The Cosmos and Damien briefThe paper quoted in the first part of this document is a brief submitted by the lay Catholic "Cosmos and Damien Society" (The CDS) to a committee of the Canadian Parliament. To avoid copyright infringement, I have summarized parts of the document and only quote in green the most pertinent parts. My reactions and qualifications are given in purple. Readers who wish to confirm that my abbreviation and paraphrase is accurate are referred to the original document. I have appended as an appendix a review of the "New Natural Law" ethical theory, to which the arguments of the CDS are clearly indebted.
I found this document extremely disturbing, not for any reason that one might have expected, but because its doctrine of heterogender marriage is so very shallow and objectionable.
Arguments in favour of homogender marriage.The brief lists four arguments in support of homogender marriage:
and homosexuals are capable of such love and commitment.
if homogender marriage is objectively wrong then they have no validity.
Arguments against homogender marriage.The brief lists "three compelling reasons for rejecting same sex marriage":
In my view:
The CDS brief fails to construct any argument upon this premise.
The CDS brief fails to show how they are "grounded in objective reality".
|The CDS brief argues its first "compelling reason" as follows:
"the unity of spouses is distinct from any other kind of unity..... What makes it distinct is the reproductive type act, whereby a man and a woman become a single reproductive principle..... This distinction makes marriage intrinsically ordered to the good of procreation as well as to the good of spousal unity, and these goods are tightly bound together.
Individuals .... are only potential parts of a mated pair, which is the complete organismcapable of reproducing sexually..... Even if the mated pair is sterile, intercourse .… makes the copulating male and female one organism."
and became a "single reproductive principle" with Him,
in as far as She procreated at His initiative!
This is largely a valid - but uninteresting - deduction from a true premise. Of coursee, a sexual act that is reproductive only in type cannot unite sterile individuals as a single reproductive principle, because no such reproductive potential exists in their actual common shared being.Therefore, such acts cannot possibly actualize marital unity;"
This conclusion is only valid on the assumption that marital unity is objectively that "whereby a man and a woman become a single reproductive principle," which is exactly the point at issue!"at best they can only achieve some other purpose, such as ...... sharing pleasure." However "the central point of sex is not .... the sharing of pleasure. The point of sex, rather, is marriage itself."
Here we have a crucial admission: that there is a possibility of "some other purpose" and that this other purpose is a good in itself. However, it is asserted that the good of "sharing pleasure" is not "the central point of sex", and by implication that such sharing is not a sufficient justification for sexual intimacy. On the contrary, Pius XI taught:"It is the nature of marital acts as reproductive in type that makes it possible for such acts to be unitive in the distinctively marital way. And this type of unity is a good in itself: its value is not .... geared to .... procreation."
Note that the acts are "reproductive in type" rather than reproductive in fact, or even in potential."where male-female union cannot (or cannot rightly) be sought as an end in itself, sexual activity necessarily involves the
instrumentalization of the bodies of those participating in such activity to extrinsic ends. Such activity creates a person-body opposition where the body is separated from the conscious and desiring aspect of the self, understood as the 'true' self that uses the body as its instrument."
I cannot ascend to these heights of unintelligibility.".... allowing same-sex unions to be recognized as 'marriage' would, by necessity, give relationships based on sexual acts that are not reproductive in type the same legal recognition as those based on true marital acts.
This is manifestly true (if "true marital acts" is read as "penetrative vaginal intercourse"), except that I would hope that heterogender marriages are not based on sexual acts of any type, but based rather on things like love and faithfulness and commitment etc. etc.
|The CDS brief argues its second "compelling reason" as follows:
Heterosexual marriage is a matter of vital social importance because society needs the family to reproduce itself. Marriage is what it is .... because society needs future generations to survive ..... no homosexual couple can reproduce on its own terms. Left to itself, no homosexual couple can create a family.
At least this argument has the advantage of being succinct. My refutation will be similar. First, I must point out that the argument expected was that "allowing homogender marriage would weaken the family". Instead we have been treated to the altogether different argument "no homosexual couple can create a family." This argument is obviously true, if "family" is taken to mean "children": but whether it is true or not, the conclusion is uninteresting. Equally, no sterile heterogender "couple can create a family": so what?
I presume that the CDS brief means to insinuate that if homogender marriage was allowed, the idea that marriage is the means for society to continue itself would be undermined. I doubt that many people seriously view marriage in this manner. Moreover, it doesn't matter whether this opinion is prevalent or not: all that matters for the continuance of the human race is that enough children are born each generation. This is not typically a problem in a world suffering from a population explosion! A very much greater threat to a developed country's birth-rate is contraception: but I suppose that the CDS would be against this too!
If the primary end is love, matrimony loses that which constitutes it and makes it singularly distinct from any other type of society. If the primary end is love and not the procreation and upbringing of children, matrimony is divested from the privileged status that it enjoys as coming before and standing above all other societies - including the State - as is recognized bby natural law itself.
|The CDS brief argues its third "compelling reason" as follows:
"Practically, all psychologists and psychiatrists agree that the development of a child's personal identity, which necessarily involves the mature integration of his or her condition as male or female, depends heavily on the sexual differentiation of the parents and on the roles proper to father and mother."
This is absurd.
This is the first interesting material to be found in the CDS brief. I have myself argued elsewhere that there "cannot be a universal human nature". However, this is only a problem for an Aristotelian. As a Platonist, I would prefer to view every individual human being as participating in various forms to various extents. Each (wo)man has a nature entirely proper to him/herself, though very similar to those of all other human beings. Just because we are all different, it does not follow that we cannot share objective values of justice, fairness, tolerance, mutual respect and so on! What we cannot share are absolute "one size fits all" rules about "what is good for me is good for you".
Is Marriage a Form of Discrimination?This commentary by R.M.T. Schmid, of St. Hugh's College at the University of Oxford appeared in the weekly edition of the English language L'Osservatore Romano in July 2004. I note that the author is not listed as a member of staff of St Hugh's. I have abbreviated the document. The full version can be found here. I quote from it in green. My reactions and qualifications are given in purple.
Are homosexual relationships equal to marital relationships?Justice requires that equals be treated equally and unequals unequally. Unjust discrimination either fails to ask the right question or fails to act on the right answer. In contemporary political discourse the term discrimination itself has come to signify injustice. While this reflects the truth that all human beings have equal dignity simply in virtue of belonging to the human species, it can obscure the fact that human dignity also requires recognition of the truth that, though equal, not everyone is the same.
This is entirely true. The rest of the document mis-applies the excellent principles here clearly stated.The first and most ambitious argument from discrimination proposes that homosexual relationships are equal to marital relationships in those respects that justify the privileged treatment of marriage.
Note the subtle use of the word "equal" here.Exclusivity, dependence, duration and sexual nature are not the relevant aspects why marriage is privileged by the State. They
are only the conditions of those aspects that make marriage unique:
born and raised in a community where they experience the cause of their biological and historical identity as a loving union preserved by each parent placing the needs of others over their own.
Note that this unwarranted assertion predetermines the outcome of this discussion. It is entirely possible that the State's legitimate purpose is to support the actual lives of its citizens and to help them to flourish. After all, the Tradition of the Church does not view marriage in such an instrumental manner, but rather as a way of affirming and supporting a species of relationship particularly apt for the mutual sanctification of the parties involved.One objection to this is that not all marriages lead to children. Of course, the State cannot anticipate whether or not couples will have children,
On the other hand, it is pretty much as clear that an elderly couple one of which has had a hysterectomy and the other has a sperm count of zero as a result of successful anticancer chemotherapy is no more likely to produce children than a young pair of males. Ironically, a couple of young women - with the aid of sperm donation - could in principal produce twice as manyy offspring as the typical heterogender pair.but it is clear that only one man and one woman together can be the biological parents of a child
It is equally clear that they do not have to be married to do so!and can raise it with the complementarity of motherly and fatherly love.
It has yet to be demonstrated that "the complementarity of motherly and fatherly love"Marital acts are procreative in character, even if non-behavioural conditions do not allow for conception.
Why should the State be interested in such Aristotelian niceties as "procreative in character"?The other objection is that marriages fail, to the detriment of children, spouses and families at large. But if individual marriages are in crisis, the correct inference cannot be that social policy should institutionalize this failure rather than counteract it.
This argument is formally valid, though irrelevant. It is most regrettable that it is used to insinuate that the legitimization of homo gender marriage amounts to the institutionalization of the failure of heterogender marriage.Through marital benefits the State promotes rather than rewards ideal conditions for procreation and socialization.
The author's basic unwarranted assertion is here repeated.
Are legal recognition and governmental support justifiable?When the State uniquely privileges marriage, homosexual relationships are in no way singled out for "unequal treatment". There are any number of relationships that do not qualify for the benefits of marriage. The question then is why homosexual relationships should be treated as uniquely analogous to marriage.
This is unworthy of the author. First he neglects to consider whether it is just that "any number of relationships .... do not qualify for the benefits of marriage". While his statement is true, it is not obviously just that other forms of profound inter-personal commitment should not be favoured by the State to a similar extent - or even more - than marriage is. The author simply assumes - as is typical of a conservative - that what is now the case in fact> is identical with what should be the case in justice.The aspect that differentiates homosexual unions from other non-marital relationships of dependence and duration is their particular sexual nature,
This is simply not true. Sexual activity is no more necessary in a homo gender affective relationship - perhaps less so - than in a heterogender one. At least one senior Anglican cleric has stated publicly that he is in a long term "celibate" committed homo-gender affective relationship.and it is not clear why this should single them out for governmental support. Preferential treatment of this sort would discriminate against all those in dependent relationships of a non-sexual nature: an unmarried woman who cares for her ageing mother or two widowed sisters who share a household could not claim privileges and protection from the State.
Indeed. It would have been interesting to see the author follow up on this train of thought.In France the perception of this problem has led to a more liberal model of civil unions, open to any two citizens. Even this model discriminates against some, as it provides no justification why groups or singles should be financially and socially
I agree as regards "groups" such as monastic communities: but they have other advantages. They can hold property together and can set themselves up as charities etc. As far as "singles" go, they are not at any financial or social disadvantage. If an individual is not in fact sharing his/her life with another person, the fact that they are doing so cannot be recognized - simply because there is nothing to recognize. If they do not wish to do so, that is their affair alone and they should be affirmed in this choice: which may be for the benefit of society at large, as freeing them for the more general charitable service of others.Crucially, in an open-to-all policy marriage loses the uniquely privileged position it deserves for practical and symbolical
reasons. The extension of marriage privileges to non-marital unions inevitably diverts resources, dilutes meaning and diminishes status of marriage as traditionally understood. Rhetorical efforts to maintain some distance between marriage and homosexual unions cannot hide this fact.
Indeed. However, it is worthwhile unpacking this argument. It amounts to the assertion that the bad thing about opening marriage to homo gender couples is that this would remove the - inequitable and so unjust - privilege presently enjoyed by heterogender couples.A minimalist version of the argument for homosexual unions suggests that with "legal recognition" nothing more is at stake than the formal registration of a social phenomenon. In most cases, though, such "legal recognition" does in fact confer to homosexual relationships privileges previously reserved to marriage. This involves a re-evaluation of what contributes to the common good, how social benefits should be distributed and what the rights of children are.
Quite right and long overdue too!But even if no benefits and privileges were involved, to single out the social phenomenon of homosexual relationships for formal registration is either arbitrary or it suggests an analogy to the only other legally recognized relationship, which is marriage.
Indeed. An "analogy" which is all too apparent for the author's comfort.In an attempt to justify this analogy, proponents resort to the category of "committed relationships" to describe both homosexual and marital relationships. This falsely suggests that commitment in relationships is worthy of privileges for its own sake, while in fact the privileges promote the vital and social functions of marriage, for which commitment is only the condition.
Why is "commitment in relationships" not "worthy of privileges for its own sake"? Such commitments of trust and friendship are, after all, the very basis of society. According to St Thomas Aquinas:Consequently, for the State to promote a homogenized vision of "committed relationships" amounts to the decision no longer to encourage ideal conditions for procreation and socialization.“Society is maintained through friendship .... so let legislators do their utmost to preserve friendship among citizens …. to avoid dissensions; for concord is assimilated to friendship”
No it doesn't. The "promotion of state B" does not amount to the "demotion of state A". The legalization of mixed race marriages in the southern U.S.A. did not amount "to the decision no longer to encourage ideal conditions for procreation and socialization", rather it extended the privileges of marriage to those whom had previously been unjustly denied them.
Conferral of marital status to homosexual unions?The second argument from discrimination takes a different approach. Now the contention is not that homosexual unions are equal to marriage in relevant aspects but that the disadvantages homosexual persons suffer in society ought to be compensated for by conferring marital status to homosexual unions.
That would be a silly argument, and I have never heard it expressed before.The author proceeds to effectively demolish this "straw man" at length. As I do not perceive this part of his "commentary" to relate to anything objective, I have no inclination to reproduce it here. He concludes with the following revealing remarks.
Freedom of ConscienceIs the introduction of homosexual unions ultimately to symbolize that there is no right to freedom of conscience on the matter of
homosexual acts and that conscientious objectors are to be marginalized in public life? Already the appeal to conscience in any matter pertaining to homosexuality risks being dismissed as "homophobia". Understood as a pathological fear, this disqualifies the position of opponents as an entirely irrational stance.
The author has nowhere appealed to conscience, but rather has attempted to use scholarly and rational argument from firm premises to obtain well founded and robust conclusions. For him the matter of the recognition of homo gender affective unions is a matter of objective evil, not subjective dissonance. Nevertheless, the character of his argumentation is in fact "entirely irrational". It is on account of this irrationality that I would conclude that the author has a pathological fear or hatred of homosexuality rather than make the reverse argument that he suggests.Beyond that, it has also come to imply an indifferent or even hostile attitude. Because the condemnation of homosexual behaviour objects to acts, not to persons, the conclusion that any opposition to homosexual unions indicates lack of respect and care for people is a blatant non sequitur.
It is frequently manifest that "condemnation of homosexual behaviour" is a disguised or watered down expression of an underlying hatred of homosexuals. The kind of "respect and care" extended to gay folk by people such as this author is typically equivalent to the kind of "respect and care" that they would extend to pedophiles.If the line of reasoning is that homosexuality is so central to the human person that it is impossible to morally disapprove of
homosexual acts and not thereby discriminate against the person, then by the same token conscientious beliefs central to the human person could not be contradicted without discriminating against the person.
Freely chosen beliefs are necessarily the moral responsibility of the subject who chooses freely to adopt them on the basis of his experience and the evidence at hand. Physio-psychological characteristics are not.The exhortation that "religious belief must not lead to the discrimination of homosexual persons by refusing them the right to marry" sets up a false problem. Not all arguments made by religious believers can be reduced to their religious beliefs or are
justified on the basis of their beliefs alone, and not all the reasons why the State should uniquely privilege marriage depend on the immorality of homosexual acts. The contribution of religious believers to the public debate on homosexual unions cannot be dismissed as inherently irrational and biased without denying them equality as citizens.
Unless, of course, the sad objective fact is that their arguments are "inherently irrational and biased".Moral objections to sexual orientation are not necessarily irrational,
This is a most regrettable statement. No moral objections to anything are necessarily irrational!and it is only unjust to discriminate on the basis of these objections in areas where the sexual orientation of the individual is irrelevant. It cannot be allowed that in political discussion pathological irrationality, bad motives or even hatred are freely ascribed to opponents of homosexual unions, disregarding basic rules of evidence.
Agreed. I will leave it to my readers to decide for themselves to what extent the author gives evidence in his own commentary of "pathological irrationality, bad motives or even hatred".The same is true for the voice of the Catholic Church: Scripture and Tradition are unequivocal in the condemnation of homosexual behaviour,
This is simply not true.but the difference between homosexual relationships and marriage has not been invented by Christianity, nor is it upheld only by Catholics.
This is certainly true. Arguably, Catholic homophobia is an import from Islam or secular society. It is certainly no part of Apostolic Tradition.If in the name of truth rational arguments can be dismissed because they accord with conscientious beliefs, and in the name of
justice conscientious belief can be silenced, then freedom is not for all.
Indeed. It would be salutary for the Pope of Rome and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to read, mark and learn this lesson.
The "New Natural Law" TheoryThe following is a summary of an article by Gary Chartier, that was published in the UCLA Law Review .
Germain Grisez, John Finnis, Joseph M. Boyle, Jr., William E. May, Robert P. George, and others have recently articulated a new ethical theory grounded in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. I summarise their view, before criticizing it.
The basic goodsThe purpose of reasonable human action is to attain one or more basic goods such as:
One should act in a way that reflects the diversity of human goods and the varied potentialities of human life. It is one thing, for instance, to opt for scholarly monasticism out of a love of learning: it is another to do so out of hostility toward others and a rejection of the value of friendship. Integral human fulfilment is achieved by attaining the basic goods according to a number of practical principles, such as:
The ethics of spousal sexual intimacySexual behaviour that is open to procreation unites a married couple in a shared endeavour. Their potentially procreative intercourse creates a co-operative union that is a biological unit. In such a relationship sexual pleasure is experienced as a welcome concomitant of the partners' shared endeavour. Parenthood, is a basic good to which their sexual activity is intrinsically oriented. Spouses recognize that sexual pleasure is not an accompaniment to, or a compensation for, parenthood, but rather is the actualization of the intelligent commitment to share in those responsibilities. They understand that:
".... in a sexual act there is a desire directed toward the body and the desire of the other. The participants' attention is riveted on the action itself. And the desire and attention is not just toward the physical presence of the other (as in a hug). So the action is not primarily a sign for some other reality. Indeed, sexual acts are symbolically powerful precisely because of what sexual intercourse between a man and a woman is in reality .... if there is not a real union of which the sexual act is a part - in other words if it is not a marital act - then the bodily presence of the other, and the personal presence of the other in his or her body, is used for the sake of the experience of the sexual act, even if that experience has as an ulterior end some signification."It is hard to know quite what to make of this argument. Its framers may be attempting to say that the power of sexual desire temporarily obscures the wider significance of any sexual act, so that one can be said to act only to satisfy desire rather than to convey love. However, if true, this means that the power of sexual desire to overwhelm our other purposes is a problem, and this will be equally true of marital sexuality.
Objection to same gender sexual intimacyThe new natural lawyers argue that sexual union cannot be an integral part of personal union without an openness to procreation. They assert that sexual intimacy is itself no kind of common good and cannot serve the good of friendship. Rather, they say that such behaviour is evil because it fosters distintegrity. To engage in sex for pleasure alone is to treat the body as a means to obtain pleasure. In a same gender sexual encounter, each party is alienated from their own body and from that of their partner. Each partner is, in effect, using the other to masturbate. Sexual intimacy can only ever be justified by a commitment - in principle - to parenthood. Grisez indelicately argues:
".... although it is true that partners in sodomy also could conceivably share in a committed relationship with sincere mutual affection and express their feelings in ways that would be appropriate in any friendship, the coupling of two bodies of the same sex cannot form one complete organism and so cannot contribute to a bodily communion of persons. Hence, the experience of intimacy of the partners in sodomy cannot be the experience of any real unity between them. Rather, each ones experience of intimacy is private and incommunicable, and is no more a common good than is the experience of sexual arousal and orgasm. Therefore, the choice to engage in sodomy for the sake of that experience of intimacy in no way contributes to the partners' real common good as committed friends.Or, as Robert George and Patrick Lee say:
"It is true in general, for any two (or more) people, that actions which they perform make them one only if there is a real, common good of their actions. Unity of action promotes or actualizes interpersonal unity, or unity of persons. In the case of the sexual act of a married couple, their act of physically or organically becoming one (organic unity) is the common good, the shared pursuit of which (unity of action) also brings about or enhances their interpersonal unity (unity of persons). But if the participants in a sexual act do not become physically or organically one, then, whatever goods they may be seeking as ulterior ends, their immediate goal is mere pleasure or illusory experience. So there is in such an experience no common good, the common pursuit of which makes them one. There is no real unity of action to effect or enhance their interpersonal unity."Their idea seems to be that interpersonal union piggybacks on union of purpose or activity: that we can speak of personal union only as a consequence of union in purpose or activity. Affective union as such is illusory.
A critique of this theory
Some objectivist commentsWhile the notion of basic goods is sensible, it is not true to say that each is irreducible. The single basic good is existence: it is good to be, and God - Who is Being in HimSelves - is both supremely good and the supreme good. The other basic goods are good only insofar as they support the continuance and expansion of life. Even passive aesthetic experience is of value in this regard as a means of affirming and celebrating the value of being. Without existence the subject cannot experience the beauty of either his/her own being or that of other beings.
Happiness is the state that follows when a subject's life is secure and he or she is therefore prospering. This is the goal of all strife and activity. Contrary to the assertion of the New Natural Lawyers, happiness is the basis of all the basic goods.
EmotionsEmotion are conscious responses to the perceived significance of an experience. If the perception is at fault, then the emotion will be misleading. There is thus a good reason not to seek emotional satisfactions per se, but rather to pursue intelligible goods and then rejoice in the rational acknowledgement of what has been attained. This is the value of ortho-doxy. Without a objectively correct framework of belief, one cannot properly evaluate the significance of facts or experience and so have an appropriate emotional response to it. The joyful anticipation of an internee at the prospect of a hot cleansing shower would have been woefully misplaced outside a Nazi concentration camp gas-chamber.
The value of pleasure.On occasion, pleasure can be an end in and of itself. While it is sometimes a pointer to other basic goods, it has worth in and of itself. If it did not, then I could neither chew gum or invite another to scratch my back simply for the pleasure afforded by the accompanying sensations. If the latter non sexual activity can be justified in terms of the celebration or strengthening of a bond of friendship (a major role that grooming plays in the various species of Great Apes) then why cannot a similar justification apply to sexual activity?
The new natural lawyers consistently reject any form of ego body dualism. In doing so, they make it difficult to distinguish the welfare of the body from that of the conscious self. On this basis, the welfare of the body must be at least conjoined with that of the ego. How then can the body be objectified when pleasure is sought, even if this is described as benefiting the ego? This is no more true than when one part of the body is employed for the benefit of another part: for instance, when using the fingers of one hand to remove a splinter from the other!
Once it is granted that bodily pleasure may be sought for its own sake, it follows that no disintegration of self follows from the pursuit of such pleasure. Consequently, there will be no defensible objection to solo masturbation as inherently objectifying. Nor can the various non procreative acts the new natural lawyers condemn under the heading of mutual masturbation be condemned because they cause ego body alienation and result in the ego's subjugation to some imaginary good. Even if is granted that these acts actualize no common good they can still be seen as valuable, involving as they do the gifting of pleasure by the partners to each other.
ConclusionThe best argument offered today in support of the proposition that homosexual conduct is immoral and that homo-gender marriage should therefore be forbidden is unconvincing. Its dismissal of homosexual conduct as morally wrong depends on the assertions that
The new natural lawyers suggest that the institution of marriage itself would be threatened by the legal recognition of homo-gender marriage. Perhaps that is true if marriage is understood as essentially procreative. Perhaps affording legal recognition to homo-gender marriage would discourage people from viewing marriage in this way. But hetero-gender couples who do not believe openness to procreation is essential to marriage are unlikely to be shaken in their commitment to their relationships and to the institution of marriage if the marriages of homo-gender couples are legally recognized. Having children is, for most people, a choice clearly distinguishable from the choice to marry.
If they are right in regarding securing their own personal union as a sufficient reason for marriage and their loving commitment to each other as a sufficient warrant for full sexual expression, then there is no reason to withhold legal recognition from the marriages of homo-gender couples. Because such couples attain the basic good of intimate, ecstatic union that is the goal of sexual intercourse within marriage, their relationships deserve the acknowledgement and support accorded by society to those of their hetero-gender counterparts.