I am an active Roman Catholic priest. I am not gay (although I’m pretty happy most of the time — and especially when, as now, I’m able to add to the discussion some thoughts which show my embrace and respect for my LGBT sisters and brothers). An earned doctorate in moral theology and years of studying and teaching human sexuality, combined with extensive counseling of hetero- and homo- sexual men and women — and a deep love of God and the Catholic Church — all make me want to be sure every one of us comes to feel the total joy of Christ’s acceptance and pride in each of us who follow him.
Although in our belief marriage was from the beginning one of the seven sacraments, it took a few centuries to proclaim it as such, and some time to move beyond simply accepting the “civil contract” officiated by the “state/government” recognizing its validity. As theology, spirituality, and pastoral care developed, today’s practice became the norm: requiring that an ordained minister witness on behalf of God and the Church the couple’s exchange of vows/commitment. Then as well as now, our belief is that the couple themselves confer the sacrament on one another.
Not only by religious groups but in society as well, marriage was always between a man and a woman. Its dual purposes were unity and the procreation of children. Due to marriage’s close connection with and even “approval” of sexuality, the emphasis had always been on the procreation of children. “Unity” — not love — remained the second essential element in the marriage contract. Whether or not the couple loved each other was not part of the essence of marriage, since many marriages were “arranged” to foster political or economic unions. As ludicrous as this might seem to moderns, most found this downplaying of “love” quite acceptable.
Apart from the physical “how to”, society knew little about sexuality — except that for anyone officially or unofficially “religious”, sex was “morally suspect” and its abuse was regarded as fairly universal, usually “sinful”, and best not talked about. For the Catholic Church it was as recently as the 1960s that the Second Vatican Council emphasized “love” (not simply unity) as the second essential element of marriage — and in theological writing this was further humanized as a self-giving “covenant”, not simply as a less personal type of “contract”.
If we are honest, we must recognize that “sexuality” and its physical expression can be and very often still is used to show almost anything one chooses. Positively, sex can show and reinforce deeply committed love. But it can also be misused to manifest lust, domination, control, power, possession, desirability, femininity, manhood, and endlessly more. The TV and print news every day fill out that list. In many if not most cultures, there is a uniquely strong challenge to heterosexual men in trying to understand and live with another man’s homosexuality. Some cultures promote incredible insecurity that one might be perceived as “gay” — and “less a man”. Until he is secure in his own sexual identity (so easily vulnerable due to many factors beyond his understanding or control), any man might resort to mocking, distancing, false bravado, fighting and hating — all to “prove” he is not “gay”. This all contributes mightily to an “anti-gay” culture.
Same-sex attraction as a fundamental orientation of one’s life is not freely chosen. Most lesbians and gay men have known this from their youth, and that it was not a choice they made. They may have repressed it; they may have denied it even to themselves. Many “married” the opposite sex to “prove normality” or “become normal”. That seldom if ever results in fulfillment and peace. For the “straight” (heterosexual) person, it is almost impossible to comprehend that what they themselves see, fantasize and desire sexually in the opposite sex are exactly the reactions of the homosexual person toward people of their own gender. It was not “chosen”; it just is. “Cute, hot, flirting, love at first sight, a hunk, a babe” — the same reactions and terms spring honestly from both situations.
So are they “perverts”? “Depraved”? “Dirty old men”? “Dangers to society”? “Deserving of baiting, or beating, or killing”? “”Unspeakably sinful”? “Disordered”? Do we perhaps have more information and experiences in our day to help us think this through? Due to more frequent “coming out” (admitting ones same-sex orientation) most people know someone who is gay that they love and know firsthand their goodness — child, brother, sister, cousin, friend, fellow-worker. As some States approved same-sex marriage, many lesbian or gay couples have come forward attesting to their committed unions of decades or more. They have successfully lived through the trials and joys with fidelity to their exclusive and permanent commitment. And for those who care what Scriptures really meant in the cultural context of those they were written by and for — did God really want anyone made in God’s image and likeness to be excluded from the love of neighbor and compassion God expects from each of us — and for each of us? Can someone be “unworthy of love” if God loves them? And dare someone say God doesn’t?
Regarding specific Biblical texts, many Scripture scholars have written honestly on then extant cultural and historical factors and their significant implications. One “classic” text, for centuries considered anti-homosexual, was really condemning cultic heterosexual prostitution; another the betrayal of the greatly revered virtue of hospitality. Further yet, much of their cultural ethos must be reevaluated since they had no idea that same-sex actions might flow from an orientation not freely chosen.
For our purposes, let’s just call it “same-sex” marriage. A man marries a man; a woman marries a woman. They are incapable of physically procreating their own children by what has from the beginning of the human race been considered to be the usual way. At this point let’s not jump to “new medical techniques” which will continue to develop even further, but meanwhile seduce us away from a more honest and true solution. Yes, the marriage of a man and a woman, procreating children of their own flesh, is how the human race has reproduced and will probably continue to do so. Love/unity and procreation. Genesis portrays God as recognizing that it was not good for man (or woman) “to be alone”. To nourish and safeguard this union usually requires: permanence, exclusivity, and commitment (ideally, love) — human nature and experience validate this truth. These are included in the essence of the marriage vows.
The service of the teaching Church is to find and articulate the best ways to understand and to live the fullness of Christ and the Gospel values. Then each baptized follower is challenged to incorporate generously in their daily lives the truths of those teachings. The means of articulating these truths are subject both to growth in human knowledge and effective means of communication. What philosophers/theologians in the Church tradition refer to as “Natural Law” has often been interpreted in a way that elevates the physical/biological elements of human actions to the same level of respect/importance as the spiritual, rational, historic, grace-filled, and unique dignity of the whole human person. They are not the same. The physical/biological aspects must, if a conflict exists, yield to providing for the individual space for the fullest achievement of the Gospel values he/she discerns is possible for themselves at the time of their conscience decision (e.g. how they best put into practice: faith, hope, love, compassion, service, joy, life-giving, justice, truth, etc.)
The Catholic Church has taught that God provides a special “charism” (unique spiritual gift) of celibacy for someone who follows a call to ordained priesthood or consecrated life. Do we have the right to assume God grants that charism of celibacy to everyone with a same-sex orientation who is, therefore, deprived in Church teaching of any physical expression of their love, or sexuality, or committed companionship? Would this, perhaps, lay on them a burden too heavy to bear? Each person has only one life to live. Do we believe God wants us to prevent/impede their human fulfillment by denying what is for them the only path open — a same-sex commitment through which they may truly love and receive another’s love?
Same-sex marriage (not “sacramental” marriage), public and validated by civil authority, is not a “dilution” or “affront” or “against God’s plan” or a “temptation to heterosexuals” — unless we falsely label it as such. We are recognizing the union (in love, as we hope for all marriages) of two human beings. The Catholic Church can welcome, respect and support this for all those of same-sex orientation…The Church will celebrate as a sacrament the marriage of a man and a woman — and the blessing of procreative love bringing new life into the world. Same-sex couples can show the nurturing and life-giving qualities of their love through the joy and generosity of adoption. Married same-sex couples are following the only path open to them to celebrate a permanent and exclusive commitment to another human being, including the sexual love which is normally a part of marriage — and, as such, has nothing to do with “sin”. God does not demand the impossible.
With very little creativity, this dual approach can be a “teachable moment” to exemplify the value of committed love so needed in our society. The Church, by including all who marry, extends the embrace of Jesus Christ who loves each and every one of them, rejoices in their self-gift and, as with all his followers, invites them to respond to the Good News which Jesus has brought us. All are part of the parish faith-community of Eucharistic worship, asked to live out in practice the works of mercy by service to the poor and needy, and in union with their sisters and brothers, praise the God who loves them.