In this 1997 article that accompanies the one above, one Catholic argues that same-sex marriage would allow the church to encourage more loving, nurturing, and lasting relationships.
The time has come for the Catholic Church to invite gay and lesbian Catholics to the celebration of Matrimony. Such an invitation would have a positive impact on the lives of many gay and lesbian Catholics and would be equally beneficial for the life and health of the institutional church.
Access to Matrimony would be a great boost to the self-esteem of gay and lesbian Catholic couples. It may be more acceptable to be gay today than it was a generation ago, but many lesbian and gay adults still carry considerable internalized shame from messages received while growing up. They have been taught that there is something deeply flawed-"intrinsically disordered," to use the phrase of a recent church statement, in being attracted to someone of the same sex.
"Guilt is when you make a mistake; shame is when you are a mistake" goes a shorthand explanation of the difference between these two emotions. Most gay and lesbian adults have grown up with such toxic shame. It manifests itself in all sorts of unhealthy and destructive behaviors. Abuse of alcohol or drugs, promiscuous and careless sex, and transitory and sometimes abusive relationships within segments of the gay community can be traced to low self-esteem.
With same-sex Matrimony, the church could help gay and lesbian Catholics construct healthy, loving, nurturing, and lasting relationships. Matrimony would encourage stability by bringing the entire faith community to the aid of the couple. Is this not what church and society do for heterosexual couples? We witness their commitment, pledge our support, and give them the best send-off possible, materially as well as spiritually. Why not do the same for same-sex partners who seek a permanent and faithful relationship?
By opening Matrimony to gay and lesbian couples, the church will gain greater access to their lives and will be in a better position to teach and support the values the church upholds for all human relationships: compassion, justice, honesty, and generosity. These noble values are not absent from the gay community-witness its compassionate response to AIDS that set new standards. But at the same time, gay culture is quite vulnerable to the influence of a materialistic consumerism that encourages an obsession with sexual attraction, youth, and fashion. The church at its best holds up an alternative vision-the vision of Jesus, Saint Francis of Assisi, and Dorothy Day. The gay community would benefit from hearing more of this message. Absent the alternative vision, much spiritual energy is wasted: "Without vision, the people perish."
The church can and should call gays and lesbians to a high standard of behavior, but one that is based on the core values of compassion, justice, honesty, and generosity. Instead, church leaders have focused on something beyond a person's control-sexual orientation (something even church teaching has acknowledged to be morally neutral)-and have condemned certain sexual behavior regardless of context, merely on the basis of orientation. This kind of thinking heightens, rather than lessens, the alienation gay people feel and perpetuates discrimination and ostracism.
The sheer amount of energy and attention the institutional church devotes to sexual issues suggests an adolescent obsession with the topic. This is not to denigrate the holy witness and chaste, healthy lives of many of those in religious life, but on the level of church teaching and discipline something seems clearly out of balance. Given today's pressing social issues and the hunger for spiritual leadership, it is a shame to see the church squander so much of its moral capital on issues best left to mature adults in the privacy of their bedrooms.
To accept the validity of gay and lesbian Matrimony, the church would need to embark on a major rethinking of its sexual ethics. Such a reexamination would be as refreshing to church life as was Pope John XXIII's call for a new opening-an aggiornamento-at the Second Vatican Council.
A church that calls itself Catholic should be catholic. There are enough exclusive churches and sects out there, with stringent requirements for membership. That has never been the Catholic vision of community. One doesn't have to be ready to jump up and down with joy for samesex unions to support-on the principle of catholicity alone-access to the sacrament for those who choose such unions. If, as the church teaches, grace is conveyed through participation in the sacraments, and if, as it appears, lifelong commitments can survive only by the race of God, shouldn't all members of the church family who desire to live in faithful unions be entitled to this central opportunity for grace?
Plain and simple, the ultimate danger facing the institutional church with regard to gay and lesbian Catholics is growing irrelevance. As couples settle down, form families, and move through life, if they continue to face rejection, they will look elsewhere for support and inspiration. The most compelling argument for gay and lesbian Matrimony may reside in the very heart of Catholic sacramental theology. In the Latin Church, it is ordinarily understood that the spouses, as ministers of Christ's grace, mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the church. In fact, one could make the case that faithful gay and lesbian Catholic couples are already living in Matrimony, having mutually conferred upon each other the blessing of their lives, and that it is the church-as invited, valued, and cherished witness-that has failed to arrive, and like an important but tardy guest, is holding up the celebration.
Is it not time, then, for a reconciliation between gay and lesbian Catholics and their church? A great way to start down the aisle together would be to open the sacrament of Matrimony to all committed couples who desire to partake of it. Now that would be a reconciliation made in heaven!
This article appeared in the November 1997 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 62, No. 11, pages 15-16).