Gay Marriage and God

by Dara Molloy

Homosexual relationships is an issue that won’t go away. Societies have to deal with it and churches have to deal with it, whether they like it or not. This article looks at the theological and cultural roots of the problem and finds their source in monotheism.
I am in favour of same-sex marriages and, as a Celtic priest, I have performed such a marriage ceremony myself. I am not homosexual, although I believe that there may be an element of homosexuality in each of us. As Robert Johnson puts it: “All people have the native capacity for homoerotic relationships”. I have never had a homoerotic relationship. Perhaps I would be a more whole person if I had had. However, the culture in which I grew up would not have condoned such a relationship.

This is the problem I wish to address here. How is it that we live in a culture that is so awkward with sexuality generally and so much in denial in relation to homosexuality?

It was not so in early Celtic Ireland — before the arrival of Christianity. The great Cúchulainn, who loved his wife Emer and two other women Fand and Aifa, also loved Ferdia his foster-brother. In the legend of the Táin Bó Cuailgne he says of him: “my loved comrade, my kin and kindred. Never found I one dearer...We were loving friends. We were comrades in the wood. We were men who shared bed.”

Cuchulainn acknowledges the physical aspect of his spiritual love when he says of Ferdia: “Dear to me is your splendid blush, dear your perfect and fair form, dear your bright clear eye, dear your bearing and your speech...I have never met such as you until now.”

As in other societies, ancient and modern, in which males are isolated from women for long periods, Celtic men evidently were not reticent in expressing themselves sexually with one another. Diodorus Siculus commented with disgust upon the sexual behaviour between Celtic men: "Despite the fact that their wives are beautiful, the Celts... abandon themselves to a passion for other men. They usually sleep on the ground on skins of wild animals and tumble about with a bedfellow on either side". 2

Other Greek and Roman historians are also explicit on this subject. Strabo, who died about 26 C.E., wrote about "the young men in Gaul who are shamelessly generous with their boyish charms," and Atheneaus, two centuries later, repeats the statement of Diodorus about the Celts' male "bed-partners".3,4 

Michel Foucault, in his three-volume work The History of Sexuality5 , demonstrates how arbitrary and conventional are sexual attitudes, and how dramatically they change from period to period. Foucault was at pains to prove that we are ruled by culture not nature. Foucault himself was a practicing homosexual.

What is it in our Western culture that has led us into such a narrow and repressive view of sexuality? In answering this question, I look at the subject from the perspective of spirituality and religion.

But first to make a distinction. There is a fundamental difference between any indigenous culture of native peoples on the one hand, and a modern multinational culture to be found today on the other. This distinction has been clearly illustrated in a book by Ivan Illich entitled Gender6 .

In indigenous cultures, sexual relations and gender roles are defined within the culture. These relations and roles vary between culture and culture. There is great diversity. In many of these cultures, homosexual relationships are recognized and have a place within the overall community.

The culture we live in today in the Western world cannot be called indigenous. It is a multinational culture with aspirations and a clear agenda to be global. As it continues its aggressive colonization of the world, indigenous cultures have been and continue to be wiped out. Cultural diversity is being destroyed and replaced by 'one size fits all'. The mantra from the guru politicians and economists is 'There Is No Alternative' (TINA).

Therefore, there are two ways of approaching the issues surrounding gay marriage. One approach is to work from within this model of a uniform global culture in order to broaden out its sexual parameters, so that there is room for at least some diversity within the area of sexual behaviour and marital practice.

The other approach is to work against this all-encompassing global model of culture and to enable the rebuilding of locally rooted, indigenous cultures that bring diversity back into cultural expression.

Clearly, I am on the side of indigenous cultures and against globalisation.

To succeed, globalisation requires monotheism. Globalisation could not work under polytheism.  Our theological myths are the containers for our daily actions and orientations. Because our Western society, whether Jewish, Muslim or Christian, believes in one god, it is possible for there to be one unifying project for human kind. This one god is in the heavens, the maker of all we can see, but removed from us. He draws all things to himself.

From the time of Moses, the monotheistic movement has been building up steam over the centuries. Globalisation may be a modern word only recently added to our vocabulary, but it was an idea the Christian church had as early as the 4th century. From the time of Moses, we have been moving in one direction only — towards drawing all humanity and all of nature into the one great project — unity with this one god.

The photograph of the blue-green earth from outer space has become an icon of our times. From this vantage point we can see the earth as god sees us. We have become like god. We have become one with god.

In this god is contained our vision and understanding of the world. He is male. Although Christians call him Father he is not married and does not have a wife or female partner. Although he is male, he does not partake in any sexual acts. It would be shocking, even blasphemous, to think of him doing such things.

In the case of Christianity, Jesus was born of a woman who remained a virgin, never experiencing sex, and he lived a life of virginity, never performing any sexual act.

Within the myth of monotheism, common to Judaism, Islam, Christianity and a number of other smaller religions, there is no place for the sexual act and no place for a sexual relationship among partners of any kind. God is a single parent who forbids any talk about his former wife.

For this reason, common to all three major religions of the world, sex is at best an ambiguous human activity, at worst dirty and forbidden. We have nothing in our monotheistic mythology that gives us a positive perspective on it or gives it value or meaning. In our mythology it lies under the carpet, a taboo subject, not to be discussed.

For this reason, as long as we retain our monotheistic views of the world, sexuality will remain a problem among us and we will not achieve sexual maturity. In not achieving sexual maturity, neither will we achieve spiritual maturity, because the two are intertwined. Our spiritual energies are contained inextricably in our sense of identity which has a gender reference and a sexual orientation to it.

The task of this and future generations is twofold. In the short-term, the task is to make space for homosexual relationships and gay marriages within our monotheistic no-sex society. I was a guest in the house of a church-going family recently where the sister of the host was also invited. She brought with her her lesbian partner. I helped them in with their bags. They were given a room to sleep in with a double bed. Their relationship was honoured and respected.

This lesbian sister of the host had begun her life as a Benedictine nun, she had then married and reared three children and now she lived with her lesbian partner.

This is what must happen at a societal level. Churches need to encourage committed long-term same-sex relationships even if only to discourage anonymous and unsafe sex. The State needs to facilitate the normalisation of same-sex couples within our society giving them the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual couples. This has to be the short-term goal.

The longterm goal is more radical, by which I mean tackling the roots of the problem. The roots of the problem lie in a monotheism which offers no recognition of the sexual act as an archetypical activity. By its very nature, monotheism cannot reflect the sexual act because the one god cannot have sex with himself. We therefore have the task of creating a new mythology which better reflects and speaks to the world in which we want to live.

As people today in Ireland, and in the Western world in general, fall away from attendance at conventional church ceremonies, a vacuum is being created. We cannot live healthily without acknowledging in some way the spiritual side of our lives. Many people today speak of being spiritual but not religious. What they are implying by this statement is that the religious bodies no longer serve their spiritual needs. But the point is, they do still have spiritual needs. I know this in particular with regard to marriage, because I perform a lot of 'spiritual but not religious' marriage ceremonies.

The spiritual vacuum that is now present through the disillusionment with church and religion is causing a search for other ways of expressing our spirituality. A clear signpost on the road is the indigenous spiritual traditions, and for Ireland, the Celtic spiritual tradition.

It is not a question of going back to those times and becoming primitive again. It is more a question of reclaiming that tradition as we have done with our music and our language. In reclaiming it we develop it, make it our own, and use it as a vehicle for giving expression to the spirit that we experience within us right now.

Homosexual relationships were an integral part of that tradition and way of life. We have many examples in indigenous traditions of how the gifted energies of homosexually oriented people were often channeled into the community by way of shamanic and artistic roles. From these traditions, we can find our feet again, learning to celebrate life's energies rather than suppress them.

1 See Cecile O'Rahilly, ed., Táin Bó Cuailnge, pp. 227,220-223, 231-233  for above quotations.
2 Quoted in Christiane Eluere, The Celts: Conquerors of Ancient Europe (New York: Harry Abrams Inc., Publishers, n.d.), pp. 141-142.
3 Atheneaus is quoted in Simon James, The World of the Celts  (London: Thames and Hudson, 1993), p. 53.
4 All of the above quotes are to be found in Edward C. Sellner, Stories of the Celtic Soul Friends, Paulist Press, New York, 2004, pp. 29-30.
5 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Penguin Books, 1976. ISBN 0-14-012474-8.
6 Gender by Ivan Illich, Pantheon Books, New York, 1982. ISBN 0-394-52732-1.

author: Dara Molloy

Source: A talk given at the Historical Society, Trinity College, Dublin, February 9th 2005.
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