From Ellen DeGeneres to Caitlyn Jenner
Each of us has witnessed the shift in attitude toward homosexuality and transgender that has been occurring in America. When Ellen DeGeneres made her announcement in the late 1990s, she experienced some backlash but made a swift recovery, eventually launching her career as a successful talk show host. She has been one voice among others in the public square, leading the way for a widespread cultural acceptance of homosexuality. As public acceptance of homosexuality grew, a new issue began to emerge: that of transgender. This issue took on new light in recent months as many people watched closely when Bruce Jenner gave his interview to Diane Sawyer about transitioning into a feminine bodily appearance. Words of praise were made across the globe, and it wasn’t long before Bruce was featured as Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair. Despite the cultural trend, some people are still left wondering just how or why another human person could experience same-sex attraction or a gender identity crisis.
In Pursuit of Happiness
If we listen closely to the opinions voiced by many who support homosexuality and gender transitions, we hear the same word repeated over and over again: “happy.” Naturally, we want everyone to be happy, but as we are starting to see through the consequences of the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage, one person’s happiness may come at the expense of another’s. It is no surprise that tears of joy were shed by a large number of people when the Supreme Court announced its decision to allow same-sex couples to marry. We tend to hold tightly to a belief that marriage is necessary for happiness in this life, and as Americans, we believe that every person has a right to the pursuit of happiness. The cultural shift in attitudes toward homosexuality has therefore resulted in a belief that same-sex marriage is a basic human right.
In Pursuit of the Beatitudes
Wondering what the light of faith can help us see about these issues, I opened up the Catechism of the Catholic Church and noticed that it makes no mention of marriage when discussing what is central to our pursuit of happiness. Instead, it focuses on spiritual realities that, unlike marriage, can be obtained by all. The Catechism has this to say about those spiritual realities, which are identified by the term “beatitude”: “The Beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness. This desire is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it” (CCC, no. 1718). We probably all remember having talked about the beatitudes at some point as a child, yet many of us have likely forgotten what they are. Jesus presents them to us in Matthew 5:3-12:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.
The Beatitudes: A Path to Happiness
If we look at the beatitudes in the context of homosexuality and transgender issues, we can see that earthly marriage is not essential to a person’s happiness, regardless of that person’s sexual attraction or gender identity. This should not surprise us since we know that “at the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven” (Matt 22:30). If marriage in this life were essential to human happiness, then we would not find happiness in those who live a single or celibate lifestyle. But we do find that a person can be happy without marriage, because happiness comes through spiritual realities that can be lived out in any state of life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms this when it says, “The way of Christ is summed up in the beatitudes, the only path that leads to the eternal beatitude for which the human heart longs” (CCC, no. 1697).
Rather than viewing same-sex marriage as a path to happiness for people who experience same-sex attraction, we should view the beatitudes as their path to happiness. We should acknowledge the suffering that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, endure when they desire to marry but cannot, and we should find ways to support them in living out the beatitudes in a life committed to chastity. If we support them well, we may find that their happiness continues to increase as we continue to share the endless riches and depth of our entire Christian faith with them.
The opinions expressed by the DPS blog authors and those providing comments are theirs alone; they are not necessarily the expressions or beliefs of either the Dead Philosophers Society or Holy Apostles College & Seminary.