A few months ago, I walked into a framing store with a large painting of Saint John Paul II, and laid it on the counter. The framer, a kind gentleman in his mid-forties, looked fondly on the image for a few moments, and remarked, “I’m a Catholic boy. Too bad the Church doesn’t want me.” Although it was unspoken, it was obvious he was referring to homosexuality. I asked, “What do you mean the Church doesn’t want you? Of course the Church wants you. God loves you. The Church loves you. This is your home.” He looked happily shocked asked, “What parish do you go to?”
We had a pleasant conversation, and when I returned a few weeks later, I greeted him and he exclaimed, “You remembered my name!” We again entered into a warm conversation and I soon noticed his eyes were becoming moist with tears. He asked, “Can I hug you?” “Absolutely!” I replied, and he walked around the counter and we embraced like brothers. I called over to my young son who was shopping with me, and said, “Give him a hug, too, buddy!” My boy wrapped his little arms around the man’s legs and mine. Driving home, I thanked God for the meeting, because I know I had encountered Christ in this man. Those brief moments with him were the highlight of my day. He even sent me a message online to show how he framed the same painting of Saint John Paul II for his house!
The reason I share this is because I don’t think I’m the only one who is tired of the media telling me that if I believe in traditional marriage, I “hate” people who experience homosexual attractions. Hate is a powerful word, and it shouldn’t be tossed around in hopes of scoring polemical points by stirring up people’s sentiments.
Many people who experience homosexual attractions have suffered through tremendous bigotry, cruel harassment, and homophobic shunning. Some have committed suicide because of the rejection and bullying that they have experienced—sometimes within their own families. We need to be deeply sensitive to these realities, acknowledging that such hateful prejudices should be condemned.
Are you a hater?
So here’s the question: Does the profession of one’s belief in traditional marriage constitute hate speech? If so, then those in favor of gay marriage should be asked:
Do you hate individuals who want to enter into a polygamous marriage?
Do you hate individuals who want to have an “open” or “monagamish” marriage, where fidelity is not a requirement?
Do you hate the woman who recently married herself?
Most people I know who experience homosexual attractions are delightful human beings. I have a difficult time thinking they would hate any of the individuals mentioned above—even though they might disagree with their definition of marriage.
So, let’s be fair: If you disagree with someone on the definition of marriage, this doesn’t make you a hater. You can disagree vehemently with someone, and still love him or her deeply.
Some will retort, “It just seems like the Church is picking on gay people by forbidding them to marry.” Those who make this understandable objection are often unaware that the Church isn’t trying to single out anyone. The Church simply believes that the sexual union of a man and a woman is one of the essential parts of marriage, and therefore those who incapable of it are also incapable of marriage. For example, the Church does not believe impotent couples are capable of marriage. [Not to be confused with infertility, impotency is when a person is incapable of intercourse.] It’s important to understand that when the Church talks about marriage, it is not primarily talking about what to people do (exchange vows), but rather what two people become (an icon of Christ’s love for his bride, the Church).
Not surprisingly, many people will object even to this, assuming the Church has no right to pontificate on such matters. What’s ironic is that the culture that first demanded to have intercourse without marriage now demands marriage without intercourse.
Called to love
By affirming that the one-flesh union is essential to marriage, the Church is not forbidding anyone to love. In fact, those who aren’t called to marriage are still invited to express God’s love in a powerful way. Many who experience homosexual attractions have joyfully embraced this calling, but their voices are often drowned out by those who assume chastity is an unrealistic option. Their lives are proof that although many have rejected the Catholic Church, the Church rejects no one.
In the end, it isn’t an expression of hatred to invite people to practice chastity. In fact, would be a false form of compassion to lead anyone to believe that they could find true happiness outside of the will of God.
The topic of same-sex marriage is bound to stir up emotional responses, and that’s okay. It’s healthy to have impassioned and spirited debates about a topics of great importance, such as the definition of marriage. But in the heat of the debate, let’s not lose sight of the fact that every person deserves to be treated with respect. If we begin calling one another names, it means that we’ve lost our temper or we’ve run out of valid arguments—or both.
Jason Evert founded chastityproject.com has spoken on six continents to more than one million people about the virtue of chastity. He is the author of more than ten books, including How to Find Your Soulmate without Losing Your Soul and Theology of the Body for Teens.