Over the past couple weeks I’ve had a lot of opportunities to hang out with lgbt Christians who accept and strive to follow the historical Christian sexual ethic. It’s been a great chance to see the diversity of our community. But we also have a lot in common; and one depressing thing many of us turned out to have in common was experience of discrimination due to our sexual orientation. I admit I was surprised to learn just how many celibate lgbt Christians had been fired, denied jobs, threatened with expulsion from school, or otherwise discriminated against by Christian institutions which explicitly told them that their sexual orientation played a role.
If I may Catechism-thump for a moment: The Catechism says, “Every sign of unjust discrimination [against people with ‘deep-seated homosexual tendencies’] should be avoided.” It’s hard to think of a clearer case of “unjust discrimination” than firing somebody because he’s been open about being gay and faithful to Church teaching.
A bunch of us are working on a project which will attempt to address this form of discrimination, so you’ll hear more about that in a bit. But I want to push further. I say all the time that the Church calls gay people to positive expressions of love, not just negative avoidance of sin; and this is equally true for everybody else. If we moved beyond simply avoiding unjust discrimination (although man, that would be a great first step…), how could we support gay people in our vocations?
One way is to offer practical, material support for caregiving outside marital and parental relationships. Christianity limits sex to marriage but certainly doesn’t limit caregiving, devotion, and intimacy to marriage. The idea that the only relationships we can really rely on–the only publicly-supported relationships where we give and receive care–are marital or parental relationships is modern, not Christian.
This is what I thought about when Creighton University announced that it would extend health benefits to the same-sex legal spouses of its employees. Creighton is a Catholic school, so many people characterized their decision as a capitulation in a culture war. To me it was a capitulation of a different kind. Extending benefits in this way still suggests that the only way you can get a publicly-recognized, reliable caregiving relationship is through marriage.That isn’t traditional, fwiw. And for those who care about culture war, it’s worth noting that if you think the only way you’ll have kin or care is if you get married, of course gay people will want gay marriage.
I should be clear that I think Creighton’s decision was better than if they had declined to extend benefits. Denial of health insurance doesn’t exactly seem like Christian witness to me.
But Creighton was still answering a question set by an anti- or post-Christian culture: “Same-sex spousal benefits, yes or no?” A more Christian question would be, “How can we extend practical support to committed caregiving relationships?”
There are a few different ways I can think of to answer that question, off the top of my head. None of them are perfect, but all of them acknowledge that people offer devoted love outside of marriage. You could allow unmarried employees to designate another adult to share their benefits. You could allow employees who share a bank account and/or household with other adults to add one or more of those adults to their benefits. I’m not sure how best to balance restrictions (I get that institutions don’t want to let you just add a roommate or someone to whom you have no personal commitment) and openness, but I think this is at least closer to the right question.
I don’t expect this approach to meet all the desires of employees in gay marriages. But you turn down the temperature so much if people are no longer threatened with bankruptcy or inability to receive needed medical care. Sarah at A Queer Calling recently pointed out some of the economic issues, and Lindsey discussed how their partnership is a relationship of caregiving. If we want people to be able to form kinship bonds even if, for whatever reason, they’re not married, we need to make an unmarried life doable on fairly basic economic levels.