Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Gay Wedding Receptions

Okay, first of all, news-reel:
In about 6 weeks I will have a house. At the moment, I'm living in my mom's house/cottage, going back and forth between the two, and I only have internet access at the house (hence my recent lack of blog-posts). My new house is the most beautiful place in the world; a century farmhouse near Tweed Ontario that used to be run as a Bed and Breakfast/Alpaca farm. In any case, come September I should be back on-line and blogging again properly.
My book, A Crisis of Passion should be coming out soon from Circle Books, I'll keep people posted on that. It's technically about the relationship between art, postmodernism and the Catholic Church, but it tends to slide in all directions, covering a lot of issues that have to do with the way that culture is shaped in the postmodern world, and how Christians/Catholics can bring the gospel to people in this crazy, media-saturated, Culture of Death/Threshold of Hope period in history.
I've had an interesting response to an article that appeared in a recent issue of Faith and Family magazine . I suggested that one way of negotiating the tricky issue of what to do if you're invited to a homosexual marriage ceremony/celebration of a homosexual union. I pointed out that you shouldn't actually go to the ceremony, because being at a marriage means standing witness for it and so that would contradict Church teaching, but that you might ask if your friend/relative would still like you to attend the reception, as a way of showing your desire to continue to be involved in their life and support them. It sparked a certain amount of debate, mostly based on the idea that by attending the reception you are celebrating a sin, implying your support therefore, and potentially causing scandal.
Here's the trouble: there are two potential ways of scandalizing people, i.e. leading them into sin/confirming them in their sins. The first is by setting a bad example -- and this is what those who disagreed with me argued a Catholic would be doing by going to a gay wedding reception. The second is by making a good example in such a disagreeable way that people are repulsed. To me, when you respectfully explain why you can't attend the marriage ceremony, you've made your point. You've stood up for truth. There's no ambiguity here. (Obviously if you did something absurd, like skip the ceremony but show up for the reception without discussing it in advance, that would be different, but it would also be socially awkward and rude.) What you're trying to do, however, is find a way of negotiating that situation so that the truth is tempered by love; so that your doctrinal position does not come across either as a contemptuous snub, or as raw homophobia, or as personal rejection. One commenter actually brought up the objection that there would probably be multiple gay/lesbian couples at the reception, and that you might see them being physically intimate with one another. At risk of offending the squeamish, I'm inclined to suggest that when Christ went into the den of the prostitutes and tax collectors, it probably wasn't a real nice clean discreet joint. In fact, the Pharisee's main objection is that reputable types didn't go into places like that. This was in an outpost of Ancient Rome, shortly before the reigns of Tiberius and Caligula. The brothels would certainly have serviced the Roman soldiers posted to the Judean backwaters, and most of the prostitutes were probably on drugs. Yet Christ went. Why?
He went to show that our God is not the kind of stand-offish, snobbish, reputable God who is not willing to go into places like that. He was not afraid of the rumours that might circulate -- and which did circulate. (St. Thomas has a lovely little argument about how the Pharisees, in such circumstances, were not scandalized by the actions of Christ, but that they scandalized themselves.)
Now, I'm not saying that if you don't go to a gay reception, it means that you're a Pharisee. But I do think that if you're in a relationship with a homosexual such that it would be appropriate, supportive, and charitable for you to do so, that it can certainly be an expression of Christian love and not a cause of scandal.

p.s. I've been taken to task for using "marriage" and "wedding" without scare quotes to refer to homosexual ceremonies. The reason for this is simple: everyone knows what I mean. It's pretty obvious that I'm an orthodox Catholic, and that I don't think that homosexuals can be validly married. Scare quotes, to me, are just childish.


  1. As always, a thoughtful and reasoned article on the subject of homosexual marriage. I am glad to get your guidance on this topic. WWJD indeed!

  2. Doesn't it risk pride to compare our braving same-sex couples' public displays of affection to Christ's visitation of prostitutes?

    It is inevitable that fallen men like us should show more discretion than Our Lord about the company we keep.

    As St. Paul said in 1 Cor 15: "Bad company corrupts good morals." If we inure ourselves to certain actions, we lose good habits that serve us well.

  3. Kevin,

    I would agree with you if we were talking about someone with gay/lesbian temptations attending the event -- obviously, if something is a likely occasion of sin, avoid it. I'm assuming, though, that most of the audience at Faith and Family don't have this problem.
    There is, potentially, another issue at play: it is much easier to hold onto the Church's teaching on the morality of same-sex unions if you don't actually go near one with a ten foot pole. Again, this is a matter of personal discretion and discernment, but I do think that the better thing is to be able to hold fast to Catholic teaching while confronting the reality of what sort of sacrifice that teaching demands of people. I'm pretty sure that for most Catholics the discomfort of seeing gay/lesbian displays of affection has as much to do with the desire to, at least on some level, deny that these are real, intimate, emotional relationships as it has to do with the desire to keep ourselves pure.

  4. Thanks - that's all - just thanks. Well-written and well-received.

  5. i am curious. how many lesbian and gay people have you maintained meaningful relationships with since adopting this love the sinner, hate the sin approach?

  6. I must respectfully disagree. I do not believe there are ANY circumstances in which a Catholic, in good conscience can attend a same-sex wedding. If the person in question is your best friend, and has been your whole life, then you both understand and respect each others views well. He/She will know and understand what your beliefs are and why it would be scandalous to attend such an event as same-sex wedding reception. If a Catholic is understanding and respecting their gay friends' lifestyle without agreeing with it, then alternatively the gay friend can understand and respect the Catholics' decision not to attend the celebration of an event that they believe to be a perversion of the sacrament of marriage.

    God bless, Ben.

  7. Anonymous wanted to know how many gay/lesbian friends I have. Three who are close, and then various others who I know and get along with.
    Also, w/r/t "hate the sin, love the sinner," I'm going to full post on that.

  8. Lucky Ben if he's in that kind of mutually understanding situation. Nowadays you're as likely to be disowned by your ssa/pph friend or family member because their question is usually, "Why should your faith mean more than my feelings?"

    I didn't go to a close relative's ceremony (but sent a polite note that simpy said we would not be able to travel that far). For that I have been cut out of her life. This despite the fact that the ceremony was being held 1,000 miles away and would entail much cost to attend. I suppose I might have been forgiven if I had sent a card and/or a gift - in short, recognized the event for what it was. I did not seek a confrontation, but when pressed did explain that my failure to attend was in fact because of my faith.

    It's not so simple as to be able to go to the reception but not the ceremony - not if the event is far away.

    Also, where we have young people in our family in their teens, 20s, and 30s who are poorly catechized, not practising their faith, and see nothing wrong with ss unions or with living together without marriage, attending and thereby condoning such an occasion would indeed give scandal. A courteous refusal might for the first time raise the issue for them , i.e., might suggest to them that there is indeed something at stake here. Too often people think superficially about this issue - e.g., "love is love no matter where or how it comes about," and "who are we to judge another's choices?" I know I'm not going to change anyone's feelings, but perhaps it's time we had a little less of that and a little more of willed Christian love.

  9. What about a partner's funeral. I have a colleague who lost her partner of 28 years to cancer. Although I never met the woman, I went to the funeral.

    Would anyone argue I shouldn't have gone because it was "witnessing" a sinful relationship?


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