Like it or not, Pete Buttigieg is legally married

Views James Martin, S.J. / January 23, 2023 Print this:
Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary and former mayor of South Bend, Ind., was married to his husband Chasten (left) in the Episcopal Church in 2018. (Photo courtesy of Facebook/Pete Buttigieg)

Last weekend, I tweeted out what I thought was an innocuous, and obvious, tweet: a statement of fact. The Catholic League had tweeted what I considered an ungracious comment about the marriage of Pete Buttigieg, the openly gay Secretary of Transportation. They wrote that he while was legally married, the marriage was a “legal fiction.” 

That the statement was self-refuting didn’t seem to bother anyone, but to me, it seemed like another gratuitous attempt to denigrate LGBTQ people. Basically, it was saying that Pete Buttigieg’s marriage to his husband Chasten didn’t exist. In that way, it reminded me of Catholics who say that transgender people, in essence, don’t or shouldn’t exist. Frankly, I felt a sense of compassion for Secretary Buttigieg, who has endured endless homophobic comments in the past few years.

So, I tweeted out an obvious response: “Pete Buttigieg is married.” As much as anyone in this country whose marriage registered in City Hall, he and his husband Chasten are legally married.  

The reaction was near hysteria. I was called a heretic, an apostate, a false priest, a serpent, a dog, a bitch, a wolf, “Prophet of Satan” and so on, as well as what young people today call the “F-slur,” and far worse. (Feel free to peruse Twitter, if you can stomach it.) Demands were issued for my immediate laicization, and so on, and I received a few death threats at my office, as well as countless threatening direct messages through my other social media accounts. 

All this is a small window into what many LGBTQ people—married, single and somewhere in between—face every day. 

For a brief moment, “Fr. Martin” was trending on Twitter, which, given that it led people to homophobic comments from Catholics, did not please me one iota.

Initially, it was hard to understand the hysteria over a statement of fact. To me, it was like saying the sun will rise tomorrow. Secretary Buttigieg is, like it or not, legally married. You may not like the idea of same-sex marriage, you may even vigorously oppose it, as the Catholic Church does. But it is not any challenge to church teaching to say that as far as the laws in the United States are concerned, Pete and Chasten Buttigieg are legally married, and so are countless other same-sex couples. 

Perhaps, I thought, the hysteria was because the original tweet wasn’t precise enough—though it seemed a clear statement prima facie. So I clarified it the next day, saying that Secretary Buttigieg was legally married and that his marriage was recognized not only by the state, but by his church. (He and his husband were married in the Episcopal Cathedral of St. James in South Bend, Ind., in 2018.) 

Yet the hysteria continued. “Dear heretic: repent,” was a typical comment.  (By then, most of the comments were ad hominem.) 

One question is why other marriages that are not Catholic sacramental marriages, but nonetheless civilly recognized, are accepted by Catholics as marriages. When a Jewish couple is married by a rabbi in a synagogue, most Catholic guests will say, “Mazel tov!” not “You’re going to burn in hell!” When an atheist couple ties the knot before a justice of the peace, most Catholic acquaintances will say “Congratulations!” not “You’re Satanic!” When a Universal Life minister presides over a friend’s wedding, most Catholic co-workers will say, “How was the wedding?” not “Repent!” 

Usually, in the case of non-Catholic weddings, most Catholics say to themselves, “Even though it’s not a marriage in my religious tradition, they’re legally married, so I will respect their marriage and be happy for them.”

Of course, the difference is obvious: the idea of two people of the same sex getting married repulses some people. And again, I’m not challenging the church’s teaching against same-sex marriage, but pointing out the vast difference in the reactions for marriages outside the church. In one case, tolerance or acceptance; in the other case, outrage or hysteria. 

There is something about same-sex marriage, and same-sex relations, that unhinges some people, that infuriates them, that drives them to hysteria, enough to threaten death to people who say that it even exists.

By now, I’m used to these kinds of reactions. When necessary, I try to clarify comments that may have been in any way confusing, but at the same time, no amount of clarification will be enough for people whose rage is fueled by homophobia and hatred. No issue enrages some Catholics—not the Latin Mass, not the Synod, not Pope Francis, not women’s ordination—more than LGBTQ people. It is what sociologists call a “moral panic.”  

More basically, it is hatred. And it is a hatred that seems bottomless. It’s hard to read tweets like “Jimmy, you’re such a little F—t” and believe that this person is acting out of any sort of Christian impulse. This is not Christianity: this is playground bullying. And it’s something that LGBTQ people have long experienced: hatred of the other.

Whenever this happens, I try to remember two things: First, whenever you extend mercy to people on the margins (or even recognize their existence), some people will be enraged. In the Gospel story of Zacchaeus, Jesus encounters the chief tax collector of Jericho, who would probably have been on the margins of his community, since he was seen as colluding with the Romans and suspected of skimming money off the top (Lk. 19:1-10). 

Passing through the town one day, Jesus calls out to Zacchaeus, who is perched in a sycamore tree: “Hurry down for I must stay at your house tonight!” It’s a public sign of welcome.

What is the response of the crowd?  Luke tells us in one of my favorite lines in the Gospels: “All who saw it began to grumble.” And this was in front of Jesus!  When I asked him about this passage, the late New Testament scholar Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., said that the Greek word panta, which means “all,” would have included the disciples as well. Showing mercy to those on the margins, even showing them a modicum of respect, always infuriates some people—including some of Jesus’s own followers.

Second, I recall what a psychologist told me a few years ago, when I first started ministering with LGBTQ people. I was giving a talk drawn from my book Building a Bridge, about LGBTQ ministry, in an affluent Connecticut suburb, to a largely welcoming parish. Ninety-nine percent of the parishioners were open, friendly and attentive, and also posed some great and challenging questions, which I was happy to answer. 

But afterwards, a well-dressed woman in a Chanel suit came to the book-signing table and started—literally—screaming at the top of her lungs, “You disgust me! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” Again, neither my book nor I had challenged any church teaching.  

The next day, I spoke with my psychologist friend, since this was a new and frankly disturbing experience for me. I said, “Where does that kind of rage coming from?”  

“From her,” she said simply.

It is one thing to disagree, it is another to be in a rage, she said. The woman, she suggested, was most likely dealing with some intense and unresolved feelings about her own complicated sexuality. “Otherwise,” said the psychologist, “she would have simply asked you a question.” 

Perhaps she harbored lesbian feelings that frightened her. Perhaps a family member was gay. Perhaps another woman had once expressed romantic affections for her. In such cases, the person, terrified by their inner turmoil, seeks to impose “order” on the outside world. And often their rage, which is too overwhelming to be directed inwards, is directed outwards. That doesn’t describe everyone who responds in this way, but it certainly describes some. 

In the past few years, in fact, I’ve gotten several notes (perhaps four or five) from young men saying, in essence, “I’m sorry I attacked you on social media a few years ago. I was young and dealing with my own sexuality.  But I’ve just come out and am sorry.”

Showing mercy to those on the margins, even recognizing them as human beings, always infuriates some people—including some of Jesus’s own followers.

So, despite all the anger, Pete Buttigieg is still legally married to his husband Chasten, and they have two young children whom they love. Those are simply facts. You can be against same-sex marriage, as you may be against two people not getting married in a sacramental union in the church. But they are still legally married.     

As for the hatred directed to me, from all manner of homophobic sources, both inside and outside the church, I’m getting used to it.  Perhaps I wouldn’t go as far as Franklin D. Roosevelt, a personal hero, did in 1936, but his courage against hatred inspires me. 

Speaking about the wealthy financiers who had lined up against his New Deal, which aimed to help the struggling poor during the Great Depression, Roosevelt said in a campaign speech: “They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!” I don’t welcome it, but I see it as a necessary cost to pay for treating LGBTQ people with the “respect, compassion and sensitivity” that everyone deserves. 

All this is a small window into what many LGBTQ people—married, single and somewhere in between—face every day. And in these situations, we have two places to stand, as in the Gospel story of Zacchaeus. We can stand with the crowd who grumbles and issues death threats, or we can stand with Jesus, who sees Zacchaeus, calls to him and who treats him with dignity.  

James Martin, S.J.

James Martin, S.J., is editor at large of America Media.

All articles by James Martin, S.J.

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34 Comments
  1. You have tremendous courage and insight. I love the comparison to Jesus and Zacchaeus!

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    • Thanks. It’s an important text for all of us as we think about how to reach out, and how to deal with the “grumblers.”

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    • Fr. James,

      Our kid came out as transgender when she was 25 years-old, explaining she knew her identity when she was 3 or 4 years-old, but lacked the ability to express who she was.

      She exists. As she is. We accept and love her, as she is.

      Your words of support to families like ours mean more than I can adequately express. Posts like this one give us hope! God bless you, Fr. James!

      Mary, our Mother, pray for us.

      Duane

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  2. Well considered Fr James. As an Australian Catholic I look on with horror at this hatred. It was led here by Archbishop Pell and is a reason why many of us ( I am not gay ) have left the church. This is so sad. Stay strong and stay in the 21st Century.

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    • Yes, the hatred is at once understandable (its roots) and mystifying (its depth)

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      • Thank you for your brave, principled, and loving stand on behalf of LGBTQ people. I have a transgender nephew, and over many years of teaching in Catholic middle school I encountered many LGBTQ students, and I only wish they felt more loved and accepted by their church.

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  3. Yes, treating ALL people with dignity says it all.

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    • Amen

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  4. Fr. Martin, I choose to stand with Jesus. I have seen the impact of this hate, disreprect and resultant isolation in my own family. It is not pretty and I suspect not the level of loving acceptance to which we are called. The fact that we are still having this conversation is sufficiently worrying and I can only say,, Thank you for all you do!

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    • Thanks for your support and prayers.

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  5. I am so happy and proud for the Church to have priest like you Father Martin. It is wonderful to feel our church going in the right direction, following Jesus and trusting his love for all.

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    • Thanks!

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  6. Thank you Father Martin! You are more Christ-like than any of the purist Catholics. I know a few and they are anything but Christian. Keep preaching your goodness.

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    • Thanks for your prayers!

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  7. Good for you, Father Martin. I’m editing for the day our church welcomes everyone no matter their lifestyle. Jesus preached love and we can’t ignore all the aspects of love,

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    • Yes, indeed. We ignore love at our peril

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  8. Proud to call you a member of my Church.

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    • Ditto

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  9. Like yourself, I am puzzled by this animosity.

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    • It sometimes feels bottomless.

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  10. As a person who was raised by devout Catholic parents, but never believed and wholeheartedly rejects the Catholic Church as well as all organized religion (call me a hopeful, but skeptical agnostic), I am still inspired by your words and your ministry. The world would be a much better place if more religious leaders (in fact more human beings in general) followed your example of love and inclusion instead of hatred and bigotry. Thank you for speaking out and ministering to those on the fringes.

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    • Thanks for your support and prayers.

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  11. Pete Buttigieg’s father studied to be a Jesuit priest before emigrating to America and marrying Pete’s mother. Both parents were on the faculty of Notre Dame University. Pete graduated from St Joseph High School in S Bend Indiana. But if he wanted to have a personal life, get married, and have a family, he would have to leave the Catholic church. He is now an Episcopalian. As he has said, “if being gay was a decision, it was made far above my pay grade.”

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    • Yes, his father was a Jesuit priest in Malta. Many of the Maltese Jesuits still remember him fondly.

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  12. As a cradle Catholic who has left the church because I have a gay son, I appreciate your inclusive ministry and efforts to champion the dignity of LGBTQ people. My mom recently asked me not to turn my back on the church, to which I replied that it’s in fact the opposite. My son was created by God and He doesn’t make mistakes. My son not only exists, but is a wonderful human being in every way. Until the Catholic Church fully embraces him and allows him to be a fully participating member, I will not return and that makes me very sad. My unconditional, heart bursting love and support for my child will always come first.

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    • Thanks for your warm letter and your support of your beloved son. . I hope you’re able to find your way back to the church. There are many parishes who will welcome you. If you go on our “Gaudete” section, you will see a few, along with New Ways Ministry’s list of welcoming parishes.

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    • As a gay Catholic who attends a Catholic parish, I’ll admit this attitude disturbs me a bit. With all due respect, we need as many like minded people as possible, and leaving the Church will only make things worse. If your son doesn’t attend mass because he personally doesn’t feel welcome, I think it’s morally licit not to require him to go. You are not gay, and you are neglecting your relationship with God by turning away from a Church that has always had deep problems (remember Peter personally denied Christ). For us gay Catholics, the leap of faith is to embrace a Church that doesn’t embrace us, not waiting for it to get better without us. Fr. Martin is staying and fighting. I’m staying and fighting. And we need you too. If Jesus had waited for humanity to accept him, we’d still be waiting for Him. He came unwelcome and died unwelcome. Praise be to our Merciful God.

      Reply
  13. Living in Los Angeles, I have very rarely encountered any blatant, homophobic vitriol. But whenever I do, I always get the sense that that person has very complicated feelings about their own sexuality. Not only are they likely gay and hate the fact that they are gay, but they also hate openly gay people for having the courage to be what they are too terrified to admit about themselves. Sadly, some of these people are Catholic priests.

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    • Yes, the psychologists I’ve spoken to have all said the same thing: it’s one thing to disagree; but when it’s a kind of seething rage, there is something else going on.

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  14. Superb essay, Father. You are a light in the darkness of our church.

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  15. Fr. Martin,
    Thanks for your words, and the bright hope you provide for LGBTQ+ people in the world. I am Catholic, and my spouse became Catholic shortly after we met. Our Catholic faith has brought us closer together (yes, we are gay, if that wasn’t clear from above), and enriched our relationship with Jesus. My spouse has two daughters from a previous marriage, and about five years ago, one of those girls came out to us as gay, and later as Transgender. We have been together for nearly 17 years, but got legally married in a civil ceremony in 2014, and it brought so much to our relationship. A couple of nights ago, my spouse was presenting at a company meeting, and as part of his presentation, he always shares about his “home team”, which is the company’s way of saying “where do you get your support from when you are not at work?” The first slide always shows us in a couple portrait, the two kids, and of course our dogs. Even though he mentioned this in his presentation, later in the evening, three or four people in the room were heard making fun of inclusive pronouns, even knowing that we have a transgender child. While this was discouraging to hear, what was encouraging was that later in the evening, his new manager called and said that the incendiary language that was used would not be accepted and would be addressed with each of those individuals. In our times acceptance is changing, but unfortunately, for Pete and thousands of others, not fast enough.

    I bless you and Pete and other public figures for taking a stand, and for risking yourselves to speak the truth.

    Thank you, and please continue this awesome ministry!
    Kent

    Reply
  16. My goddaughter struggled with and explored her identity for many years through her teens and into her early 20s. I know her journey was difficult, challenging, and marred and marked by instances of hatred, derision, ostracization, and rejection by some less-than-kind and loving family, and alleged friends. Raised Catholic and receiving the traditional sacraments of Baptism, Reconciliation, First Eucharist, and Confirmation, she struggled to “conform” to the identity and persona expected of her, until eventually having the courage and the strength to recognize and accept and declare to the world who she is, and who God created her to be. Throughout her journey, I made sure she knew that all I wanted for this beautiful godchild of mine, and child of God, was for her to be happy, and if it was God’s will, to find love with a person who would love her back with their whole heart and soul. And so I was beyond thrilled when she married her now life partner late last year, and I am so very, very proud to tell anyone who may ask that she, like Pete Buttigieg, is legally married “like it or not”. I was so very moved by your article, as well as saddened, and angered by the ignorant, angry and unloving responses you were subjected to, and I thank you for your continued courage in speaking the truth, and offering hope and love and support to all the LGBTQ people who have been created by our God, and deserve nothing less than total love and support and acceptance in our world

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  17. Thank you for your public advocacy Fr. Martin, no one (save Christ) asked you to put up with all the BS we have to deal with. Blessed are you! Who suffers insults and injuries for the sake of Him, for your reward will be great!

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  18. Thank you Fr Martin for your words of courage and love. Your words are a balm, in what seems sometimes to be a time of hate of the other. I am in awe of Pope Francis in his recent statement, and yourself in the support and love for all people, and for standing up for the LGBTQI+ community and individuals, as you have in this article.
    In Aotearoa, New Zealand, I am also in awe of the first New Zealand All Black, Campbell Johnston, who has just come out to tell his story – this shows dignity and love for all, and provides a beacon of hope for those who are still struggling.
    I thank you for your aroha (love) and awhi (support) of all those who are hurting, hiding, and just surviving. You provide hope to many. Thank you.

    Reply
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