So we've looked at the theoretical dimensions (Parts One and Two) and gotten into some of the practical side (Three). A major concern remains unaddressed: how do we interact with gays and lesbians who dissent from the traditional view of sexual morality, especially if they're partnered?
It is tempting to answer, "Why, the same way you deal with an agnostic, or someone who's sleeping with their fiance, or someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum from you." The fundamental problem should not be "How do I deal with this person who's a sinner?" because everybody is a sinner (okay, except Jesus and Mary, but they were cheating), and because -- as that list of alternatives implies -- the problem isn't as simple as people being sinners. Nor, despite the volumes of rhetoric thrown back and forth in the kulturkampf, is there much Scriptural ground for thinking of homosexuality as a uniquely bad thing. A departure from the fullness of the Catholic tradition, yes; but so is gossip, and refusing to give to the poor, and congratulating ourselves on the ways in which we're better than others. (This last sin being, paradoxically, more dangerous in exact proportion as we have more to be proud of.)
But I don't answer in quite those terms. To begin with, I think we need to think of every person as a person first: that is, as a living icon of Christ. One of the worst aspects of the Christian response to the gay rights movement has been to turn the queer movement into the enemy, and to turn gay Christians into mascots, instead of thinking of them primarily as human beings in the painful, lovely, and bewildering straits that we call life.
To take a concrete example, let's say you have invited a lesbian friend over for your family's Thanksgiving, and she wants to bring her wife along. A lot of Catholics would respond that a request to bring her partner should be refused, with the explanation that we can't approve of homosexual relationships. Others would say that bringing the partner is fine, so long as they will present themselves as simply friends, to set a good example for the children. That's understandable, right?
Okay; now try that same strategy with a friend who is divorced and remarried. Are you still friends?
People toss around accusations of homophobia against Christians and against the Church, and some of that is merely ornery, but much of it is just true. How many people would even consider treating a friend who was divorced and remarried in this fashion -- even though that is just as contrary to the teaching of the Church? That is a double standard, plain and simple. Or what about the question of whether people pretending to be something they are not is, in fact, a good example for children?
There is nothing Christlike about that kind of behavior. Indeed, it is the diametric opposite of what Christ did -- and it is precisely what the Pharisees did. Their charge against Him was that He was a companion of drunks, gougers, and whores. The Pharisees were the respectable ones. They were the ones who were scandalized by the company God kept when He came to earth -- or, as St. Thomas put it, the ones who scandalized themselves; the thrifty and scholarly observers of the Torah. The scandalous company kept by Christ doesn't seem to have been unduly confirmed in its manner of life by His presence: the political semi-criminals, the dabblers in witchcraft, the men who abandoned Him when He needed them the most. These, He called His friends.
I have read or spoken with a lot of homosexuals who have converted, or considered apostasizing but chosen not to*, or returned to the faith after a season of wandering; and to some who have abandoned their faith and not returned. Zero of those who became or remained believers did so as a result of having it made plain to them that they and those whom they loved were at best second-class citizens to Christians -- as for those who left, it was consistently a (though not always the) decisive factor. Melinda Selmys put it with biting clarity on her blog:
"This is a category of question that I've seen a lot of times, and it basically rests on the assumption that if we agree to do everyday normal things in the presence of people who are in gay relationships, that we are somehow sanctioning their relationships. The corollary is the belief that by refusing to participate, we send a clear message about the morality of same-sex relationships and we witness to the truth about homosexuality. When we refuse to get involved in the lives of LGBTQ people, we do send a very clear message, but the message has nothing to do with the truth. We send the message that we are bigoted homophobes who think that gays are icky. We send the message that Catholics don't want anything to do with those nasty fags, and that we're afraid that our children will catch homosexuality like a disease if they're brought into even the most casual contact with gay couples. We send a message that we really care a lot about hating the sin, but that we're not even willing to eat at the same table as the sinner."
So how do you interact with gay married couples? Be their friends. That is, if you would be their friends anyway, based on some common interest or experience; the way you're friends with anybody else. Purely missionary friendships, in my experience, show their inauthenticity pretty rapidly, and tend to cease to be reciprocated once it is shown. In the context of a mutually invested and respectful friendship, questions may arise; you can answer them when they are asked. As for the rest, if your life does not make your beliefs credible, your philosophy probably won't either. Gay couples need salvation -- but only in the same sense that you and I do.
*Me, for instance.
Introit for the Third Sunday in Lent
Mine eyes are ever looking unto the Lord, for he shall pluck my feet out of the net: look thou upon me, and have mercy upon me, for I am desolate and in misery.
Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul: my God, in thee have I trusted; let me not be confounded.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.