Are Celibate Gay Christians Prohibited From Same-Sex Romance?

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 one of them. 

A Table for One Cannot Exist

Thanksgiving induces stress for many people. For some, it’s a stress of logistical nature. Our desire to invite people into our homes evolves into a desire to be a perfect cook, a perfect host, and a perfect planner. For others, the stress of familial feuds can be too much, especially in our polarized political climate.

Thanksgiving, or rather the weeks leading up to the entire holiday season, personally create stress of a much different sort. As someone estranged to his biological family, I find myself worrying, “Is there a family I can enjoy fellowship with this year? Or will I spend this season alone?” Many singles, particularly LGBT Christians, find themselves asking this question for the rest of their lives. It induces feelings of isolation, despair, trauma, and loss.

The problem is, it isn’t supposed to be this way. “It is not good that man should be alone.” (Gen 2: 18). A desire for family – for communion – is inherently human. Our isolation is a result of a fallen world; a world of sin. Every sin results in death.

I created this blog with the hope that the broader church can listen and make space at the Table for LGBT Christians. To truly be one in Christ, means you see the entire person. You can’t ignore my familial history. You can’t ignore my sexuality. You certainly can’t ignore the immense challenge celibacy brings me in regard to intimacy and communion with other human beings. Making space at the table means being aware of the baggage I bring, while simultaneously“bearing [my] burdens”. (Gal 6:2)

This year, I was graciously invited into the home of a loving family that I’m becoming more acquainted with over time. To see families desire a breaking of bread with a single person reaffirms the notion that God’s grace is embodied and communal. I cherish  Christians who embrace me as a single person, rather than treating me as an object of sympathy. I pray that God continues to grow these types of relationships in my life.

If one understands the transcendent reality of the eucharistic (giving thanks) table each Sunday, they will understand the transcendent reality of their Thanksgiving table.

“Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.” (1 Cor 10:17)

Because in the Kingdom of God, a table for one cannot exist.