My Same-Sex Partnership Isn’t Exclusive

A criticism often thrown at partnered LGBT+ people is that they too-closely resemble the exclusivity designed for marriage. Their argument, if true, would mean celibate partnerships are just another code word for gay marriages, and should therefore be rejected by the Church. But if we tease this argument out, we will find it has some problems. 

Almost every time I hear this objection, it’s from someone who has spent very little time with LGBT+ people who are committed to these types of relationships. In our experience, pastors and lay people who morally object to our partnership have spent zero time with us; they might only see Kyle and me at church together or look at our Facebook photos. Most of our critics do not know any celibate partnerships apart from us. So we find the exclusivity objection surprising, given that they have spent so little time getting to know us. 

Kyle and I have had the privilege of meeting other LGBT+ friends in non-sexual relationships. Far from being exclusive, inward, and sexless marriages, these partnerships are the best examples we know of Christian inclusivity. People who don’t view their relationship through the prism of marriage are enabled to love others more deeply and more intentionally without sexual jealousy. In our experience, people in these relationships are far more likely to engage in platonic physical touch or healthy emotional intimacy with someone else besides their partner. This is so important to combat against loneliness and resentment. 

I’ve seen this manifest itself in specific ways with Kyle. 

This past weekend we participated in the Revoice conference in St. Louis; a conference dedicated to empowering LGBT+ Christians who adhere to a traditional sexual ethic. Almost every waking minute was spent with other people. Some of these people are individuals who Kyle and I love very deeply. We are currently seeking God’s guidance in how we can be more committed and more present in their lives. Since Kyle and I aren’t married, we have the freedom to readily make others a part of our chosen family. This is an incredibly exciting opportunity that Christ is calling us to – to have deep, abiding spiritual kinship with other believers. Christ elevated obedience to him as the basis for kinship, not biological relation. 

Kyle and I know we can’t possibly meet every single need the other has. For example, both of us have Christ as our foundation, but we have different modes of spirituality. As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I don’t always have the vocabulary or experience to relate to Kyle’s evangelical tradition. I love the fact that he has friends, family, and mentors that are better suited to guide him in his walk with Christ in certain areas of spirituality. 

For me, I’m a theological nerd who loves liturgy and church history. While Kyle does enjoy learning from me, I have friends who are better suited to spend hours with me nerding out over theological debates. 

We definitely reject the term “exclusivity” as helpful for describing celibate same-sex partnerships. Marriage is exclusive in terms of sexual fidelity, raising children, and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. We understand husbands and wives are called to reflect the love of Christ and his Church. This isn’t the kind of exclusivity celibate partnerships imagine when they enter this way of life. In fact, we don’t really relate to the concept at all. 

Some say that if you do something with your partner but don’t do it with others, then that’s exclusivity; it’s wrong because it’s reserved for marriage. I don’t actually see Scriptural support for this idea, which is significant, but it also falls apart practically. If I’m only comfortable sharing an area of my life with one friend, why must I tell it to everyone? If I find a good fit to be someone’s roommate, why must I be open to living with everyone else too? If Christ let John rest his head on his breast, then why not let the eleven other apostles do the same? There’s not a concrete principle to follow to avoid so-called exclusivity. 

When we ask our critics in what concrete ways are we sinning, the answer is far too often ambiguous. It’s only met with vague charges and “nice” spiritual gaslighting. We have literally heard statements such as, “Well, I can’t really explain why, but you know what you’re doing is wrong, right?” No, we don’t. What we hear is that we make them uncomfortable because we’re so queer, and that their feelings are more important than our commitment. 

A friend of mine in one of these relationships has a much better word: Priority. Christians called to the path of celibacy manifest the Kingdom of God through radical hospitality and inclusion. Those of us called to celibacy as a pair build one another up in order to love and serve our neighbor far more extensively. Our partnerships shouldn’t be seen as inward-focused or self-serving. As a team, we can combine prayer, finances, and social support to steward our gifts for the Body of Christ. 

Priority is a necessary, healthy concept. We prioritize people all the time. It would be impossible to commit to every person the same. Even Christ had particular endearment for his friend Lazarus, for whom he wept. You’re going to have traditions with family and friends, but not acquaintances. You are going to call one person over another if you get news of a serious illness. In my own life, I financially support a friend through college, something I wouldn’t do for just anyone; I do that for family. 

Human beings need priority. When I say Kyle is my priority, I do not mean he exclusively meets all of my spiritual, physical, and emotional needs. I do not mean he is the only one I am called to love.; rather, I mean that he is my partner, my best friend, and my advisor. I mean that if he became sick or unemployed, I’d stick my neck out for him in ways I can’t do for everyone. I mean that together, we can encourage and hold one another accountable to invite others to share in the table of Christ’s fellowship. 

That’s priority, and it’s hardly exclusive. 

I love you but…

This morning, I came across a heartbreaking post on a Facebook friend’s profile:

Received tonight from a great-grandmother (one of the most poignant responses I have received yet)…

“Thirty four years ago this week, our family created an unnecessarily empty chair at our Thanksgiving table. Earlier that Autumn of 1983, our second of four sons had revealed to my husband and me that he was homosexual. While the story is too long and intricate to share in detail in this forum, suffice it to say, we absolutely drove him away. Though we didn’t mean to, that is exactly what we did. We told him that we loved him BUT…and then he was gone. GONE. DISAPPEARED.

Oh, for sure, we felt righteously justified, year after year, by the emptiness of the chair — heartbroken but righteous, with the righteousness obviously more important to us than the heartbreak. After all, the Apostle Paul had taught in First Corinthians 5, ‘With such a one, do not even eat.’ So we didn’t. We were good Christians but terrible parents.

While a book could be, and deserves to be, written here, I just wanted you to know that our son died nine years later of AIDS. And while the people in our church ‘knew’ this was ‘the wages of sin,’ I knew then, and know now, it had nothing to do with his sin and everything to do with ours.

So please keep doing what you are doing and saying what you are saying. It matters.

P.S. This Thanksgiving, one of our granddaughters, who happens to be homosexual, sat in the chair of an uncle she doesn’t remember. And she said the Thanksgiving prayer. It was beautiful.

And I was heartbroken and grateful.

I look forward to the day when I can sit again at the table with her uncle and my boy. Heaven must give me the chance to tell him I am sorry.”

This was the first thing I read this morning. It hit me so hard that I started weeping. My familial estrangement isn’t related to my sexuality, yet so much of this story resonated with me. Placing the conjunction “but” on love in a vulnerable moment alienates LGBT people from the Church, rather than running to Her as Mother.

As a gay man, I never stop coming out. Every person I meet initiates a complex process of emotional calculation: When do I mention it to this person? Do I wait for it to come up naturally? What if they ask me a question about marriage or dating? Am I lying by omission if I answer a question vaguely? Is this person safe?

Coming out is a vulnerable ordeal, especially within the context of faith communities. A consistent response I receive from Christians when I come out is, “I love you, but I can’t support same-sex marriage” or “I love you, but I can’t support sin.” Setting aside the constant assumption of what my sexual ethic looks like or what does/does not happen in my bedroom, that response just doesn’t sit right with me.

To be clear, I’m not saying you need to adopt a liberal sexual ethic to love LGBT people. I’m not saying you can’t find specific sexual behaviors immoral while simultaneously loving sexual and gender minorities. I think LGBT people like myself find the “I love you, but…” response so frustrating because it’s uniquely applied to us and not to straight people.

Imagine if your friend broke down one day and shared the present difficulties within her marriage. I certainly hope your response wouldn’t be, “I love you, but I can’t support divorce.” Your response would assume a lot about her decisions, context, and culpability in the situation. It would also miss an opportunity to meet your friend’s need for love that she isn’t currently receiving from her husband.

Back to the original post:

What I love about the reflection from the woman in this story, is that she didn’t specificy what her current theological stance is on same-sex marriage and gay sex. She didn’t need to. She recognized sin as a communal disorder where her actions had the direct spiritual impact on her son. She repented. She is doing her best to love her granddaughter. And she earnestly looks to the day of Resurrection when “He will wipe every tear from [our] eyes” (Rev 21:4) and experience eternal communion with her son. This email could have been written by a woman who has a traditional sexual ethic or a liberal sexual ethic, and I’m genuinely grateful for her courage.

When I put in the emotional labor to tell you I’m gay, switch up the conjunction. Try: “I love you and nothing you just told me will ever change that.”