“Gay Catholic” writer Eve Tushnet has done it again—in an October 24th commentary in the Washington Post, Tushnet repeats her years-long promotion of “same-sex love,” asking in the piece’s title “What, exactly, does Pope Francis believe about same-sex love?” and asserting later that “Catholic teaching forbids same-sex marriage but not same-sex love.”
“Same-sex love” is a term that doesn’t seem to raise many secular or cultural eyebrows, of course, but it should be of great concern for Catholics. Behind it is a Pandora’s box of confusion, error, and unreality. Catholics need to address this disarmingly ambiguous concept head-on and make clear that Catholic teaching in no way makes room for such a deceptive Trojan-horse term that ultimately undermines Church teaching on love and sexuality.
Tushnet’s writing is a sort of spear tip for popularizing this false category of love; as recently as September 4, she published a Catholic Herald commentary espousing the same thing, telling readers it’s what “gay Christians” long for and for which Scripture offers “models.” But Tushnet is not the first to assert that there is such a thing as “same-sex love.” She is but one among several Catholic voices to do so previously, all having in the past contributed to the now-dormant “Spiritual Friendship” blog site.
What do Tushnet and the other erstwhile “Spiritual Friendship” writers hope to convey with this term? What kind of love is this—philia, eros, agape? Something novel? That’s the core problem with “same-sex love”—it’s an elastic and unstable thing, masking a fundamental error in thinking in which it is believed “gay” identity and at least some of the attractions and longings associated with homosexuality can be normalized and even encouraged.
That fundamental error is best illuminated via the writing of “Spiritual Friendship” Catholic co-founder Ron Belgau, who used the term “same-sex love” in a 2018 article in Public Discourse, and defined homosexuality to be both a “perversion of marriage” and a “perversion of friendship.” Belgau said that the “normative form of same-sex love between those who are not blood relations is friendship.”
But here is the problem—homosexuality is not defined by the Church as a perversion of either marriage or friendship, or of any form of love, but is defined as a perversion of one of the “natural inclinations” given by God to human nature and which subsists in all human persons—the one and only sexual inclination.
The core error here is that the sexual inclination is decidedly not a form or expression of love itself. Love necessitates the use of human will, and the sexual inclination exists independently from the will itself. It’s just part of human nature, and is “antecedent” to all love. Indeed, this fact was explicitly recognized by Karol Wojtyla in his 1960 work “Love and Responsibility,” in which he devotes an entire initial chapter on the sexual inclination before he ever begins to discuss human love itself.
Belgau, Tushnet, and other “Spiritual Friendship” writers don’t seem to understand this basic truth. Instead, they back-engineer a view of homosexuality from what they perceive as a truth about “other-sex love”—the complementary love between man and woman, eros.
In a 2016 “Spiritual Friendship” blog post, Belgau directly contrasts “same-sex lust” with “same-sex love (friendship).” The reasoning seems to be that, because “other-sex love” (eros) exists, as well as both other-sex lust and same-sex lust, then there must be a category of “same-sex love” as well. But this is a false inference and merely invents a non-existent love, a “same-sex eros,” that has no precedent in our categorizations of love.
The mistake here is that the “same-sex lust” that is homosexuality is not a perversion of love (either eros or friendship), but a perversion of the sexual inclination (something Wojtyla acknowledges as “perversion” in “Love and Responsibility”). This is exactly the case with “other-sex lust” as well. Eros simply has no moral “other-sex” counterpart—it’s a unique form of love that is necessarily and exclusively complementary.
But wait, you may say—didn’t Belgau parenthetically explain that “same-sex love” is a form of “philia,” not eros?
Yes, but here again we encounter the “squishy” quality of the “Spiritual Friendship” view of same-sex love espoused by Tushnet and her like-minded fellow writers—they continually use the term in reference to their various levels of attraction to the same sex (which they would note as eros) while simultaneously continuing, in self-contradictory fashion, to frame this attraction in the context of philia, friendship. Same-sex love in their view denotes an attraction to the same sex that somehow can be “sanctified” as a form of friendship despite the fact that it is inherently derived from and associated with the disordered homosexual inclination.
Belgau says as much in a 2018 Twitter exchange, in which he’s asked whether these “sanctifiable” same-sex attractions are a kind of “chaste eros” or are forms of friendship-love, philia. Belgau says: “I would say a kind of philia. But I don’t think that love divides as neatly into categories as the question suggests.”
Another former “Spiritual Friendship” writer, Melinda Selmys, offered an entire post on this titled “The Fluidity of Eros and Philia,” in which Selmys says “the boundaries that we set up between philia and eros are artificial.” This view is further amplified by other past “Spiritual Friendship” writers like Aaron Taylor, who affirms the category of “same-sex eros,” and Chris Damian, who gave a presentation at the ill-named 2014 “Gay in Christ” conference at Notre Dame on how “same-sex eros” can exist without being “disordered.”
Tushnet and the other “Spiritual Friendship” writers have long embraced this view, in which homosexual sex acts are forbidden, but by which they insist on carving out a place for every other experience of same-sex attraction that they consider to be chaste expressions of their “longing for same-sex love.”
But the smoking gun here is their insistence that the “love” they long for is necessarily same-sex, by their own definition. It’s not “mere” friendship they are interested in, which could be either same-sex or other-sex. Instead, their longing is clearly and inextricably rooted in the experience of the objectively disordered homosexual inclination. The entire “Spiritual Friendship” project has been dedicated to the realization of this unique “giftedness” that same-sex attraction offers them to experience deep and intimate “same-sex love,” something that Tushnet most recently asserts is a project the Church itself should support and encourage for Catholics who “stay gay.” But how can the Church endorse a novel category of “love” that is inescapably rooted in the disorder of same-sex attraction? It cannot.
Though “same-sex love” proves to be a false grail, Tushnet and others of like mind insist that the Church should embrace it because Scripture gives its blessing and approval to it, in the examples of the “same-sex love” of David and Jonathan, and Ruth and Naomi. Tushnet says in her most recent commentary that such examples are “forms of love and kinship that don’t require marriage or sex” and adds that “many people wanted the pope to talk about gay people’s own longing to form a family because they hunger for some acknowledgment that being gay is about more than sexual desire.”
Tushnet has long seemed oblivious to the fact that the Catholic Church teaches against her view, precisely because Church teaching and natural law both make clear that the reality of kinship and family bonds is actually established via—and only through—marriage and procreative sexual relations. The “longing for home, care, devotion, commitment; for love that doesn’t shrink from sacrifice” that Tushnet says is experienced by people with same-sex attraction is rooted in the same human nature in which is rooted the God-given pathway for attaining those good things—through the procreative conjugal union of a man and a woman. “Family” simply doesn’t exist in any other way—families come to be through marriage and sex, not apart from them.
But Tushnet demurs on this, seeing in the above-mentioned Old Testament examples evidence of attractions to the same sex that clearly must be considered holy attractions. Tushnet thinks a distinction must be made between these holy attractions and attractions that are inordinate longings for physical sexual intimacy. She doesn’t seem to understand the simple truth that the bonds of love in these Old Testament examples exist independently from the biological fact of the friends being the same sex, not because the friends find members of the same sex to be sexually attractive to them in any manner whatever.
Instead, Tushnet claims inordinate attractions to persons of the same sex can be made morally acceptable not by changing the “object” of the homosexual inclination from same-sex to other-sex, but instead by changing the “expression” of those attractions:
There is another way for desire to become ordered: same object, different expression. People who long for same-sex love and intimacy should maybe be encouraged to learn how to do that, since it is good, and holy, and beautiful.
But this is simply illusory. There is just no way to “tease out” some experiences of attraction rooted in the homosexual inclination and claim they’re now free from disorder, when the very definition of “objectively disordered” means that those attractions in fact cannot be properly ordered and therefore can’t be expressed toward someone of the same sex.
Unfortunately, the longing for same-sex love expressed by Tushnet remains a misguided attempt to salvage something “ordered” from the disordered homosexual inclination, arising from a fatally flawed understanding of what homosexuality itself really is. Love is a thing; same-sex attraction is a thing. Other-sex love is a thing. But same-sex love is not a thing.
To quote the late songwriter Rich Mullins: “You can argue with your Maker, but you know you just can’t win.”
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