An Interview with Anthony and Casey Esser
There is a lot of talk in the Church today about the importance of supporting marriages. From a plethora of options for marriage preparation and ministries for those whose relationships are struggling, to an increasing number of specialized groups. There is no doubt that the Church honors the union of man and woman as a significant icon of Christ and His relationship with the Church.
However, in most cases, there is a group of marriages that often goes unnoticed or at the very least, unacknowledged. These marriages are often referred to as “mixed orientation marriages,” in which one or both of the spouses fall somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrums. Within our Eden Invitation community, we seek to provide a place where our members who experience some degree of same sex desires and/or gender discordance—and have been called to live out their vocations in a faithful, sacramental marriage to someone of the opposite sex—have the opportunity to find community with others who understand.
Earlier this year, a number of our married community members and their spouses formed a book club that was slightly different from our typical groups. Together, they read a book called Impossible Marriage, centered on the journey of a Christian couple in a mixed orientation marriage. Longtime Eden Invitation community member Anthony Esser and his wife, Casey, were among the couples who gathered via Zoom each week. The Essers, who met in college and have been married for five years, have two young children and are also foster parents.
“This was an opportunity for (me and Casey) to have some intellectual and spiritual intimacy in the midst of being caught up with the busyness of being a young family,” says Anthony. “It was a time we could put on the calendar, to sit down with other couples, and have an excuse to talk through ideas—ideas that aren’t what our marriage revolves around—but something that’s worth talking about and processing together.”
“I really wanted to have a space to be with people who get it,” says Casey.
The group was made up of couples in a variety of different stages, from newlyweds to those nearing two decades of marriage. In addition to being a place of support and connection with those who have a similar experience, the book club was also an opportunity for couples to share the strengths of their unique marriages and use their gifts and experiences to help others grow.
“Being in the book club, we were in a space where we could look up to people who have been married a long time and learn from them, and look to people who have not been married a long time and see their different approach and learn from them,” says Anthony. “And we could serve as a witness and model to our approach and share what we’ve learned in the journey of integration and life and spiritual growth.”
“It was a space where we were all sitting in awe of each other’s strengths and everything that everybody has dealt with and grown through” says Casey. “It’s really empowering and healing and a good foundation for friendship.”
“It was helpful to have a space for frank conversation,” she adds. “Everybody’s story and orientation and how it comes into their marriage is very different, but having an open space to share about those things was nice.”
“It’s about offering a place of spiritual growth for people who have this experience, whatever that means for them,” adds Anthony.
Anthony and Casey—who have been open with each other about their experiences of attraction since they were dating—are passionate about helping to create spaces for married couples with an experience of same-sex-attraction or gender discordance to find support, encouragement and integration, knowing they are not alone in this experience of what many might see as an “impossible marriage.”
“People have been having these experiences forever and a lot of the time, unfortunately, in part because of the shame and secrecy, those experiences have been expressed in ways that are really dysfunctional and compulsive and destructive,” says Anthony.
“It’s so important for people’s stories to be amplified, so people know that there are other people who have this experience and it’s okay,” says Casey.
“This book club was another moment to live in this space of being unashamed and to share our comfortability with who we are, with other couples who share this experience, and for all of us to share this grace with each other,” says Anthony. “It was very encouraging and affirming in that way.”
And not only are these book clubs a direct blessing to the people who find and share hope within them, but they are also a blessing to the broader community. As individuals or, in this case, couples, are supported in their own spiritual journeys and empowered to share God’s work in their lives, there is a powerful ripple effect.
“The work of helping people to find healing integration, support, community, wholeness… the impacts are exponential,” says Anthony. “It’s not just about helping a handful of LGBTQ people feel less alone. In helping me and my wife and the other couples in this book club find or be affirmed in our wholeness and growth spiritually, it allows us to be better partners to each other, better parents, to be better in our occupations. There’s a very important exponential or ripple effect that comes from the work of human integration and wholeness and spiritual growth. The grace that’s fostered in our Eden Invitation community ripples out to the other people in our lives.”
The Essers hope that other couples will find encouragement in knowing they are not alone in their experience of a faithful mixed orientation marriage, and find hope in the abundant graces of the sacrament and a supportive Catholic community.
“We are trying really hard to live a life of holiness,” says Casey. “And to have somebody be there to offer support and community and just to listen, that’s what Eden Invitation offers. It’s life-saving and faith-saving hope.”