Journey Story

New Book On Gay Marriage Raises The Bar On Love

by Rev . Katherine Katsanis-Semel

Honestly, it was hard for me to read this book. Even as an avid reader, it was hard to stick with it; however, it wasn’t hard for the reasons readers might assume. Some might jump to assume that it wasn’t well-researched, or well-written, or both. Some might even assume that it wasn’t catchy enough to compete with our social media saturated culture.

Not so! Confronting Religious Denial of Gay Marriage: Christian Humanism and the Moral Imagination by Ms. Catherine Wallace is thoroughly researched, gracefully written, and enviably witty.

This book is like a hot date: engaging, intellectually seductive, and charming to boot. 

(Prediction: If there were more books out there like this, we’d take longer breaks from Instagram. We would opt for page turners over photo uploaders!)

Yup, it was all of those things and then some. Confronting Religious Denial of Gay Marriage would equally appeal to secular humanists (my in-laws are secular humanists, so I get it), and progressive Christians (with whom I identify, so I get that, too). Furthermore, Ms. Wallace’s work would broadly appeal to progressive members of various faith and philosophical traditions. I can see that, too, as I count many of these folks among my friends. It would also increasingly appeal to moderate members of various faith and philosophical traditions.

As more folks from all walks of life reevaluate what it means to love well, and offer their neighbors hospitality, we’re noticing a steady shift in consciousness—for the most part, might I add. (I’d also add that the political pushback that we LGBTQ+ folks are receiving, namely in our country’s Southern states, testifies to how much progress threatens those who aren’t yet on board.)

Back to the text at hand: Without selling out (at all), or dumbing down (in the least), this book is a crowd pleaser.

That said, it was still hard to read. 

Allow me to elaborate. I picked it up, then put it down, picked it back up, and put it back down more times than I can count. I scolded myself, insisting that my brain is like scrambled eggs from too much multitasking. Then, I remembered self-compassion, and I realized something big.

I realized that the reason for my reluctance is the following: I’m not yet accustomed to the quality of love that Ms. Wallace offers. Absorbing her labor was like drinking green juice after being accustomed to soda; I mean that in the best way possible! We all know that green juice is healthier, yet we’re used to soda.

One of the insights that occurred to me while reading this book is just how much damage I’ve suffered, as a queer woman. (Ah, grief – who wants to process that?) When one has struggled to have had one’s marriage held in the same regard as straight marriages, one becomes focused on damage control.

I became focused on damage control, rather than on love reception. 

For me, life was (and still is, to some degree) more about getting by and being okay, and less about letting in love left and right—though more left than right, as the case may be!

More than any book that I’ve read on the topic, the fantastic yet challenging truth about this book is this: The quality of love that it offers holds up a mirror. This cherished yet disdained mirror allows us to see our internalized heteronormativity, which is both heartening and startling.

Mirrors can be scary objects, both in the physical world and in the metaphysical world. They can be scary not because of what they are, but because of what they reveal. That, essentially, sums up my experience with this read. It triggered my fear of confronting my internalized shame—yet if feeling fear is the first step to healing, then I have a complicated relationship with Ms. Wallace’s offering.

To top it off, this book is written by a straight-identified woman who has children. 

Readers can imagine my thought processes: What? Someone who does not even have what I have at stake wrote this? She cares that much? A stranger wants to ensure that my marriage is as valued as any other? Oh, boy. That’s a lot to take in. 

This book might push me back into therapy; perhaps that’s a good thing. For the aforementioned truths challenge me to observe where I can release self-effacing tendencies…tendencies that have, I confess, caused me to value my marriage less than straight marriages, simply because it seems that that’s acceptable.

Conclusively, this book asks tough questions. Within its first ten pages, it asks questions like, “What should we hold sacred?” Ms. Wallace inspires us to introspect on what difference the answer to that question makes to our own lives, and what difference the answer to that question makes to others’ lives.

I cannot improve on this author’s passion and logic. She has both down pat. 

I can only add my own questions to the mix, questions that flood the recesses of my gut when I rise early in the morning.

These are questions like, “Why won’t this book be a New York Times Best Seller?” It likely won’t be, even though it should be. (This is no fault of its author whose brilliance shines through each page.) The chances that it will be a commercial success are slim, because it holds up a mirror in which we may all perceive “our stuff.”

It invites us to examine our heteronormative, homophobic, transphobic, sexist baggage—no matter who we are, what we believe, or who we love. In other words: It’s likely to be unpopular, at least initially, for all the right reasons. From where I sit, that’s the best compliment that I can give it. I assert that no matter how you identify, this book will require you to deepen your moral imagination and strengthen your spiritual courage.

Until books like this soar to the top of our collectively valued lists, I’ll diligently labor for equality’s sake. 

Thank you, Ms. Wallace, for motiving us to raise the bar on love.

Book cover via