Thursday, February 7, 2013

Should Homosexuals Marry People of the Opposite Sex? PART ONE

I've brought this question up in other contexts, and it never goes very well. For most, a mixed-orientation marriage is incredibly pathetic. For others, it's just plain wrong. Even for the religious, even for people who absolutely affirm that homosexual activity is immoral, it's treated with some serious suspicion. I want to discuss why this is. Note that I did not title this "Should Gay Men Marry Women?" I did this on purpose. I've noticed that the idea of gay men marrying women is pretty much categorically disliked, while people are much more receptive to the idea of gay women marrying men. Also, such lesbian-man marriages seem (though I don't have any stats on this) to be much more popular. This will be discussed at least in some detail. This series will probably be two (maybe three) parts long. For this first part, I want to discuss why a gay person (especially a gay man) would even consider marriage to someone of the opposite sex. The second part will focus more on answering the question at issue.

Throughout most of the posts so far, I've been somewhat unsympathetic to the plight of the homosexuals. At least, I've been criticizing a lot of what homosexuals do and believe. And I meant all of the things I wrote. I think that homosexual activity is immoral, and I think that the LGBT movement has attempted to normalize immoral behavior in a subversive way; finally, I think that this attempt at normalization has had a negative influence on the family, society, the Western philosophical tradition, and the individual. I want to change the focus a little in this post though. While I've no intention to justify the homosexual lifestyle, I want to instead focus on what a religious homosexual is faced with as he or she enters adulthood. This, I think, might explain why homosexuals feel like the homosexual lifestyle is really the only sane option.

I mentioned virtue, specifically the virtue of chastity, in a recent post. As I will discuss in later posts, chastity says that a person is good insofar as he maintains his proper station in life with respect to his sexual appetites. This virtue binds all people, whether married or single. A husband is a good husband insofar as he maintains the appropriate appetite for his wife. This means two things. One, abstaining from sex with other people, and two, treating her and their sex lives in an appropriate manner. He should not degrade the sexual experience into just his getting off, and he should not bring in perverse fantasies even if his wife is willing. Unlike other appetites, the sexual appetite is unending, and it, by its nature, tends to take over us completely. We should never, even in marriage, have the feeling where we have to get off, where it consumes us, where we can't feel okay until we climax in a certain way. Sexual vice has the tendency to tear us away from the ultimate purpose (and goodness of) sexuality when it is not properly controlled. This is the case for all of the appetites of course, but it is especially true for the sexual appetite, which, for the young person, is basically limitless. See The Entire Pornographic Industry and Culture for more information.

Now, chastity for a single person means abstinence, as sexuality is metaphysically aimed at marriage (or at least something like it) for the rearing of children. (More on this in a later post.) As such, if a person wants to have sexual encounters virtuously, he must do so in the context of marriage (a thing metaphysically aimed at the flourishing of the human species). For the heterosexual who wants sexual experiences and to remain virtuous, the main obstacles are those things outside of himself. Either the girl doesn't like his advances, or society is arranged in a way that isn't conducive to virtuous sex. (I don't think it's a small number, the amount of heterosexual men who are turned off by the modern state of sexual affairs who choose to avoid it altogether.) In other words, the obstacle to his virtuous sexual outlet is usually something else, something that is not the actor himself. Now, there are a lot of internal, personal struggles the heterosexual deals with, and I don't mean to imply that they don't matter. He may lack the courage to engage a female, or he may be very unattractive or slow. All of these things, in a certain way, are actually like defects. For the most part, though, they are just small problems that can be overcome when the right girl walks into the room at the right time.

For the homosexual, of course, this is completely different. His entire self is an obstacle to virtuous sexual expression. He is defective in such an extreme way that no context allows him virtuous sexual expression. As I've said before, I think sexuality is a significant part of human (and most animal) flourishing. As such, homosexuality is a serious problem. For the homosexual, chastity means abstinence for the rest of his life. He necessarily cannot be good and express himself sexually. I sometimes question if people realize how significant this is. As is evidenced by the fact that the vast majority of people in the world marry or are at least sexually active, most people are not "called" to celibacy. While the Church and the apostle Paul both recognize the goodness of celibacy, both advise, for the most part, that men and women should mate with one another. Celibacy is the absolute exception to the general rule. It is extraordinary in that it is not ordinary.  So this puts homosexuals in a very difficult position. They are, by both the dictates of reason and goodness, bound to remain celibate (something the vast, vast majority of people would never consider) unless they can find someone to have virtuous sexual release with.

Many people will cite the priesthood in response to this. That homosexuals are called to celibacy in the same way that priests are called the celibacy. They will often say that the Catholic Church, which reveres (and I think correctly) celibacy, provides a good example. I don't necessarily disagree with this point, but I don't think it solves the problem quite how people think it does. At least, I don't think the comparison is as parallel as people think it is. Namely, most people are absolutely not called to the priesthood. In fact, I would positively say that most people are not called to celibacy, and even less people are called to the priesthood Further, priests are positively given a choice in the matter. They are given the option of choosing one good thing (sex, marriage, family) or a different good thing (the divine priesthood). In other words, they are given the choice to sacrifice their sexual future for God. But why isn't the homosexual doing the same thing?

In a certain way, it is a proper use of language to say that the homosexual is sacrificing something. He is doing something in place of what he really wants to do. In another way, though, it's not. We normally don't sacrifice doing some immoral thing. A person doesn't sacrifice his opportunity to steal from a convenience store by taking his kids to soccer practice. He has to be giving up something that is at least morally neutral (and usually positive good) to have that same notion of sacrifice. Now, it's always a sacrifice, strictly speaking, to give up anything at all, but when we use the term, we mean giving up something the person has some moral right to for something else more difficult. If you were to be giving up something immoral, you're really not sacrificing; you're just not doing something you shouldn't be doing in the first place.

I think you can pull it back and say that what's really being sacrificed is happiness (or maybe just pleasure), which is good, but I'm not sure if it's a really helpful distinction. I think homosexuals do sacrifice a lot of happiness and pleasure when they give up the lifestyle. In fact, I know they do. But I don't think we'd really say the pedophile or the person who has sex with animals or the person who masturbates to burning buildings is really sacrificing something in the same way a priest sacrifices something, even if those things give him great pleasure. In other words, I don't think a sacrifice just means doing something when you really, really want to do something else. I think it means giving or offering a good. While I think it'd be appropriate to say that a homosexual is offering the good of sexuality, he is not offering a good that he really has, as he isn't really set up to do sexually moral things in the first place. This, I think, is why homosexuals don't feel like they are gaining anything by remaining celibate. That is, I think this is why celibacy for a homosexual feels more like a negative restriction than it feels like a positive option. 

I think noticing this difference might help the homosexual in a couple of ways. Mainly, it helps the homosexual feel less martyr-y, like he's given up some big thing in his life unfairly. But further, it keeps homosexuality in its proper place. We aren't constantly called to sacrifice. A person can be good and not sacrifice enormous things in his life. People aren't sacrificing marriage all the time to serve the poor, and they're still really great people. You can still be a completely virtuous person if you don't do such things. So, if giving up the homosexual lifestyle is really just a sacrifice, can't a person be decent without being so sacrificial, like you can be decent even though you don't give up your house? As the natural law shows, he can't. Finally, I think giving up something for God has sort of a special meaning. It has, as I noted, the notion of laying down a good for another, higher good. It's an offering of something good given to God for God. By saying that a homosexual is sacrificing something by giving up the homosexual lifestyle, it's implicitly saying that the homosexual lifestyle is in fact good.

Why am I mentioning all of this? Well, one, I think it's kind of interesting. Two, I want to get across the notion that a homosexual really is only given one option, an option that very few people would ever take. And further, I want to emphasize that the homosexual will have trouble relying on the idea that what he's doing is "sacrificing for God," because strictly speaking, it's kind of not. Consequently, the more he thinks it is a sacrifice, the more he will miss it; he will think to himself, a lot, "why do I have to sacrifice but the guy married to his wife who gets all the sex he wants doesn't?" Finally, I want to make sure people realize that the homosexual is placed in a unique position. I think that homosexuals are faced with very unique problems that require very unique solutions. Is one solution marriage to members of the opposite sex? I will discuss that in part two of this series.


  1. This is fascinating. I like that you put a lot of time into analyzing the linguistic aspect of the situation - what sacrifice means, how it draws the lines on the subject in all these subtle ways. Where a sacrifice makes it sound like someone is going above and beyond what they should do, as opposed to doing something closer to the moral minimum. That's probably oversimplifying it, my putting it like that, but still - something along those lines.

    You mention a perceived difference between lesbian women marrying men, and women marrying gay men. I strongly suspect there are some considerable differences between the female homosexual population, and the male homosexual. At least going by what I've heard and even seen with members of those communities, I get the feeling that female sexuality - for whatever reason - tends to be a lot more fluid. I can name a number of ex-lesbians off the top of my head, but not really ex-gay males. I can't shake the feeling that to a degree, lumping in gay males with gay females is artificial to a point.

    1. Thanks, Crude. It's a topic I think about a lot. For obvious reasons. In many cases, it's hard to explain, even to myself, exactly what it is I'm doing, what it means, and how it should be done. I think for some period of time, I thought I was making a big sacrifice. And I think that way of thinking, in a certain way, was a little destructive. I'm still not entirely sure how I'd describe what a homosexual is and should do, as homosexual celibacy isn't quite the same as not robbing a convenience store, but it's also not exactly like a heterosexual giving up the possibility of marriage. But I'm not offended, at all, by you saying that it's closer to a moral minimum. I think that that's correct, and I think that's how people should approach the issue. It's more honest, and it helps people to drop all the baggage that comes along with being gay.

      And I basically agree with what you mention about lesbians. There's a lot I want to discuss with respect to females and sexuality that probably extends far beyond this post, but it's a really important topic. I definitely like what you write, that lumping in gay males with gay females is often artificial. For a lot of different reasons. I think male and female sexuality are often completely different things. You can't really Say that, because the modern world will take offense to it, but we are all aware of some pretty significant differences. And this makes sense, of course. Women aren't men. I think the offense actually stems from a sort of mind-body split thing, where identity and self are actually separate from the physical thing in question. But that's a huge, huge topic.

    2. Maybe part of the problem with describing it is due to the seeming absence of a role for secular celibacy. The way it's framed, it seems like there are two live options for heterosexuals: 'Get married, have children.' or 'Enter holy orders, take vow of celibacy.' But what about, say, someone who really does not want a family (or who isn't really cut out to be in a marital relationship one way or the other), but neither are they called to be a priest or a nun?

      I suppose what I'm getting that is, it may well be the case that part of the reason it's difficult to frame the homosexual situation is because the heterosexual situation is poorly framed already and requires some adjustment.

    3. I think that this is probably right. Celibacy is usually seen as kind of crazy or fanatical. Viewing it that way fits well into the whole "THE CHURCH HATES SEX" narrative. I think that view is completely ridiculous of course. But so much can be said about how broken the modern culture is with respect to sexuality. Porn, birth control, divorce, etc. all lead to this unreasonable and destructive view of the world.

      What I'm trying to address is gay people (especially men) who Do fit into the "Get married, have children" box. I do think a lot of homosexuals really have a rough, rough tough with celibacy. Celibacy is for a certain type of person, I think. Like any other vocation. Now, this isn't a justification for homosexual behavior. Immoral behavior is never justified. It also isn't a claim that celibacy is "impossible" or anything like that. It's difficult, and often unreasonably so, considering the culture, but it is not impossible by any stretch. Most of the time I hear people claim that it is impossible, I can look at their lives and see, quite plainly, what makes it feel impossible. (Stop spending all of your time online tempted by porn, don't hang out with that guy if you think it's going to lead to something, etc. etc.)

      Now, it might just be a "too bad" situation where the homosexual just has to deal with it. And if culture provided a valid celibate lifestyle, it would probably be a lot better. (In fact, I know it would.) But it might also be something different. That's all I'm trying to explore.

    4. By the way, please don't think I'm sitting here going 'hey gays don't have it that bad, just whip out a little celibacy and voila, problem solved, why are they whining' or anything like that. I think it's a pretty unique situation all told, and that the problems pop up in multiple places - I'm just trying to locate some of the cultural issues that are tangled up with this.

      Culture, I agree, plays a big role. Not just the availability of porn, but the attitude towards sex generally. I think there's another problem where screw-ups are treated as fatal, at least if someone is anything like a sincere Christian. Someone non-religious can seemingly have a string of affairs, etc, and if it's not ignored, it's often somewhat praised. If there's even a hint that a person is religious, then even minor failings are evidence of rank hypocrisy and they should be ashamed and punished and, etc, etc.

      Either way, looking forward to see what you else you write on this. The mormon married gay male post made for an interesting read.

    5. Oh, I'm definitely taking no offense at all. Don't ever worry about offending me. I like what you wrote, though: that the fear of being a hypocrite drives religious action. I've never actually included that in the evaluation, and I think it's spot on.

      And yes, Josh Weed, the married gay Mormon guy, is an interesting case. I like him, and I think he's a genuine and honest person, but as everyone feels about Mormons (who isn't a Mormon anyway), you're always just a little bit skeptical of all of it. I believe him and understand him (I think) way more than other people who have been introduced to him. Some straight friends of mine have immediate negative responses to the entire idea. They seem to be honestly offended by his marrying a woman. "That's so stupid," etc. I think, for a lot of people, it comes off as Dishonest. I'll be discussing this in the next post in the series.

      If you read some comments on his coming out post, though, people get seriously mad. And when people talk about him on other blogs, etc, there is either a crowd that says things like "THIS IS ABSURD" or a crowd that's like "HE'S NOT HURTING ANYONE!" (It's funny when liberal values butt heads.) I also do not like how he is so..."We aren't saying what You should do; you need to figure out what's right for you and follow your heart/what you believe God is telling you in your life!" I'm never a fan of that way of looking at the world. It's soft, and it's never, really, concerned with ultimate truth. It just diffuses the situation and avoids the real issue. (Not to be a Catholic jerk, but a lot of modern protestant or protestant-oriented philosophies are built on these principles. They usually lead the march for "inclusiveness," etc.) But again, I like him. And I think he's a good guy. And I do think he's worth admiring.

  2. Hi Joe,

    Not sure if you've read the book version of "What is Marriage?" yet, but there are some pretty good discussions going on in its customer review threads on Amazon.

    You might find the following two threads interesting. The first one is my review and some of my replies to critics. The second one is a negative review and includes my reply to it.

    If you've read the book, you might want to review it on Amazon. Your homosexuality might help deflect some of the obtuse "these authors just hate gay people" critics long enough for them to actually listen to your arguments.