Unchosen Gay Celibacy?

two-roads

A recurring theme that shows up in many articles at Spiritual Friendship is the concept of unchosen gay celibacy. As I’m in a mixed orientation marriage, it’s to be expected that I have a complicated relationship with that idea. In this post, I’d like to share some thoughts on unchosen gay celibacy from the perspective of a gay man who has chosen marriage to a woman. This is not a refutation or criticism of what’s already been written on the topic. Rather, I see it as a sort of addendum to what I believe are excellent articles that have no doubt ministered to celibate gay Christians who face the particular challenges associated with that calling.

My marital status notwithstanding, so much of what’s written here, here, and here resonates deeply with me. That’s because I’m not just nominally gay. It’s a real part of my life. Yet the calling of celibacy that those articles, as well as most of the relevant material out there, assume for gay Christians does not pertain to me. So what is the difference maker? What’s different about those of us who are contributors or who frequently participate in the conversation here at SF for whom marriage, not celibacy, is God’s calling?

For many, the idea that marriage to someone of the opposite sex is not a real option for gay people is self evident. There exists in the gay person, by virtue of their being gay, a lack of certain elements that opposite-sex marriage requires. That’s to say nothing of the presence of desires that cannot truly be met by such a union. So are those of us in MOMs just a little less gay than other gay Christians? Are we really somewhere closer to bisexual? Or have we experienced some level of orientation change?

Perhaps something like that is true of some people in MOMs. I can only speak from my own experience and from the testimony of friends who are in similar situations. I can say that, while my wife and I do enjoy all the kinds of intimacy that are expected in marriage, I am no less gay than I was ten years ago when I was anticipating lifelong singleness.

I’ve experienced no orientation change. I’m never, for a moment, even slightly tempted to lust for or have impure thoughts of a woman, and I never find myself struck by the beauty of a woman on the street or on the metro or in a movie. When I have those experiences, they are always directed toward men. But far be it from me to reduce gay orientation to mere physical attraction.

When I was in college, and my straight friends would express their desires for a wife, I could relate in a very general sense. Like them, I wanted the permanence of emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and yes, physical intimacy that marriage could offer. But I simply could not connect with their yearning for that permanence of relationship with a woman. When given the option of a hypothetical man or a hypothetical woman with whom to spend my life in partnership and commitment, it was only the latter that created in me any sense of longing or that elicited in me the desire to give of myself sacrificially.

Even now, still speaking hypothetically, the idea of marriage to a man is in many respects more appealing to me than the idea of marriage to a woman. Not only that, but even when barring same sex marriage from the discussion, the idea of being celibate and having close, committed male friends is still more appealing to me than the idea of marriage to a woman.

But I’m not just married to a woman. I’m married to my wife. I’m married to a person with whom I have experienced so many hardships and received so many blessings and on whom I’ve chosen to place my love and commitment. That shared history and that commitment before God make our relationship far more valuable to me than anything I might have had instead. When the choice is not between hypotheticals but between my actual marriage and anything else, my perspective is turned on end. The reason for that is not because I am some special kind of gay. It’s because of God’s grace, my wife’s impressive resilience, and the biblical sex ethic that we both believe in.

So is gay celibacy really unchosen? I would go as far as to say that anyone who subscribes to the idea expressed in my third paragraph, and for that reason, feels that mixed orientation marriage is unrealistic and the only biblical option is celibacy, is working off of incorrect presuppositions about sexuality, marriage, and possibly even what it means to be gay.

Spiritual Friendship is at the forefront of the Side B gay Christian movement to recover the lost theology of friendship and to correct the wrong assumptions about sexuality and marriage that place unnecessary burdens on the backs of gay people who wish to live according to biblical teaching. But if we see celibacy vs. mixed orientation marriage as a false choice, it could be that we are viewing things through the same lens as the culture that we’re trying to correct.

If we discount the viability of a mixed orientation marriage because of the absence of butterflies and infatuation, or because of a lack of natural physical attraction, are we not romanticizing marriage in the same way that our secular (and far too often, our church) culture does? If the overlap that we acknowledge exists between eros and philia alters the way we think about friendship, shouldn’t it alter the way we think about marriage?

I believe that the celibate gay Christians who have the healthiest approach to this are those who don’t see mixed orientation marriage as something they can’t attain, but something that they just don’t want. And here’s the thing: they are under no moral or spiritual obligation to want it. In fact, the alternative of celibacy is an honored choice, and it is one that the New Testament opens up to those who do not have a desire for or feel called to marriage to someone of the opposite sex (which is the only kind of marriage with which the biblical authors had anything to do). Ironically, in this small way, true biblical sex ethics have a little more in common with the early gay rights movement, in terms of liberating people from the obligation to enter traditional marriage, than the contemporary movement or even gay affirming Christianity does.

So as long as unchosen gay celibacy only means unchosen abstinence from same sex marriage, and doesn’t imply that traditional marriage is out of reach for gay people, then I think we’re on the right track. But let’s not find ourselves guilty of the same wrong-headed ideas that ex-gay theology taught us – that successful opposite sex marriage is possible if (and only if) we somehow achieve “whole heterosexual relating.”

That said, I certainly don’t want to cast mixed orientation marriage in an unrealistic light, as if it’s just no big deal that at least one of the spouses is gay! In my first post for Spiritual Friendship, I wrote about some of the unique challenges in my own marriage. As I look back on it, much of what I wrote doesn’t seem to be as relevant to my marriage as it was at the time. But even then, I was only able to write about it with the level of honesty that I did because we had recently been brought very, very low, past the point of keeping up appearances, and felt an obligation to share some of our story so that others might benefit from it.

It could have gone very differently for my wife and me when I was in the throes of a nasty faith/identity crisis a few years ago and had come to feel that God, if He was real, may not be good at all. That a friend of sinners He may be, but not a friend of lgbtq folks. And I had started to fear that I had made a tragic mistake when I married my wife. One that had severe, lasting effects on both of us.

The cross given to the gay Christian to take up is not the hardest imaginable. And none of us have resisted temptation to the point of death. But the particular cross that we do have to bear is one that many of us buckle under. It’s one thing to fall when you’re celibate. It’s another when your fall affects not only yourself but also a spouse and children.

So a decision to enter into a MOM should be made with sobriety and caution. The weight of the commitment being made before God must be at the forefront and must be foundational to the relationship. And it will take a lot of relying on God to make it work.

But in truth, this is the case for all marriages. Single straight people fall and married straight people fall, and the ramifications are obviously more far reaching and devastating when it happens within a marriage. So at the end of the day, while caution and care is advised for gay people considering mixed orientation marriage, there is no more reason to discourage MOMs than any other marriage between a man and a woman.

Now in making those statements, I don’t want to make room for straight or married Christians or the collective church to wash their hands of any responsibility in regards to their celibate gay brothers and sisters. It simply won’t do to say that, if a gay Christian is experiencing deep loneliness or sadness in celibacy, it’s that person’s own fault for choosing to forgo marriage.

The scriptures teach us that it is not good for us to be alone. And the scriptures also teach us that celibacy is a good thing. Therefore, celibacy cannot equal aloneness. Yet it all too often does. And even the ways that many celibate gay Christians find to combat this problem while still remaining within the parameters of traditional sex ethics are met with suspicion or outright hostility. And that must change.

So what we need is a holistic approach. It should be made clear that a healthy, whole marriage to someone of the opposite sex is not an impossibility for anyone solely because of that person’s sexual orientation. But a person’s choice not to pursue such a marriage should not be a sentence to a life devoid of deep relational intimacy.

49 thoughts on “Unchosen Gay Celibacy?

  1. I find this article deeply troubling, even harmful. Not because I doubt that some mixed orientation marriages can work, but because it easily gives the impression that *any* gay person could choose a MOM if they wanted it. This is the kind of article that conservatives use to wave in the face of gay people who are suffering under celibacy.

    I was part of conversations with folk that led up to the development of the Spiritual Friendship movement and one of the things that was so important for us was to get away from the ex-gay movement’s assertions that marriage was possible for anyone who truly wanted it. We recognized that as a lie. Some people could pull it off, but certainly not many. We needed a space that affirmed our reality–that it was truly unchosen celibacy. Marriage was not an option. And we needed the church to reckon with that reality. The church too often ignored celibacy with the belief and expectation that someone could just get married if they had a little more faith and worked on their issues.

    You try to distinguish yourself from the ex-gay movement, but you say the same thing. You write: “So is gay celibacy really unchosen? I would go as far as to say that anyone who subscribes to the idea expressed in my third paragraph, and for that reason, feels that mixed orientation marriage is unrealistic and the only biblical option is celibacy, is working off of incorrect presuppositions about sexuality, marriage, and possibly even what it means to be gay.” So you suggest that gay celibacy is actually just a choice, and claim that those who believe gay celibacy is unchosen are working off “incorrect presuppositions.” Not exactly a charitable estimation.

    You also write: “I believe that the celibate gay Christians who have the healthiest approach to this are those who don’t see mixed orientation marriage as something they can’t attain, but something that they just don’t want.” Here you actually suggest that those who don’t believe MOM can be attained are not as healthy. Those who are the healthiest are those who believe they could attain it, but just choose not to. This is the old ex-gay propaganda that if you really wanted it, you too could get married. I am truly appalled that SF has allowed this post. It seems that perhaps SF is changing from its original purpose.

    You go on to say: “[A] healthy, whole marriage to someone of the opposite sex is not an impossibility for anyone solely because of that person’s sexual orientation.” In other words, if you think it is an impossibility there is something else going on–faulty thinking, unhealthiness, lack of faith. In fact, you write: “[T]here is no more reason to discourage MOMs than any other marriage between a man and a woman.” This is such an incredibly naive statement.

    You seem to be making the same mistake that ex-gay married leaders often made. Some of them achieved a heterosexual marriage and so they assumed that anyone who really wanted it could attain it. Alan Chambers was notorious for this. But what Alan Chambers experienced and what you experience is called “spousal sexuality”–a term long used to describe those who are able to achieve a workable even enjoyable intimate relationship with one person of the opposite sex, but no other opposite sex persons.

    You say you are not less gay. Yet, you seem to have the ability to have sex with your spouse. You even use the word “enjoy.” There are many gay people who are unable to do that. It is so extremely repulsive that it is impossible. One of my gay friends described trying to have sex with her husband as awful as rape it is so repulsive. Even when she wanted to have sex for the sake of her husband, she simply could not do it. There are people living in celibate marriages as a result. That of course is not much protection against sexual immorality, which is one of the reasons Paul counsels marriage. To know your spouse finds your body repulsive is devastating and in some ways could trigger sexual misconduct more than singleness.

    My fear is that the younger generation is ignorant of the trainwrecks of MOM within the ex-gay movement and so is recycling some of the same old wrongheaded assertions. I don’t see what is being espoused here as too much different than the ex-gay movement. “You don’t have to be celibate. If you really want it, you can have a marriage too. It is a choice.”

    I have not objected to previous articles on SF on MOM–usually one’s sharing personal stories. But this one goes too far in promoting old falsehoods and shaming those who truly do find it impossible to marry heterosexually. Many MOM end in divorce with a lot of years of pain to recover from. I feel terrible for the straight spouses who are blinded by love and marry into an extremely difficult situation. I have seen this happen. When you are in love, you just think “it will work out” somehow. Straight folk don’t often fully grasp the ramifications of a MOM when they marry even when sexual orientation is disclosed.

    In the future I hope that SF will not allow harmful posts that actually suggest deficiencies in gay people for whom heterosexual marriage is, in fact, an impossibility and single celibacy is, in fact, unchosen based solely on sexual orientation. SF administrators should remove this post. Otherwise, SF has lost credibility to address these issues and is succumbing to the same propaganda as the ex-gay movement.

    • This does not represent any sort of policy change on the part of Spiritual Friendship. It is one post by one author, who veers farther in the direction of supporting mixed orientation marriages than other authors do.

      Given the overwhelming preponderance of posts by celibate authors on Spiritual Friendship, and the fact that most of those authors–myself included–tend to speak of celibacy as “involuntary” or “unchosen,” I’m willing to give Mike a little bit of space to express his opinion, even when I wouldn’t go as far as he does.

      I can see the concern that this sounds a little bit like some ex-gay propaganda. But the strong push for marriage in the ex-gay movement was tied with the idea that celibacy was a fall back if you failed to marry. Mike clearly rejects that, and his post is written in the context of a website where celibacy is talked about far, far more often than marriage. It’s also important to say that in Mike’s own story, he wasn’t pursuing mixed orientation marriage, he just fell in love with Anna. As he makes clear in the article, he still doesn’t want marriage to a woman in the abstract. He only came to want it because he’d already fallen in love with Anna. So I would read his saying mixed orientation marriage is possible for those who want it as encouraging others, like him, who fell in love to see the relationship as possible. It seems to me that on his own description, if Mike had read this article prior to falling in love with Anna, he would not have seen it as a reason to pursue marriage with a woman.

      At least, that is how I read the post.

      Another important concern I had with the ex-gay movement was its viewpoint censorship: everyone had to be on board with the reparative therapy/orientation change narrative, and those who were not were marginalized and not given a platform. I don’t agree with everything Mike says here, but I didn’t force him to re-write the column to agree with me, because (a) I want to be open to some difference of opinion and (b) as long as Wes and I remain unmarried and not interested in pursuing marriage, I don’t think it’s reasonable to see a column like this as a signal of a major change of direction at Spiritual Friendship.

      • Ron, thanks for your reply. I can hear what you are saying and appreciate the desire to be open to diverse opinions. As I mentioned I have no issue with the support of MOMs. And I have seen some MOMs work. I definitely agree that its an option for some people.

        My concern is that Mike doesn’t simply say it is a potential option for some people. He goes beyond that to 1) universalize that its possible for anyone who chooses and 2) those who do not think it is possible are less healthy and have faulty thinking. He could have easily made his point without shaming other gay people. The quotes I have highlighted above demonstrate he has gone beyond mere support of MOMs to making insinuations about those who for whom it is not possible. I believe that is harmful.

  2. I am in strong agreement with Mike’s viewpoint and feel like standing on my rooftop and cheering in his support. As a gay man, I continually get riled up when I speak to gay friends or read gay authors who adamantly discount the legitimacy of pursuing opposite sex marriage. Any MOMs that seem to be working well – as seen in Mike’s story – are considered to be oddball cases that no gay person in their right mind would (or should) want to pursue. This thinking simply must change. The Apostle Paul wrote that we have two options – marry (an opposite sex marriage is assumed) or remain single. He implies that these options are for everyone – gay or straight – so it must be assumed that MOMs can work and that they are blessed. This is foundational, indisputable truth. But, of course, marriage is not for everyone – gay or straight – and neither is celibacy. Each person has to determine his own path and expect God’s blessing as he pursues it. I speak from experience, having been in a MOM for 18 years. Since my wife’s death, I’ve chosen to remain single and celibate, so I am able to speak from both sides of the issue. Both are good; both are possible; both need to be encouraged, supported and endorsed by the gay Christian community.

    • Yes MOMs can work, but they are rare and will not happen for the majority of predominately gay folks. The relationships themselves are fraught with problems that most other opposite sex or same sex relationships don’t have to deal with. So yes they are possible, but we have to be careful not to give false hope to others and help ensure that those wanting to follow this path do so for the right reasons and with their eyes wide open.

  3. There are some people who claim that casual sex is consequence free so long as it’s consensual. I don’t buy that. I think sex has a tremendous potential for psychological violence regardless of consent. Concern for ones sex partner has to be a part of the ethical calculus of sexual intimacy.

    This post strikes me as exceedingly selfish at a minimum and perhaps even dangersous. It’s centered around the gay person looking to live into his/her sexuality in accord with (a conservative understanding of) biblical teaching, but it utterly fails to consider the potential for emotional damage to the straight spouse (setting aside the potential for self-inflicted emotional harm).

    This is a reckless post that should be removed.

    • Ford, I could see an argument that this post does not take sufficient attention of the dangers for mixed orientation marriages. But if you want to have an intelligent argument, you need to engage with the post that we actually published, which devotes 5 paragraphs to addressing the potential for emotional damage to the straight spouse:

      That said, I certainly don’t want to cast mixed orientation marriage in an unrealistic light, as if it’s just no big deal that at least one of the spouses is gay! In my first post for Spiritual Friendship, I wrote about some of the unique challenges in my own marriage. As I look back on it, much of what I wrote doesn’t seem to be as relevant to my marriage as it was at the time. But even then, I was only able to write about it with the level of honesty that I did because we had recently been brought very, very low, past the point of keeping up appearances, and felt an obligation to share some of our story so that others might benefit from it.

      It could have gone very differently for my wife and me when I was in the throes of a nasty faith/identity crisis a few years ago and had come to feel that God, if He was real, may not be good at all. That a friend of sinners He may be, but not a friend of lgbtq folks. And I had started to fear that I had made a tragic mistake when I married my wife. One that had severe, lasting effects on both of us.

      The cross given to the gay Christian to take up is not the hardest imaginable. And none of us have resisted temptation to the point of death. But the particular cross that we do have to bear is one that many of us buckle under. It’s one thing to fall when you’re celibate. It’s another when your fall affects not only yourself but also a spouse and children.

      So a decision to enter into a MOM should be made with sobriety and caution. The weight of the commitment being made before God must be at the forefront and must be foundational to the relationship. And it will take a lot of relying on God to make it work.

      But in truth, this is the case for all marriages. Single straight people fall and married straight people fall, and the ramifications are obviously more far reaching and devastating when it happens within a marriage. So at the end of the day, while caution and care is advised for gay people considering mixed orientation marriage, there is no more reason to discourage MOMs than any other marriage between a man and a woman.

      I could see criticisms to be made here. For example, I think it’s likely that MOMs have more challenges, on average, than marriages between two heterosexuals (though I don’t have anything beyond anecdotal evidence of this). So I would have moderated the claim in the last sentence. But there’s a difference between saying that I would have made some arguments differently, and your false claim that the post “utterly fails to consider the potential for emotional damage to the straight spouse.”

      It would be easier to see how to engage productively with your critique if you pitched it at the post Mike wrote, and explained why the cautions in the paragraphs just quoted are not adequate. As it is, you’re critiquing a post that Mike didn’t write, and that SF didn’t publish.

      • I can’t believe that our world views are so far apart that we read this post in such divergent ways.

        Of everything you reposted in your comment, all of it is concerned with the gay man – his crisis of faith, the cross he has to bear and it’s attendant pitfalls, his potential mistake, etc.- and only considers his family as a consequence of his weakness (e.g., his crisis of faith, his buckling under the weight of his cross). There is nothing that considers first the suitability of a gay man to enter into a intimate relationship with a straight woman in the first place. This is a glaring ethical omission.

        A gay man must consider his ability to give himself fully to his spouse – mind, body and spirit. If this post considers this at all, it is only hinted at in hyperlinks. The conclusion “…there is no more reason MOMs than any other marriage between a man and a woman” is a stunnngly callous one.

        Indeed, what’s unproductive is pretending that this post is saying something that it isn’t; it never considers the potential emotional violence inherent in MOMs.

  4. I am an unmarried man in my late twenties whose experience does not line up with modern social construct of heterosexuality. I really appreciate Mike’s important voice in this discussion. While sex is what sets marriage apart from other kinds of interpersonal relationships, it need not be the foundation or primary driver for a marriage. I too find it unhelpful when celibacy is presented as the only option for Side B folks. Thanks for posting this to SF!

  5. I would echo Daniel’s comment regarding what a great contribution this is. There are, after all, many of us who do not fit readily into either the modern social construct of heterosexuality or the modern social construct of homosexuality. I’m glad that the site offers space for voices of those who may fit into that no-man’s land between gay and straight.

    Besides, by my observation, I don’t believe that conservative Christians necessarily oppose homosexuality because they have deeply held convictions regarding gay sex (or at least that’s true for conservative Protestants). Rather, they have generally adopted a warped gospel that centers around compulsory heterosexuality. Evangelicals, for example, don’t just hate gay people; they hate anyone and everyone who fails to conform to social identities consistent with compulsory heterosexuality.

  6. I have to admit my envy of those in Mixed Orientation Marriages. It would be nice to be “normal”-then I start feeling a sense of oppression and self-righteousness that only celibate gay Christians can experience-the sense that God has put an unfair burden on me and therefore God “owes” me since I make sacrifices for Him that others don’t have to make.
    God forgive me for my self-righteousness and may God bless all of those in mixed-orientation marriages.

  7. I feel like the ideas behind this article are very simple:

    For those already in MOMs, God provides hope and God will sustain you and bless you. For those who choose to pursue an MOM, God provides hope and God will sustain and bless you. For those who remain single, God provides hope and God will sustain and bless you.

    Or, even more simply put:

    The key ingredient to a marriage blessed by God is, well, God.
    Neither of those interpretations of this article ignore, nor do they negate the hardships an MOM may very likely experience.

    I’m a lot like most of this community, emerging out of the ex-gay world with too many scars to count. The thing is, by the time I stepped out of that world, I was already committed to be married. In one sense, I definitely did want to get married and rejected people telling me I couldn’t. In another sense, I was duped into being married by ex-gay culture. Singleness, I was taught, was totally NOT an option for me. I HAD to pursue healing and gender wholeness. Throughout that phase of my life, I really thought that healing was happening.

    Until I realized I was in the same place as when I started. By the time of this realization, however, I had already committed to a heterosexual marriage, and there was no turning back. I tried to read Exodus material for comfort (I laugh at that idea now) and it just confirmed that I hadn’t healed enough yet, and if I tried to get married before I was healed, my life and marriage would be a disaster.

    It was then that I laid down ex-gay theology. In the midst of an Exodus fueled panic attack, I had a moment of clarity: “This is all people just telling me about my mind and my psychological problems. Who knows if any of its true? But God will be with me. He won’t withhold the fruits of the Spirit from me or from my marriage.”

    That’s the peace I’ve found. The truth is that I identify with a lot of the struggles in my MOM that are being discussed on this comment thread. But what is the message for people like me? Instead of a message, is there only pity for me?

    I came to SF to find sanctuary from a Christian culture that pities me in my sorry, gay state. I hope that SF won’t be an environment that pities me in my sorry, gay-stricken mixed-orientation marriage. I’ve faced all sorts of hardships, but I cling to Psalm 16 that God is my Source. Maybe I don’t have what it takes for this marriage, but God does, and He’s with me. It’s a simple idea, and I believe it.

  8. I’m so glad that most of the comments favor Mike’s article. It is a brave article. He never says that gay people will change their orientation if they married a person of the opposite sex. He never says it will be easy. What he states is that it is a real option for many and that it should be considered as such. Thank you Mike and thank you Ron for allowing different oponions in SF.

  9. Consider this: Heterosexual Same-Orientation-Marriages also face the very real possibility that one of the spouse will stop being sexually attracted to the other spouse. This happens all the time. As the spouses get older their “looks” become less attractive, particularly women lose their looks sooner than men. It must be terrible to realize all of the sudden that one’s spouse is not sexually attracted to us any longer. What to do then? If the marriage is based on sexual attraction and “romantic love” divorce will look like an option. For a Christian marriage however it is not an option. What to do then? I believe that no marriage is easy, well… some are easier than others but what makes a marriage is the will of the spouses to follow God’s plan and stick together.

  10. I’m now open to the idea of marriage. My 12 years as a single man have not been an ordeal but I’m no longer convinced that loving someone physically, emotionally and spiritually requires something that is beyond my control.

    What has helped me reach this stage (a couple of months ago) is believing that no good thing can be salvaged from a gay/ssa identity.

    • I find myself in partial agreement, with one big proviso. The notion of a gay social identity (separate from the vicissitudes of one’s sexual attractions) is largely dependent on the promotion of social identities structures around heterosexuality. In fact, in many ways, gay social identities often incorporate elements that represent little more than the rejection of certain elements of heterosexual social identities.

      I agree that not much value can be salvaged from gay social identities. But I’d suggest that one could sustain the same judgment against heterosexual social identities, or any social identities that center primarily on sexual attraction (or people’s perceptions or misperceptions of their own sexual attractions). After all, there’s nothing remotely biblical about the social identities related to compulsory heterosexuality, despite the well-funded efforts of many evangelicals to make compulsory heterosexuality a centerpiece of Christian orthodoxy. The problem isn’t merely related to gay social identities; the problem relates to the church’s facile embrace of the Freudian notion that sexual attractions are essential to social identity.

  11. I’m the straight husband in a MOM. My wife finally ‘came out’ to herself after thirty years of struggle and prayer, and our low-sex marriage became a no-sex one. There is fellowship, friendship, deep complicity, but no desire. So I feel that we’ve both been denied, amputated of an important part of the human experience: an exchange of love and desire in sexual union. There may be a tiny number of ‘successful’ Mixed Orientation Marriages… and perhaps the successes are less visible than the failures. But I’ve scoured the web for understanding and support in this painful challenge, and have ‘met’ virtually perhaps two other men sticking in a long-term marriage with a lesbian.

    Almost all the comments and reflections here are from the gay perspective. I simply have to add my grain of salt from the straight partner’s perspective. We felt that God led us together, called us together, and that we were following His loving purpose and plan for our lives. It is sheer hell, daily hell, to live in enforced and unchosen celibacy. I would not want this for my worst enemy. Anyone genuinely lesbian or homosexual will de denying an important part of themselves from their straight partner, through no fault of choice of their own, I insist and understand.

    My wife thought, believed, hoped that marriage would remove her lesbian attractions, but she’s had passions for others, other women, that she’s never had for me. And that’s just the way she’s made. It’s not her ‘fault’, it’s not sin. It’s the way God made her.

    I now cling to three items of understanding or faith. That my first identity is not as a man or a husband, but as a beloved child of God. That my wife cannot change; God is powerless to offer her of me any change in our situation, and so I have to learn to live without hope. And finally, I cling to the faith that even if I cannot see it or understand it, there was still a loving, godly purpose that brought us together, even if we now find ourselves in a childless, sexless place. But it’s seriously hard to square this with a loving God. My wife’s faith has been pretty much shaken to destruction, and mine is seriously fragile and vulnerable.

    • Brassyhub, thank you so much for sharing this. I think your voice is important for people to hear. I have also seen the pain up close and personal of straight spouses who have had to suffer because of a well-meaning gay person who decided to enter a MOM.

    • Hi Brassyhub,

      From reading you I understand that you entered this marriage without knowing that your wife was gay. I don’t think this is what we are talking about here. If a person is denied this important information you can’t hardly call it marriage because the person gave their assent to a reality different than what they thought they were assenting to. This is not a marriage. This marriage never happened. It is void.

      • Dear Rosa, I’m sorry if I’m out of place, introducing my personal experience of a MOM here. But I worry about a theoretical, philosophical discussion that is pretty unrelated to the lived-out reality of some, at least for me. My wife and I were virgins when we married, and we talked at length about how important sexuality was going to be in our marriage. But it was all theory, unrelated to the mis-understood realities of our bodies and our mis-matched desires. That’s one of the reasons that I am now far less attached to the absolute principles that I had then, and far more forgiving and understanding of pre-marital experiments. If only we’d ‘tried each other out’, we might not be here…

      • Hi Brassyhub,

        I don’t think you are out of place but I think you didn’t know you were in a MOM for many years. It seems that you learned about your situation after many years and that you were all along assuming that you married a woman that was sexually attracted to men. You were unaware of your situation. You didn’t know you were in a MOM.
        If a person is going to embark into marriage he/she needs to know, as accurate as possible, under which conditions he is marrying. This is even more relevant for MOMs.
        I hope you understand that it was not God that made your life painful, neither it was following His law. In the first place gay people were pushed and kept, by society (and the church included), into “closets”. This is unhealthy and promotes fear, in the gay person, of acknowledging his/her actual sexual desires even to themselves. So the problem is not God or His law. The problem is the lack of understanding which leads to our denials and our fears. I’m talking in particular for gay people and in general for all, because we all have fears and denials and these are not exclusive to gay people.
        The important part for me is to know who do I worship: the one true God or something else? Anything else, even moral law can be an idol. Following moral law to the “t” can make a person feel righteous. It leads to false conclusions: Because I follow God’s law to the end I must be perfect and everybody, including God, owes me. This is why we keep gay people in “the closet”, because we feel morally superior. But “the closet” is very unhealthy and leads to dishonest behavior. However a false sense of mercy can be an idol too. Mercy that dismisses the moral law altogether and makes the person feel righteous too: Because I am so merciful I am perfect and everybody else owes me, including God. This is what gives us “gay marriage”, which is founded on false premises and also leads into trouble. You, like everyone else, have to decide what God will you worship… I think we all will do well in practicing surrender in front of Christ’s Cross. Because that’s the God we should worship: The God in the Cross.

    • Also I have to say that I understand that the reality that your marriage never was will not diminish your pain. But it is a reality that is important to understand.

      • I have valid Biblical and legal grounds for divorce. But I was and am legally married, a civil marriage, blessed the following day in church. The promises included the traditional ‘for better, for worse’… I’ve made my bed, and I’ve chosen to lie in it, i.e. I’ve chosen to stay.

      • If now, with your eyes wide open, you give your assent you are renewing your marital vows and making them whole. You have to work your spirit into full forgiveness through prayer and reflection on Christ. Full submission to Christ is required for us to truly be happy. I’m working on it too. God bless.

    • What reason has God given you to trust he will help you or that he actually loves or cares for you? It may be time to re-examine your beliefs. For me, I never stopped believing in God, I merely stopped seeing him as good. You may come to the same conclusion, in time. I would, certainly, if God had wasted thirty years of my life and left me in the dark as he has you.

      • Like you, I’ve never stopped believing in God. But I do indeed struggle with feeling that he does indeed love me and has a loving plan for me. But how do we ever know anything? Faith means believing in things unseen and unproven, probably unprovable… I don’t believe that ‘God wasted thirty years’ or that I wasted those years. I’m trusting, believing, or trying to trust and believe that there is/was some hidden purpose that I may or may not discover before I get to the end of the road. Others see us (partly correctly) as an incredibly successful marriage, where they still love and like each other after nearly forty years… A small handful of close friends do know the hidden cost. But I react to theoretical theological and philosophical discussions with little real understanding of how incredibly hard any kind of MOM is and is going to be. Even if both sides think they understand what may be involved.

  12. I’ve said this before when this same message was brought up several months ago, but we have to be SO very careful here. It’s not that gay men and women haven’t been marrying those of the opposite sex for untold decades – they have. They did it to protect themselves, for selfish desires of children despite the needs of the spouse, because society made them feel as if they were supposed to be coupled, and for other selfish reasons like believing being married would make them feel more “normal” or more “manly” or “womanly”, etc. The now basically defunct ex-gay movement spent a great deal of time and money and energy trying to convince gay people that they could change and have the family and relationship which society, and frankly most fairy tales, said they should have in order to be happy. So while I feel it’s good and necessary to discuss MOMs and not to discount them, we also have to be realistic that this kind of life is just not going to be a real option for the majority of people who are predominately gay. MOMs are fraught with problems, and the reasons behind people possibly seeking them could easily be less than holy. The reality is that this isn’t going to be an option for most, saying otherwise can give lots of false hope to people (and has), and these are relationships come with their own wide-ranging issues and cannot be entered into quickly or lightly – in fact I would believe they require more thought and serious self-reflection and counseling than most opposite sex and even same sex relationships due in no small part to people’s personal motivations and what is required of the relationship for the long haul.

  13. I could see a MOM working for a Kinsey Scale 1 through 4 but wouldn’t risk it if you are Kinsey Scale 5 or 6. Not impossible, though. King Solomon had concubines for love and wives for child-fabrication so I suppose I could see a full on gay man marrying a woman and keeping some guys on the side, I just don’t see that squaring away, morally.

  14. Saying that there is a viable choice for gay men and women between celibacy and marriage to a person of the opposite gender is fine, but it’s not enough. I’d have more patience for posts such as this one if there was any attempt to establish the objective criteria under which someone might make such a grave discernment. Without that, not only do we run into the possibility of some of the practical dangers aluded to by others here in the comments, but some serious theological problems as well.

    To reply simply that “God sustains” or that He will provide graces are necessary to assist the homosexual man or woman considering marriage is, ultimately, to say the choice doesn’t matter. No one has grappled with whether God is sustaining such a marriage as an expression of His will or whether He is just performing necessary damage control in order to prevent further errors from being committed.

    If we believe that marriage is an image of the relationship between Christ and the Church, then what type of image is presented by a marriage in which, by its very design, erotic desire, both physical and psychological, goes unfulfilled? It’s a marriage void of ecstatic union and, in its place, mere raw human will to sustain it, the same as one might use to complete any menial chore.

    To say that there is a choice to be made is to do worse than half the job if one doesn’t also provide the tools whereby the choice can be made in a responsible manner.

  15. In response to some comments above which seemed to be misinformed about what constitutes a “void” marriage:

    Legally, only considerations such as consanguinity/incest, bigamy, and child marriage (automatically) render a marriage void. Deceit concerning one party’s qualities such as sexual orientation at most make a marriage voidable–i.e. valid as it stands, but subject to nullification if contested in court by the deceived party–and only in certain countries and US states, depending on local marriage law, and often only under special circumstances at that. For instance, NY marriage law requires the misrepresentation/fraud–both its perpetration before marriage and its discovery after marriage–to be corroborated by some third-party witness or external proof; even the Defendant’s admittance of guilt is not sufficient grounds for the annulment of a voidable marriage.

    Even under Catholic canon law, it’s debatable whether or not someone like brassyhub’s marriage is to be considered void or voidable. Canon 1097 explicitly states that while errors concerning the person *do* render a marriage invalid (e.g. erroneously believing she is the mother of your child, or from a particular family line), errors concerning a person’s qualities generally *do not*: “Error concerning a quality of the person does not render a marriage invalid even if it is the cause for the contract, unless this quality is directly and principally intended.” So even if a man would not have consented to a marriage had he known of his wife’s homosexual orientation, the deliberate withholding of this information is not sufficient grounds for nullifying the marriage. Qualities like sexual orientation don’t meet the requirements of the exception clause (“unless this quality is directly and principally intended”), because one’s sexual orientation can’t be a direct, principal reason for entering into a marriage. Such reasons concern a person’s particular qualities: you don’t choose to marry someone *because* they’re capable of being attracted physically and emotionally to others of your sex. Granted, Canon 1098 does make provisions for invalidating marriages where one “enters into a marriage deceived by malice, perpetrated to obtain consent, concerning some quality of the other partner which by its very nature can gravely disturb the partnership of conjugal life.” Although it’s unclear, and I think an open question, whether one’s homosexuality “by its very nature” is disruptive to married life: brassyhub’s experience suggests it is; Mike’s suggests otherwise.

  16. Mike, thanks for sharing your insights. I do think that the existence of healthy and contently married mixed-orientation couples like yourself are good evidence that mixed-orientation marriages/relationships (MOM/Rs) in some cases, do present a viable alternative to celibacy for gay Christians–notwithstanding the persistence of one’s homosexual attractions and evident absence of heterosexuality or any sign of overall orientation change.

    Some comments/questions:

    1. Re: “the presence of desires” (3rd para).

    How would you counsel someone in a MOM/R who desires the benefits and fruits of marriage (children, a family, normalcy), but has little or no sexual desire for his spouse/partner?

    2. Re: “If the overlap that we acknowledge exists between eros and philia alters the way we think about friendship, shouldn’t it alter the way we think about marriage?”

    I think the intended contrast is between eros and venus: a man’s romantic love for his wife (eros) inevitably involves the sexual passions (venus), but–in the MOM case–perhaps not of the elemental sort that, left unbridled or fallen outside the marital confines, could just as easily have been directed at another woman.

    3. Re: “the same wrong-headed ideas that ex-gay theology taught us – that successful opposite sex marriage is possible if (and only if) we somehow achieve “whole heterosexual relating.””

    Small comment–but I do find criticisms like these of ex-gay groups to be often overblown. Based on my own experience with ex-gay ministries (Exodus, Narth, People Can Change), I’ve found ex-gays to be rather tempered in their expectations. People were desperate, but nobody was naive enough to believe in wholesale orientation change. Most men I knew simply wanted to reduce their own homosexual feelings (complicating friendships, leading to frustrations) and/or improve their flailing marriages and sex lives with their wives. You’re correct to point out that it’s a common tenet of ex-gay belief that MOM/Rs are possible *only if* one somehow achieves some level of heterosexual relating–though few ex-gays I know would interpret this as complete orientation change (again, you only need to be “straight enough” to love and be faithful to your wife). I think Medinger himself, in Journey into Manhood, admitted his own transformation was miraculous and the exception, not the norm. It’s incorrect however to think that in general ex-gays believe MOM/Rs are possible *if* (i.e. so long as) heterosexual relating is achieved: certain brands of reparative therapy like Nicolosi’s emphasize healthy and wholesome relating to *both* sexes, not just the opposite sex, through therapeutic healing of family-of-origin wounds tracing back to both parents.

    • We can only applaud with both hands the lucky people of any orientation who manage to make a success of their relationships. Mike’s experience is Mike’s experience; it cannot be denied by others. But I would strongly caution that this is extremely, extremely rare. Living in Switzerland, I’ve found no face-to-face support of any kind outside professional therapists. So I’ve scoured the Web for understanding and help. ‘Healthy and contently married mixed-orientation couples’ are VERY hard to find. There are very few reliable studies or statistics. Sure, most marriages fail and end in divorce, but the failure rates for MOMs are radically higher. There are three Yahoo groups that I’ve been involved with: MMOMW (Making Mixed Orientation Marriages Work) with around 2,000 members, almost all trying ‘open marriages’ on one side or both, but a long way from monogamy or celibacy. Around 1,000 men can be found on MMTL (Men Married to Lesbians), a place of a lot of anger and bitterness, which I left because I was only encouraged to get out fast, not to trust my wife’s promises of fidelity. I remain on MonMOM (Monogamous Mixed Orientation Marriages). We’re only 200.

      • Thanks, that’s helpful to know what online support groups are out there. Lack of adequate support/counsel sadly seems to be a common theme (as evidenced by Mike’s reply below).

    • Hi there. These are thoughtful questions and comments. I’ll attempt to answer your questions as well as I can:

      1.”How would you counsel someone in a MOM/R who desires the benefits and fruits of marriage (children, a family, normalcy), but has little or no sexual desire for his spouse/partner?”

      I don’t think there’s one quick, easy answer to that question. I recognize that every marriage is different, and that goes for every mixed orientation marriage as well. I don’t know that there is one thing, some formula that will make things better for a struggling couple. What does one say to a straight person who has little or no sexual desire for his or her spouse? I think a meaningful answer would require a certain amount of familiarity with both spouses and a lot of wisdom.

      A very general, simple truth that I think is always worth repeating is that, regardless of your sexual orientation, if you are married, the responsibilities that the Bible gives to married people apply to you, and if you are a Christian, God will not abandon you to do it alone. So what to say to someone like BrassyHub who, as a straight spouse in a MOM, clearly still believes in the first part of that sentence but has lost hope in the second part of it? I don’t know. What do you say to any Christian whose marriage isn’t working? What do you say to the gay person who has only experienced celibacy as a destructive lifestyle? These are hard questions, but the fact that they exist do not, in themselves, negate the positive statements that they challenge.

      For me, what helped was being reminded that, yes, I was a gay man, but I was also just a man. And as such, I had not sinned or dishonored God by getting married. And I knew that I loved my wife and wanted to honor her and serve her and to be a good husband to her. And as a Christian, I knew that somehow, God would enable me to do so. That meant shedding some of the victim mentality that I had as a gay Christian and really acknowledging that obedience to God is a dying to self that is costly and hard, and it hurts. My marriage, as far as what I put into it, had to be as much about God and my wife and as little about me as it could be. With this frame of mind, I did whatever I could to cultivate intimacy. And for us, better relational intimacy led to deeper physical intimacy.

      I know that a key ingredient to making it all work was the encouragement of other people in MOMs. Skyping with a guy who was ten years into marriage who had been where I was, and knowing that there are others out there who are making this work was a tremendous help, as well as knowing that there were at least a couple of writers at SF who were, themselves, in MOMs.

      But those examples of successful MOMs are admittedly rare, and there’s almost nothing out there in the way of support or counsel. I think it can’t be overlooked that such a severe lack of support at least contributes to the high number of unsuccessful MOMs. Unfortunately, if some commenters have their way, SF won’t be a place of support either. Instead, someone in the shoes I was wearing a few years ago would be told that their marriage is beyond the blessings of God and can serve only as a cautionary tale.

      2. Re: “If the overlap that we acknowledge exists between eros and philia alters the way we think about friendship, shouldn’t it alter the way we think about marriage?”

      I’ll just quickly add that, while I lifted the language from the linked article by Melinda Selmys, what was at the forefront of my mind when I wrote that line were sections of Wesley Hill’s book, Spiritual Friendship. In it, he explores how biblical and other historical texts often borrow from romantic language to describe friendships and familial relationships. There is overlap between romantic and other kinds of love that we don’t feel very comfortable with today. And my point is that if such overlap would change our view of friendship, it ought to change our view of marriage.

      3. Re: “the same wrong-headed ideas that ex-gay theology taught us – that successful opposite sex marriage is possible if (and only if) we somehow achieve “whole heterosexual relating.””

      I can understand your issue with that statement. Admittedly, I was never really involved in an ex-gay ministry, though I did have quite a bit of interaction with many people who were, and considered getting involved on several occasions. The thing that bugged me was that the language was always just ambiguous enough that it could mean whatever you wanted it to mean. And that felt so frustrating whenever I talked to someone involved in ex-gay ministry. The simple, straightforward way you describe most ex-gays’ outlook and expectations was not ever articulated that way to me by anyone I ever spoke to. There were always these code words and phrases that just felt so slippery, and I could never really get a handle on exactly what it was that people were trying to achieve and what it was that those who were propped up as success stories had actually achieved.

      But as you stated, regardless of what rank and file ex-gays believed, it was “a common tenet of ex-gay belief that MOM/Rs are possible *only if* one somehow achieves some level of heterosexual relating…” And that is my only point here. Interestingly enough, it is apparently what many Side B gay Christians believe as well. So although I’ve been accused in the comments section of peddling recycled ex-gay teaching, I think it is they who are working from the same basic presuppositions as ex-gay ministries.

  17. Thanks for these earnest responses. Much of what you say—about essential reminders of marital duties, regardless of one’s orientation, and the need for outside support—resonates with what I’ve heard from others (not many) I know in committed MOMs. I too hope SF commenters would be more charitable, instead of jumping to lazy misinterpretations. I for one found lots that’s of value in your observations. Fully agreed, re: shedding victim mentality, lack of support contributing to failed MOMs, slippery ex-gay language, Side B presuppositions.

  18. Mike, you have made a couple of references to “commenters” who have critiqued your article. It is okay to talk to me directly. If you have an objection to something I have critiqued let me know.

    I stand by my concerns–which again are not so much about the reality that some MOMs can be successful, but rather the unnecessary negative and uncharitable insinuations you made about those who do not believe (rightly so) that a MOM would work for them and celibacy is, indeed, unchosen.

    • Hi Karen,

      I want you to know that I fully intend to address the concerns you raised, as well as those of others who commented. I just think the most efficient way to do that would be a follow-up post. I didn’t respond to you personally because, in laying down an ultimatum asking for my censorship, you didn’t seem interested in leaving room for dialogue with me.


      Anyway, I’ll give a brief but incomplete response here, and I plan to elaborate later.


      I want to make it clear that I am not trying to suggest that marriage is or should be the path for every gay person. That would be absurd. That’s not even true for every straight person. My point is that the fact that a person is gay does not automatically rule out marriage. And when I say that it’s a real choice, I don’t mean that it’s the right choice in every situation, or even most of them. I’m also not trivializing this, as if deciding whether or not to enter a MOM is like deciding whether or not to buy an expensive winter coat. It’s a huge decision that will affect the rest of both spouses’ lives, the lives of any future children, and a number of other people. And while certain aspects of opposite sex marriage may seem so unpleasant to a particular gay person that they *experience* it as an impossibility, I just don’t think that squares with what the bible teaches about men, women, marriage, and sexuality. You can frame it as though I’m shaming people who feel that way. But by that logic, aren’t you shaming Side A folks who have experienced celibacy as an impossibility in their lives? You do hold to the belief that celibacy is God’s calling for all gay Christians (minus the odd case like me, here and there), don’t you? 



      You say that what I’m doing here is harmful. But I think you don’t realize the damage that your own point of view, or at least the way you’ve expressed it thus far, can cause. If all I had found a few years ago, when my marriage was really suffering, were the things that you’ve had to say, I would have felt hopeless. In fact, I probably would’ve felt that ex-gay teaching was the only place I could turn. Take a look at sundogsongs’ comment. What message do you have for him, other than that he’s made a grave mistake, and his marriage can only serve as a cautionary tale?

      I would imagine that there are few instances in which the right course of action for a gay person, or for that matter, a straight person, is to enter into a mixed orientation marriage. But the litmus test for whether or not it’s the right choice cannot begin and end with the state of the gay person’s orientation. And just as it’s wrong to pressure gay people into marrying when they shouldn’t, it is wrong to try and close that door to people who are honestly, openly trying to discern whether that is the right choice for them. And it’s certainly not right to communicate to those who are already in MOMs and are struggling that their marriages are beyond the reach of God’s blessings because of one spouse’s orientation.

  19. Hi Mike, thanks for taking the time to respond. I look forward to your additional post for further clarity.

    I am getting the sense that we are not understanding each other based on your reply here.

    To clarify, I do not think you are trying to assert that every gay person *should* marry. You write: “My point is that the fact that a person is gay does not automatically rule out marriage.” I would agree with that. Again, that is not what I was objecting to.

    I also grasp that you realize a MOM is hard work. So I don’t think you are avoiding acknowledging the challenge. Although to say that it is essentially no different than a straight marriage is not true. There are factors that make it more challenging. Sex may not be everything in a marriage but it is a huge piece. And one of the reasons Paul counsels marriage.

    You write: “And while certain aspects of opposite sex marriage may seem so unpleasant to a particular gay person that they *experience* it as an impossibility, I just don’t think that squares with what the bible teaches about men, women, marriage, and sexuality.”

    I am not sure what you mean by this sentence. Can you clarify? What do you mean they “experience” it as an impossibility. Are you saying that they are under the *illusion* that it is not possible? And that they could if they thought about it differently? I suppose if you mean celibate marriages, then than would be the case. But consummation is generally understood to be part of the meaning and purpose of marriage. And many gay people are truly unable to function heterosexually–not just psychologically but physically.

    Also, can you clarify “I just don’t think that squares with what the Bible teaches about men, women, marriage, and sexuality.” How do you believe the biblical authors understood marriage?

    You write: “But I think you don’t realize the damage that your own point of view, or at least the way you’ve expressed it thus far, can cause. If all I had found a few years ago, when my marriage was really suffering, were the things that you’ve had to say, I would have felt hopeless.”

    What specifically did I say? The primary point of my response was about your connotations toward those who believe celibacy is unchosen.

    As for people who are already in MOMs and struggling, that is a whole other matter. My concern is to help prevent marriages that should not occur (and no I am not excluding all MOMs). I am thinking of, for example, the other commenter who unknowingly married a lesbian. Or, how in the ex-gay movement people married in hopes that change would come and then it didn’t, leading to divorce. I know people personally who went into a marriage “optimistically” and because of a desire for children and it has been painful to watch the results. So, my concern is to prevent tragedy by helping gay people be more informed. Certainly the kind of MOM you speak of–where there is transparency is a big help. But even then I am concerned that straight partners don’t really understand the extent of what they are getting into. I think a person who is gay that gets married needs to have very frank talks about whether it will be a celibate marriage or near celibate marriage. Or that it might be hard to be physically intimate and the emotional impact of that on both partners. I personally cannot imagine having sex with someone who is having to force him/herself to do it. If those kinds of conversations are happening before marriage, then that is more hopeful. But your comment that a MOM is like an opposite sex marriage struck me as being too optimistic and thus misleading. And I have seen the negative impact of that.

    As for someone who is already in such a marriage, what would I say? The kind of things I have said to a couple of my close friends who are in that situation. Mostly listening to their pain. Giving them hugs. Encouraging fidelity (as temptations to affairs is great). Not judging what they ultimately decide to do about the marriage (stay or divorce). And most of all encouraging staying close to God and having good intimacy with friends outside of marriage. I always say that many decisions involve pain either direction and to choose the pain that is most redemptive. But, if I had had the chance to talk with them before marriage, I would have encouraged these particular people not to get into this marriage. After the fact is harder. I wouldn’t encourage someone to purposely go into a dysfunctional marriage. And for these folk it is. Though it is not for all MOMs. There are a lot of factors involved in whether or not a MOM can be successful.

    You write: “And it’s certainly not right to communicate to those who are already in MOMs and are struggling that their marriages are beyond the reach of God’s blessings because of one spouse’s orientation.”

    What do you mean by “beyond the reach of God’s blessing”? I never said that God cannot be active in helping people in painful situations or marriages. If you mean “God’s blessing” as in God will always make the MOM work by helping cultivate the physical and emotional intimacy necessary, that is not the case. God doesn’t often make those changes. You are fortunate in your situation. But many others have not been able to achieve the functioning you have–and its not for lack of faith or praying or openness to God.

    Finally, you did not address in your response my primary concern with your post. In my response I said, “We needed a space that affirmed our reality–that it was truly unchosen celibacy.” By suggesting that celibacy is not really unchosen–that is it just a choice, that is harmful.

    I then expressed concern that you said people who believe this way have faulty thinking and are not as healthy as those who believe they can get married. And I gave specific quotes where you indicate this. Please clarify if I have misunderstood your statements. Do you think people who believe and experience celibacy as unchosen have faulty thinking? Do you think they are less healthy?

    It sounded like from your post that you were saying *anyone* could get married and have it be successful if they *chose* this option. Most gay people I know *want* to get married. But they want to get married because of the physical and emotional intimacy that marriage brings unique from friendship. A celibate marriage or near celibate marriage does not do that. Which is why affairs are not uncommon. The need that marriage is meant to meet is not being met because it is physically and emotionally not possible for those who are on the extreme end of the Kinsey scale.

    • Amen, Karen. You write: ‘What do you mean by “beyond the reach of God’s blessing”? I never said that God cannot be active in helping people in painful situations or marriages. If you mean “God’s blessing” as in God will always make the MOM work by helping cultivate the physical and emotional intimacy necessary, that is not the case. God doesn’t often make those changes. You are fortunate in your situation. But many others have not been able to achieve the functioning you have–and its not for lack of faith or praying or openness to God.’

      I keep posting here because I don’t want to see others go through the pain and frustration that my wife and I have experienced, and continue to experience. The decades of unanswered prayers and frustration. An important part of life, in particular married life, has proved for us more of a curse than a blessing. I cling rather desperately to the belief that there may still have been some hidden purpose in it that I’ve not seen a glimpse of, and may never see in this life… But I am now learning to live without hope, to find the strength each day to live another day, to accept the food that the angels give (see 1 Kings 19,7-8). I walk on through the desert, my only hope being that it will all end one day.

    • Hi Karen,
      I’ve thought a lot about what you and others have written here, and I’ll admit it’s given me a few sleepless nights. I think it’s safe to assume that one of the primary motivations that all the SF contributors have for what they do is to be a source of encouragement and help to the lgbtq Christian community. That’s definitely true for me. So the thought that what I’m writing might be accomplishing the exact opposite thing is horrifying, and I really want to consider what you’re saying. 



      There’s no doubt in my mind that the article I wrote is not the best possible version of itself. I’m quite sure there’s a lot to be worked out and rough edges smoothed over, and I probably should’ve worded some things differently. And, I may have been flat out wrong about some things. 

In this reply, I’ll try to clarify what I meant to say regarding the areas that I feel I’ve been misunderstood, and I’ll also try and work through the disagreements that we have on matters where we’re both rightly understanding each other. 



      Firstly, I want to be clear that I’m not really answering with a resounding “NO!” to the question of whether or not gay celibacy is unchosen. I mean to say that it’s more complicated than that. I don’t think the answer is a resounding “Yes” that doesn’t require any sort of caveat or footnote. In Nick Roen’s article that I linked to, he writes: “This would be an appropriate place to discuss the calling to a mixed-orientation marriage (MOM), but that is for a different post.” This is just my attempt to write that post. I’ll come back to this later in my response.



      Secondly, I think my point is not coming across very well in this statement “there is no more reason to discourage MOMs than any other marriage between a man and a woman.” My point here is not that MOMs shouldn’t be treated with more caution or as if the couple isn’t entering into something that’s any different or more difficult than other marriages. My point is that the presence of those difficulties does not warrant a position that actively discourages people from even considering it as an option. And whether it’s intentional or not, the Side B conversation, in general, does come across as doing this.

      

Now, I want to turn to my comments about impossibility, because I know that can be a very provocative statement. I saw a discussion on Facebook recently among several Catholics, and one of them posted Canon XVIII of the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent:

“If any one saith, that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to keep; let him be anathema.”

Now I’m not Catholic, though if my memory of past discussions at SF serves me, you are. So I won’t presume to be educating you on Catholic doctrine. And I’m certainly not trying to pronounce anyone damned. But the reason I’m posting this is because it does sort of get at what I’m trying to say here, and the thing that holds me back from just scrapping everything I said before and agreeing with you.

      

I feel that I am bound to believe that it is not impossible for a Christian to obey the commandments of God. We will certainly not do so perfectly, but I think we’re in some murky theological waters if we say such a thing. And if a Christian is married, part of obedience to God means giving of oneself sexually to the spouse. It may well be impossible for a gay person in and of themselves to do so. But I have to believe that God will give us the ability, however imperfectly, to walk in obedience. When I mentioned the biblical view of marriage, I specifically had in mind the fact that the marriage covenant includes many obligations, and it is assumed in the text that it is possible – though perhaps only through God’s grace – for anyone who is married to fulfill them. Marriage is not an obligation for any Christian. And it’s not the best or wisest choice for every person, and in most cases, especially in our modern context, it’s probably not going to be the right choice for a gay person. But I think it’s wrong of us to assume that if we do, after prayerful, honest consideration, decide to marry, that God will not give us the strength to fulfill the obligations that go along with that.

      

I don’t deny the experience of people like BrassyHub and his wife. I know that it’s a similar story for a disproportionately large number of MOMs. Their stories do perplex me, and I grieve for them. But their stories present no more or less of a challenge for my point of view than the stories of once-Side B Christians who experienced celibacy as an impossible, negative lifestyle are for Side B folks in general. Again, if what I’m doing amounts to shaming those who feel that they can’t make marriage “work”, then Side B theology does the same to those who couldn’t make celibacy “work.” 



      I don’t have a very good or easy answer for people who’ve experienced a long road of suffering in a bad MOM, in light of what I believe. But I also don’t have a very good answer for those who’ve experienced the same in celibacy. And I don’t have a good answer for people whose same orientation marriages are toxic or have ended in divorce. But as I said to gayasianchristian, their experiences cannot nullify the positive statements that they challenge.

      

I agree that there are people who have entered into MOMs who should’ve been counseled not to do so. That is not at all incongruent with the point I’m trying to make. I will echo most of what you had to say about the kinds of conversations that need to take place before following through with a MOM. Even the celibacy talk. Because, while I do believe that, ultimately, God promises to grant us strength to obey his commandments, that isn’t a license to be reckless, and your friend’s story and BrassyHub’s story are real life stories. And even if it doesn’t stay that way, the chance is extremely high that there will be seasons of this in any (all?) MOMs. I don’t mean at all to say that MOMs are essentially the same as other marriages. I hope I clarified this in my fifth paragraph above. Also, my first post for SF should indicate that I don’t believe that. There would, after all, be no point in calling it a mixed orientation marriage if that were the case. I think our issue on this particular point is mostly miscommunication.

      As far as what you’ve said that I think can be harmful, it’s hard to pinpoint and isolate one line. Perhaps most troubling to me are the seventh and ninth paragraphs of your first response. Not the inclusion of your friend’s story, but the conclusion that you seem to be coming to. Your comments seem to make a neat and clear dividing line between MOMs that can work and those that can’t. On the one side are marriages in which the gay spouse has essentially achieved a special kind of orientation change, (at least in regards to one person of the opposite sex), and then has decided to get married. On the other hand, if a gay spouse experiences anything like your friend’s story, the marriage was a mistake, and things aren’t going to change. The best you can do now is, as another commenter called it, damage control.

      

That’s incredibly discouraging. And it paints an over simplistic image of the MOMs that “work.” I’ve experienced some of those things that your friend experiences in her marriage. I have friends who have experienced them to a much deeper degree. And in those times, the last thing we or our spouses needed to hear was that there’s no hope for things to get better, and the best we can do now is to try and not cheat on our spouses. Maybe I’m painting with too broad a brush with some of my statements. But I think, even though you are careful to add qualifiers, you are doing the same. And so is the general Side B conversation, which is why I felt the need to write this post in the first place. 



      What Spiritual Friendship provides is so vital to gay Christians. The sense that you’re among others like you, the queers on the margins of the Church who are constantly having to justify our existence and keep pursuing God in spite of all the stumbling blocks that so many Christians in the mainstream throw in front of our feet. And it’s so helpful and therapeutic to sort of be amongst your “own” in a sense, and to know that you’re participating in a community of people who are walking this path with you, experiencing so many of the same challenges, frustrations, hurts, and joys that you are. But when a gay person such as myself or others I know who have chosen marriage is struggling to live into the calling that God has for him/her, and that community that is otherwise so encouraging only sends a message that the presence of those struggles plus biblical prohibitions on homosexual activity equals mandatory celibacy, it’s no help at all. It just serves to drive home the idea that we’ve missed our calling and now, all that’s left to do is to spend the rest of our lives trying to mitigate the consequences of that mistake on our spouses.

      

I think your explanation of what you’ve said to friends in struggling MOMs adds a lot more nuance, and I can definitely appreciate that. I’ll say again that I agree that many people in MOMs should’ve been counseled not to get married (for that matter, many married people in general should’ve received the same counsel). I’d only add that it’s just very difficult to parse out which MOMs are dysfunctional and which are not. There have certainly been seasons in which you’d be correct in saying that mine was one of the dysfunctional ones. I don’t know anyone in a MOM who would say otherwise. You wrote: “There are a lot of factors involved in whether or not a MOM can be successful.” This, really is the main point of my post. There are, indeed, a lot of factors, and marriage shouldn’t be ruled out as an option based on sexual orientation alone. 

In regards to my statement about the “healthiest” approach, perhaps this is mostly a matter of unfortunate word choice. I did not mean to insinuate anything about the mental, emotional, or spiritual wellbeing of someone who sees an MOM as an impossibility. When I wrote “healthiest” I essentially meant “most correct.” I suppose it could be potentially healthier, if the person meets someone like I did and begins to desire marriage but holds back because of the preconceived notion that the marriage cannot work. But again, I’m not implying that there’s some special brokenness that needs to be healed. I’m no propagator of ex-gay teaching. I hope this helps clear up things. I’m sure you still disagree with the term “most correct”, but I at least expect that you’d find it less offensive, and it does more accurately convey what I had in mind. 



      As for faulty thinking, isn’t that just another way of saying that I think someone is wrong? I just don’t know what’s so provocative about that. You think that I’m wrong. So you think that I have faulty thinking. I don’t take offense to that, and there’s no way to escape that in conversations about anything. Maybe I’m missing something here. 



      Finally, as I read your last paragraph, it occurred to me that a significant roadblock in our communication on this is perhaps that I see the possibility to do something and the desire to do it as intertwined in a complicated way, and you seem to describe them as mutually exclusive things.

      

I live in a large, fast-paced urban center, and I thrive on that. I’m quite sure that it would be impossible for me to be happy and to thrive or even survive living off the grid in, say, the Alaskan wilderness. I’m a teacher, and I love my profession. I’m passionate about it, and I’m confident that I can do it well. I feel that it would be impossible for me to be, say, an accountant or a stock broker.



      When you say that most gay people you know want to get married, I don’t doubt that for a second. I’d say the same for the gay people I know. But am I correct in thinking that what they actually want is marriage to someone of the same sex? They desire the physical and emotional intimacy that a same sex marriage would bring them. And that is something that, for many of them, their faith prohibits them from having. So in a very real sense, gay celibacy is unchosen.

      

But if I understand correctly, the people you speak of don’t desire the physical and emotional aspects of what a MOM can provide, however. So they don’t really *want* that. So in that sense, the decision to not pursue a marriage to an opposite sex spouse is a life choice, just as the decision to not live off the grid in the Alaskan wilderness and to not be an accountant or a stock broker is a life choice for me.



      And what I wanted to accomplish in this post was to say that if gay Christians find themselves in a situation where they’re not so sure that they don’t desire what marriage to an opposite-sex person in their lives would provide, it is something worth giving real consideration and should not be dismissed as impossible because they are this special category of human called “gay.”

      When I started really considering this option, I experienced that desire very strongly on an emotional level, in a way that wasn’t matched by the physical. And while that led to some very difficult times in our marriage, I found that the physical was very dependent upon and wrapped up in the emotional in complicated and surprising ways.

      

Look, I wholeheartedly agree that one of the many good things that the development of Side B theology has accomplished is to push back against the pressure that ex-gay teaching put on people to get married when they shouldn’t. But the fact is, if Spiritual Friendship had been as influential eight years ago as it is now, I believe I wouldn’t have gotten married. I would have been convinced that it was the wrong idea and that it would be impossible. And that would have been a mistake. I know others who would say the same thing. Thankfully, Ron saw the need to bring in more voices of those in MOMs, which is how I began contributing to SF in the first place.

      You may have some real problems with what I’ve written, and maybe even with good reason. But I do hope you can come to trust that my intention is not at all to shame anyone. It’s just that far too often, “Side B gay Christian” is considered a synonym for “celibate gay Christian”. I don’t know, sometimes reading Side B material and conversations that follow can start to feel like all the celibate gay Christians are breaking bread together, and every once in a while someone remembers, “oh yeah, the MOM guys are here too. And so somebody pulls up a stool and tries to squeeze us in at the corner where there’s really not enough table space for a plate. 



      So I’m just trying to make real space at the table. But I don’t think there’s a way to adequately do that without adding some much needed nuance to the idea of unchosen gay celibacy. I’m open to adjusting my position and accounting for other things. But I don’t think the status quo in how we think about this issue in Side B circles is acceptable. As I’ve wrestled back and forth with the things that you and other commenters have brought up, I’ve had a lot of moments of regret, wishing I hadn’t written this. But I think I’ve come to a place of resolve that even if there are significant flaws in my post, I’m glad that I wrote it. Because the conversation is long overdue, in my opinion. Perhaps it will lead to discussions that result in a more comprehensive Side B approach to marriage and celibacy.


      • Hi Mike,

        First let me tell you that your response is fantastic. Truly good and dedicated.

        Second, you might already know, or not, I’m catholic and if i did believe in what the Council of Trent affirms then I would have to agree with Putresvigil and affirm that God is a sadist. So yes, I believe what the Council says. But it seems to me that you mistake the Council’s words.

        “If any one saith, that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to keep; let him be anathema.”



        This refers only to the 10 commandments and it doesn’t refer to any perceived sexual marital obligation.

        God bless,

        Rosa

      • Mike, you said you saw a discussion in which someone said, “If any one saith, that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to keep; let him be anathema.”
Canon XVIII of the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent

        I find that interesting because ironically just today I came across someone writing on a blog about keeping the law and there is a little know verse in the Bible that reads, ” Moreover I gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not live.” Ezekiel 20:25. When I cross-reference it in The New Oxford Annotated Bible it says, ” The notion that God’s law may be an occasion of punishment, unique in the Hebrew bible and recurs in Romans 7:7-13.

        There is something quite awful about both statements

  20. Hi Mike, thanks for your in-depth response. I know that your heart is to encourage people. And I respect the need for folk in MOMs to have a place at the table. I have enjoyed reading posts from MOM folk over the years. I have never objected to one of them until now. One of my all time favorite bloggers on sexuality, Disputed Mutability, is in a MOM. So, I definitely agree that these voices are important.

    I think the primary sticking point is in your quoting of the Catholic doctrine: 

“If any one saith, that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to keep; let him be anathema.”



    I am not Catholic and I wouldn’t agree with this kind of statement, although I understand where the theology comes from.

    It sounds like you agree with the statement. If I understand right, you are saying there are certain obligations that come with marriage–i.e. sexual relations–and that God will enable a person in a MOM to fulfill the duty of sex. God will give the grace (healing?) to do this.

    That sounds very much like ex-gay philosophy. And I don’t agree with the premise. I do believe some people are Kinsey 6 gays and short of healing will not be able to perform sexually with the opposite sex.

    You are concerned about dampening people’s hope, but I am concerned about how “hope deferred” is exactly what causes hopelessness. The hope for the ability to function heterosexually that never came is why many returned to the gay community. Sometimes being honest about reality is the most hopeful thing.

    Anyway, thanks for the conversation Mike. I appreciate you taking the time to read and reflect on comments. I wish you the best.

  21. Mike you said, “My point is that the presence of those difficulties does not warrant a position that actively discourages people from even considering it as an option.“ Then you turn around and said, “I don’t deny the experience of people like BrassyHub and his wife. I know that it’s a similar story for a disproportionately large number of MOMs.” Let me start by saying, I find it disconcerting that you admit that most MOM’s have unhappy consequences and yet conclude no one should actively discourage it. Shouldn’t the experiences most MOMs face act as cautionary tales just like your MOM acts a good example? The more we look at each others experiences the better we can see where we might fit in the story.

    I was in a mixed orientation marriage which was a bittersweet experience. Sweet because my husband is a good person and we have a lovely daughter but bitter because I was miserable deep down inside my heart. I can’t speak to the experience you have but I am exclusively attracted to women. When I was with my husband and we had a fight I never wanted to have make up sex. I was indifferent to it. I was unaware at the time what make up sex was (because my husband was the first person I had a sexual relationship with). That is, until I was in a relationship with a woman. After our first argument in which she left the house to get cool down I yearned to be intimate with her again. It was more than just a sexual desire it was a desire for union with her so we could restore the relationship. I learned from her that sex is the thing which bonds two people body and soul as one in a relationship. This is what was missing from my relationship with my husband, even though sometimes there was a surprisingly pleasant sexual experience, I never felt joined to him. It caused me grief because I wanted to be happy with him. I was married to my husband for five years and loved him very much and grew attached to him but it was always more of a friendship. We had mutual respect for each other. We raised a beautiful daughter, we have shared memories, we learned lessons of life together— all the things which are supposed to be beautiful and fulfilling. Yet, despite what God can do to bless relationships— my husband and I could not go on.

    You also said above, “And I’m certainly not trying to pronounce anyone damned. But the reason I’m posting this is because it does sort of get at what I’m trying to say here” I see the severity of your comment like a sword hanging over us. While there is no concern in your mind over a MOM I get your drift about the ominous warning about disobedience. Yet, no one is like you and each person wrestling with their sexuality has different capacities; emotional character, family support, friends, church and faith. Some have more faith than others— perhaps that is you. Some have more emotional resilience and more endurance under difficulty. Some have more religious fervour or discipline. Some are stronger. But, the point is we don’t have all things equal in this life. There is a temerity some Christians have who think we all have equal spiritual strength from God. I don’t believe that. Watch the movie Silence and see how Kichijiro cannot keep himself from denying Christ. He keeps making the mistake and crawling back for absolution.

    Is this such a noble religion where only good things happen to the good Christians all the time? Or is it that we have different cards dealt us. Some of us are insignificant and some are great—some fall to disgrace only to be lifted up and some fall from grace or so it seems. In the end Kichijiro kept his belief as burning embers inside his chest and helped Rodrigues come back from the land of the lost. They were both redeemed along with the heroes who suffered the cross. This is not a matter of obedience separating the chafe from the wheat— dividing brothers and sisters as if one can do what another cannot do and that is the proving ground.

    You have to consider all those aspects about yourself— what you can live with and then decide is this someone I can be with for the rest of my life if sexual attraction is not there? What are we made of essentially? We are feeble human beings inspired by the Spirit of God which moves in mysterious ways. For me, no matter how much I prayed or even how blessed the relationship with my husband seemed to be I could not rid myself of the deep emotional crisis I found myself in by being in a relationship that felt so awkward and wrong. If I had known myself better I would have realized in advance that I did not have the emotional capacity to deal with a MOM no matter how spiritual and faithful I thought I was. But, I did not count the costs at all I took a leap of faith, and fell.

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