Why I Changed My Mind
(Originally published in 1994, and now featured in our collection of stories about Catholicism & Same-Sex Marriage)
Last month I came out of the closet and confessed at an evening lecture that I believed that homosexuals should be allowed to marry. The morning after I had second thoughts, but I'm afraid my reconsiderations were mostly the result of cowardice and churlishness.
First the cowardice. Yes, I undoubtedly read getting into arguments, especially with people I admire, I'm also distinctly uneager to be harassed by true believers playing punitive hardball-- whether on the right or the left. Already I've been denounced and disinvited for being a feminist, and been greeted by banners unfurled to protest my acceptance of birth control, this while delivering a prolife speech at a Catholic conference. Yet in other venues I've been picketed, booed, hissed, and raged at by abortion advocates. (At least the latter episodes have the excitement of being thrown to the lions in the arena.) Still, do I need to get into one more religious and cultural donnybrook?
As for churlishness, I must say that as much as I hate being disliked, I loathe even more being approved of by certain groups. Who wants to end up on the same side with aggressively secular ideologues? And how unappetizing to aid and abet militant gay groups who engage in gross anti-Catholic tactics? Most of all I hate agreeing with those mindless religious types (I have my little list) who regularly seem to sell out their Christian birthright, along with the lives of the unborn, for a mess of PC pottage.
Unfortunately, flailing about and grinding one's teeth availeth naught, it gets you nowhere. The only way out of moral paralysis is to forget extrinsic political considerations and enter into the necessary struggle. If we want to bring forth a Christworthy, coherent sexual ethic for the twenty-first century then we must all think hard, pray hard, and seek God's Spirit of Love and Truth. Where? In all the familiar places: in Scripture, in tradition, in natural law reasoning, and in the signs and sciences of the times. So what is the gospel truth regarding homosexuality'?
At this point I've read thousands of pages written by assorted experts and theologians giving their views on what constitutes an adequate moral, legal, scientific, and/or scriptural-theological approach to homosexuality (including recent Commonwealexchanges). But since I'm in the confessional mode let me own up to the fact that I also try to decide difficult moral dilemmas by praying, meditating, and naively imagining what Christ would have done and wants now. If the mind of Christ is in us, we must be transformed rather than being conformed to the world.
As I try to draw all these various strands of thought, imagination, and prayer into some order, I find myself diverging from official Vatican teaching. Yes, we are all told to look upon homosexuals as equal children of God who must be protected from assault, bigotry, and infringement of their civil rights. Indeed, Christ loves and includes the gay in his kingdom. And almost everyone on all sides agrees that homosexuality is not freely chosen but a given condition. So, too, all acknowledge that personal qualities and the call to holiness are not determined by sexual orientation. So far, so good.
But why is it intrinsically disordered for homosexuals and lesbians to act on their sexual orientation, even if they would fulfill all the same moral conditions required of heterosexual marital activity, such as commitment, love, and lifelong fidelity'? After all, some heterosexual marriages need not, nor can be biologically procreative. I just cannot imagine Christ asking such an unequal sacrifice from homosexual persons with beloved partners who havenot been called to vowed celibacy.
Those who do assign this burden in Christ's name describe the deprivation as morally and religiously necessary. They speak of maintaining the family for the common good, of how gender complementarity is necessary for marital bonding across genders, of the importance of embodiment and being a part of the ongoing procreative narrative. The pope denounces "the false families" of homosexuals and lesbians. Well, of course, I agree that a viable society must support and privilege procreative families, but I don't see why this positive support necessitates barring the marriage of gay couples.
Good Catholic parents of adult children I know welcome their gay children's lifelong partners as "in-laws," who are part of their family. Doesn't it seem a confirmation of the Christian teaching on the goodness of monogamous marriage that gay couples eschew promiscuity and desire to regularize and ritualize their loving commitment to one another?
Assertions about the complementarity of the two genders appear to be false to new psychological insights on the range of gender variability and overlapping similarities, as well as to the Christian call to transcend gender in Christian unity where "there is neither male nor female.'" If the symbol of Christ as male bridegroom in union with the church is used too literally as the form for marriage, then could only females (as brides) be church members? (Rigid overestimation of gender is also the fallacy that bans women from ordination.)
Any two persons must struggle to obtain loving unity, but when you take into account the multitude of inevitable differences in temperament, intelligence, taste, talents, and moral maturity, gender can be a minor consideration.
Affirming embodiment and respect for the symbolic language of the body is important, but I'd say the grammar book includes a wider range of syntax and idiom than is officially published. In fact I've come (finally) to see the rejection of loving gay erotic expression as a rejection of embodiment, and another form of resistance to the goodness of sexual desire and pleasure. For most persons, gay or straight, chaste friendships and general charity cannot produce the same intense intimacy, bodily confirmation, mutual sanctification, and fulfilling happiness that come from making love with a faithful partner. (The inability of some celibates to accept the importance of freely expressing sexual and erotic marital love has produced the birth control impasse.)
Other rejections of the body also may be surfacing when whatever homosexuals do together is considered especially revolting and repugnant. Our stringent toilet, cleanliness, and touch taboos enforced in infancy can linger on in the feeling that certain parts or functions of the body are intrinsically disgusting. Some of the antigay articles I've been dutifully perusing are revealing. They begin with warnings against the "gay conspiracy" and "homosexual cult" that aims "to seduce our children" into its diseased and perverted "clutches." Then follow references to "debased," "mutual self-gratifications,'" "through what very definitely and clearly is nothing but deathhole...it yields only dead matter." Lesbians are absent from these phallocentric fulminations, presumably because they possess no "life giving or sharing organ" to end up in the wrong orifice.
Well, it has taken centuries to get over the ancient convictions that menstruating females are unclean and ritually pollute the altar, if that is, we have gotten over it. When you see some of the heated resistance to women's ordination, one wonders. Oh Christ, if we could only take your words to heart and learn what defiles a person and what doesn't.
About the Author
Sidney Callahan is a psychologist and the author of Created for Joy: A Christian View of Suffering.