A question Kyle and I receive often is, “Do you consider yourselves to be in a romantic relationship?” As two Christian men who uphold a traditional ethic on sex and marriage (Side B), people are surprised when our answer is yes.
Let me explain. Side B is the belief that the covenant of marriage is a union of one man and one woman, and sexual intercourse is reserved for that union alone. Both Kyle and I come from Christian traditions that teach this ethic. As members of these churches, we are obedient to this doctrine.
Many Side B Christians share their experience in blogs and testimonies of “being forbidden from romantic relationships with people of the same sex”. But I honestly don’t think they are forbidden from romantic relationships, at least depending on what they mean by romantic. There are a few reasons why I find the term “romance” unhelpful as it relates to sexual ethics.
1. Romance is too ambiguous of a concept
I’ve yet to hear a good working definition of what constitutes a romantic action or relationship. Is holding hands romantic? What about pouring a glass of champagne for your friend or partner?
I know romance when I see it; I’m just unsure of how to define it. When Kyle takes me out to dinner and sits in the booth beside me, it’s a romantic gesture; there’s special affection between us in our shared experience. But I have affections that are reserved for other friends too that wouldn’t be considered immoral.
It seems romance requires social and cultural context. I don’t see a relevant Scriptural passage for the Christian that prohibits romantic gestures between two people of the same sex, especially because friends engage in these gestures all the time. For example, if kissing is romantic, then David and Jonathan in the Old Testament must have been a gay couple.
Without a clear working definition, I’m afraid prohibiting “romantic” relationships will only cause LGBT+ Christians to sever emotional intimacy from people of the same sex for fear of it turning into sin.
2. Romantic doesn’t equal sexual
This seems obvious to me. If we thought all romance was sexual, then Christians should force all unmarried heterosexual couples to be completely aromantic until marriage, lest they be flirting with sin.
It doesn’t take a theologian to see a boyfriend buying his girlfriend a rose for Valentine’s Day as a romantic gesture but not a sexual one. It’s easy to sexualize every action between LGBT+ people because we aren’t acknowledging orientation as multi-faceted and complex; we only see queer people as walking sex drives.
I’m thankful for Kyle taking me out on dates, placing his hand on my knee when I’m upset, or verbalizing compassionate affirmation without worrying that it’s the made-up sin of romanticism.
3. Connecting romance to sex erases the experience of asexual people
This is a point I don’t have personal experience with, but we can take some wisdom from it. If sex and romance are inherently interconnected, then we risk marginalizing asexual (ace) people, many of whom have romantic relationships but not sexual ones. It’s possible for non-ace people to have romantic non-sexual relationships too, since gay people aren’t sexually attracted to every member of the same sex, or even desire a sexual relationship.
In my experience, a virtue of the LGBT+ community is its commitment to platonic physical affection. I hold hands and cuddle with close friends I trust, but most Americans would see that as inherently romantic.
4. Romance isn’t a necessary theological condition for marriage
This might surprise our contemporary culture, but I don’t think marriage has to be romantic in order to be a valid sacrament. If aromantic people are called to marriage, then we should support them. Aromantic people can be capable spouses and parents. Certainly, not all examples of marriage in the Bible were romantic relationships.
In my Orthodox tradition, marriage is the one-flesh union of husband and wife. Spouses manifest the Kingdom of God by supporting one another’s path to Heaven and raising in the faith any children that were conceived. Marriage reflects the intimacy of Christ and his Church in a physical, sacramental way. Adding romance as a necessary condition is extrabiblical.
Put it this way: In criticizing same-sex partnerships as “quasi-marriages” because they’re romantic, you may be just as guilty of revising the definition of marriage as progressives. Marriage isn’t about romance or shared living space, it’s a coming together of two spouses as “one flesh”.
So what does this all mean?
My conclusion is that I find the whole idea of romance unhelpful as it relates to the morality of LGBT+relationships. Romance is a real, yet socially constructed concept. I know romance when I see it, even if I can’t always define it.
For Side B Christians and their allies, I would recommend leaving the word “romance” out of your definition of marriage and clarify what you think is sexually permissible or impermissible in human relationships. Otherwise LGBT+ Christians may waste time and anxiety worrying about sin that simply isn’t there.
This is personal to us. Kyle and I have had friends and even clergy profess judgment for our relationship because it was “too romantic”. This was done without taking the time to explore the dynamic of our relationship or providing an explanation for how our “romance” dishonors God. LGBT+ people should have the freedom to pursue holy same-sex love without having to struggle to articulate theological nuances every time they discuss people they are pursuing intentional friendships with. Even I struggle with this, and I love theology!
Are all celibate partnerships romantic? No. Is mine? Possibly, but I don’t always know exactly what that means. I know Kyle and I have many sins to work through as a celibate gay couple. . . but this isn’t one of them.