While there will be ample and necessary reflection and analysis upon yesterday’s landmark decisions in the Supreme Court, I want to pause here briefly and provide a more personal, pastoral reflection. Over the past year or so, I have been listening attentively to two close friends who have been in committed, same-sex relationships for over ten years (longer than my own marriage). In addition, both of these men are committed Christians, one of whom still practices in the Catholic tradition. Their reactions have common themes, but are also quite distinctive and illuminating for me as I reflect on this in a more academic and theological context.
In listening to one friend’s reaction since last fall when the marriage amendment was narrowly defeated in MN, and through the legalization of gay-marriage this spring, and now with the two Supreme Court rulings yesterday, his consistent comment has been this: His struggles with depression, anxiety, suicide, addiction, failed relationships in his early life all stemmed from a deep and abiding sense that he was not OK- that it was not OK to be who he was. There were both internal and external factors to these complex psychological phenomena, of course, but it took him until later in life even to realize and admit that he was gay. Recovery and spiritual and emotional health have only come for him after admitting this and accepting himself as he is. His response to each stage in this cultural development is that the personal significance of these public, legal, and political decisions has been an affirmation that it is finally OK to be himself, not just in his personal life, but in his public life, too. We sometimes get caught up in the political and legal wrangling and forget the deeply human face of such debates. Edith Windsor’s reaction to the decision capture this for many.
My Catholic friend’s reaction is fascinating as well. He takes seriously the church’s teaching on marriage and family, and feels that there is something distinctive to marriage for heterosexual couples who are then able to procreate and raise a family. But he also wants his relationship to be recognized, both by society and by the Church. He hopes there might be some creative ways to recognize the many goods that come from his homosexual relationship, even while recognizing this as distinct from a heterosexual marriage. This poses some interesting middle ground for theological reflection, such as some form of liturgical recognition of committed, same-sex couples. (I recognize here that many people in same-sex relationships feel that it is important to name their love as a marriage, but I am simply commenting on his reflections.)
Personally, I am happy that our political and legal institutions are creating a society and a space where homosexual persons feel validated in who they are. Additionally, I would hope that they would feel the same sense of validation within the Roman Catholic Church (though I can certainly understand why many don’t find this). Let me say this more directly: you ARE loved and welcome in the Church, because we, as the people of God, are all the Church (even if we sometimes struggle to express this love clearly). That is something we can all agree upon, even if we disagree about the theological, political, and legal responses.
Of course, I recognize that I am out of step with some of the magisterial leadership on whether or not to celebrate these legal developments (not on the point about you being loved), but even amidst this disagreement we can all find ways to purify our public rhetoric on these issues. Even as I and others come to a different theological and moral conclusion regarding homosexuality, we can still work together to promote the USCCB’s 2006 more humane pastoral guidelines for person’s of a homosexual orientation (more humane, that is, than the CDF’s 2003 Consideration Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, which relies heavily on the vulgar language of “intrinsically disordered”).
Even amidst disagreement about the moral and legal status of same-sex couples within the Church and within society, we can all agree that we need to work together to make the Church a place where everyone is accepted and capable of finding acceptance, forgiveness, and moral and spiritual sustenance for our journey toward salvation.