As a Roman Catholic man, former gay activist, and veteran of over a decade in a same-sex relationship, I must admit to a certain degree of bewildered frustration when it comes to the question of so-called gay marriage. My feeling of disappointment with career homosexual activists on this issue stems not from their desire to celebrate significant emotional relationships, but from the insistence that such friendships, first, must include sex and, second, must be seen as marriages or the “equivalent” of marriage.
I have no problem with the fact that strong same-sex friendships and relationships exist. My partner and I have shared one for more than ten years. But though we could have chosen to have our friendship recognized as a “marriage” by any one of a halfdozen U.S. denominations, and still could, we did not, and here is why.
One of active homosexuality’s sharpest lessons came when I realized that more than boredom or one-night stands underlay my sexual life’s pervasive emptiness. Over the years I had enough “innovative” sex to fill a short novel and had traded in promiscuity for longterm commitment. Neither made a difference. Although slowing the sexual pace and choosing a single partner were physically and emotionally healthier choices, they couldn’t allow me to escape.
My sexual life felt empty because the acts themselves were empty. No matter how sexually pumped my partner and I were, no matter how loving, tender, demanding, considerate, gentle, powerful, or affectionate we might have been-and we hit peaks and valleys in all of these-in the end the acts came down to nothing. In bed we performed a great drama involving almost all of our physical and emotional selves, but afterwards, all that remained were two naked guys, a bed, and four walls.
I came to understand, as a man, that God and nature had intended a different end for my sexuality and sexual expression. My sexual expression, as a man, is meant for marriage, in part because it is marriage that helps the act move from the merely selfish to the selfless. Sexual expression in marriage allows people to share in possibly doing something far larger than anything my partner and I could ever do-participate in the creation of another human being.
It doesn’t even matter whether each sexual act has that happy result. They may never. The sad witness of persistently infertile couples is that every child conceived and born embodies a miracle, and God is not always free with miracles. But as long as the man and woman give themselves fully to one another in the sexual act and trust God and one another with their full sexuality, which includes fertility, then their actions take on a meaning far greater than themselves and their own agendas.
Procreation is not the only end of married sexuality, but its possibility gives the other ends their special meaning. Unlike the emptiness my partner and I experienced after sex, the afterglow of married love extends far beyond the couple, the bed, and the walls. It includes the possibility of a new son or daughter, a new brother or sister for the children already here, a future aunt, uncle, and cousin, a future spouse for someone else. Marriage exists so that this new web of relationships survives, grows, and flourishes under the responsible eyes of two parents who will do their best to model for their children what it means to be man and woman.
This is why, in the end, no matter how deeply I might love my partner, what we share can never be enshrined as a “marriage.”
We both care deeply about our friendship-indeed even more so as it enters its fifth year of chaste expression. But we are not married and do not suffer unduly for remaining single. We own property together, which we cover with insurance. We mingle our retirement obligations, share our promissory notes. If, heaven forbid, either one of us winds up in the hospital, we have prepared papers that explicitly indicate to whom decision-making power is to be granted and to whom it is not.
Gay activists may counter that it seems unfair that we have to take these “special steps” to order our lives and cannot live in the sort of sloppy abandon that characterizes some families. But again, we are not married. We aren’t responsible for any of the precious future that represents, after all, the largest part of society’s interest in marriage in the first place and that justifies the special status our culture accords marriage.
I know many find the message of strong and healthy marriage difficult. Many marriages today fail to live up to the ideal of the one-flesh union, and I have encountered enough victims of contraception to know that homosexuals are not the only ones who have experienced empty sexual lives. But we know enough, I hope, not to water down-or even tear down-the ideal because it is not something in which we can all particpate.
Sometimes I long to be married; often I long to be a father. Yet God has granted me enough faith to believe that I am right now just where I am supposed to be, and that my partner and I share a friendship that burns none the less brightly for our not being married.