Is it ever responsible for people with same-same attraction to get married?
By Sean Doherty
“Our pastoral experience over the years has demonstrated again and again that when a gay man marries, this is not only inappropriate for him, but this can absolutely destroy his wife.”1 As a predominantly same-sex attracted man, Jeremy’s comment here is the kind of attitude I often encounter when people find out that I used to consider myself to be gay. And whilst I am convinced that some people with same sex attraction can and should get married (to someone of the opposite sex), Jeremy and others are absolutely right to remind us of the profound damage that can be caused when someone ignores or refuses to be honest about their true sexual feelings and enters into a marriage, hoping that they will become sexually attracted to their spouse after the wedding.
Some in the church have colluded with this practice by not challenging it. Worse, others have directly encouraged it on the misguided assumption that a sexual relationship within marriage will clear up the person’s supposedly confused feelings, or even ‘cure’ them of their same-sex attraction!
The underlying problem in such cases is, ironically, that the church has failed to value sexual desire properly. Sexual desire is not a bad thing! If you are married, you are meant to be attracted to your husband or wife!
If you are married you are meant to be attracted to your husband or wife!
Of course, our culture completely overestimates the significance of sexual attraction. It’s right to acknowledge that there is far more to marriage than sex, and that other factors (such as mutual respect, commitment, companionship, a shared sense of calling, faith in Christ) are indispensable criteria for a couple trying to discern whether they should marry or not. Sex isn’t the be all and end all of marriage. But it is a crucial and good part of marriage!
Whilst sexual attraction is not the only or the most important factor in deciding whether to marry someone, it should certainly be one of the factors. Any couple considering marriage should be really sure that they are sexually attracted to one another – whether either of them experience same-sex attraction or not. If you aren’t attracted to someone, you shouldn’t marry them! But if there is genuine sexual attraction between a man and a woman, the fact that one of them also experiences same-sex attraction shouldn’t necessarily be a barrier to them marrying.
Advice for courting couples where a person experiences same-sex attraction
So, some simple and obvious advice to draw from this would be as follows.
1) Be totally honest with your prospective spouse about your attractions and background.
2) At the same time, don’t get too hung up on the same-sex attraction aspect of things. This issue isn’t necessarily any more problematic than any other. It’s one of many things which you will need to discuss and pray through together. All married people experience attraction to people to whom they are not married, and of itself same-sex attraction is no more problematic than any other extramarital sexual desire.
3) Be totally honest with yourself about whether you are genuinely attracted to the other person. It doesn’t matter in the least whether you are same-sex attracted or not in general. But it matters hugely whether you are attracted to your potential spouse or not. The question isn’t, therefore, ‘am I attracted to men or women in general?’ Who cares? The question should be, ‘am I attracted to this person in particular?’
4) Within Christian moral boundaries, see if you enjoy physical intimacy. Just as a couple will have lots of conversations and spend time together to see if they are compatible, it would seem sensible and healthy to explore appropriate physical affection such as hugging and kissing, within Christian boundaries. (I appreciate that people will have different views about where to draw the line.) We shouldn’t let the biblical prohibition of premarital sex create a hang up which prevents couples from seeing whether there is a sexual spark and growing desire to make love and become ‘one flesh’ – whilst being careful not to get too steamy before marriage!
5) Take your time. Don’t feel pressure to rush into marriage until you know you are ready for it. Of course, that is good advice for any couple! Make sure that your dating, courtship, and engagement are long enough to be sure that your sexual attraction is genuine and deep, and not some kind of blip. My wife had been friends for about three years before we started courting. That helped, because when we started going out, our relationship then underwent a fundamental change. We could tell it wasn’t a friendship anymore, because it now involved sexual attraction.
6) Don’t get married to someone unless you are genuinely sexually attracted to them. Again, that is advice that could and should be given to any couple.
Advice for married couples where one or both spouses experience same sex attraction
I would add a couple of other things as advice for someone once they were married.
1) Be open about your feelings with your spouse, and don’t keep secrets. When things are hidden away, they exert far more power over us than when they are gently brought into the light.
2) Choose not to repress your desires. This does not mean that you need to gratify them! Christian psychologist William Kraft argues that whilst it is of course right to avoid situations which place us in temptation, that is not the same as seeking to ignore or deny your feelings, which is dangerous. Feelings can be accepted and brought to God, even whilst you choose not to act on them. So, there is all the difference in the world between someone who seeks to deny and suppress their ongoing same-sex attraction by getting married, and someone who is fully aware of and accepts it, but who also becomes attracted to and feels called to marry someone of the opposite sex.
3) Whatever our sexual attractions, we all need accountability and support. I have found a lot of healing my friendships with straight guys who accept me as I am and don’t feel threatened by my sexuality. They are willing to ask me hard questions and keep me accountable
4) In any marriage, it is perfectly normal for the precise level of desire and attraction to one’s spouse to fluctuate over time. These times can be caused by all kinds of different factors (my wife and I have several young children – that can certainly put a dampener on things). You might be responsible for some of these factors (e.g. if you fantasise sexually about other people or use pornography that is hardly going to help) but many of these factors are caused by external factors such as tiredness or stress. These seasons may not be anything to do with same-sex attraction.
Marriage is a difficult and costly calling – just like singleness. One of the Prefaces to the Church of England’s marriage service says that marriage is a way of life that “must not be undertaken carelessly, lightly, or selfishly, but reverently, responsibly, and after serious thought.” This is true of all marriages. But people with same-sex attraction considering marriage will want to take particular care to be sure that they are attracted to their potential spouse – not because same-sex attraction is an inherent barrier to marriage, but because sex is a good and integral feature of marriage. There’s really no difference between me and any other married person. Within all marriages, people with no same-sex attraction at all experience attraction to people other than their spouses, obviously. Same sex attraction in marriage is only a problem if you think it’s somehow worse than other sexual temptations (which it isn’t).
1 Jeremy Marks, on the Courage website: http://www.courage.org.uk/articles/article.asp?id=77