I'm opting to move my ongoing exchange with Bay Area (Marin County, no less) blogger and parish priest Richard away from the comment thread on an old post, and here to a more prominent position. This is a serious and civil discussion that I (and a few others, it appears) are finding quite stimulating.
By way of laying some groundwork for a specific response to your most recent volley, Richard, let me say something about signs and symbols--and by extension, sacraments--because I'm probably going to get into some further consideration of body parts, and I want to establish at the outset that I take seriously your observation that bonded relationships of the sort we are discussing, while they may include a sexual dimension, cannot be defined or even substantially understood by what partners do with their various body parts. One of the axioms under which I am operating is that, for human beings--who, in distinction to all other animals, bear the image of God--pair-bonded relationships participate in a symbolic vocabulary that is integral to the character of those relationships. They cannot be wholly understood only in relation to the symbols with which they are associated, but neither can they be even partially understood apart from those symbols.
An analogy may be appropriate (though it may also open a whole new can of worms!). For the Church's Easter faith, the Risen Christ is, to a quite substantial degree, symbolized by the Empty Tomb. The mere datum that the women found the tomb empty on the first Easter morning certainly does not exhaust the meaning and importance of the Resurrection. The Risen Christ, many have contended, is so much more than a resuscitated corpse. True. But, I would submit, it is at least that much. To proclaim the Empty Tomb is not a sufficient accounting of the mystery of the Resurrection, but it is a necessary part of a sufficient accounting. The Risen Christ is about more than the Empty Tomb. But he is surely not about any less than that either.
Human relationships that are presumed to have a sexual component--including, of course, marriage, and also the sort of same-sex relationships for which ecclesial blessings are being sought--are certainly about more than what body parts go where under what circumstances. To talk about the physical act of sexual intercourse is not to sufficiently account for the reality of those relationships. But neither are those relationships about anything less than their sexual component. In fact, their sexual component is an essential symbolic key to their character, even as the Empty Tomb is an essential symbolic key to the Resurrection (and this holds, some would say, whether one actually believes in the Empty Tomb or not! In the same way, sex remains an important symbolic key to understanding pair-bonded human relationships, even when the participants in a particular such relationship are not, or no longer, having sex).
Now to some of the specific questions you put to me:
With respect to whether certain covenanted relationships in the Bible can be read as connoting a homoerotic dimension, I cannot say that I am very impressed by this argument. Just using the venerable principle of Occam's Razor (i.e. all things being equal, the simplest explanation of any set of circumstances is probably the best one), to suggest that there was anything sexual between Ruth and Naomi is beyond speculative; it is fanciful. If they were lovers, why would Naomi coach Ruth on how to seduce Boaz? And to suggest the same about David and Jonathan ignores David's relationships with Michal, Abigail, Bathsheba, and possibly even Abishag. The existence of these women is especially compelling if one is invested in the notion that orientation drives behavior; David is clearly not "gay" as that term is understood presently. As for the centurion and his pais--Is not this precisely the sort of exploitative relationship that some "progressive" apologists suggest is being talked about--and condemned--by Paul in Romans 1? I don't understand how any of this helps your argument, Richard. I don't see how such examples "open the door" in the way you would like them to.
As I mentioned above, I appreciate your comments about not allowing the physical mechanics of sexual relations to dominate our understanding of human pair-bonded relationships. I realize there is a host of reasons why two people--whether of the opposite sex or the same sex--might want to set up housekeeping together and rely on one another in various ways. And I have no desire to put up roadblocks in front of people who want to know some companionship and love in a world that is too often very bleak and lonely. But, let's face it, that isn't what this whole mess we're in as a church and as a society is about. What it's about is bonded pairs of the same sex wanting to be married to one another "with all the rights and privileges thereunto appertaining." The actual word "marriage" may not be used, but it is clear that what is sought is indeed marriage, even if by another name.
It is the very formality of such arrangements that makes them, in my view, morally objectionable. They presume to participate in the symbolic vocabulary of marriage, but they cannot, in fact, do so satisfactorily. They overreach. They may indeed enjoy some or even much of the "inward and spiritual grace" of the sacrament of marriage. (Trust me here: I'm going out on a limb saying this, and I reserve the right to scurry back to the trunk without notice!) But they cannot, by their very nature, share in the "outward and visible sign," and it is that outward and visible sign that we're talking about when the subject of public rites of blessing for same-sex relationships is on the table.
Same-sex relationships cannot naturally be signs of marriage; they have to improvise. Such couples cannot produce offspring as the fruit of their coition; they have to adopt (one of them, at least) in order to "start a family." Now, allow me to get a little graphic here--I apologize to readers who may be squeamish. Same-sex couples cannot even "have sex" without improvising. For two men to copulate, there must be a surrogate vagina. For two women, there must be a surrogate penis. (OK, I realize that latter situation is a little more subtle and complicated than my statement implies, but I think, on the whole, it still stands.)
Richard, you bring up evidence from animal behavior and other sorts of statistical indicators. It's late as I write, so I'm going to be perhaps a little more direct than I would like to be. (And I realize there are GLBT people "in the room" who have a quite personal stake in this, and who must feel as though I am being insufferably arrogant and condescending; I quite understand.) As a general principle, it is unwise to base policy on exceptional circumstances. I realize there is a certain percentage of the population for whom gender is an ambiguous experience. Such persons are real, and their experience is real, but they are exceptions. On the other hand, the phenomenon of gender polarity (what Tobias Haller likes to call sexual dimoprhism) is normative reality. It is the primary element in the symbolic vocabulary by which scripture and Christian tradition (and human experience across cultures) understand these issues that vex us. It is like the Empty Tomb, in that it is symbolically true even if one does not accept its literal truth. (For the record, I believe in the literal truth of the Empty Tomb.)
BTW, if it helps anyone to figure me out--the MBTI groupies, at any rate--I'm an INTJ.
I don't know whether I've wrapped anything up, but it's way past my bedtime.