Over at First Things, I’ve contributed to a symposium on yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling. The questions each of us were given to answer were these: “How should we respond to how the Supreme Court has ruled? What’s next?”
My answer started off with a riff on a really affecting gay memoir:
In his memoir Denial: My Twenty-Five Years Without a Soul, the gay journalist Jonathan Rauch says that there once existed a frightened young man tortured with the certainty that there was no place in the world for the love he experienced. That man was Rauch, and there was no home for him—none, that is, until he and his fellow Americans decided he had the right to marry. “They and he have found, at last, a name for his soul. It is not monster or eunuch. Nor indeed homosexual. It is: husband.”
When I read Rauch’s book, that last sentence left a lump in my throat. That receiving the word husband felt to Rauch like the relief of a negative biopsy—“You’re not sick or twisted or crazy; you’re just hindered from giving and receiving love, and now the hindrance is removed”—goes a long way toward explaining the jubilation so many gay and lesbian people feel in the wake of the Obergefell v. Hodges SCOTUS ruling. Finally, their loves may be dignified not with the anemic moniker friend or partner or the clinical epithet disordered or the disdainful slur pervert but rather with the venerable, ordinary, immediately recognizable words husband or wife.
You can read the rest of what I wrote by clicking through—basically, in my contribution, I fault us Christians, the churches themselves, for our complicity in promoting erroneous views of marriage (“we,” not just “them,” share the blame!)—but I wanted to take the opportunity here to say a little bit more.
I’m gay myself, of course, albeit celibate, and as I watched all the excitement of my gay friends yesterday, I couldn’t help but sympathize with the jubilation. Like Jonathan Rauch, I have known shame and loneliness, and I am drawn to the promise of home that same-sex marriage holds out.
Yet I’m also a Christian, and according to historic Christian orthodoxy, marriage isn’t the only, or even the primary, place to find love. In the New Testament, as J. Louis Martyn once wrote, “the answer to loneliness is not marriage, but rather the new-creational community that God is calling into being in Christ, the church marked by mutual love, as it is led by the Spirit of Christ.” Marriage in Christian theology is, you might say, demythologized. With the coming of Christ, its necessity is taken away: gone is the notion that without it we are doomed to lovelessness.
For that reason, even if my faith permitted me to embrace Justice Kennedy’s understanding of “marriage equality”—which it doesn’t—I would still resist his conclusion about where to find the end of loneliness. Christianity teaches that marriage is transitory (Matthew 22:30), that celibacy is an honorable good drawing us into relationship with others (1 Corinthians 7:38), and that sacrificial love is open to anyone, regardless of marital status (Galatians 3:28).
Unlike Jonathan Rauch and Justice Kennedy, I don’t believe husband or wife is the right name for same-sex partners. But according to the promise of Scripture, baptized is a name offered freely to every last one of us, gay or straight or anywhere in between—and it’s a name that means beloved. That is the good news the church is given to proclaim, now more than ever.