I’ve been posting to an Amazon discussion forum recently concerning the recent overturn of Prop 8 by a Judge Walker out in California. Essentially I’ve been following some advice by Dr. Edward Feser, whose blog I recently found. Feser summarizes the issue here:
“Judge Walker’s decision, he tells us, is based on the principle that the state ought not to “enforce ‘profound and deep convictions accepted as ethical and moral principles’” or to “mandate [its] own moral code.” But that is, of course, precisely what Walker himself has done. His position rests on the question-begging assumption that “same-sex marriages” are no less true marriages than heterosexual ones are, and that the only remaining question is whether to allow them legally. But of course, whether “same-sex marriages” really can even in principle be “marriages” in the first place is part of what is at issue in the dispute. The traditional, natural law view is that marriage is heterosexual of metaphysical necessity. Rather than staying neutral between competing moral views, then, Walker has simply declared that the state should stop imposing one moral view – the one he doesn’t like – and should instead impose another, rival moral view – the one he does like.”
So to a merry band of atheists and Homosexualists I have posed a question to advance a theory of Dr. Feser’s. He advises:
“To concede even for the sake of argument that such behavior (Homosexuality) is morally unobjectionable is effectively to concede the whole issue. Conservative moralists have always upheld the norm that sexual behavior and marriage ought to go together – both because sex naturally results in children and children need the stability of marriage, and because sexual passions are inherently unruly and need to be channeled in the socially constructive way marriage provides. To allow that sexual behavior need not be heterosexual is implicitly to allow that marriage too need not be heterosexual. Pragmatic social-scientific arguments about the possible negative long-range social effects of allowing “same-sex marriage” can only seem anticlimactic in the face of such a concession – heartless nitpicking at best, and the rationalization of prejudice at worst…. Moreover, challenging the moral legitimacy of homosexual behavior requires a moral theory grounded in a classical essentialist metaphysics, one in which what is good for us is determined by a fixed human nature or essence and in particular by the natural ends of our various faculties.”
I would offer the paper I recently featured by Fr. José Noriega titled “Homosexuality: The Semblance Of Intimacy” and John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and the metaphysics of a Christian anthropology as a defense against the moral legitimacy of Homosexualism. A succinct exposition of those sources can also be found in Andrew J. Sodergren’s essay which I refer to later. But rather than challenge my audience with a religious/metaphysical defense (which I assure you would only earn me catcalls), I used an argument that Dr. Michael Sandel had advanced in his book “Justice.” (You can find a series of reading selections here.)
Sandel sets up is proposition here:
“Can you decide whether the state should recognize same-sex marriage without entering into moral and religious controversies about the purpose of marriage and the moral status of homosexuality? Some say yes, and argue for same-sex marriage on liberal, nonjudgmental grounds: whether one personally approves or disapproves of gay and lesbian relationships, individuals should be free to choose their marital partners. To allow heterosexual but not homosexual couples to get married wrongly discriminates against gay men and lesbians, and denies them equality before the law.
If this argument is a sufficient basis for according state recognition to same-sex marriage, then the issue can be resolved within the bounds of liberal public reason, without recourse to controversial conceptions of the purpose of marriage and the goods it honors. But the case for same-sex marriage can’t be made on nonjudgmental grounds. It depends on a certain conception of the telos of marriage — its purpose or point. And, as Aristotle reminds us, to argue about the purpose of a social institution is to argue about the virtues it honors and rewards.
The debate over same-sex marriage is fundamentally a debate about whether gay and lesbian unions are worthy of the honor and recognition that, in our society, state-sanctioned marriage confers. So the underlying moral question is unavoidable.”
Now many of my interlocutors on the discussion forum refuse to drop their nonjudgmental grounds and come back again and again to arguments of discrimination and fairness. But Sandel explains why the moral question is the correct one:
“To see why this is so, it’s important to bear in mind that a state can take three possible policies toward marriage, not just two. It can adopt the traditional policy and recognize only marriages between a man and a woman; or it can do what several states have done, and recognize same-sex marriage in the same way it recognizes marriage between a man and a woman; or it can decline to recognize marriage of any kind, and leave this role to private associations.
These three policies can be summarized as follows:
- Recognize only marriages between a man and a woman.
- Recognize same-sex and opposite-sex marriages.
- Don’t recognize marriage of any kind, but leave this role to private associations.
Policy 3 is purely hypothetical, at least in the United States; no state has thus far renounced the recognition of marriage as a government function. But this policy is nonetheless worth examining, as it sheds light on the arguments for and against same-sex marriage.
Policy 3 is the ideal libertarian solution to the marriage debate. It does not abolish marriage, but it does abolish marriage as a state-sanctioned institution. It might best be described as the disestablishment of marriage. Just as dis-establishing religion means getting rid of an official state church (while allowing churches to exist independent of the state), dis-establishing marriage would mean getting rid of marriage as an official state function.
The opinion writer Michael Kinsley defends this policy as a way out of what he sees as a hopelessly irresolvable conflict over marriage. Proponents of gay marriage complain that restricting marriage to heterosexuals is a kind of discrimination. Opponents claim that if the state sanctions gay marriage, it goes beyond tolerating homosexuality to endorsing it and giving it “a government stamp of approval. “The solution, Kinsley writes, is “to end the institution of government-sanctioned marriage,” to “privatize marriage.” Let people get married any way they please, without state sanction or interference.
Let churches and other religious institutions continue to offer marriage ceremonies. Let department stores and casinos get into the act if they want. . . . Let couples celebrate their union in any way they choose and consider themselves married whenever they want.
And, yes, if three people want to get married, or one person wants — to marry him or herself, and someone else wants to conduct a ceremony and declare them married, let ‘em.
“If marriage were an entirely private affair,” Kinsley reasons, “all the disputes over gay marriage would become irrelevant. Gay marriage would not have the official sanction of government, but neither would straight marriage.” Kinsley suggests that domestic partnership laws could deal with the financial, insurance, child support, and inheritance issues that arise when people co-habit and raise children together. He proposes, in effect, to replace all state-sanctioned marriages, gay and straight, with civil unions.
From the standpoint of liberal neutrality, Kinsley’s proposal has a clear advantage over the two standard alternatives (policies 1 and 2): It does not require judges or citizens to engage in the moral and religious controversy over the purpose of marriage and the morality of homosexuality. Since the state would no longer confer on any family units the honorific title of marriage, citizens would be able to avoid engaging in debate about the telos of marriage, and whether gays and lesbians can fulfill it.
Relatively few people on either side of the same-sex marriage debate have embraced the disestablishment proposal. But it sheds light on what’s at stake in the existing debate, and helps us see why both proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage must contend with the substantive moral and religious controversy about the purpose of marriage and the goods that define it. Neither of the two standard positions can be defended within the bounds of liberal public reason.
Of course, those who reject same-sex marriage on the grounds that it sanctions sin and dishonors the true meaning of marriage aren’t bashful about the fact that they’re making a moral or religious claim. But those who defend a right to same-sex marriage often try to rest their claim on neutral grounds, and to avoid passing judgment on the moral meaning of marriage. The attempt to find a nonjudgmental case for same-sex marriage draws heavily on the ideas of nondiscrimination and freedom of choice. But these ideas cannot by themselves justify a right to same-sex marriage. To see why this is so, consider the thoughtful and nuanced opinion written by Margaret Marshall, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court; in the court’s ruling in Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health (2003), the same-sex marriage case.
Marshall begins by recognizing the deep moral and religious disagreement the subject provokes, and implies that the court will not take sides in this dispute: Many people hold deep-seated religious, moral, and ethical convictions that marriage should be limited to the union of one man and one woman, and that homosexual conduct is immoral. Many hold equally strong religious, moral and ethical convictions that same-sex couples are entitled to be married, and that homosexual persons should be treated no differently than their heterosexual neighbors. Neither view answers the question before us. “Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code.”
As if to avoid entering into the moral and religious controversy over homosexuality, Marshall describes the moral issue before the court in liberal terms — as a matter of autonomy and freedom of choice. The exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage is incompatible with “respect for individual autonomy and equality under law” she writes. The liberty of “choosing whether and whom to marry would be hollow” if the state could “foreclose an individual from freely choosing the person with whom to share an exclusive commitment. “The issue, Marshall maintains, is not the moral worth of the choice, but the right of the individual to make it — that is, the right of the plaintiffs “to marry their chosen partner?”
But autonomy and freedom of choice are insufficient to justify a right to same-sex marriage. If government were truly neutral on the moral worth of all voluntary intimate relationships, then the state would have no grounds for limiting marriage to two persons; con-sensual polygamous partnerships would also qualify. In fact, if the state really wanted to be neutral, and respect whatever choices individuals wished to make, it would have to adopt Michael Kinsley’s proposal and get out of the business of conferring recognition on any marriages.
The real issue in the gay marriage debate is not freedom of choice but whether same-sex unions are worthy of honor and recognition by the community — whether they fulfill the purpose of the social institution of marriage. In Aristotle’s terms, the issue is the just distribution of offices and honors. It’s a matter of social recognition.
More than a private arrangement between two consenting adults, Marshall observes, marriage is a form of public recognition and approval. “In a real sense, there are three partners to every civil marriage: two willing spouses and an approving State.” This feature of marriage brings out its honorific aspect: “Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family.”
If marriage is an honorific institution, what virtues does it honor? To ask that question is to ask about the purpose, or telos, of marriage as a social institution. Many opponents of same-sex marriage claim that the primary purpose of marriage is procreation. According to this argument, since same-sex couples are unable to procreate on their own, they don’t have a right to marry. They lack, so to speak, the relevant virtue…
So when we look closely at the case for same-sex marriage, we find that it cannot rest on the ideas of non-discrimination and freedom of choice. In order to decide who should qualify for marriage, we have to think through the purpose of marriage and the virtues it honors. And this carries us onto contested moral terrain, where we can’t remain neutral toward competing conceptions of the good life.”
These are the questions I posed to the readers of the forum. As I said, many ignored the argument and proceeded with the discrimination/fairness argument which rejects the reasoning that Sandel demonstrates is wanting.
In fact Sandel feels that most arguments about Justice do involve the moral:
“One says justice means maximizing utility or welfare — the greatest happiness for the greatest number. The second says justice means respecting freedom of choice — either the actual choices people make in a free market (the libertarian view) or the hypothetical choices people would make in an original position of equality (the liberal egalitarian view). The third says justice involves cultivating virtue and reasoning about the common good. As you’ve probably guessed by now, I favor a version of the third approach. Let me try to explain why.
The utilitarian approach has two defects: First, it makes justice and rights a matter of calculation, not principle. Second, by trying to translate all human goods into a single, uniform measure of value, it flattens them, and takes no account of the qualitative differences among them.
The freedom-based theories solve the first problem but not the second. They take rights seriously and insist that justice is more than mere calculation. Although they disagree among themselves about which rights should outweigh utilitarian considerations, they agree that certain rights are fundamental and must be respected. But beyond singling out certain rights as worthy of respect, they accept people’s preferences as they are. They don’t require us to question or challenge the preferences and desires we bring to public life. According to these ones, the moral worth of the ends we pursue, the meaning and significance of the lives we lead, and the quality and character of the common life we share all lie beyond the domain of Justice.
This seems to me mistaken. A just society can’t be achieved simply by maximizing utility or by securing freedom of choice. To achieve a Just Society we have to reason together about the meaning of the good life, and to create a public culture hospitable to the disagreements that will inevitably arise.
It is tempting to seek a principle or procedure that could justify, once and for all, whatever distribution of income or power or opportunity resulted from it. Such a principle, if we could find it, would enable us to avoid the tumult and contention that arguments about the good life invariably arouse.
But these arguments are impossible to avoid. Justice is inescapably Judgmental. Whether we’re arguing about financial bailouts or Purple Hearts, surrogate motherhood or same-sex marriage, affirmative action or military service, CEO pay or the right to use a golf cart, questions of justice are bound up with competing notions of honor and virtue, pride and recognition. Justice is not only about the right way to distribute things. It is also about the right way to value things.”
The Catholic case for Heterosexual Marriage is made powerfully by Andrew J. Sodergren, M.S. from the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family here:
“Those who argue that homosexual inclinations are “natural” utilize a problematic understanding of nature that needs to be challenged. This understanding of nature refers to that which is innate and unchosen within a person. “I did not choose to be the way I am.” “I discovered my homosexuality within me.” Moreover, a certain normative quality is attributed to this nature such that it can and should dictate my actions. Nature as such is good, or at least neutral in respect to ethics, so the modern mentality holds that whatever I am naturally disposed to do I should do as long as it does not involve violating the rights of others.
A Christian anthropology, however, comes to very different conclusions about “nature”. Human nature, in a Christian sense, does also have a normative content to it. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith says, “There can be no true promotion of man’s dignity unless the essential order of his nature is respected” (CDF, 1975, no. 3). In creating the world, God inscribed a certain order in it. Thus, the true nature of things and their fulfillment can be understood only in light of God’s design. This is especially salient when we are speaking of desires that arise within the human heart for Christian revelation recognizes the reality of original sin. At the start of human history, our first parents rebelled against God’s plan and by their action, brought disorder into the world: “Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state” (CCC, no. 404). The Fathers of the Church taught that human nature is one and thus all human beings participate in the same nature. Thus, when our first parents marred their likeness to God through sin, the whole human family was affected by it. Thus, the human nature that each human being inherits is disordered. Original sin is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it; subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death; and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called “concupiscence” (CCC, no. 405).
Every evil in the world is traceable back to this fundamental disruption at the beginning of time. Indeed, another crucial aspect of Christian anthropology is that human nature involves a unity of body and soul such that the human person is not wholly identifiable with either taken separately but exists as a composite of the two. In other words, the body and the soul are intrinsically united.
The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature (CCC, no. 365).
Therefore, when we say that original sin has wounded human nature, this includes both physical and spiritual effects. In this way, the doctrine of original sin can account for every sort of genetic or biological defect, disease, or disorder as well as all kinds of human suffering and inclinations to do evil. With this understanding of fallen human nature, a Christian anthropology would have no difficulty accommodating research (past or future) implicating a substantial inherited component to homosexuality.
Clearly, this understanding of original sin is essential when we are speaking of the moral quality of human inclinations. Because of original sin, a certain disorder resides in the human heart such that one often desires that which is contrary to the moral law. Therefore, even if homosexual inclinations are entirely inherited, this does not mean that they necessarily correspond with human nature in the original sense, as God intended it. Moreover, as Christ made clear in his preaching, it is the original, created order that has normative weight to it, not this transitory fallen state:
Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Mt 19.3-6).
Thus, the inclinations that arise in the human heart must be tested according to objective moral norms because the human nature we encounter in this age of history, though wounded by sin, is still called to the same norms of behavior intended by God “from the beginning.” Why? Because God created us “out of love for love” (John Paul II, 1981, no. 11); His wise, loving plan permeates all of created reality. Therefore, to follow the norms given to us by our Creator and Redeemer is in no way an imposition or alienation but a call to happiness. The moral law given to us by God is a blueprint by which human beings can achieve their fulfillment. This implies another fundamental truth of Christian anthropology: human nature is wounded, but it is not totally corrupted. Man still has freedom. Though weakened by sin and prone to misuse, the human person still possesses the ability to make free moral choices and, by cooperating with God’s grace, grow in holiness and maturity.
Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when direct toward God, our beatitude (CCC, no. 1731).
The proper, beatifying use of freedom requires God’s grace. Only with His help can we properly see the truth and act in accord with it. Thankfully, God desires all men to be saved and abundantly supplies the means for it to happen.
If a person finds himself or herself inclined to a homosexual lifestyle, this certainly is a cross to bear because it means that the person has “a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder” (CDF, 1986, no. 3). Only in light of original sin does it make sense to say that someone could inherit an “objective disorder”. Recall that the research on homosexuality does not conclusively show that it is inherited, but there is no need on the basis of Christian teaching to deny this possibility. Moreover, society commonly recognizes that certain disordered propensities are inborn in some people. For instance, there is acceptance for the notion that various pathological personality traits are heritable as well as predispositions for various addictions such as alcoholism. Yet, these characteristics are not normalized but still held to be deviations from normal, “healthy” humanity. In light of this, there is no justification for a priori accepting homosexual inclinations and homosexual acts as morally upright without serious rational reflection in the light of objective moral norms.
Such a discussion, however, would be incomplete without mention of the problem of sexual identity. Because of the language of sexual orientation prevalent in contemporary culture, there is a great deal of confusion regarding sexual identity in the fundamental sense. Christian anthropology recognizes that there are two genders: male and female. This maleness or this femaleness is ontologically grounded in the human person such that the person is always one or the other and this sexual differentiation affects all areas of life. Nonetheless, man and woman share the same human nature, though they live it and express it in two irreducibly different ways.
The importance and the meaning of sexual difference, as a reality deeply inscribed in man and woman, needs to be noted. “Sexuality characterizes man and woman not only on the physical level, but also on the psychological and spiritual, making its mark on each of their expressions”. It cannot be reduced to a pure and insignificant biological fact, but rather “is a fundamental component of personality, one of its modes of being, of manifestation, of communicating with others, of feeling, of expressing and of living human love”. This capacity to love – reflection and image of God who is Love – is disclosed in the spousal character of the body, in which the masculinity or femininity of the person is expressed (CDF, 2004, no.8 ).
Because of original sin, deviations of this sexual difference can and do occur, but there are just that – deviations. The problem with the language of sexual orientation is that it tends to separate sexual desire from sexual identity (the basic sexual difference of male and female). Though one is a man, one’s sexuality need not be inclined toward women and vice versa. This implies that all orientations are on the same anthropological and ethical standing, which the Church recognizes as false. A homosexual inclination is “objectively disordered” (CCC, no. 2358). This is only understood when one sees one’s biological sex and the purposes inscribed in it as fundamentally intrinsic to one’s personal identity. In other words, sexual identity consists in being male or female, and within these two irreducible ways of being human, there is no room for a multiplicity of sexual orientations. The fact that such orientations exist is, once again, a result of original sin. The way to overcome the power of sin is not to normalize all the deviations and disorders that it produces but to persevere in seeking and living by the truth with the unfailing help of God’s grace.
Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection (CCC, no. 2359).
Rather than embracing one’s disordered desires with reckless abandon, they must be submitted to the truth, and thus gradually transformed into dispositions of virtue. Only in doing so, can one’s fallen human nature slowly grow toward its proper perfection bringing with it true freedom and happiness. Accordingly, persons with homosexual tendencies cannot find true happiness in embracing their disordered orientation as their core identity and the guiding light of their lifestyle, but rather they are called to live their sexuality in integrity precisely as a man or as a woman according to the truth of the divine plan. This truth is rooted in God Himself Who created us, holds us in being, and bears our destiny within Himself. Thus, to seek chastity according to God’s plan is not an imposition of arbitrary norms but the inner condition of attaining the fulfillment desired by every human heart. Though it may be a long difficult road, as the late Karol Wojtyla stated, “Chastity is the sure way to happiness” (Wojtyla, 1960, p. 172).”