Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Friendship, Maine, and Marriage


Since my conversion/reversion, I've stood in a rather awkward position vis-à-vis my gay friends (having been a female opera singer in New York, they are rather many). One dear friend and colleague of mine expressed his distress that I was marrying a man who believed that my friend's behavior was aberrant. "God made me this way," he explained. Several years ago, before I understood that such things were really sins, I attended an old friend's gay wedding in Toronto. I had no problem with it at the time, and didn't see why anyone else should. The two had been together for years, loved each other, owned a house together. Love is love, I told myself, and I was happy that someone appeared to have found it.

In the light of conversion, I see things differently now. I still feel uncomfortable with the Church's injunction of celibacy for homosexuals, but no more so than I do about the same injunction for single heterosexuals: not because I think it's an undue burden, but simply because I know how hard and painful it can be. I am also very sympathetic to the feelings of hurt and exclusion that every gay person I know has felt at some point. Their suffering is not helped by the fact that some among my own faithful Catholic cohort effectively shun them.

However, my Facebook news feed is all abuzz today with cries of woe and outrage over Maine's adoption yesterday of a ballot proposal that would overturn the new state law permitting gay marriage. One friend wrote simply, "Muck Faine [sic]," while another, a deeply religious man who sincerely loves Christ, quoted Psalm 69: "Those who hate me without reason/outnumber the hairs of my head;/many are my enemies without cause,/those who seek to destroy me./I am forced to restore/what I did not steal."

I wish I had a good argument to refute them. To say that marriage is between a man and a woman, which I think now is a no-brainer, appears to gay-marriage advocates to be an argument based on a lack of charity and an outmoded morality. To be honest, I don't quite understand why gays even want to marry, other than for symbolic reasons of equality. Most states guarantee hospital visitation and property transfer rights to gay partners, and some recognize civil unions. Some of my gay Christian friends point to David's intense friendship with Jonathan in Samuel 1:18-20 as an example of a homosexual union blessed by God. I am no scriptural authority, but, as a musicologist, I'm all too familiar with recently-popular posthumous ascriptions of homosexuality for which there's no real evidence to certain great composers and musicians. (As for the Schubert claim, all I can say is that the construct of male friendship was very, very different in early-nineteenth-century Vienna from what it is today. And as a colleague of mine once noted as we browsed in the classical music section of the late, lamented Tower Records at Lincoln Center, recording companies need some filler for those "Gay Classics" anthology CDs, since it would be too boring if they were all Tchaikovsky.)

As it stands, I will have to refrain from making comments on my friends' posts, because I fear I have no consolation to offer. But I wish I knew exactly how to be a good friend to them, which I feel at a loss to do right now.

15 comments:

Emily J. said...

Having lived in a couple different "gayborhoods," I sympathize with your struggle. It would be easier to make a case for marriage being between a man and a woman if there weren't such a disconnect between sexuality and fertility/reproduction. I don't think it's a coincidence that the argument for gay marriage has won over so many adherents only after the use of contraception/assisted reproduction has become a matter of course. Marriage doesn't survive on love, anyway.

Pentimento said...

Gayborhoods! Believe it or not, I've never heard that before. Good one.

You make excellent points about the disconnect between marriage and fertility, as well as the modern fallacy that marriages are based on wish-fulfilling fantasies about love.

I wonder if support for gay marriage is related somehow to the making of "gayborhoods" themselves, often rundown and neglected areas that gay men move into and revitalize. Perhaps there's a general malaise in our culture about marriage, and heterosexuals are abandoning it, and believe that gays can somehow make the institution of marriage good again because their unions are based on love, not procreation.

Or perhaps I'm taking this metaphor a little too far.

Melanie B said...

Right now I've got a wedding invitation from my cousin sitting in a basket next to my computer desk. It's for my cousin Nicole and her partner Kim. I don't know what to do with it. I can't in good faith give any appearance that I support what I feel is a objective wrong. And yet this cousin, who I haven't seen face to face since we were children, has struggled with mental illness, has been hospitalized because she was suicidal, and she has now found someone who loves her and supports her. It seems anything I do will be a wrong thing. Even simply not replying will wound her. What is the loving thing to do? What is right?

Pentimento said...

Melanie, at Confession last week I discussed with the priest how to approach my gay friends in the spirit of charity, given the fact that my feelings about acting out their sexual impulses has modified in the light of my conversion. This is especially hard for me in my relationship with the friend who got "married" in Toronto, who's been a close and supportive friend since high school. I hadn't invited her to my own wedding, and I've been feeling guilty about that and about somewhat deliberately being out of touch with her. The priest said that there are some things at which you can draw the line without being uncharitable. Perhaps you can convey in a note to your cousin that you can't in good conscience attend her "wedding," but you wish her peace and happiness? This might be a matter to discuss with your parish priest.

Melanie B said...

Thanks. A good suggestion. All the more reason to drag myself to confession.

Pentimento said...

I know what you mean. :)

One of the things I miss about NYC is that churches were always open, from 7 AM or so to 9 PM, and you could always go into one, and if you wanted to confess, you could pretty much always find a priest handy.

Although in truth, the last time I was back, I went to St. Francis of Assisi Church on W. 31st. Street, which is known to have confessions all day long every day but Saturday. It turned out they had changed their schedule and confession now was lunch-hours only. I couldn't wait until then because I was on my way out of town so I asked at the rectory if I could see a priest. The secretary refused to call one -- and there are lots of Franciscan priests in residence there, maybe a dozen -- because they were all "busy." I was so frustrated I sat on the church steps with my suitcase and cried. I'm sure passersby thought I was homeless.

And the only reason I tried to go to confession there is that it's so, so hard to make it to the limited confession times up here . . .

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Since I have no homosexual friends (not due to any shunning, but to the fact that I've always had a tiny circle of intimates), this issue has never really tugged at my heart and I find it easier to approach it cooly and cerebrally.

When I was in uni, one of my roommates was an atheist. She also turned out to be a very good friend, but, oh, were we opposed about everything! One of them was the question of marriage. I insisted that it could only be between a man and a woman, and she said that anyone had the right to marry whom he or she chose.

I remember one of our heated (yet surprisingly civil) debates in which I snapped, "If anyone can marry anyone, then why can't I marry my dog???"

She snapped back, "Yes, you can marry your dog, Enbrethiliel! That's what I've been saying all along!"

At the time, as far as I could tell, she didn't have any homosexual friends or relatives, either, and was approaching the matter, as I was, from a purely philosophical point of view.

Melanie B said...

Yep. All the churches in our area have confession at the same time on Saturday afternoons. It's not at all convenient. I can't figure out why they don't coordinate to stagger times throughout the week. And I have such a hard time picking up the phone to ask a priest for an appointment... I know I just need to get over it; but easier said than done.

Enbrethiliel,

At least she was consistent. I can admire that kind of intellectual honesty.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Melanie: That is why she and I were such good friends despite everything! =) I still miss her . . .

lissla lissar said...

I live in Toronto. I don't currently have any gay friends, but it's very very difficult here to even begin to frame arguments for marriage being man/woman, or to suggest that homosexual love is disordered. There aren't a lot of voices willing to say those things publicly. Anti-hate-speech laws plus our firm cultural belief that religion is something entirely private mean we really don't want to interfere in each other's private lives. Or appear to be 'imposing our morality' on others.

I think our understanding of male friendship has become gradually more impoverished since the fifties or sixties. We're suspicious of intense male friendship, and suspect there must always be a sexual element. It's very sad.

Pentimento said...

Lissla, one of my closest friends lives in Toronto (she's an American who married and is now divorced from a Canadian), and I know from her that what you say is true. My friend was enmeshed in a complicated legal battle (she was being sued by her superstar divorce lawyer), and the lawyer who ended up representing her, she told me, was a Catholic mom AND ALSO a hero to the gay community, because she had done much to push through the gay marriage law in Ontario. In fact, her lawyer even rode on a float in the gay pride parade one year. But these things apparently aren't questioned there, including by my friend.

lissla lissar said...

Nope, not questioned. And the gay pride parade (which has apparently become a family event) has topless lesbians, tons of drag queens, and people in bondage gear abusing each other on floats. It's quite revolting. But it doesn't hurt anybody! We all have a right to do whatever we want!

Sigh.

Pentimento said...

It sounds just like the NYC one. But, in my case, before my conversion, I actually marched in it once. A friend had organized a marching band -- he had been the all-state drum major champion in Texas in high school -- and my first husband and I walked alongside with water bottles for the band members (they were fully clothed, in hot woolen uniforms). We wanted to be supportive of our friends. And now, of course, I can't do things like that anymore, because, although I don't think that homosexuals should be ashamed to be gay, and that's not what the Church teaches either, the displays of gay pride really do go against simple morality. (I'm sure my gay friends and others would be angry at me for saying this, which is why I've now enabled comment moderation.)

Maclin said...

I really sympathize with this. I really don't know how to handle it. When I run into someone who's gay (or lesbian--I think we're supposed to distinguish, right?:-)), e.g. at work, I just sort of keep my distance, not out of hostility but because conflict would be inevitable if we ever talked about the social-political questions involved.

I do think the sexuality-fertility disconnect is at the root of this. The demand that a man should be able to marry a man or a woman marry a woman seems to me self-evidently absurd, like demanding a square circle. But the severing of sexuality from fertility and family removes that sense of what the fundamental reality of marriage is about, and what it's for. Apparently.

Belgie said...

Many a 'disaster' has been for His children's own good. This is a very, very strong message I've personally gotten from the Lord in my own life; the Driscolls may have gotten different advice. God leads his children individually and intimately.