ASK FATHER: Invalid marriage because one was secretly “gay”

From a reader…


My husband and I (both Roman Catholic) are separated. We separated in July after I learned he is secretly gay and has been meeting men for a decade, including before and throughout the entire time we were dating, engaged, and married.

I’ve already spoken to my parish priest about an annulment and we are in the divorce process. We have a toddler daughter. My husband does not want the marriage to dissolve.

My priest says it is a clear case of invalidity. But I would just like (hopefully) a word of encouragement that, on it’s face, you think those are reasonable grounds for me to seek a divorce and annulment.

While we do not have his side of the story, this doesn’t seem all that difficult a case.

Homosexuality, especially when concealed, would likely be a solid ground for exploring the invalidity of consent, because the person who now identifies as “gay” was incapable of assuming the obligations of marriage (can. 1095, 3), or because he deceived the person into marriage by concealing his tendencies (can. 1098) or possibly from error qualitatis personae (can. 1097).

If he had been seeing others prior to and after consent, there might also be the possibility of simulation against the good of fidelity (can. 1101) on his part.


I was in touch with a canonist with lots of tribunal experience who advised me that, tribunals in these USA generally don’t accept a case until it is clear there is no hope of reconciliation between the parties.   The best (though saddest) proof of that is a final divorce judgment.   Some tribunals also have a waiting period after a divorce is final, like asking the Petitioner to wait a year, etc.

Furthermore, when someone alleges that his or her marriage is null, the burden of proof is on the person making the allegation.

It’s not enough to just say, “I learned he was secretly gay.”

Proof and evidence would be need of his long-term, deep-seated same-sex attraction.

The lady should submit all relevant evidence to the tribunal and let them decide the grounds.

“Gay” in itself may not be grounds for nullity.


It should be added that people who are homosexual can validly contract marriage.  What matters is the state of the persons at the time of the marriage, the manifest exchange of vows of the baptized who are free, not hindered in any way, to marry.

Above, note the mention of “proofs”.   Until there are proofs, the marriage is deemed to be valid.

Moreover, there are various reasons to remain together, provided that fidelity and exclusivity can be assured, keeping in mind that two men who do things to each other is not so much adultery as mutual abuse.  The care of children, the goal of helping each other get to heaven… these goods are part and parcel of what was vowed at the time of the marriage and cannot be set aside without grave reasons (e.g., danger of physical violence, psychological harm to children, etc.)

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Canon Law, One Man & One Woman, Sin That Cries To Heaven and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Pingback: ASK FATHER: Invalid marriage because one was secretly “gay” – Via Nova Media

  2. Antonia D says:

    My heart and prayers go out to the poster, and all those in similar circumstances! I wonder if you might consider speaking with someone at Courage (the Catholic apostolate to those with same-sex attraction) and Encourage (the apostolate to their families). It might be very helpful. May God bless you and heal you, and wash away all your tears.

  3. Fr_Andrew says:

    I recall in Canon Law classes several sample judgements from tribunals on this very issue, but also on similar issues of maintaining other sexual relationships before and during marriage.

    In most cases the continued relationships were sufficient proof for most of the judges to suggest nullity, and a defect of consent because there was an substantial error on what marriage was, since it is an exclusive union.

    Notably, though, I do recall one case where there was a real effort at conversion just before the marriage, and at least some stability in the marriage before returning to the unnatural vice. In that case the marriage was upheld as valid, since the effort suggested there was no simulation or substantial error, just weakness on the part of the one spouse towards the unnatural vice.

    It does seem an “open and shut” case, but even while not a canonists myself, I have seen how complex these cases can get, and it’s good that the Church presumes the validity, until it is proven invalid.

  4. Simon_GNR says:

    I approve of the way Father Z uses quotation marks around the word “gay”. I’d like that lovely little word to be grasped back out of the hands of the homosexualists who have appropriated it for their own use and, in effect, stolen it from the mainstream of the English language. Let us begin using it in its old senses of cheerful, happy and bright.

  5. Lurker 59 says:

    I had a very close friend go through a difficult annulment.

    As Fr. Z mentions, I don’t know of a diocese in the US that will process a decree of nullity case prior to a civil divorce. There is, though, a canonical process for checking the validity of a marriage that no one really talks about and is therefore hardly ever done (I would argue is a giant waste of time for cases where it is pertinent and prudent for the parties to be separated, as it does not lead to a decree of nullity. The way it was explained to my friend was that it was utilized more so as a cooling-off period to allow for healing and allowing the marriage to continue).

    There really isn’t enough information in what was provided to really determine validity. It is indicative that validity is worth exploring, though. The insistence of continuing on in a grievous sin is warrant enough, especially with a child, to no longer be under the same roof. Active unrepentant homosexuality is both a physical and spiritual danger to others.

    I would suggest that, while things are still fresh in the individual’s mind, really spend the time to write out the entirety of the events of dating/courtship/engagement/leadup to wedding/wedding date/honeymoon/2-3 months afterward. Do this as detailed as you can and with notes as to who can back things up (including emails text messages phone calls anything where there is a physical record or person that can back up the statement). Also, do this for everything leading up to when you found out about his secret, everything to the separation, and forward now from there. Be as clinical as you can. Feelings aren’t so important unless they are your feelings that would cause the marriage to be null on your part.

    (If you are really going to divorce, you need to record and log any and all contact that you have with him, don’t have private meetings, have witnessed as much as you can, and don’t get into legal squabbles about finances/stuff. It is much harder to rebuild emotionally than rebuilding your finances and material goods. Separation while the bond remains (ie. civil divorce) is permissible but very limited to serious needs where there is a danger to one or both of the parties to remaining together. I would argue that being divorced but still friends is indicative that the separating party does not consider things to be truly serious.)

    Writing things out will help cognitively process and contextualize the events. If you can put a story to life events, (any life events) it really helps to prevent you from being swamped by emotions and lead around by them, especially during extremely volatile periods (divorce/annulment will take years and recovery will take years more).

    Also, and this is important, you will not find “justice” in the civil divorce or ecclesial annulment. If you go into both looking for vindication or anything to make the betrayal less of a burden, you won’t find it — you will just find bitterness. The civil divorce will only end financial and material obligations and the decree of nullity doesn’t say much beyond affirmative or negative. You won’t get answers to “why” just judicial declarations of what is.

    Look up the work of Dr. Enright on Forgiveness Therapy.
    A Line Through the Human Heart: On Sinning and Being Forgiven by Fr. Schall

  6. Transportsjoie says:

    This question caught my attention as sadly, I know from firsthand experience what you are going through, though it is now over 40 years ago. It is a difficult journey especially where children are involved. The difference is that my former husband (legally speaking) and I were Protestants at the time of the separation and divorce; I didn’t become Catholic until years later. My husband never gave up his lifestyle, became openly gay and has cohabited with males for decades now. The parish priest at the time of my entrance into the Church told me that there was no need for an annulment, because I would never remarry. My first thought was, “thanks a lot” but he was absolutely right and re-marriage, in my mind, was always out of the question, so I never pursued an annulment.
    Divorce or not, the father of your child will always be in the picture to some degree most likely – birthdays, graduations. weddings and maybe eventually grandchildren, as in my case. Though it is painful still, the Lord has been gracious in the midst of this difficult situation. I pray daily for his conversion.
    I will pray for the best possible outcome to the reader’s dilemma. If the spouse is willing to do whatever it takes to amend his life, life together might still be a possibility.

  7. hwriggles4 says:

    About ten years ago I was a witness in an annulment case. The case was a short marriage that lasted about 18 months and the guy I was a witness for was able to begin his paperwork for an annulment within weeks after the civil divorce was granted (btw, his former mother-in-law vouched for him as a witness, which in my opinion helped his case). He did get the decree of nullity after about a one year process.

    Anyway, I did want to suggest to the Petitioner that she gather as much “proof ” ahead of time, since having enough witnesses who can verify “proof” (particularly at the time of the wedding) that suspicious behavior was happening. I suggest this because it would assist the Petitioner in preparing her case and making it stronger. It sounds like she will be able to gather several witnesses, which should also help her case. Witnesses also have to write a questionnaire and in some cases they are asked to appear (I was not asked to appear).

    Just my two cents – my first impression is there are grounds for a decree of nullity, since this had been going on for some time even before and at the time of the wedding.

  8. If a canon lawyer might offer a comment, and in keeping with the theme of “do not accept canon law advice or opinions from non-canonists — unless it’s Fr. Z.”: “separation while the bond remains” and divorce are two different things. In the first case the bond remains as do the civil effects of the marriage, in particular with regard to the right of inheritance; whereas with a divorce, even though the bond remains, the merely civil effects are ended, e.g., the person regarded by civil/secular law as a former spouse is no longer first to inherit any assets if the other former spouse dies.

  9. By way of following up, again: there are places in the world where the civil state or secular government recognizes civil-only, and/or religious-only, and/or variants of common law marriage. Canon 1071 §1, 2° requires that Catholic clergy not officiate at a marriage which cannot be recognized by civil law or celebrated in accordance with it. In the United States, the government does not recognize “religious-only” weddings: this is why a civil license must obtained for a wedding celebrated in the Catholic Church, and why it is not permitted to have “just the sacrament of matrimony” in the Catholic Church in the US without a civil license. The Philippines and Vatican City State remain the only countries in the world where divorce is not legal (though that might be changing in the Philippines), and therefore other means are used to establish that all hope of reconciliation between the spouses is ended — which is the first criterion for accepting a case at a tribunal to examine a marriage as to its possible invalidity or nullity. Every once in a while, a tribunal in the US will have to deal with a “religious-only” wedding celebrated in another country, for which a divorce cannot be obtained. In such cases, the tribunal — in the absence of a divorce judgment indicating that hope of reconciliation between the parties is over — must use other means to determine if they can proceed with the examination of the marriage.

  10. seeker says:

    I offer my sympathy to this woman and others in the comments who have had similar experiences. Lurker 59 offers excellent advice. I’d like to offer experience and advice regarding staying together: don’t. I know there is a path forward with tremendous sacrifice and prayer and commitment, but only with someone who is sincerely repentant and capable of fidelity.
    Seeing men before, during and after dating and marriage shows someone so callous to your humanity and rights as to risk your health and happiness. Sexually transmitted diseases, some not curable, can be passed even with so-called “safe sex”.
    You are young and have one child and deserve someone to love you and spend your life with who is not lying and unilaterally making decisions against you and your child’s happiness and well being.
    The very sad truth is that forgiveness is so often seen as permission when there is a reconciliation, particularly with a habitual cheat.
    My dear, I pray you and your child forgive and love your husband in whatever capacity he can receive and you find the happiness you deserve.

Comments are closed.