The annual conference of the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministry in Long Beach, California, was attended by a mixture of clergy, LGBT people and their parents, and one straight spouse, formerly married to a gay man – Dr. Amity Buxton. More than 160 people were present at the plenary session to hear Coadjutor Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento give the opening address on the topic of love. As was reported in the press, 5 people walked out when it became apparent that the Bishop’s talk was not about love in general, but about sex. Specifically, he stated that gay and lesbian people must remain chaste and sexual activity between them is sinful. By the end of the address, the audience erupted in anger. Within minutes, however, a board member rushed to the stage and invited the Bishop to stay and listen to personal stories of individuals in the gathering. One by one, nine volunteers walked to the front of the hall, and took the microphone to tell their “lived experience” directly to the Bishop as he sat in the front row.
All this has been reported in print elsewhere. What has not been reported is that the lone one straight spouse in the audience was one of the speakers. Amity summarizes her response:
”I recounted my husband’s decision to marry as a good Irish Catholic because it was the right thing to do and would make him happy, even though he had a gay lover unbeknownst to me at the time. I told of his gradual depression and physical ailments that developed over twenty-five years, our divorce and annulment, and his eventual death alone. At the end, I stated strongly that this painful experience was why I will not stop working toward making sure that no one else has to go through what he, I, and our children had to suffer.”
Amity later participated in focus groups and three other plenary sessions, informing everyone in each session of the invaluable resource that the Straight Spouse Network provides for straight spouses, current or former of LGBT people and the importance of having this for our families. It was a revelation to most attendees that straight spouses have a support organization, much less need support.
At the final bilingual concelebrated Mass, Amity was gratified to hear the priest who delivered the homily validate the importance of straight spouses. He said that one new thing he had learned at this conference was the existence and unique perspective of straight spouses and of the work that Amity had been doing to provide support for them for over 20 years.
What stands out from this report is in the last statement – the priest had only then learned of the existence of straight spouses. With all the attention focused on California’s Proposition 8, defining marriage as only between a man and a woman, many churches are unaware of the existence of straight spouses. If they were aware of us, a portion of the focus, energy and money allotted for the defense of marriage might be allotted for resources to help straight spouses and our families deal with profound moral and spiritual dilemmas. Resources such as counseling, spiritual healing, renewal, focus on keeping us connected to the communities of faith rather than shunning us, ignoring us until we leave, or responding to our questions and concerns with lectures on that particular denomination’s teachings about our partner’s homosexuality, rather than providing pastoral ministry that addresses our needs.
Pastoral response to us and our families is a challenge for many clergy of all faiths and political affiliations, especially when our existence is not acknowledged. The Straight Spouse Network (SSN) is a resource for clergy to learn of our needs and perspectives. We encourage all communities of faith to plan for appropriate and ongoing pastoral response to straight spouses and their families. SSN can help them do so.