Why is it wrong?
Since childhood, with only a relatively short period of wavering in my late teens and early twenties, I have taken the Bible's word for it -- and, since 2008, the Catholic Church's word for it -- that gay sex is wrong. I've never truly understood why; I don't have the revulsion from it that a lot of straight people do (though certainly a lot of straight people don't have that response either, my favorite reaction probably being that of C. S. Lewis, who for his part described homosexuality merely as "opaque to the imagination").
This is what I think of when I think of things being "opaque to the imagination."
I don't mean by this that I don't follow the syllogism of natural law generally used to defend the Church's position from a strictly philosophical, as opposed to a religious, standpoint. The argument of natural law is widely misunderstood, so I'll take a brief detour to explain it.
The argument from natural law isn't an argument that homosexuality doesn't occur in nature, which would be utterly ridiculous. I dare say some Christians have attempted to make that assertion (and there are probably a great many more who didn't mean that exactly, but who spoke with sufficient carelessness or stubbornness as to leave the impression that they did*), but this, even if it were true, wouldn't have anything to do with the natural law argument.
Rather, the idea of natural law to which Catholics appeal here is that of the law of human nature -- and by that meaning, not whatever human beings happen to be like, but that to which human beings are called by our specific character as rational animals. Our animality, obviously, includes plenty of things we share with the animal kingdom as a whole; what is under discussion here is that which is specifically human, specifically rational -- that which can fall under the categories of morality.
To take an extreme example, in this sense of natural law, it is unnatural for one man to kill another. This statement doesn't mean that men don't in fact kill one another on occasion; it means that it goes against that nature which is specifically human to do so. For one animal to kill another wouldn't necessarily be unnatural, because animals don't have rational souls and therefore don't have a moral compass or responsibility, so they wouldn't be contradicting their own natures to do so.
Admit it, you were waiting for him to up and kill some folk the whole series.
Now, the contention of natural law theorists** about homosexuality is not that it is arbitrarily wrong for us, though innocent among animals. It is that the reproductive system is, well, a system designed with the purpose of reproduction***, and that the proper activity of rational beings like ourselves is to use things in accordance with their purpose -- or, at the very least, not use them in a way that contradicts their purpose. Insofar as homosexual sex, by definition, can't lead to reproduction, it is therefore defined as wrong by the nature of the act.
If you're like me, you have one or both of two reactions to that line of argument:
1. That makes total sense.
2. But fuck that noise.
It's always been vaguely surprising to me that I can be both in full agreement with, and at the same time bitterly scornful of, the same argument. I've been grateful to have something more than "Because God says so" as a reason for having to regard being gay as a cross, instead of just a thing, with no moral implications. And when I look at this argument with detachment, trying to imagine as far as possible how I'd feel if I were evaluating it objectively and as someone who wasn't affected by its truth or falsehood, I have to assent that it's perfectly sound. Yet, as I've discussed with a few of my fellow queer believers, the consequences of living in accord with that belief -- the loneliness, the confusions and misunderstandings, and, yes, the blue balls -- seem grossly out of proportion to the gravity of violating it. I mean, seriously? It's so wrong to use something out of accord with its intended purpose that it's literally better for a gay guy or a lesbian to live alone for seventy years? It's like saying that it's better to have your hand chopped off than to use a wrench to pound a nail in!
Q: How many lesbians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: One, I assume. That's kind of a weird question; what brought that up?
Convincing though I find the natural law argument in principle, I personally would not be able to maintain my belief in it -- or at any rate, I wouldn't be able to care -- if the authority of the Church didn't back up the conclusion as the bearer of revelation. It so happens that the Church does, and I can. Nevertheless, at a heart level, I'm not satisfied, and for that reason (among others) I cannot bring myself to look sternly upon those who can't accept the Church's teaching on this subject.
I look forward with some small hope to the day when I'll understand, but for now, I have to acknowledge that I don't feel I have a good answer to this. Do I trust the Church? Of course. But having food that keeps you alive is not the same as having food that makes you feel full, or even being healthy.
I do, however, have an incomplete hunch. I've long suspected that the biological and reproductive angle was the wrong tack to take. The body, after all, is matter; and matter isn't bad, indeed, it's good, but matter doesn't get its significance from itself -- it gets it from the spiritual realm. God is spirit and God created matter, so this is true automatically, and it is specially true of what we might call spiritualized matter, i.e. the body and the seven sacraments.
Now, God, according to Catholic theology, is Trinity, and this means among other things that relationship is at the heart of all existence. This is part of what is meant by the famous phrase "God is love." The simultaneous unity and differentiation of the Divine Persons makes all of their relationships asymmetrical: God the Father begets God the Son and God the Spirit proceeds from both. No two relationships within the Trinity are exactly alike. Proper modes of relating are therefore not only important, they are of the essence of reality.
Depicted: blueprints for existence. Handle with care.
What has this got to do with sex? Well, one of the things that Christians in general and Catholics in particular believe about sex is that it isn't just a pleasure, but a peculiar way of relating to a person, incommensurate with any other way of relating. Scripture represents it as one of the primary analogies for the way Christ relates to the Church, and refers to it in both the Old Testament and the New as effecting a kind of union between the parties, referred to as a one-flesh union -- what we might today refer to as being welded into a single organism.
And if it is the spirit that gives the body its significance, then I think we get a conclusion that may seem surprising, but, to me anyway, makes a lot more sense than supposing that using our sex organs the wrong way, just as such, is the fundamental problem. Namely, we get the conclusion that the underlying problem with homosexuality lies in the mode of relationship between two men or two women, and that it is the spiritual problem in this mode of relating that makes these relationships infertile, rather than the inevitable infertility which renders such relationships wrong. If I may put it this way, two masculine souls don't fit together the right way for sex to unite them (and the same for two feminine souls), and that is what the essential problem is: the fact that two guys can't conceive a child is a sign of the problem, not the problem itself.
I said earlier that I had only an incomplete answer, and indeed that is all I have. I don't know what it is about masculine, or feminine, souls that would mean they don't fit together the right way for gay sex to ever be right; I take it that the metaphorical shape of our souls is in some way symbolized by the literal shape of our bodies, but beyond that plausible assumption -- I consider it no more than that -- I haven't a clue.
Hell if I know what's going on here.
I've heard a few explanations -- many of them extremely confident assertions of rigidly defined gender roles. I'll concede that stereotypes don't arise for no reason at all, and that they always have a basis in authentic archetypes; but I have to say that most of the explorations of gender (psychological or spiritual) that I've seen from Christian sources justify, or at best are very little better than, the skeptical and deconstructionist approaches often taken by those outside the faith in academia. Moreover, they fail even to do justice to Christian history. How would St. Francis, a grown man who refused sexual love and financial and military ambition, and who asked the Holy Roman Emperor to direct his subjects to feed the little birds, fare among the proponents of self-styled "muscular Christianity"? Or how would our contemporary worshipers of the virginal daughter becoming the obedient wife respond to St. Joan of Arc, dressing herself in men's clothing with her hair cut short and rallying men to battle? To say nothing of still stranger figures and phenomena, like St. Marina the Monk or the erotic mysticism of St. John of the Cross.**** Asserting the spiritual reality of gender, and recognizing certain of its consequences in theology and in life, should not lead us to assume that we know everything there is to know -- a hubristic and shallow approach to any question. As is the assumption that, because someone (perhaps ourselves) doesn't know something, therefore nobody knows anything.
That's as much as I've got right now. I still don't get why it's wrong -- not at a heart level -- but I have enough that I think I can accept working by faith and not by sight: again, right now. Tomorrow will doubtless have its own trouble, which will suffice it.
*The late Fr. John Harvey, on whom be peace, the founder of the Courage apostolate, is the example that springs to mind. He wrote -- and the phrase has been picked up by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, the head of NARTH -- that "There are no homosexuals, only heterosexuals with a homosexual problem." What he meant (I think) was that the desires and dispositions of a person are not determinant of their nature; or, to put it another way, all men are fundamentally men rather than fundamentally gay or fundamentally straight; or, to put it still another way, gay men aren't a different kind of thing from straight men. Though I certainly agree that human dignity is the same for everyone and that desires don't determine what we are, I think that putting it this way is really stupid. It defies what the majority of people in fact mean by words like "homosexual" or "gay," thus putting what I consider an unnecessarily dogmatic view of terminology ahead of the basic purpose of language, communication.
**Yes, most natural law theorists -- so far as I'm aware, anyway -- are Catholics. But it's perfectly possible to be a non-Catholic natural law theorist, and vice versa: I'm given to understand that Eastern Catholicism in particular has little to no tradition of conceiving of human nature and morality in these terms. Additionally, I don't know of anyone who's made a case for a natural law theory that approves of human homosexuality as a positive good; but it's possible that someone has, or has made the attempt.
***This doesn't involve us in the belief that the reproductive system was designed with no other purpose than reproduction. That is part of why the Catholic Church concedes that natural family planning is morally licit, though of course it can be used to excess or with wrong motives: one need not be actively trying to have a baby every time, provided one is not only pursuing the other purposes of sex but also refraining from actively obstructing the reproductive purpose. But all of this is too complex to do justice to in a footnote.
****Because someone will ask, I'm not claiming (and don't think) that any of these figures were themselves gay, although depending on one's definition we could view St. Joan and St. Marina as genderqueer (with the proviso that the gender here referred to is the social aspect of gender, rather than implying that gender in its spiritual dimension was, in them, distorted in some way). I'll allow that any of them might have been gay, though I know of no evidence for it and find the question a bit of a bore -- especially in the case of St. John of the Cross, whose bridal imagery is in my opinion far more striking if he was in fact strictly heterosexual. But all of this is, at most, tangential.