    The thing with gay sex, and what makes it different, is that it is not redeemable through any means. There is no step you can take to make it whole. There is no step or ceremony to have “gay marriage”. So, yes, I will not want a gay couple, even one “married” by civil law, to share a bed under my roof because when I offer a bed to a couple I am acknowledging that their sexual relationship is, or at least can be, good.

    Sorry for my broken English.

    • Hi again, Rosa. Your English is perfect, no need to apologize. Thanks for your comments.

      I’m not a canon lawyer either, of course, and I don’t know your brother and sister, which is why I don’t want to discuss their personal situations. It would be awkward. I’m not suggesting you are doing anything wrong by acknowledging that their relationships embody certain goods. I’m just saying the same principle applies to gay relationships if we expand our focus beyond the narrow obsession with the sex act. We are talking about people who are sharing their life together, not just sharing a bed. If you don’t want them in your house, then fine, it’s your house. But that wasn’t my point here. My point was precisely that we should start talking about gay couples from some other perspective than the perspective of what they do in bed.

      My issue isn’t with how you treat your siblings or how you decide to treat gay couples within your own home. My issue isn’t even really with your view of marriage, so much as with the fact that you think it’s the Catholic Church’s view. Catholicism has never recognized “heterosexual” sex as having any special significance. Rape can be heterosexual sex. So can adultery. Presumably we would not want to say, for example, that rape is basically good provided its heterosexual and consent is just a useful “addition,” would we? The Catholic Church’s idea of God’s plan for sex is that it should be not simply heterosexual but “conjugal”: within the context of a committed, lifelong, marriage, between a man and a woman, consensual (obviously), loving, and also open to the gift of new life. Once you remove any one of these elements, something has gone wrong. It’s a high bar, of course, and many relationships don’t meet it. And I’m not saying the answer is to just demonize those other relationships, as I’ve pointed out here and in the article. However, when we lower the bar, as many conservative Christians have done, and basically say, “what straight people do is OK, divorce, contraception, premarital sex, sex toys, whatever, just please, folks, don’t have gay sex,” when we eviscerate Christian ethics like that, what we actually end up with is a false teaching which a) alienates LGBT people from the Church, and b) gives the green light to many heterosexual Catholic to go ahead and not worry about engaging practices the Church considers immoral. Everyone loses out, regardless of orientation. The Catholic Church’s standards regarding sex are high, and people may disagree with them and think they are too strict, but they are at least relatively fair and consistent and based on some moral principle other than naked homophobia (i.e., the importance of not separating the unitive and procreative meanings of sex), which is more than can be said for some other churches.

  12. Hi Aaron,

    Yes. The standards of the Catholic Church are high and they should be, as they speak of holiness, nothing less. I agree even within marriage heterosexual sex might be lacking in holiness or be outright evil (in the case of rape).

    I hope you realize I never said that I wouldn’t have gay couples in my house. I just said that I wouldn’t offer them the same bed. I guess I’m talking about the practical approach to all of this. My question to myself is: how should I behave when it comes to sexual ethics?

    I also hope you realize I did not say that my view is the view of the Catholic Church. I never said that or thought that. But the practical question remains: If I were to be absolutly faithful to the Catholic Church, not only in faith and morals but on the pastoral, compassionate care that She is demands from Her children and that She must provide Herself, how should I behave? What is my duty? Sadly we live in a broken world. So it is a given that most relationships fall short of holiness (as does mine, which is not an exception) what should I do then? That’s the question that I’m trying to answer from the moment I read your initial post. From the moment my siblings decided to live with their girldfriend/boyfriends… What to do then?

    God Bless

    • OK. For what it’s worth, I think you are doing the right thing with your siblings, by being compassionate, kind, realizing that we live in a broken world and no relationship is perfect, letting them know they are still welcome in your home as part of your family. There doesn’t seem to me to be anything less than faithful to Catholic teaching there. On the contrary, hospitality and welcome are part of what we’re called to do as Catholics! All I’m saying is that the same hospitality and grace should be extended to same-sex couples.

    • Rosa, your attitudes seem healthy and sensible enough.

      My only question would be with te emphasis you put on beds and sleeping as signifying sexual relationship.

      That’s a rather modern construct. Men used to share beds all the time, straight or gay; for example Abraham Lincoln. People try to use that as evidence that he was gay, but it probably wasn’t.

      Letting a couple share a room or bed isn’t really about sanctioning sex. It’s unlikely that people who are guests for a night or only a few nights are going to have sex in a relative’s house anyway, even if they do when they’re at home.

      So I guess I’m a bit perplexed why you think “sharing a bed” is a dividing line of significance. It seems arbitrary, especially given that you’ll let assumed-fornicators and maybe-adulterers share one merely because their sex lives “could” be redeemed/regularized (but haven’t been yet!)

      It’s almost like you’re tacitly admitting that those people ARE “basically married” (even though in the eyes of the church they most definitely are not) according to secular cultural standards…but then not extending such an understanding to same sex pairs even though the secular cultural standards (they’re not the Church’s!) you apparently think are “good enough” to justify “letting be and not asking questions” of straight couples…are rapidly shifting to give the same “that’s your business” tolerance to gay couples.

      • Hi Patty,

        Thanks for posting and asking questions.

        I need to say that I’m not really familiar with the cultural history of how men or women shared beds and I was unaware that Abraham Lincon did such thing. But at the end of the day, whether it was fine at other times or with other cultures, I do live in modern times and in this culture. And I do put significance in allowing a couple to share a single bed in my house. To me this is an invitation to make use of the space as they please. Whether or not they have sex is not my business, but by inviting them to share a bed I’m tacitly agreeing that they may do so. So I won’t allow some couples to share a bed in my house (they could be heterosexual couples, or they could be homosexual couples if I ever host them in my house).

        Relating to my siblings, yes, I allow them to share a bed with their spouses even though they lack canonical marriage. And even though one of them could be committing adultery. Canonical marriage gives form to the essence of marriage and I truly wish that in their relationships the essence would agree with the form, in the Church… But it doesn’t so I have to decide what to do. And I’ve decided that I can live with the form being just civil and not canonical. Further, I’ve decided to assume the essence is truly there giving their relationships the benefit of the doubt.

        Please note that their marriages do have “a form”, the “civil form” not the “canonical form”. This means they have pledged publicly each to their corresponding spouse, for better or worse, until death do us part. So before they where married (civil) I would not allow them to share a bed because I knew, I was sure that no matter how much they loved each other one of the basics of marriage is to pledge yourself to your spouse and that was just not there. Their relationships had no marriage form at all. Not civil nor ecclesiastic.

        With homosexual couples I do know, I’m sure, they don’t have the essence of marriage. As for the form… Civil authority is trying to give form to their relationships and I can understand why but without the essence it doesn’t matter how good are their intentions, “gay marriage” just can’t happen. I can’t give them the benefit of the doubt. This is hard. I don’t know what else to say… Only that I know two men or two women can be very loving and caring for each other and I commend this but still… There is no possible marriage between them. I’m sorry if I sound horrible… I don’t know what else to say…

        And thus I draw the line in an way that might be arbitrary but that I believe doesn’t lack compassion and is not hypocritical. Or at least I hope is not.

      • I think the point Patti was highlighting was your inconsistency. There are, after all, same-sex couples who have the “civil form” of marriage according to what the civil law has actually defined marriage to be in many states.

        Jesus says, “what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6). You seem to be saying that the civil government has the authority to put asunder the marriage of two Christians by granting them a divorce, and then further granting them a new marriage a new spouse. OK, fine. But if the government has the power to do this why doesn’t it have the power to give “civil form” to a gay marriage?

      • Hi Patty,

        Just to clarify. I would allow two men and two women to share a bed if I’m sure they will not have sex and that my offering the bed was not endorsing a sexual relationship between them.

        Also about “the form” marriage can take… I have plenty of friends that are not Christian and are married. I have Hindu friends, Jewish friends, atheist friends. Non married in the church. But I would offer then a bed to share with their spouses… Because I assume they are married, I assume the essence is there and the form is there too even though it is not canonical.


      • What you seem to be positing is a theology in which “natural marriages” can exist between Christians even if they aren’t sacramental.

        While I think this is actually a possible development that could be interpreted (it corresponds more to Eastern Christian practice, and some are calling for getting rid of the canonical form requirement)…the CURRENT Catholic situation, at least, is that there are no “valid but non-sacramental” natural marriages among Christians. Maybe the canonical understanding could shift to allow for such an idea, but it doesn’t exist now.

        But I’m really more concerned with the “inviting to use the space” idea. All you’re doing is giving a bed. Generally, people understand this as giving a place to sleep. Do people do other things in a bed? Maybe. But your policy sounds almost like if a hotel owner refused to rent rooms to pairs of without approving of their relationship status. “Two brothers? Ok. Male and female ‘friends,’ not ok. Two male friends? Ok unless I suspect you’re both gay!”

        It’s not like it’s your duty to “chaperone” adults by depriving them of “space in which to” by trying to categorize their relationships into taboo and not-taboo columns. The whole existence of gay has made policing gendered-spaces and spatial intimacy like that much less straightforward. If there could be gay men in lockerrooms (and there are) the idea that gendered-space segregation is primarily about preventing mutual temptation goes out the window and is revealed to be something much deeper than merely the question of attraction or lust.

  13. I do hope I would be able to offer hospitality to all… Meanwhile I should pray for myself and for all.

    Thanks Aaron.

  14. One last thought…

    The sad part is that I know some people will say I’m homophobic because I realize the fact that “gay marriage” does not exist. Am I homophobic?…

    At the end of the day it is God that will bring everything under Christ’s submission. And after finding SF I have also realized that it might be a huge blessing the attempt by civil authority to allow “gay marriages”, because even though, in the long run, it is doom to fail (since it doesn’t come from God – and I mean fail just as divorce, or any other state endorse sin, will fail), in the short run it opens us all to have this kind of conversations. This conversations are a must if we are to help each other reach holiness. I don’t think is healthy for persons or for issues to be in the closest.

    • Eh, I wouldn’t be comfortable with any of my guests sharing my bed like that, married or not, holy or not. What kind of person sleeps with their spouse in another person’s guest bed? That seems exceedingly rude to me (since they aren’t the ones cleaning their gross mess). I will digress though.

      I am not sure if these relationships are really doomed to fail. I mean, I am a gay guy and open to the idea of meeting someone special and joining myself to them in love in a relationship. Currently, I would be fine if I met a special guy and he wanted to keep the relationship chaste. I can respect that. I might go to hell for it but at least I won’t have to compromise what I am or lie to myself and others about it.

  15. Thanks for this post – I did not notice any sarcasm in the original post.

    As for porn-stars who might call themselves SSA, I wonder if Joseph Sciambra and Jake Genesis might do so?

    It seems to me that ‘gay’ is going to end up the reigning term here – esp. since priests and bishops, cardinals and at least one pope use that very term. Likewise everyone in media uses it, and it is common parlance. It is how the average person speaks.

    Sadly, at my age SSA now stands for Social Security Administration.

    That said – I maintain that heterosexuals can be same sex attracted as well – because physical attraction to grace and beauty is a normal part of friendship. We are attracted to friends for one reason or another – it has nothing to do with lust – in normal friendship.

    To have normal friendship – esp. for gay people – I think it is necessary to overcome the issue of sexualizing every encounter or interest in another for authentic friendship. (Sizing up every guy you meet as a potential partner.) Straight people – in my experience – are much more accustomed – and comfortable with ‘gay’ as opposed to saying ‘same sex attracted’ simply because it is less complicated and there may even be that question – “Does that specific term mean you are attracted to me?”

    I don’t know why we have the need to singularize ourselves.

    • [To have normal friendship – esp. for gay people – I think it is necessary to overcome the issue of sexualizing every encounter or interest in another for authentic friendship.]

      I have met few gay people who sexualize their friendships. Surely, there are some, but I think it is more likely they are sex addicts and it has little to do with their orientation. For me, I am romantically attracted to other men yet the idea of sleeping with any of my friends is revolting to me. Not because they are unattractive but because it would violate the friendship. It is a brotherly sort of camraderie we share.

      Surely you don’t lust after every one of your platonic friends as a man, do you? I assume man but feel free to flip flop gender pronouns and such if I am off (Terry is one of those names that is gender neutral where I live and can mean either, so no offense intended).

      • You are right – I don’t lust after every one of my friends or men I happen to like as a friend.

        I was thinking of posts I’ve read from some gay Catholics who anguish over romantic feelings toward a same sex friend, and a couple of posts (not here) of guys explaining how and when these feeling arise and not to be freaked out about it. It’s very Jr. High sounding to me.

        Your attitude is the more mature response – “For me, I am romantically attracted to other men yet the idea of sleeping with any of my friends is revolting to me. Not because they are unattractive but because it would violate the friendship. It is a brotherly sort of camraderie we share.”

        So I agree with you.

      • This is an awesome point.

        Also, it makes me again question the merits of orientation essentialism. I don’t think that most heterosexual men naturally sexualize every encounter they have with women. That’s more of a cultural stereotype than a genuine reality. Sadly enough, it’s a cultural stereotype that’s met with wide approval. Sexual orientation would be much less important in a culture where the pursuit of sexual desire wasn’t viewed as so central to our relating to each other.

  16. Pingback: “Seeing the Person”: More on Pastoral Care of Same-Sex Couples | Spiritual Friendship

  17. Hi Aaron,

    I can not reply directly to your post. It seems the system won’t allow it.

    I have not claimed that the state/government “has the authority to put asunder the marriage of two Christians by granting them a divorce”. If a marriage between one man and one woman is valid, in its essence and its form, whether they are Christians or not, the state cannot divorce them. God united them in marriage and God transcends religion and transcends the state.

    Now, in my dealings with others I choose to see everyone in the best light possible. If a man or a woman has been “married” twice this is an oxymoron. This can only be one of two situation:

    1) That their first marriage was no so (i.e. was invalid in the eyes of God of course) and the second marriage is valid (this can be true even without a formal declaration of nullity from the Church, of course it is best that if they are Catholics they obtain the formal declaration but nonetheless the first marriage can be invalid without such declaration)

    2) That the first marriage was indeed valid and thus they are committing adultery (again this can be true without a formal denial of a declaration of annulment by the Church – without “due” process -).

    Since I choose to see everyone in the most favorable light and without any further information (neither a declaration of annulment nor a denial of such declaration of annulment), I choose to treat the couple as if the situation was (1) not (2). I choose to see them in the best light possible, which is (1), and give them the benefit of the doubt.

    But with couples of the same sex the situation is completely different. God would never unite them in marriage whether or not the state does declare them marry, God doesn’t see this as a marriage. Therefore the best possible light I can see them under is as friends. For instance if I where to host a Muslim couple, if I knew the man had multiple wives I would attempt to be as hospitable as possible but I will draw the line in having them overnight, unless of course there were strong reasons to compel me to allow them to stay over night (e.g. a death threat, persecution or something similar). But I will not allow them to sleep in the same bed – because as far as I know God doesn’t allow polygamy (I am aware that this statement can lead to other discussions)

    God bless you

  18. I also would try very hard not embarrass anyone in my house. Be gentle at offering two beds or two rooms without much fuss about it. And I have said that I try to see people under the best light possible. However I know I sometimes have failed and for that I ask forgiveness to the Lord and to all.

    • Hi Lorenzo,

      I have to clarify that I don’t think that two gay persons will have sex if they share a bed. I have no issue on how your Anglican vicarage handles the shortage of space.

      God bless

  19. Patty,

    I never said that my position is identical to that of the Catholic Church. I never spoke of what a hotel should do. I’m only talking about my conscience and what it tells me to do in my house.

    At the end of the day, if the time ever comes I don’t know what my actions would be. I pray to God that I would show love, compassion and understanding to all without endorsing certain attitudes that are wrong.

    God bless

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