Today’s post is from guest contributor Jason Steidl-Jack. Jason is a gay Catholic theologian and Assistant Teaching Professor of Religious Studies at St. Joseph’s University in New York. In December 2022, his first book, LGBTQ Catholic Ministry: Past and Present, will be published by Paulist Press. He lives in Brooklyn with his husband, Damian.
On January 11, 2022, I married Damian, my best friend. We would have preferred to be married by a Catholic priest, in our Catholic parish, and with our Catholic friends surrounding us. But a Catholic wedding—or even a blessing—wasn’t possible. According to a 2021 document from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church cannot bless our union because it is sinful. Institutional Catholicism denies the sacramentality of our love. Yet, could church teaching be wrong? My marriage leads me to wonder.
Although our hearts ached that we couldn’t get married in our spiritual home, we had other options. A friend, the pastor of an LGBTQ-affirming mainline Protestant church, offered to marry us. He opened his church for our special day, even though it was closed to everyone else due to the pandemic. I modified the traditional Catholic wedding ceremony to make it more gay-friendly. The vows, prayers, and blessings adapted easily. We wore matching sport coats and boutonnieres for the intimate affair.
Life with Damian has renewed my faith. Before meeting him, I didn’t pray much. I joke that I’m a theologian but he’s the true believer. Now, we wake up every morning and say our prayers together, just like I remember my parents doing. He likes to sing Gospel music in the shower when I’m writing early-morning emails. His joy interrupts my day, but it’s a good thing. Damian has faith that God will get us through life. Since we’ve been together, I’ve seen our prayers answered on numerous occasions.
Mass on Sundays is particularly important. There, I rest my hand on his knee during the scripture readings. We share a reluctant chuckle when Father tells a bad joke from the pulpit, and whisper about the fashionable lady wearing fur in the front pew. We raise our hands together during the Our Father, and we kiss for the Sign of Peace. After Mass, we visit friends at the back of church before we promenade down 9th Avenue toward our favorite cookie shop for a post-Mass treat. It’s a sacred time to catch up and check in. We’re better prepared for our week because we attend Mass together. God is a big part of our relationship.
As a Catholic gay man, I didn’t always consider that a Catholic married life would be possible for me. When I was younger, I felt doomed to a life of loneliness. Church leaders said I should be celibate, and the Catechism described homosexuality as a cross. Courage, the only apostolate approved by the U.S. bishops’ conference for people like me, told me my same-sex attraction was a harmful addiction. Before meeting Damian, I had a strong devotion to St. Sebastian. I saw my experience as a single gay man reflected in this saint’s painful passion. Alone. Pierced. Suffering. It was a melodramatic fantasy. Then, queer life was a theatrical performance of martyrdom. I’d go out, I figured, in a solitary act of (flaming!) glory.
But I was also called to partnership and sexual intimacy. I saw proud, openly queer Catholics flourishing, and intuited the many ways that my own sexuality drew me closer to others. I’m beginning to trust the Spirit’s work through my conscience. And now, married, I’ve settled into something much more routine—and healthy.
Life with another person keeps me from getting lost in my own head. Commitment and responsibility hold me present in the here and now. Family life with Damian is not always romantic or ideal, but it is grounded. Self-sacrifice calls for a daily dying to my own desires. I’m learning to be less selfish in the little things, like watching a movie at home when he’s tired and I’d prefer to go out, or baking a vegan lasagna when I’d prefer to only warm up some ham. Our marriage is a long-term project that we’re both committed to. It’s is neither a harlequin novel nor a hagiography, but God is in it, and it’s good.
Getting married to Damian was an act of faith that has yielded grace upon grace. Healthy relationships require rigorous spiritual practices and heroic virtues. The Fruits of the Spirit. Faith, Hope, and Love. The Golden Rule. They all get put into practice every day. Damian and I are learning and growing. If we argue, we try to make up quickly. I’m far more aware of my need for mercy, grace, and forgiveness than I ever was before. Humility doesn’t come easy for me. Marriage instills it in increasing measure.
Every day, Damian and I are more confident in our relationship. We’re becoming the couple God is calling us to be. Pre-marital counseling in the Catholic Church doesn’t exist for gay couples, so we saw a therapist instead. Our counselor says our relationship is healthy, and those who know and love us are hard pressed to find any signs of “intrinsic disorder.” We are finding the good and the beautiful in a life shared together. Marriage transforms us, opens us up to the world, and draws us closer to our creator. The institutional church denies the sacramentality of our love, but being married to Damian makes me think the church is quite mistaken.
—Jason Steidl-Jack, June 1, 2022