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Same-Sex Relationships as Self-Centered: Deconstructing the Argument

Family with Same-Sex Mothers

One of the persistent claims that those opposed to same-sex relationships advance is that these relationships are intrinsically selfish. From the standpoint of traditions like Catholicism, with its current emphasis on openness to procreation as the ultimate norm by which all sexual acts are to be judged, same-sex relationships are not merely non-procreative, but also non-generative, and, for those reasons, selfish.

Those advancing this gay = selfish rhetoric also often embellish it with outmoded pseudo-scientific charges that gay people are gay because they are caught in a self-centered stage of psychological development appropriate to early adolescence, but not adulthood. It’s interesting to note, however, that, while though those defending the Catholic magisterial position on human sexuality often claim that heterosexual couples who do not choose to have children are selfish, they seldom move to a similar conclusion about the very nature of non-procreative heterosexual couples: namely that these heterosexual people are caught in a stage of early adolescent arrested development.

The insinuation of gay selfishness has even entered the Catholic magisterium at an official level, through Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1986 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Care of Homosexual Persons (and here). Cardinal Ratzinger is now Pope Benedict XVI.  His 1986 pastoral letter is echoed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

In the 1986 pastoral letter, Ratzinger notes that individual gay human beings may sometimes be generous and self-giving. How could he not note that, when the evidence for such gay generativity is all around us?

But even as he does so, he chooses to view homosexual acts (and, implicitly, same-sex relationships) as self-indulgent. The pastoral letter states,

This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent.

[A] disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent: because they are not and cannot be “ordered” to procreation, homosexual acts—and, by inference, same-sex relationships—are “essentially self-indulgent.” They are self-centered and selfish.

Last week, Archbishop Victor Sanchez Espinoza of Puebla, Mexico, used this rhetoric of gay self-indulgence to critique Mexico City’s new gay marriage law. Archbishop Sanchez Espinoza attacked same-sex marriage because, in his view,

the union between persons of the same sex is only of interest to the couple and does not provide this fundamental contribution to society.

[T]he union between persons of the same sex is only of interest to the couple: on the face of it, that strikes me as an amazingly counterintuitive claim. It’s counterintuitive since the quality of same-sex relationships, the ability of same-sex couples to live peacefully and generatively in society at large, is of interest to all kinds of people beyond same-sex couples themselves. It’s certainly of interest to many of our families and friends, who care deeply about seeing us defended from discrimination and permitted to live productive and happy lives.

And it’s of interest to all those who recognize that demeaning and excluding any targeted minority unravels the fabric of a healthy society. The union between persons of the same sex is even of interest to the many opponents of same-sex relationships who claim that legal recognition of these relationships will destroy society.

On the face of it, Archbishop Sanchez Espinoza is plainly wrong in his claim that the union between persons of the same sex is of interest only to the couple. As he’s also wrong when he states that same-sex unions do not provide a “fundamental contribution to society.”

His point, of course, is that only same-sex couples have a vested interest in having our committed, perduring relationships recognized legally and socially, and that there is no reason for society to provide such recognition, since these relationships contribute nothing to the society at large.

In what follows, I’d like to list a number of ways in which I think that those who promote this argument—same-sex relationships are self-indulgent, barren, and non-generative—are wildly wrong.  As they are wrong when they claim that gay persons are by nature selfish, caught in a self-centered stage of adolescent psychological development . . . .

Here are just a few of the ways in which I’ve observed the amazing generativity of gay lives and gay relationships all around me (perhaps you, readers, can add significantly to this list):

1. We often end up by default being the caregivers of our aging relatives.

I suspect this may often happen because an assumption is tacitly made in many families that the “unmarried” son or daughter is the best-equipped to drop his or her own life as the parents age, and provide the care a parent needs. And I have observed that many gay or lesbian children of aging parents shoulder this burden of eldercare with great generosity and joy.

As I have also noted on my Bilgrimage blog—citing my own experience and that of my partner Steve when we assumed my mother’s guardianship in the final years of her life—when legal and social structures not only refuse to recognize and support the relationship in which a gay child caring for his or her parent lives, but are actively hostile to that relationship, everyone in the family suffers. When Steve and I incurred the hostility of the judge overseeing my mother’s guardianship—solely because we are gay and a couple—it was not only we, but my mother, who also suffered. And all my family members, who looked on with sadness and anger, and did everything possible to fight the judge’s discriminatory treatment of us.

2. Many gay and lesbian people are drawn to the helping professions—to professions like teaching, social services, ministry, healthcare provision, and so forth.

John McNeill’s classic study The Church and the Homosexual noted this point as long ago as 1976. John cites Jung to note that, throughout history, the self-giving, generative trait of gay people has persistently been noted by observers—and it remains apparent in gay lives all around us today.

When church and society refuse to support and/or actively combat loving, generative, committed same-sex relationships, they do incalculable harm to society itself, because they impair the ability of those involved in these relationships to give their best to society. As John’s book notes, if all gay persons in the world went on strike for a single day, those who think we do not exist and do not make a contribution—that we are merely self-indulgent and our relationships cannot be generative—would be shocked to see much of their world shut down.

Classrooms would be empty, pulpits vacant, patients in hospitals unattended to. It is unwise—even evil—for some people of faith to persist in denying the significant contributions gay lives and loving gay relationships make to society.

3. Many—a significant portion, in fact—of same-sex couples do raise children.

The argument that same-sex lives are barren and same-sex relationships are self-indulgent overlooks abundant evidence that same-sex couples do, in fact, raise children. And this is not a new social phenomenon. It has been going on forever.

Many gay or lesbian people do not discover or fully affirm their orientation until they are adults. In quite a few cases, those who follow this path have already had children. These gay or lesbian adults often raise children they have produced in an initial stage of their lives in which they sought unsuccessfully to live according to heterosexual norms.

And, increasingly, many same-sex couples adopt children or conceive a child by surrogacy. Among the same-sex couples (and individuals) I know who are raising children, a significant proportion have chosen to love and care for children who could not find a home with “traditional” couples. Many of these children are not chosen in the adoption process because of their race. Quite a few of them haven’t been chosen because they have mental or physical challenges.

I’ve been to a number of church services over the years in parishes or churches with a large contingent of LGBT members, and have been amazed at the number of children unwanted by society at large—specifically, by heterosexual couples seeking to adopt—who are being raised by gay parents. Lovingly so. Unselfishly so.

When churches and society not only refuse to recognize the contributions of same-sex couples raising children, but even attack those couples and make it harder for them to carry on their lives decently and peacefully, they make life difficult not only for the couples themselves, but also for their children.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s claim that the “inclination” of gay persons is “essentially self-indulgent,” and Archbishop Victor Sanchez Espinoza’s contention that same-sex unions are of interest only to same-sex couples and do not provide a fundamental contribution to society, are flatly wrong. And insofar as these claims inform social and legal actions hostile to gay people and our lives and relationships, they are, in fact, evil claims, because they refuse to recognize the abundant evidence of the generativity of gay lives and relationships, and they thwart that generativity and rob society of creative energy it needs to be whole and healthy.

(Crossposted from Bilgrimage, with editorial changes, 8 Jan. 2010).


7 Responses

  1. I think the underlying asumption for both claims is that gay relationships exist for orgasm as pleasure. After all the entirety of Catholic sexual moral is essentially predicated on the correct expression for male orgasm.

    I suppose this is why the theology ignores female orgasm entirely. That and the fact female orgasm has little to do with procreation.

    This theology of correct orgasm almost demands that gay relationships be defined as selfish and it has to ignore gay parenting all together. Parenting is, in Catholic marriage theology, associated with some mystical unprovable component of correct male orgasm with it’s correct sexual contact.

    Parenting can’t be a universal trait of humanity–even though it is….

    • Thanks, Colleen–extremely valuable and insightful comments. What’s bizarre, of course, is the choice of anyone to classify an entire group of people on the basis of something entirely incidental like whether their orgasms are “correct” or not.

      As if this is all being gay and carrying on loving, stable, generative gay relationships is all about . . . . Talk about projection of some fantasy from deep inside those faith groups (notably the Catholic church) imposing that projection onto the lives of people it imperfectly understands and does not want to understand!

      And what a bizarre sexual ethics the church has constructed for everyone, when it grounds all that it thinks and says on the “theology of correct orgasm”–and not on the quality of relationships lived by those engaged in sexual intimacy.

  2. […] Comments This morning, I read an article by William Lindsey at The Open Tabernacle titled, “Same-Sex Relationships as Self-Centered: Deconstructing the Argument“.  While I found the conclusion and purpose of the argument(s) therein to be appealing […]

  3. Mr. Lindsey,

    I have written a critique of this article of yours on a blog that I write with my more conservative friend (whose views on homosexuality differ from ours). In it, I have come up with several suggestions for improvement to your article. If you could, I would absolutely love it if you read my critique and responded with your thoughts.


    I hope to hear from you soon!

    -Payton Alexander, High-School Apologetics

    • Mr. Alexander, thank you for your thoughtful reply, and the invitation to respond to you.

      You’re right, I think, to ask for confirmation that Cardinal Ratzinger’s argument about disordered inclinations is really an argument about disordered people and not disordered acts. As I’ve noted on my own blog, Bilgrimage, there’s a move afoot in Catholic-right circles in the U.S. nowadays to protect magisterial teaching about gay lives and relationships, by arguing that Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1986 letter on the pastoral care of homosexual persons calls only gay acts, and not gay persons, disordered.

      Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and there’s a wealth of sound commentary, starting with the period of that pastoral letter itself up to the present, to demonstrate that this is not the case. And to make matters worse, the 1986 pastoral letter has now also entered official magisterial teaching through the Catechism, which also makes this same claim that gay people are in and of themselves objectively disordered.

      You say that if such commentary is out there on the internet, it could surely be found and cited. I direct you to my Bilgrimage blog for at least some of the sources commenting on Cardinal Ratzinger’s teaching. Do a search of the blog (using its search engine) for words like “Ratzinger,” and you’ll find my citations. Also many of my collaborators at this site have written wonderful pieces on the same topic: check out Colleen Kochivar-Baker’s Enlightened Catholicism, Jayden Cameron’s Gay Mystic, Terry Weldon’s Queering the Church, and Michael Bayly’s Wild Reed, and you’ll find a wealth of commentary on this topic.

      One point in your critique puzzles me. You argue that my list of contributions of same-sex couples to society focuses on “material” benefits. But I don’t read caring for aging parents, nurturing and raising children, and serving society through the help professions as material benefits.

      In my view, these crucial contributions made by same-sex people and same-sex couples have a profound spiritual dimension.

      Again, thank you for your response and the invitation to comment on it. I welcome a continued dialogue, if you’d want to talk further about these matters. And thanks for your interest in Open Tabernacle.

  4. I sent you an email. I will respond to your comment here shortly.

    Best Wishes,

    -Payton Alexander

    • Payton, thanks. I will look forward to your response.

      I did also receive your email, and will respond to it. I have been out of town, and am only now slowly catching up on a number of fronts.

      So please don’t think I’m ignoring you if it takes me a number of days to reply. I will do so shortly.

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