Gay Marriage

Here we cannot discuss all the complex questions raised by the idea - and now the practice

- of civil same-sex marriage or partnership. These issues have been creatively and entertainingly addressed by Mark Jordan (2005). But we may note some of the ironies in the hostility of many Christian pastors, but not only pastors, to same-sex marriage, and wonder why they find such marriage unacceptable. For on the face of it, the advent of legal samesex marriages would seem to mark the triumph of heterosexual matrimony, as the romantic ideal to which all lovers aspire. Gays and lesbians want to be like everyone else - to get married, settle down, and even (sometimes) have kids. And yet they are told that such marriages will bring about the end of (heterosexual) marriage, family, and even society. It is not entirely clear why or how this would happen, but perhaps it is because such marriages are not "naturally" open to the having of children. Yet when gay and lesbian couples seek to have children - whether through previous relationships, adoption, or genetic donation (means already employed by heterosexuals) - they are told that they should not do so; that their parenting will somehow be more disadvantageous to the children than that of even the least able of heterosexual parents - or the "care homes" that are the best that heterosexuals provide for many of their offspring. Moreover, the threat posed by gays and lesbians to family and society is often proclaimed by men - named "fathers" - who have vowed never to beget children. The pope lives in a household of such men - a veritable palace of "eunuchs" for Christ - that reproduces itself by persuading others not to procreate. Why is this refusal of fecundity - the celibate lifestyle - not also a threat to family and society?

Many of those who oppose same-sex marriage deny that they are homophobic, and insist on human rights for homosexuals; just not the right to get married and have children. They often speak of marriage as a "natural kind" - as natural to heterosexuals. This of course is a fantasy Marriage is only natural in the sense that it is natural for human beings to invent different forms of social organization, and marriage - variously invented - is one of those forms. And since marriage is social it is only contingently heterosexual. As we have seen, the Christian tradition has always imagined same-sex marriage - at least for men. Men have always been able - if not required - to play the bride to Christ's groom, for "all human beings - both women and men - are called through the Church, to be the 'Bride' of Christ" (John Paul II 1988: n. 25). Why then should same-sex marriage be so troubling for the Christian churches, when it is what Christian men have been doing all along? The answer is contained in the latter clause of the question. It has to do with (men) falling for a male deity, and is in this sense a christological problem (see further my chapter below - chapter 7). But rather than pursue that problem here - for this entire book is in part a preparation for the pursuit - I want to consider the trouble that is the idea of same-sex marriage.

Marriage would seem to be a step too far. Many can accept the homosexual "condition" if not the "practice"; many can tolerate the practice in the secular realm - they would not seek its recriminalization; many can even accept the practice in the church, as a kind of "second best," and as long as it is not practiced by priests (Church of England 1991: para. 44-7; 5.13-5.22). (And yes, these tolerations are intolerable!) But they cannot accept homosexual marriage. One reason for this might be that marriage poses a different problem from that posed by sex. The latter - same-sex practices - can be understood as private, individual behavior, individual "sin"; a failing that anyone might fall into. But marriage is public rather than private, an "institution," as people like to say Gay marriage challenges by making a claim to legitimacy on behalf of same-sex couples. It requires the churches to recognize what has been happening in their midst; the signs of grace they have denied. And this is where the advent of civil same-sex marriages (partnerships) is most worrying for the churches. It presents them not only with claims for gay sex, but for the legitimacy of affectionate gay relationships: the avowal, celebration, and undertaking of love between women or between men. Many in the churches find love difficult, but they still believe that they are somehow committed to love, to the practices of faithful care and mutual abandonment by which we participate in the very life of the God who is love (1 John 4.16). Must they not then accept the love that people find - by which they are found - even when it is queer love?

Mark Vernon - after Michel Foucault - has presented a version of this argument in terms of friendship. It is not just that same-sex relationships - gay marriages - challenge society to recognize a greater range of human affections than hitherto, but that such relationships deepen what has been previously understood by friendship. They allow "everything that can be troubling in affection, tenderness, friendship, fidelity, camaraderie, and companionship" to escape the channels in which they are normally contained and form "new alliances . . . tying together . . . unforeseen lines of force."

To imagine a sexual act that doesn't conform to law or nature is not what disturbs people. But that individuals are beginning to love one another - there's the problem. The institution [of society] is caught in a contradiction; affective intensities traverse it which at one and the same time keep it going and shake it up. . . . These relations short-circuit it and introduce love where there's supposed to be only law, rule, or habit. (Foucault 2000: 136-7)

And these "affective intensities" challenge the churches to remember that the family to which they are called by Jesus is not one of biology, but of friendship (John 15.15). Christian identity is not to be constituted by human parents, patrilineal and matrilineal affiliations, but by sharing in Christ's blood, given for all. That friendships between men, and between women, might be erotic, and that erotic relationships between men and women might be friendships, is a challenge for the churches, which have usually separated eros and friendship, thinking men and women unequal (see further Loughlin 2004b: 99-1018). Changing these fundamentally unchristian ideas will not destroy society, but it will "trace new lines in the 'social fabric'" and in the fabric of the church (Vernon 2006: 222; see further Vernon 2005). It will make the church more herself. But there is another reason why gay marriage unsettles the church; for as we have seen gay marriage is what the church has always been about, while denying it. The advent of civil gay marriages undoes this dissimulation.

Imagining Jesus married to John poses a conundrum for Christian theology. For even if we take their marriage as a metaphor for the spiritual relationship between the soul and Christ, the metaphor is still a sexual one, since it has long been held that there is no marriage where there is no sexual "consummation" (fulfillment).9 Thus the marital relationship is no less sexual for being spiritualized. Moreover it makes union rather than procreation the point of matrimony - neither Jesus nor Paul offer offspring as a reason for marriage. It is the meeting of human and divine that is given in the joining of bodies. Furthermore, it is today less easy - less comfortable - to set the spiritual over against the carnal, since the latter has been taken up into the former: we discover the spirit in the flesh. And is it so obvious that Jesus wedded to John - the church to Christ - is merely metaphorical, for if nothing else, this "metaphor" has to do with bodies and their sacramental relationships, and such relationships are not other than bodily and never merely metaphorical. The consecrated bread and wine are not metaphors for the body and blood of Christ, but really Christ's body and blood, given for us to eat. Pope Benedict XVI does not shy away from this when he acknowledges that the "imagery of marriage between God and Israel" is now realized as union with God through sharing inJesus' body and blood (Benedict XVI 2006: 16-17; para. 13).10 Certainly the Eucharist is as intimate as sex - taking another body into one's own - and just insofar as it unites men and women with Jesus, it is gay sex as well as straight sex, gay marriage as well as straight marriage.11

It is thus not possible for Christians schooled in the gospels and tradition to believe that gay people are ordered to an "intrinsic evil," since all are ordered to God, and those ordered to God through their own sex are ordered as were the two Johns - the beloved and the baptist - who were ordered to Jesus: a lover who does not distinguish between the sex of his brides; who welcomes all alike. Christ is the lover of both St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross (see further chapter 12 by Christopher Hinkle). And he is a lover whose own sex is less than stable; since as Jesus he is man, but as Christ woman also. It is not possible to place gay people outside Christ's eucharistic embrace, the very space where we learn "the concrete practice of love." For eucharistic communion "includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn." As such, it is where "[f]aith, worship and ethos are interwoven as a single reality which takes shape in our encounter with God's agape" which is also God's eros (Benedict XVI 2006: 17, para. 14; 13, paras. 9-10: "God's eros for man is also totally agape"). There is only one Christian ethos - the diverse life of eucharistic union that includes all in the body of Christ - and it is radically queer.

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