Thoughts On “Celibate Gay Partnerships”

Today I received an interesting comment about “celibate gay partnerships.” The fellow wrote this:

Perhaps the virtue of chastity is the necessary precondition before one can enter in a gay celibate partnership. Only their confessors would know where they are in the development of virtue in their spiritual lives. I also seem to recall that a rather famous member of Courage who was involved in a similar arrangement. I think his name is David Morris… but I’m not sure if I recall correctly. I have not heard much about him in recent times.

After I finished my response, I realized I had written quite a bit, and within my response I had said a lot of things that I’ve wanted to say about the subject of “celibate gay partnerships” here, but just haven’t gotten around to it, so my comment turned into a post.

This is what I wrote:

I actually think of it another way: the more the virtue of chastity is cultivated, the more a “partnership” is seen as being “unchaste.” The whole notion of “partnership” comes from the culture around us–it was an idea cultivated by those who didn’t want to commit to marriage, essentially common law couples. It was coopted by the LGBT community to describe their relationships, essentially trying to emulate “spousal” unions. And now it’s being coopted by those Christians who think the idea of a “partnership” between two men and two women is acceptable, just so long as it’s “chaste.”

Really, what “gay and celibate partners” are talking about is “continence.” It has long been my thinking that the concept of chastity precludes the idea of a “partnership” between two members of the same sex.

David Morrison is the fellow you’re thinking of, and his book is called Beyond Gay. No two stories are exactly the same, of course. His was one in which he came to the conviction that he couldn’t continue sleeping with his partner. They arrived at this conviction slowly, and yes indeed, they continued sharing a life with each other, but what is informative is how Morrison viewed the transformation of their relationship towards friendship.

He writes about it at his old blog (long inactive) and I think it is helpful in how he speaks about his former partner. (If you go to the link, scroll down to the post “same sex marriage and friendship.” There isn’t a direct link to it.)

It’s no secret that the man with whom I used to be sexually involved have continued a deep and ongoing friendship even after we stopped sleeping together. We did so because, in the wake of the shock of chastity, we came to the conclusion that what we had as friends had always extended far beyond merely the bedroom and that there was no reason to stop being friends just because we stopped doing it.

And here:

Lust and emotional neediness might have drawn us together, but ongoing growth and genuine love is what God drew out of such sordid beginnings.

I find that situation, and other situations I know similar to Morrison’s to be very different than the situation of “gay celibate partnerships” that are floating around today. The notion of consciously entering into “chaste, celibate partnerships” emanated in large part from conversations over many years at the Gay Christian Network Side B forums among several authors there. I followed that conversation with much interest, and believed it was mistaken from the start, and very different than a situation like David Morrison. In his case, he was “partnered”–then God called to him and his partner, and brought them back towards what is an appropriate love for two men: friendship. Whereas someone who is consciously entering into a “partnership,” moves from that which is proper, i.e., friendship, towards that which is unseemly for two members of the same sex, i.e., “partnership” or a “committed relationship,” even if that relationship is absent sexual expression.

There is a difference, and it’s not insignificant. This notion of “gay celibate partnerships” is a mistaken solution to the problem of loneliness and companionship, and is ultimately unchaste in principle, even if no sex is engaged in. It is a strange progression in the history of love, and it doesn’t seem in keeping with what chastity is all about, since chastity isn’t merely concerned with sexual activity, but is concerned with the proper internal relationship with one’s sexuality.

The CCC describes chastity this way:

2337 Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.

The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift.

There is something amiss in the integrity of the person, and the integration of sexuality within the person if one is focused on a “partnership” with a member of the same sex, rather than a friendship. I’d say that anyone who is engaged in a “celibate partnership” is stuck halfway to chastity–and have not yet integrated chastity fully into their lives.

The CCC also speaks about the important connection between chastity and friendship:

2347 The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate him who has chosen us as his friends, who has given himself totally to us and allows us to participate in his divine estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality.

Chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one’s neighbor. Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to spiritual communion.

For those of us who live with an attraction to the same sex, the integration and blossoming of chastity is found only in friendship, not in “partnerships,” or in anything resembling romantic love. We can give of ourselves, like Christ, disinterestedly, “who has chosen us as his friends, who has given himself totally to us and allows us to participate in his divine estate.”

I was corresponding with a priest recently about this very subject, and wrote the following:

Anyway, I think that a romantic “relationship” between two men or two women, regardless if they are continent or not, is unchaste, in its very nature. It seems to me that “a celibate gay relationship” is as absurd as a “celibate relationship” between a sister and a brother who have fallen in love with each other, but because God is opposed to incest, are sexually continent.

I also wrote this to the priest as I was reflecting on all of this:

It’s one thing to continue sharing a life–but there needs to be a transformation through the renewing of the mind too, of what form that shared life takes.

What’s needed is what Morrison called “ongoing growth and genuine love.” That growth, both in chastity and in genuine love I’m convinced leads away from partnerships, and towards the beauty of disinterested friendship. The proper relationship between two men or two women is friendship–not something that emulates a marriage, or a sexually active gay partnership–minus the sex. It’s not what will lead to human fulfillment, because ultimately it is unchaste, even if it is continent.

17 thoughts on “Thoughts On “Celibate Gay Partnerships”

  1. This is exactly right. Dan you write so very well. Thanks.

    I’ve never read “Beyond Gay” but his point is exactly right. The transformation needs to happen, needs to be mutual. God can do this. As stated, ‘Lust and emotional neediness might have drawn us together, but ongoing growth and genuine love is what God drew out of such sordid beginnings.’

    It can happen and does happen – but it needs to be a mutual understanding that it is not a marriage, or a partnership, nor some sort of a Josephite arrangement – it is friendship.

  2. Can you say more about the distinction between the two movements. 1. From a partnership that involved sexual activity to friendship and 2.) Friendship that moves to a partnership that still lacks sexual activity. How does one determine that chastity is lacking in the later and not in the former? How does one determine that Morrison’s is virtuous while the others are vicious? Objectively speaking the former would seem more problematic due to the nature of overcoming vice than the latter who have not crossed that line. One wants to avoid the line of thinking that unchastity is the precondition for chastity… i.e.. The Church is ok with gay/ssa people with a substantial sexual history living together after their conversions. However if you live together and have not had sex and have no intention to, you are endangering your souls. Continence, because it is a pre requisite for chastity and hard to develop, is more likely to move in the direction of chastity than unchastity is.

    I agree with you that every case is different. But I also think that making determinations about the prudence of such situations is better left to the pastoral care of spiritual directors and confessors rather than someone online and removed from the particulars of the case.

    • Hi there–this is an insanely busy week with me, so I’ll have to respond later this weekend when I have the time. I’ll just say this, concerning your last paragraph: Certainly, anyone has the freedom to choose how they will live their lives, but if they are public about it, and promote that choice as a positive and healthy option for others, it seems to be an obligation for those who have concerns about such a path to speak just as publicly about the potential problems with that choice, right? It would be a strange Church where no comment or no challenge was made towards such a novel approach as a “gay celibate relationship.”

  3. A couple things came to mind when I read this post:

    1. Morrison’s thought did change later. As can be seen in this post:

    In the post itself, he says this, “What, specifically, is disordered about two men who experience same sex attraction to the degree that they are very unlikely to marry, sharing a chaste emotion that allows them to experience the enduring and authentic sort of committed love that both they as individuals and society at large need? And what would be disordered about understanding and calling such a friendship that has such love a good thing?”

    It seems to me that he is basically describing my own chaste, committed same-sex relationship as well as the kinds of relationships that are written about in A Queer Calling. Yes, he doesn’t use the word “partner”, but what he is describing is pretty much the same thing.

    He also doesn’t specify that this must only result from two men that have been previously sexually active. He just speaks about two same-sex attracted men entering into a committed relationship of some sort.

    If you look through the comment boxes of that post, you’ll find this quote from David:

    “For example, I came to a conviction about living chastely before I became a Catholic. I didn’t stop having sex with Dan because the Catholic Church told me to. I stopped having sex with Dan after I realized how much I love him and after reflecting on what demands genuine and authentic love makes on us. In that instance, my own lived experience powerfully resonated with the Church’s teaching and when JP II came out with his writing on the Theology of the Body, part of me comprehended it intuitively.

    “The “objective disorder” label, by contrast, doesn’t resonate. If the way Dan and I love each other is “disordered” how is it so? How do the chaste acts of love, honesty, caring, generosity, etc that make up the forms of love other than eros become “disordered” just because two people of the same sex offer them to each other?”

    2. The idea of chaste, committed same-sex relationships/partnerships/friendships did not just come from GCN but were also written about by Catholic bloggers like John Heard on his Dreadnought blog as well as David Morrison with blog entries like the one above.

    3. I do not understand why you continually make this an either/or situation. In my own chaste, committed same-sex relationship, we feel no reason to separate the fact that we are both friends and partners in life. Our first and primary goal is encourage each other in our Faith and our love for God. Second, we provide companionship and support for each other. We inspire each other to live lives of chastity and commitment to the Lord. We do all this while sharing our lives together and doing what is necessary to make sure we can care for each other medically and financially when we may need to do so. It is this sort of relationship that Morrison is supporting above, and I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be supported.

    • Hi there,

      Thanks for the comment. It’s a busy week at work for me, so I won’t be able to respond until later in the week. Thanks for sharing the development in David Morrison’s thought. I think his development is unfortunate, and I’ve always thought that much of John Heard’s thinking was very much off kilter.

      The question that I’ll pose, with the short amount of time I have here tonight, is this: is there any precedent in the history of Christian thought for something that is termed a “committed same-sex relationship?” Or is there any precedent in Christian thought of referring to someone of the same sex as a “life partner?” Could there be reasons why there is concern over this, or one reason this has never been proposed by the Magisterium? Is there wisdom in the Magisterium speaking of “the support of disinterested friendship” instead of “chaste partnerships,” or something similar?

      Thanks for sharing the development of David Morrison’s thought on this, a development that I think went in the wrong direction. I think John Heard did indeed have an impact in some of this–but I’ve thought since the first I read him that he was a bit off kilter, which has seemed to show itself more clearly in his recent support of same-sex marriage. This is one of the great concerns I have about this current “wild west” frontier of thinking in the Catholic blogosphere: its largely unhinged from any reliance on Church authority, other than in the basic question of continence.

      But to your last question, do you really see “no” reason why this shouldn’t be supported? Aren’t there even some concerns you have, even in your own situation? Are there no concerns you have in your own walk with chastity? I mean that, as a serious question.

      Anyway, I’ll write back more when I have some time.

      God bless.

      • First, I’m not sure you can say for sure that there is no reliance on Church authority. In my own case, I have submitted my relationship to my Spiritual Father and have always sought his guidance from the beginning. I know that the authors of A Queer Calling have done the same. Plus, I know all the writers at Spiritual Friendship are obedient to the respective authorities of their various Churches, so I think your accusation is a bit unfounded.

Second, in my own case, my battle for chastity has been helped by having a committed relationship with another person. It is like an extra line of defense that the Lord has given me to stay chaste. You often hear the expression that the Lord recognizes that we sometimes need someone with skin on them, so in this case, my battle to stay chaste is helped by having that person with skin on them. Again, it is a both/and not an either/or.

        Third, I’m not sure you quite understand the nature of what we mean by a chaste, committed same-sex relationship/partnership. We are not trying to ape marriage. It has never occurred to me that I would set out to do this. I have entered into a community of two that provides me with love and support in my walk with God and my neighbors. My partner and I are open to expanding our small community into something larger if that is what the Lord wants, but honestly, the idea is not to have some sort of fake marriage. Because we live together in a committed relationship, there may be some similarities, but that doesn’t mean that we are trying to pass ourselves off as a gay married couple that just doesn’t have sex. I know this to be the case with other chaste, committed same-sex couples, especially the Catholic and Orthodox ones who are striving to live in accordance with the Church’s teachings. If you look at what many chaste, committed same-sex couples have written about themselves or listen to the way we talk, you will hear references to monastic life and the traditional community life of the Church. I would argue that chaste, committed same-sex couples don’t see themselves as building imitation marriages but rather as building small sketes based in hospitality and prayer. Again, the authors of A Queer Calling say the same thing in many of their early posts.

        Also, I don’t see any problem with taking the word “partner” or “partnership” and redefining or reappropriating it. It certainly is not the first time Christians have done that, so why should this be any different.

        Speaking of language, I do believe that those who are pursuing this type of vocational pathway need space to work out the particulars of language and other things with their spiritual directors. Isn’t it possible that folks in these relationships are doing their best to figure out a sense of lay celibacy in the world and that sense may evolve over time in the way they understand these relationships? If this is true for a couple, that doesn’t mean the two partners lack integrity or are flagrantly defying Church teaching.

        In terms of Church history, there are many examples of ways of life among Christians that have developed later on in the history of the Church. Yes, you can find the roots in earlier times. For example, this can be seen in the development of religious and consecrated life in the Western Church. The early Church would not have recognized the way of life of the mendicants nor would they have recognized the idea of secular institutes. These things developed over time and were adaptations to the times in which these people found themselves. If you look through the history of the Church, there were ways of living and/or religious communities that sprung up in response to particular issues of a given time, but some of those communities did not perdure. That doesn’t mean they weren’t God’s will nor does it mean they did not benefit the participants spiritually. They sprang up for a particular need, and when the need was no longer an issue, the communities disappeared.

        The same could possibly be said about chaste, committed same-sex relationships. They are response to a particular time but are rooted in a way of life that is ancient. As I said earlier, I don’t see my relationship as being some kind of “marriage” but rather as living as a small community where the individuals make commitments to the Lord and to each other to live together permanently. I think you have placed the analogy in a different place than the couples themselves have done so.

        Finally, thank you for chance to comment on your post. We may not agree about everything, but it is great to be able to discuss these things. I pray that the Lord may bless you.

      • I just have a few quick moments here before I go to bed, after a long day. Just to clarify: when I speak of Church authority, I’m speaking of the Magisterium, not necessarily of an individual spiritual director, because spiritual directors can lead us in the wrong direction. I wrote a letter to my Bishop after I went to confession once, and had a priest tell me to go find a boyfriend, because the Church would eventually catch up. There is a need for discernment when it comes to spiritual direction–how does the direction one is given correspond with the history of the Church, and how does it correspond with the Magisterium’s teaching?

        In the case of a “gay celibate Christians,” this is a very big grey area.

        I’ll have to respond to some other things later this week when I have more time, but I wanted to clear up what I meant here with regards to spiritual authority.

        Thanks for commenting–I do desire a free exchange of ideas here. I just don’t always have time to keep up with things like I would like too! God bless you too, and thanks for contributing to the conversation! I’ll get back when I can.

    • Scott,

      In the quote you mention by Morrison, I see an endorsement of committed loving friendships between men. Such an endorsement is clearly Scriptural. The notion of calling your beloved friend a “partner”, in social context where “partner” means “spouse/lover” is not Scriptural.

      I don’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with two men who have a committed friendship living together. But it seems like this is merely a matter of convenience, not a matter of vocation. No man should take on living with another man as a calling from God.

      Here is a good question to ask in such situations: if I were not attracted to this person and if this person were not attracted to me, would I still want to live together (and to the same degree)? If the answer is no, then living together is a seriously bad idea. Any man who is not willing to live with a straight man (or straight men) is definitely not well suited to live chastely with a gay man.

      Another question to ask is this: will living together help me grow in virtue and in sexual holiness? If the answer is no, then — again — living together is a seriously bad idea.

      Honestly answering these questions, and deferring to pastoral advice, would make such living arrangements quite rare, but not unheard of.

      • Yes, I agree that one must do this under the guidance of a Spiritual Father and much prayer. As I wrote above in my response to David’s response to my initial comment, that is exactly what I have done in my own case.

        However, I’m confused by your statement above that it should be a matter of convenience rather than vocation. How exactly do you reconcile a committed relationship that is a matter of convenience? Does this mean that once circumstances change than the committed relationship is no more? In my mind, that seems to go against the idea of a commitment to the other person.

        I appreciate your taking the time to clarify exactly what you meant. Thank you.

      • Oh, by all means, the commitment isn’t a matter of convenience! It’s just the living situation that is.

        I believe that human beings are made to have committed relationships all around them — some of them chosen, some of them not. I have two male friends who I am committed to, one of them implicitly and one of them explicitly. I have told them that I will always be there for them, always listen to them, always be their friend. This commitment is a matter of love (philia) and a matter of affection. It has nothing to do with romance, at all.

        One of these men I spent years living with, in college. He’s straight, and at the time, he didn’t even know I dealt with same-sex attraction. Living with him was a matter of convenience, but being his friend could never be merely a matter of convenience.

        Hope this clarifies things.

      • I agree it would be dangerous to live with a man to whom you are attracted whether that person is gay or straight. I still don’t see the problem with calling a very close, intimate friend a partner however, and this is just another example of the problem with labels. There seem to be different definitions of that word being used on this thread. Personally, I don’t view the word partner as synonymous with spouse at all, and would have no problem applying it to a close and committed friend.

  4. You make occasional, unnecessary distinctions between partnerships and intimate and abiding friendships. It is sad how removed we have become from the kind of deep and loving friendships found in the Bible and proposed by some of our best theologians and saints.

    • Hi there…thanks for the comment. Could you point out where I make unnecessary distinctions between partnerships and intimate and abiding friendships. That way I can understand better where you’re coming from here. I agree that we are so removed from many of the stories of deep and loving friendships as seen in the Bible and in our saints. No doubt about that! There is a poverty of friendships in our current world.

  5. Hey there, was reading some of what you wrote. It’s interesting to say the least. My body has been re-wired way back in the day (not when I was born), to like men. Since that time, now 47, that has not changed. Many things have changed though. 15 years ago, I had to cease all gay activity because of the fear of God that came upon me during sex. It was terrifying to me that it kept me from acting out. I know why David said, “take not thy holy Spirit from me”, that is my prayer today. Lately though, a young gay fellow has come into my life. He, being a Christian as well, doesn’t want to act out anymore, rather we are enjoying the benefits of being together. I have never experienced this kind of closeness before without having to drop our pants. I do sense that the LORD has brought him into my life as part of my growth, as I have been without expressing my feelings to anyone for far too long. I thought perhaps the LORD would re-wire me back to normalacy, but that prayer has gone unanswered. I have accepted the fact that some people are meant to remain as they are, and it’s up to us, the LORD and the Holy Ghost to deal with it. I know that I am saved and I have eternal life abiding me at this very moment, I can’t change how this body reacts toward the male sex, it’s just the way I am. I can’t help from being tempted, but I can help from giving into the temptation. It’s my responsiblity to resist the devil, and it’s the word of God’s responsibility to work in that through enduance the devil will flee. We need to judge ourselves almost on a daily basis to make sure that our motives and intents are in line with what God is speaking to us. It’s easy for me to go along with my feelings and think that what I am feeling must be right. The world has a saying, “if it feels good, it must be right”. Wrong-O! There are nut jobs out there that take pleasure in hurting others, is his pleasure right? There is no faith in feelings. Feelings are fleetings, but faith in Christ will endure.

  6. Great work–hey, for the sake of clarity, one of your sentences in missing a word. “and have yet integrated chastity fully into their lives.” shouldn’t it be “and have NOT yet integrated chastity fully into their lives?” Again–great work. These things need to be said

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