(edited to include the link to the Durost/Howatt article)
Or, more precisely: What happens when my beliefs about homosex and homosexual relationships collide with my beliefs about divorce and severing of commitments more generally?
Jason Crockett shows up on my blog and starts asking the hard questions that I always cross my fingers and hope people don’t ask:
I’m wondering what your thoughts would be on what should happen with same-sex couples who have civilly married or had spiritual committment ceremonies or what have you, and one partner decides to pursue change. Perhaps they have adopted children together. Obviously this would not be seen in the same light as what what would be considered a true heterosexual marriage, but on the other hand real commitments have been made to another person and there would be real consequences for any children involved, etc.
So, initially I put together a refined and subtle account of what such couples should do. The general approach was that God doesn’t care about the marriage (in the same way He cares about hetero couples putting asunder what He has joined), so really it was up to the couple in question to try to mutually discern what they thought was best for themselves and for the children. I had all these special conditions and scenarios worked out. It was a marvel of casuistry.
But I’ve realized that what I actually believe deep down in my heart is quite simple. I think they should stay together. Celibate, but together. (I’m assuming that the partner who is considering “change” is doing so out of either a newly found or reignited religious conviction regarding homosex.) So if “pursuing change” means pursuing a heterosexual relationship, I don’t think anyone in a same-sex marriage (or any relationship which involves a vow of lifelong commitment and fidelity–I’m going to use “marriage” throughout for the sake of simplicity) ought to pursue change.
I suspect this is something of a minority opinion. Some theological conservatives tend to gloat over lesbians converting to Christianity and ending their gay marriages and doing everything in their power to keep their partners away from their co-parented children. Those who have the decency not to gloat would probably insist that staying in such a partnership would be unhealthy, a barrier to further “healing” and “growth,” closing the door on the possibility of a glorious heterosexual future. More pro-gay types would probably feel that celibacy is completely unrealistic in that situation and brutally unfair to the partner who hasn’t been swept up in a world of homophobic fundamentalist moral delusion. Surely the still-happily-gay partner ought to be able to demand his conjugal rights or walk out the door.
And for my own part, I’m not sure I’m thinking rationally on this. My perspective is somewhat complicated (obscured?) by emotion.
You see, the worst thing I ever did to another human being was to betray a woman, ostensibly for the sake of my relationship with God. The details of the betrayal don’t matter; all you need to know is that it involved lies, heartlessness, selfishness, and sheer evil–all of a magnitude of which I had never before thought myself to be capable.
I don’t mean that I shouldn’t have ended it. That was undoubtedly the right thing to do. We weren’t married by any stretch of the imagination. What we had going on wasn’t especially healthy, even by pro-gay standards. I was raping my conscience daily, which is never a good sign. And we both eventually ended up with people who are much better for us. But I mean that I ended it in totally the wrong way. I could have ended it even while honoring her and what we had shared. Instead I trampled and blasphemed everything good that there was between us. And I did it all, in my own screwed up way, for Jesus.
I don’t quite know how to explain why I feel that’s relevant to Jason’s question. I guess the experience persuaded me that even as we need to follow God and love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, we also need to figure out how to do right by the people whose paths have crossed ours, including the homosexual heathen. So…maybe we shouldn’t have gotten involved in gay stuff in the first place, but once we have, we’ve got to somehow honor the lives we’ve gotten tangled up in and the relationships we’ve created. In the case of a gay marriage, assuming that what the couple meant by “marriage” (or commitment, or union, or whatever) when they made their vows to each other means anything even remotely like what I mean by “marriage,” I think that means staying together no matter what.
Someone may object, “But you’re contradicting yourself. In your previous post you said that marriage involved sex, and now you’re saying that gays ought to keep their commitment but stay celibate. Make up your mind!”
I believe that marriage, in the ordinary case, ought to have in view the creation of new life through sexual intimacy. That is, in some broad sense, part of what I think marriage is for. So I don’t think people should marry people of the same sex, although I hope to stay out of the political debate completely. (I’m an agnostic on the political question. When I listen to the people who argue against it, I’m like, “That sounds about right.” And when I listen to the people who argue for it, I’m like, “Oh yeah, that too.”) I also don’t think that young heteros should marry if they have no intention whatsoever of ever having sex and trying to have children.
But I don’t think that if a hetero couple turns out to be infertile their marriage is nullified. Or that if for some reason it turns out that they cannot enjoy sexual relations (handicap? accident? illness? conversion to Shakerism?) their marriage is rendered non-existent. So, in other words, while I believe that in the typical case, a desire to enjoy heterosexual union and a desire to procreate should be part of the motive for marriage, I don’t think the absence of procreation or sexual union erases an already-existing marriage commitment. Applying a somewhat similar principle to gay marriage, I may think such a marriage was unwise in the first place, but once the commitment has been made, I’m inclined to think it ought to be kept.
The obvious conservative Christian objection, I suppose, is that there were never any “real” vows in the first place. If you vow to do something evil, the vow itself cannot be justification for continuing to do the evil thing. My own belief is that the sin lies in the sexual intimacy, and so that indeed must be ended. But are the other aspects of the commitment evil? Is the pledge of mutual help and faithful love (in its non-sexual aspects) evil? Is the shared responsibility for child-rearing (if the couple has children) evil? If two people have woven their lives and livelihoods together, in a web of mutual sacrifice and interdependence, how can we (or they) nonchalantly say there’s nothing there?
But what about the children?
I personally feel that if the children have been raised by the two partners together for any significant length of time, they ought to continue being raised by them. If the partner who has had a change of heart is concerned about an absence of gender models, he/she can introduce appropriate models into the child’s life. I don’t want to insult or condescend to children of divorce, but I do feel that generally speaking, continuity in parenting is a very good thing.
“But how can the believing, holy partner allow their child to be exposed to the evil influence of the other partner? ” I agree that this is a hard question, but the same problem arises for heterosexual couples. According to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, if a married person becomes a Christian, and the non-Christian spouse wants the marriage to continue, then the Christian ought to stay. This would mean exposure of the children to the unbelieving parent. (I don’t see what the big difference would be between an unbelieving heterosexual sinner and an unbelieving homosexual sinner.) I think the believing partner just has to try to live out a winsome witness that will hopefully influence both their partner and their children for the better.
There will be problems. As a product of a “mixed marriage” between a conflicted Catholic and a liberal Protestant, I think it is unhelpful for children to grow up in a household where their parents don’t agree about religion. Even though neither of my parents were especially devout (to put it very mildly), their religious differences were still a source of constant and terrible strife which helped ensure my becoming bitterly atheist by the age of ten. I was so badly burned by this experience that when Mr. DM and I first discussed the prospects of a dating relationship, I told him that I saw no future for us unless he first assented to the five points of Calvinism. That may have been a bit excessive, but like I said, I got burned. And my own experience would be nothing compared to that of a child raised by one partner who holds gay-friendly religious views or perhaps no religious views at all, and another partner who has become an evangelical Christian, eagerly hoping to win the whole family to Christ. Still, I doubt that breaking up the marriage and neatly excising one of the parents from the children’s lives would be the better alternative–that looks like just another set of problems.
I don’t imagine that such a relationship will be pretty in any case. The February 7, 1999 Boston Globe Magazine had a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking article (“Struggling to Be Straight,” by James Bandler) about two guys in a committed relationship who decide to go exgay together. (Thanks to Joe S., we now have a link to the article, posted on alt.politics.homosexuality.)
A small excerpt:
Two years after they met, Howatt and Durost moved to New Hampshire. One morning, as they lay in bed, Howatt asked Durost if he had given any thought to the subject of God and homosexuality. Durost was quiet for a while before answering: “Every night, I hear in my head a voice that says I shouldn’t be getting in bed with a man,” he said.
“Then that’s the answer,” Howatt said. “If God is calling you out of homosexuality, then I love you enough not to stand in your way.” For two weeks, Durost slept on the floor of their apartment, and every night they both cried themselves to sleep. Eventually, they decided they wouldn’t be able to “go straight” on their own and found out about ReCreation Ministries. At their first meetings, they were told that if they were going to continue living together, they would have to develop strict boundaries: no hugging, no kissing. “I really thought I was going to die,” recalls Durost.
Things get a little better for Howatt and Durost as time goes on, but their road is an obviously hard one. I’m not naive about the difficulty that two people who have enjoyed complete emotional/physical/sexual intimacy would encounter in trying to scale the relationship back. Elsewhere, either on my blog or on someone else’s comment thread, I’ve talked about how I don’t think I could ever successfully live in a celibate relationship with someone I was really hot for. Still, if I were in a gay marriage, and became convinced that homosex was wrong, I would feel that I ought to try.
I’m not thrilled with my answer. I’m not sure there are any good answers. I think sometimes we can get ourselves into situations that are really messy, where there are no tidy solutions, where every choice has a huge downside. This looks to me like one of them. But, based on my understanding and convictions, this is what I would feel called to do if I were in the situation that Jason describes. If I were the one who became convinced that homosex was wrong, I would seek to live out the other aspects of the commitment as faithfully as possible for as long as my spouse was willing to have me. I might pursue help and “change” in order to help me better live out a celibate walk, but I would not consider a hetero relationship/marriage. And if I were the other partner, the one who had no qualms about gayness, I would respect my partner’s convictions and try to help her live faithfully by them, try to support her in her difficult journey, and seek to live out the other aspects of our marriage as faithfully as possible for as long as she was willing to have me. In either case, if we had children, I would remain committed to parenting the children together, and would plead with my partner to do likewise.
I’m open to others’ thoughts and rebukes on this. While all of the thoughts I throw out here on this blog are pretty rough, this one is rougher than most.