By DR. HOMER WHITE
Considering all the discussion on campus recently, and in the Western world at large this year, on gay marriage and fairness laws, it is past time that I came out of the closet. So here goes:
I have been in a gay marriage for the majority of my career at Georgetown College.
You see, my wife went through menopause twelve years ago, and our bedroom exploits since then—spectacular though they may be—are powerless to make our children any more “conceived” than they already are. Our sex life is as non-procreative as that of any gay or lesbian couple.
So what exactly are we getting up to, I and my spouse? Are we merely a pair of past-prime profligates, punching the pleasure button as often as our busy schedules permit, until death do us part? The same question may be posed to the more senior couples on the faculty and staff—and to the Board of Trustees, which last Fall rejected a proposal to extend the college nondiscrimination policy to include such things as sexual orientation. Add to this the quandary faced by younger folks, readers of this article perhaps, who hope both to marry and to outlive their capacity to bear children, i.e.: who hope to be one day in a functionally gay marriage.
As human beings who long for authentic, loving and stable romantic relationships, we are all in the same boat. If the heterosexuals among us cannot articulate and affirm the worth of gay sex, then they cannot claim much in the way of value or meaning for the non-procreative sex that will spice the greater part of their own lives. To put it more positively: whatever we find in our religious and cultural heritage that, as Wendell Berry puts it, “ramifies instinct in affection” and renders non-procreative straight sex a spiritual endeavor, should in turn enable modern Westerners—especially, I would urge, those affiliated with a Christian College—to adopt a positive attitude toward gay sex.
We need not look hard, for sex has a salvific character, both for individuals and for communities.
What two people confer upon one another in sexual love is the immensely affirmative, validating experience of being chosen out uniquely, from among billions of others. But for each person, the sense of affirmation consists in the other’s choice not really being a choice, in that it was not preceded by rational deliberation concerning costs and benefit, but rather was driven by passion: we “fall in” love, we don’t deduce it. This affirmation flowing from a partner’s paradoxically involuntary choice is so intense that it is experienced by the individual as a kind of salvation. It is no wonder that depictions in Scripture of the relationship between God and the chosen people of Israel are replete with bridal and marital imagery, accounts of passionate and jealous love, etc.
But this being-chosen experience, as powerfully as it validates and grounds the self, leads also to a transcendence of the self that is salvific for the community. I will always remember how an old ex-priest, my mentor in social justice activism, inscribed a card for our wedding: “May your marriage”, he wrote, “embrace the neediest of Christ’s Body.” He was addressing the most profoundly procreative dimension of non-procreative sex. When you are married, you have continual access to both back-up and accountability. When you are down, your partner is liable to be “up” enough herself to buoy you. She also spurs you on, remembers your principles well enough to hold you to them and reminds you that you aren’t always going to get your way. And you accept all this from her precisely because she affirms you completely, by that paradoxical involuntary choice, again and again, as often as her busy schedule permits, until death do you part. Though it is possible for couples to turn in upon themselves, marriage so closely resembles a laboratory for community that the slightest prompting suffices to orient a couple outward to the world. So, even as our biological children leave home, their old rooms are occupied by succession of folks in need of a place to stay. And there is that slowly-lengthening list of students (you know who you are) who will always be children of my heart.
I don’t deny that procreation is important for the human species, but the dual individual-communal salvific character of sex may very well, in the end, outweigh sexual procreation in importance, and I see no reason why gay sex is less likely than straight sex to be marked by this salvific character.
The foregoing is only part of an overall argument in favor of affirming gay and lesbian sex and marriage. It does not end the discussion, however: although my observations are tailor-made for Desert monotheist worldviews, people from religious traditions with strongly-held teachings against gay sex may have to grapple with wrenching issues surrounding the reinterpretation of scriptures or the re-evaluation of their church’s teaching authority. Nevertheless, I think that the case for gay sex in a Christian context is now plausible enough that discrimination against gay folks at Christian institutions of higher learning should be dismissed as unreasonable, and must be prohibited by written policy.