Most LGBTQ Christian couples are well-acquainted with what I like to call the Uninvited Spotlight. Sometimes it’s a subtle glow, other times it’s a glaring beam. We’re still enough of an anomaly in faith communities that we draw attention: a covert stare during worship, or perhaps a more explicit comment after the service. Depending on your church, some of this attention may be quite positive and welcoming; in other cases, it will embody the brunt of religious hostility. Either way, it can be difficult to date without the feeling of being watched.
Because gay marriages are still relatively rare in churches, they often become for people the de facto models of same-sex union. These couples become for a congregation the paradigm of how same-sex marriage works, and in some people’s eyes they serve as a testing ground for whether gay marriage can be successful. It’s an unfair position to be in, and it places an added pressure to relationships that already face more than their share of stressors.
We were reminded of this recently when two of our friends, who got married only about a year before us, announced their divorce. They are both kind, faithful men, and although we don’t know the reasons for their separation, we can only imagine how difficult and painful the decision has been. While we root for all marriages, we find ourselves especially invested in same-sex marriages, in part because we are all too familiar with the external challenges they have overcome to get to the point of marriage. Same-sex couples have jumped many hurdles just to get to the starting line.
Many eyes are on LGBTQ Christian couples when they marry, and I imagine the same is true when they divorce. When Constantino and I first started attending our current church, we were, as far as we knew, the only regularly attending same sex couple. We had a sense during those early months of being seen only as the gay couple—in no small part because our church had recently expanded its marriage practice and it was a point of fierce contention. We felt as if we were the Ambassadors of Gay Love and, while it was fun in some respects, it created stress about what the success or failure of our relationship might mean for people still shaping their views on the issue. What if we failed? What would people think about us? Would it affect people’s beliefs about the sanctity of same-sex marriage?
I’m committed to the health of our marriage first and foremost because I take seriously the vows I made at my wedding. But I have to acknowledge the existential fear I have that failure would somehow damage the case for other same-sex couples. I know this is mostly not true, but it is true that there are many Christians watching and rooting for the failure of same-sex relationships. For example, one of our friend’s parents, after learning their son had been dumped by his boyfriend, celebrated the breakup. They told him it was God’s doing, and that it was evidence of how much God despised gay sin. How dreadful to be told the failure of your relationship is divine judgement! This kind of attitude is evidence that, invited or not, the spotlight on same-sex relationships exists, and it makes some of us feel responsible to represent the gay Christian community well.
I imagine this feeling of responsibility must be common to anyone who has been an outlier seeking acceptance from the mainstream: women in workplace leadership, foreigners new to a country, racial minorities in far too many circumstances. The further we are from the whatever is conventional, the more likely we are to draw attention. And if we are one of only a few examples, people will look to us as representative of the group we embody, no matter how diverse that demographic is. There’s a danger in taking on this yoke; feeling responsible for representing our community can stifle the authenticity so many of us long for in our faith communities. If gay couples try too hard to put their best feet forward for the sake of those watching, then we’re perpetuating the Christian facade that has plagued contemporary evangelicalism.
Until same-sex relationships become more normalized in faith communities, they will always draw a degree of scrutiny. That’s why it is so important for greater visibility of LGBTQ couples in the church. My hope for the future is that when LGBTQ Christians date, they won’t be the gay couple at church, they’ll be a gay couple. Better yet, they’ll just be a couple. Constantino and I are fortunate in that our social and faith communities are now more diverse than ever. There are many other same-sex couples at our church, including women, older couples, and ones with children. We are now less distinctive, which diffuses the spotlight. We fit into our communities more seamlessly because we’re less unique—and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
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