In the wake of Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds’ marriage, Catholics need to get their story straight

Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds have, I guess, had their ups and downs[1] and I remain suspicious of any relationship with significant discrepancies in power between the participants. That said, Johnson and Symonds’ marriage in an Anglican Catholic Church raises not just[2] a Roman Catholic Jesuit’s eyebrows:[3]

#BorisJohnson, a twice-divorced man, whose girlfriend recently had a baby with him out of wedlock (and who also has another child out of wedlock) was married in a Catholic ceremony in Westminster Cathedral, the seat of English Catholicism. At the same time, a same-sex couple….

…who are both Catholics (unlike Mr. Johnson, who was confirmed as an Anglican) cannot have their civil union blessed even in private by a priest because “God does not and cannot bless sin…”

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were married within the rules of the Catholic Church. And I wish them well. I also wish that the same mercy and compassion that was offered to them, recognizing their complex lives, could also be extended to same-sex couples who are lifelong Catholics.[4]

In this, James Martin draws a contrast[5] with a recent pronouncement of the Vatican, approved by the Jesuit Pope Francis, which reaffirms longstanding Roman Catholic doctrine forbidding same sex marriage.[6]

That latter pronouncement came as something of a surprise, although conservatives defended it,[7] and it is their defense that I look to in evaluating a counterfactual. I can’t help but suspect Francis may have felt that blessing same sex unions would be a step too far for those conservatives, that to have done so might lead to a schism in the Church.

It appears that “neither [Johnson’s] six-year first marriage to Allegra Mostyn-Owen, nor his second 27-year marriage to Marina Wheeler were Catholic ceremonies . . . recognised in the eyes of the church,”[8] which seems like a cute sort of dodge typically available to the powerful. Indeed, the hypocrisy reeks,[9] while the bottom line for gays pretty much remains the same: You can be gay, but you can’t have sex.[10]

Human sexuality is the gift of a loving God. It is to be honoured and cherished by all people. As a means for the expression of the deepest human love and intimacy, sexuality has great power.[11]

I’ve attempted to avoid conflating the Roman and Anglican churches here, but it appears that Anglican doctrine[12] strongly resembles Roman doctrine.[13] Third wave feminists understand the emphasis on heterosexuality, with the only alternative being abstinence, as combining with longstanding Christian doubts on contraception to burden women, who bear the consequences of pregnancy and childbirth, but not men with “responsibility.”[14] And whatever the Catholic churches might say about strengthening marital bonds, by proscribing gay sex and constraining sex to (heterosexual) marriage, these churches effectively assert that sex is for procreation within a particular family structure.

It is indeed hard to see how the marriage of Johnson and Symonds fits within that structure. The hypocrisy is real and those who call out that hypocrisy,[15] including Martin,[16] are right to do so.

But the problem is more fundamental, lying in the churches’ more substantive denial of sexuality as integral to being human, and not just for men.[17] While some folks appear to be asexual, they are exceptions to that rule, and the churches’ offer of abstinence[18] as an alternative belies their praise for “God’s gift,” a gift, it would seem, only in lifelong monogamous heterosexual marriages.

Catholics need to get their story straight.

  1. [1]Edward Malnick, Patrick Sawer, and Steve Bird, “Left-wing neighbours admit to taping Boris Johnson row with partner Carrie Symonds,” Telegraph, June 22, 2019, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2019/06/22/left-wing-neighbours-admit-taping-boris-johnson-row-girlfriend/; Gordon Rayner, “Police called to home of Boris Johnson and partner Carrie Symonds after reports of loud altercation,” Telegraph, June 21, 2019, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2019/06/21/police-called-home-boris-johnson-girlfriend-reports-altercation
  2. [2]Lizzie Roberts and Hayley Dixon, “Catholics question how twice-divorced Boris was allowed to marry Carrie Symonds in church,” Telegraph, May 30, 2021, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/05/30/boris-johnson-carrie-symonds-catholic-church-wedding-married/
  3. [3]James Martin, [Twitter thread], Thread Reader App, May 30, 2021, https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1398997771609325568.html
  4. [4]James Martin, [Twitter thread], Thread Reader App, May 30, 2021, https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1398997771609325568.html
  5. [5]James Martin, [Twitter thread], Thread Reader App, May 30, 2021, https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1398997771609325568.html
  6. [6]Chico Harlan and Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Pope Francis says priests cannot bless same-sex unions, dashing hopes of gay Catholics,” Washington Post, March 15, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/pope-same-sex-unions-licit/2021/03/15/8c51ee80-8581-11eb-be4a-24b89f616f2c_story.html
  7. [7]Chico Harlan and Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Pope Francis says priests cannot bless same-sex unions, dashing hopes of gay Catholics,” Washington Post, March 15, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/pope-same-sex-unions-licit/2021/03/15/8c51ee80-8581-11eb-be4a-24b89f616f2c_story.html
  8. [8]Lizzie Roberts and Hayley Dixon, “Catholics question how twice-divorced Boris was allowed to marry Carrie Symonds in church,” Telegraph, May 30, 2021, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/05/30/boris-johnson-carrie-symonds-catholic-church-wedding-married/
  9. [9]Lizzie Roberts and Hayley Dixon, “Catholics question how twice-divorced Boris was allowed to marry Carrie Symonds in church,” Telegraph, May 30, 2021, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/05/30/boris-johnson-carrie-symonds-catholic-church-wedding-married/
  10. [10]Chico Harlan and Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Pope Francis says priests cannot bless same-sex unions, dashing hopes of gay Catholics,” Washington Post, March 15, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/pope-same-sex-unions-licit/2021/03/15/8c51ee80-8581-11eb-be4a-24b89f616f2c_story.html
  11. [11]Anglican Communion, “Section I.10 – Human Sexuality,” August 3, 2008, https://www.anglicancommunion.org/resources/document-library/lambeth-conference/1998/section-i-called-to-full-humanity/section-i10-human-sexuality
  12. [12]Anglican Communion, “Section I.10 – Human Sexuality,” August 3, 2008, https://www.anglicancommunion.org/resources/document-library/lambeth-conference/1998/section-i-called-to-full-humanity/section-i10-human-sexuality
  13. [13]Chico Harlan and Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Pope Francis says priests cannot bless same-sex unions, dashing hopes of gay Catholics,” Washington Post, March 15, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/pope-same-sex-unions-licit/2021/03/15/8c51ee80-8581-11eb-be4a-24b89f616f2c_story.html
  14. [14]Carole S. Vance, ed., Pleasure and Danger (Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984).
  15. [15]Lizzie Roberts and Hayley Dixon, “Catholics question how twice-divorced Boris was allowed to marry Carrie Symonds in church,” Telegraph, May 30, 2021, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/05/30/boris-johnson-carrie-symonds-catholic-church-wedding-married/
  16. [16]James Martin, [Twitter thread], Thread Reader App, May 30, 2021, https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1398997771609325568.html
  17. [17]Carole S. Vance, ed., Pleasure and Danger (Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984).
  18. [18]Anglican Communion, “Section I.10 – Human Sexuality,” August 3, 2008, https://www.anglicancommunion.org/resources/document-library/lambeth-conference/1998/section-i-called-to-full-humanity/section-i10-human-sexuality; Chico Harlan and Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Pope Francis says priests cannot bless same-sex unions, dashing hopes of gay Catholics,” Washington Post, March 15, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/pope-same-sex-unions-licit/2021/03/15/8c51ee80-8581-11eb-be4a-24b89f616f2c_story.html

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