UPDATE: Thanks to Frank, who sent in this interesting NYT piece about Eve Tushnet.
What do you call your same-sex, not-related-to-you, not-married-to-you, but liked-by-you housemate?
If you're like most men and women, you call him or her your FRIEND.
"Oh, no, we're just friends," satisfies a hundred nosy enquiries.
I mention this today because there was a major scandal in a Catholic diocese in Canada over a fellow with SSA who simultaneously called his same-sex housemate his "partner" while also claiming to be following Catholic teaching about sexuality. (I would not have cared less, but he went on to drag a whole lot of people, including his bishop, before a tribunal into the bargain.) And having written extensively about the case, I really don't want to be having this conversation again. But someone sent me an interesting article about men and friendship, and the whole issue of friend vs. partner came roaring back to mind.
On the one hand, I think it is lousy when people gossip about same-sex housemates and say "Oh, they must be a gay couple, tee hee hee." On the other hand, if you go around calling your same-sex housemate your "partner", your hearers are going to think there's something more than friendship, even deep SS. Cyril-and-Methodius, womb-to-tomb friendship, going on.
Practising Catholics don't have "partners." We have husbands, wives, and friends. We also have relatives, mentors, teachers, employees, employers, doctors, clients, students, proteges, neighbours, flatmates, colleagues, priests, bishops, parishioners and business partners. Some of us have rulers, and some of us have subjects. All of us had parents, and some of us have children. We have co-religionists, and we have co-nationals.
We have an awful lot of relationships, and very few of them are sexual. Sadly, sexual relationships get the lion's share of people's attention. This cheapens all relationships immeasureably. Is there anything more disgusting than someone sniggering over the loving relationship between an uncle and niece, or someone making crude remarks about a boy who is fond of his sister? And isn't it horribly limiting that great and famous friendships, like that between Cardinal Newman and Fr. Ambrose St. John, get read by strangers with axes to grind as long-term erotic affairs? I certainly think so.
The interesting article I've linked to above starts with the feudal relationship between Frodo and Sam, and I too was enraged when teenage boys sniggered their misunderstandings in the darkness of the cinema we shared. On the one hand, education is such that few contemporary teenagers can get their minds around the idea that once upon a time a man might have acknowledged another man as his lord, and that the lord would have felt a paternal responsibility for his servant. But on the other hand, how stupid and how tooth-grindingly disrespectful for the stupider members of Tolkien's audience to read Frodo and Sam--in their terrible danger--as characters out of Brokeback Mountain.
A friend is not a partner, but friendship is a many-splendoured thing. Friendship is often something great and noble, and many a woman has cried and felt brokenhearted over the death of (or betrayal by) a female friend. I imagine men are the same way, although these days, of course, they would be in great danger of having their platonic love misunderstood by both fans and opponents of the gay revolution. Perhaps women will be fitted for this beloved friend=partner straitjacket, too, one day, but I darn well hope not.
Love your friends boldly, and call them your friends. Friendship is glorious enough without you needing to aggrandize your friend, even your best friend, by calling him or her your "partner." Like it or not, that word no longer means what it did. And neither traditional Catholics nor other traditional Christians are to blame for that.
Update: Read the whole article, seriously. Then the fact that I flee the dinner table when the port goes around might make a little more sense. It's not just that I need a break; it's that the men deserve a chance just to be men friends together. And, man, do I miss my girlfriends back home right now.