Yesterday, at the announcement of the results of the postal survey senator Penny Wong burst into tears. I joined in. I asked myself ‘Why did you do that Paul?” Back came the answer ‘Because you too know what it is like to walk around with secret shame.’ This is not the shame that others have attached to being gay, but the shame of somehow feeling like ‘the black sheep’: wanting to be valued, but somehow inheriting the unconscious sense of not being worthy.
I also recall the many women (mostly) in the Bible like Mary, whose shame at being pregnant too soon as taken away because ‘what was at work in her was from the Holy Spirit’, or of Sarah and Hannah, whose shame was taken away by the birth of Isaac and Samuel. Like senator Wong, they too broke out into song and tears of relief and joy at the news.
So, now that the results are in, I want to offer my account of why I think that the ability of same sex couples to become married is a good thing.
First, I have often heard the assertion that “I believe marriage I between a man and a woman”, as if asserting something makes it so. What is going on in this assertion?
The position of the Diocese of Sydney and those that follow them, goes something like this: “True love can only happen between opposites, with people who are not ‘like us’. Hence Homo (like) sexuality is inherently defective love.” (This was Pope Benedict’s argument too). Men and women complement one another, and so for there to be a Godly ‘marriage’ it must be one of opposites: ie, between a man and a woman.
I agree with this proposition’s first part. St. Paul writes “God shows Godly love in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ God’s love is not about people who are ‘like’ us, but for people who are not like us*
But I am of the view that ‘otherness’ does not necessarily reside in another gender but in the mystery of another person. There is enough ‘otherness’ in another person to make loving them as challenging as it is for those of us who are attracted to the opposite gender.
This is the more true, when I think about the fact that ‘personhood’ does not simply live in only two genders, but that male and female are two poles of a spectrum of gender description, as the existence of intersex people, or people of indeterminate gender shows.
As well, sexual attraction is not simply a matter of all for women or all for men. One’s sexual identity falls somewhere on the spectrum between homosexuality and heterosexuality, which includes bisexuality and any number of points in between.
I am left handed for most things, but I play the guitar right handed, I bat at cricket right handed, I hold a knife and fork in a right handed way, but I eat with my spoon in my left hand. I use my left hand mostly for strength, but will use my right hand’s fingers for tasks that need fine motor co-ordination.Sexual attraction, like ‘handedness’ has been equally the subject of Biblical and social approbation.
The evidence now shows that sexual orientation is a similar kind of thing: it represents not as a binary state, but as a continuum.On this basis I think that it is that the mystery of each person be sufficient to represent an ‘other’, who calls forth Godly love in each partner.
The other thing is this. I used to have some small reservations asbout gsy love, until I went to the Anglican Church of All Saints Haight Ashbuy in San Francisco. There the congregation was made up of ninety per cent gay couples, with a small minority of others.
I thought, “I can only express my reservations because I am a majority! I could not do it here, where I am as minority.” This is what I think ‘straight’ people should keep in mind. Privilege accrues to them by chance, and makes them a majority. The privilege of being ‘straight’ is the privilege not to see their biases and discrimination. I think it was a huge humiliation for LGBTQI people to be subjected to the opinions of others about their love for one another.
This idea comes to me from Stephen Fowl’s idea of Biblical interpretation. He says that no one ought to have an idea but another, until they have had several dinner parties with them. It was the explicit presence of the Spirit in gentile Christians, around a table, which forced the Church into accepting them uncircumcised. The same I think applies to LGBTQI people. We do not have the right to say anything about the quality of their love, until we also allow ourselves to be loved by them, and to love them as dinner guests. Then see where you get to.
Last, many gay people have been forced into unsavoury means of finding partners, because their love was at first illegal, and at a minimum, seen as shameful. Recognising gay personhood and equal love by opening the institution of marriage to them does not diminish marriage, but increases the amount of love and fidelity in the world. This cannot be a bad thing.
* In spite of the fact that in Genesis, when Adam meets Eve he actually says ‘Well! Here is someone who is like me: bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.”