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Op-ed: What Does a Pope Know About Marriage?

Op-ed: What Does a Pope Know About Marriage?


This gay Catholic really wants to like Pope Francis, but the pontiff isn't making it easy.

Pope Francis is back in the headlines talking about gay people, but this time not in a good way. Francis reinforced the Catholic Church's teaching that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and said that the two genders in heterosexual couples make for healthier families. He made this argument Saturday, just one day after Rome's LGBT pride parade.

When Pope Francis first rose to leadership in the church, I, as a gay Catholic, was excited. Francis is a Jesuit, and I went to a Jesuit high school. When I came out of the closet my junior year of high school, it was a priest who I came out to first. I was in a reconciliation service, and I knew I didn't want to live a lie anymore. So I told the priest about my sexual orientation, and he looked at me and said, "God doesn't make junk." Later we talked about how I shouldn't ever let anyone kick me out of my religion, and that affirmation solidified my commitment to my faith. I dove deeply into my Catholic spirituality, but still accept myself for who I am.

I didn't like Francis just because of his connection to the Jesuits, though. Francis legitimately seemed to be changing the conversation around the LGBT community when he first became pope. In July of 2013 he said "Who am I to judge?" about gay people, even gay priests. In September of that same year he talked about how the church shouldn't interfere in the spiritual life of gay Catholics. I took all of these statements to be very encouraging, because the debate really seemed to be shifting in the Catholic Church around this topic.

Pope Francis didn't necessarily undo all of the great things he's said in the past with that one sermon Saturday, but he certainly didn't help LGBT people one bit. He talked about how the differences in gender between a mother and a father inherently make families more well off. He said, "What great richness this diversity is, a diversity which becomes complementary, but also reciprocal. It binds them, one to the other. ... Children mature seeing their father and mother like this; their identity matures being confronted with the love their father and mother have, confronted with this difference."

This idea of the genders supposedly being complementary, and therefore gay marriage being unnatural isn't all that new of territory in this debate. In fact in the great book Bible, Gender, Sexuality, author James Brownson discusses this idea in depth:

"To speak of gender complementarity is to speak of a complex interaction of similarities and differences between the genders. But simply to use the term "complementarity" does not yet specify exactly what these differences are, and in what sense the differences are divinely intended as part of the structure of creation itself."

Some evangelical circles have used this idea of complementarity to argue that there is a hierarchy of genders, and that women should be subservient to men. I don't think that's what the pope was talking about when he was saying the differences between men and women make for better households, but it's definitely a reason why such a line of thinking is flawed. Obviously reinforcing patriarchy and holding women back doesn't make for healthier families.

Other Christians, however, argue that the genders are complementary because of biology. Because the male and female sexual organs fit together for sex and procreation, that's the only way it should be, and gay sex is then unnatural. The problem with this is that sex serves functions other than procreation. Straight people have sex all the time without intending to procreate. Therefore sex can also be about pleasure and helping two people form a bond with each other. If you think that gay sex is sticking two penises together, as my one of my favorite professors would say, "You're not doing it right."

The difference between the genders isn't a good enough reason to deny gay people the right to form loving relationships. But what about the other half of what the pope was saying -- that children are better off with a mom and a day because it helps them appreciate difference? Well, there's no evidence that straight people are better at parenting than gay people, and there's actually some evidence to the contrary. Plus, who's better to expose a child to difference than gay parents? Talk about having to overcome adversity and fight for acceptance within society. Gay parents expose their children to the beauty of forming a family with the one you love, even when society might be telling you that you can't do this.

The main point I'm trying to make is this: Please, Pope Francis, stand up for us gay Catholics! I desperately don't want to renounce my faith and be a raging gay atheist, because that will never be who I am. But I also want to be a part of a church that will help me form a family and welcome us with open arms. That means allowing us to get married, baptize our children, and grow in the Catholic community. This rhetoric you're using is destroying families, not celebrating them or making them stronger. That's what I hope the pope takes us away from this, and hopefully we'll make baby steps toward progress. 'Cause the pope totally reads The Advocate, right?

Nick_nortonx100_0NICK NORTON is a student at Wayne State University in Detroit. He writes on a variety of topics including health, wellness, the LGBT community, politics, and religion. His work has appeared in The Huffington Post, and he is also a LGBT faith columnist for the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @N2Namaste.

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