Temporal Matters: By this I mean what gay couples actually do as couples on a daily basis. Putting the matter this way naturally raises in many people's minds the issue of sex, and, of course, gay couples do have sex. This an aspect of our relationships that neither can nor should be downplayed. What Saint Paul said of the role of sex in heterosexual marriage applies just as forcefully to same-sex couples:
But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. (I Cor. 7:2-3)Sex is a part -- and indeed an important part -- of my relationship with my boyfriend. And yet, as anyone who has ever been involved in a serious relationship knows, the tasks of cultivating and sustaining an intimate relationship involves so much more than sex that it seems petty to reduce it to just that one thing.
Take something as simple as this: I am suppposed to drive home to North Carolina this weekend to visit my family. It just so happens, however, that my car's side-view mirror was knocked off the other day by a passing motorist while it was parked on the street (a motorish who, incidentally, did not leave his insurance information). The result is that I need to get my car fixed before I drive home, which means that it would be very helpful to have someone give me a ride home after I drop it off at the shop. It would also be nice to have someone give me a lift back there once it is fixed.
For people in a relationship, this sort of everyday need poses no problem. You simply ask the person you're dating (or married to) and that's the end of it. But if you're not in a relationship, things are much more complicated. I am fairly new to D.C., so I do not yet have that many friends whom I would feel comfortable asking to do a favor like this. Most of them are either married or have have reached that stage in their lives where they're one person dating seriously. Either way, most of my friends no longer talk to or see their friends on a daily basis. Thus, for the single person, something as simple as turning a car into the shop becomes a vivid reminder of the temporal "good" of having a partner whom you can rely on to take care of everyday matters like turning your car into the shop.
Spiritual Matters: People tend to draw a bright line between things spiritual and temporal, but I don't think this is warranted from a theological or a biblical standpoint. On the contrary, Christian thought posits the spiritual and temporal as existing in what today we might call a symbiotic relationship. Thus St. Paul envisions Christian marriage as a relationship that is a sort of image of the Marriage which is to exist between Christ and his bride the Church. At the same time, Paul speaks of human marriage as functioning as a means of furthering our own participation in this Marriage and, hence, our salvation. The basic idea is that, in and through the temporal relationship of marriage, we learn how to practice with one person the same sort of sacrificial love that one day we will practice with everyone.
Of course, we must also love our friends, our family members, and even our enemies in a sacrifical way. But it is a fact that our romantic relationships are the primary vehicles through which most adults come to experience the hard tasks of loving an other—warts and all—on an intimate and permanent basis. It is simply too difficult to do this with more than one person in a world that is limited by time and space, and it is virtually impossible to do once a person's friends have all married, had children, and gone their ways. I know that, for me at least, I never felt called to sacrifice for my friends to the degree and intensity that I do now for my boyfriend. The issue just didn't come up the way it does now.
Nor do I have any doubt that this experience of loving an other is teaching me many things that will one day become—to borrow Saint Paul's words of what marriage accomplishes for the married—a means of my "consecration." What other result could there be when a person is learning, however slowly, both to love and to be loved the way that Christ loves us?
The following are a few of the passages from the pauline epistles that have informed my understanding of the temporal and spiritual goods of marriage:
If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy.... Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:13-14, 16)
I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband. (2 Corinthians 11:2)
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."
This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:21ff)