Because Christianity has never claimed that revelation is or should be a direct source of civil law and has always “pointed to nature and reason as the true sources of law – and to the harmony between objective and subjective reason, which naturally presupposes that both spheres are rooted in the creative reason of God,” it has met its match in a modernist legal positivism which demands “an unbridgeable gulf” between “‘is’ and ‘ought.’” If nature “is viewed as ‘an aggregate of objective data linked together in terms of cause and effect,’ then indeed no ethical indication of any kind can be derived from it. So the new lesson for Catholics is: don’t look at the law and the courts to support your religious beliefs.
The point then is this: the entire modern conception of law and its meaning favors the mechanistic view of physicality and the separate, bodiless conception of the fully human. Indeed, this view generates the standards of rationality and argumentation employed on all sides in the debate over “gay marriage.”
Consider the claim that there is no legally cognizable difference between “same-sex couples” and infertile “opposite-sex couples” or fertile “opposite-sex couples” and “same-sex couples” employing reproductive technologies. To borrow Benedict’s language, this is an entirely “functionalistic” view of the body’s sexual and procreative meaning.
It would appear that the body’s procreativity can be entirely replaced by the technical processes of the lab without any real loss of its essential humanity. Rather, its replacement would be an enhancement of the humanity of conception and birth. We also see these assumptions at work in the argument that man and woman are essentially interchangeable for all legally cognizable purposes.
That civil marriage would be by definition the union of a man and a woman, a union which normally and naturally results in children, means that a (perhaps, the) primary polarity underlying and shaping social and personal identity – and giving cultural form to social life – is that between man and woman. This is a question not just of “function” but of personal and social identity; it is a question of what we think the human being and society most fundamentally are and what we think the place of the child in that society is. More fundamentally, the social significance of this polarity allows for the integration of sexuality and love, the integration of the body’s inherent order and its implications for bodily acts as fully personal.
The sameness argument signals the rapidly approaching extinction of this polarity as personally and socially decisive. Indeed, it implies its replacement by another anthropology, that expressed by the concept of “orientation.” If this concept means nothing else, it means that the identity of the person is no longer grounded in either masculinity or femininity as naturally and personally ordained to each other and as expressed by the body. The shift therefore effectively demotes the meaning of sexual difference – the correspondence of the male and female bodies as such – to a sub-personal and purely material (“biological”) significance.
The body in its sexual ordination – and the implications extend beyond sexuality – is therefore no longer decisive for the person. Rather, a person’s sexual desire and freedom possess a fundamentally arbitrary and indifferent relationship to his or her body’s natural correlation to the opposite sex. The relationship between man and woman therefore becomes merely a variant, a particular “orientation,” grafted onto what is in fact an underlying androgynous anthropology.
That this new paradigm is actually displacing the former – so that the former is increasingly unavailable as a form of social and personal identity – is evident when we consider the fuller implications of the sameness argument. Of course, it is the very purpose of the concept to redefine the meaning of sexuality altogether. Were this not the case, the concept would fail to treat “gay” relationships as equivalent to traditional man-woman relations. Hence, it is part of the very logic of the concept that it characterizes both same-sex relationships and the man-woman relationship as merely alternative “orientations.”
But in doing so, the new category abstracts the essence of sexuality from the natural correspondence of man and woman. Thus, sexual attraction, according to the conceptual world of orientations, displaces this natural correspondence as the explanation for a given person’s sexuality. Hence, if a man and woman are attracted to each other it is not because of the natural correspondence of the sexes; it is because they happen to have a particular “orientation,” that of “heterosexuality,” rather than another, that of “homosexuality.”
But this in turn suggests that whatever correspondence there may be between the male and female bodies is only an accident of the sub-personal mechanisms of physicality. Personal correspondence, on the other hand, is due to an individual’s “orientation,” which is conceived as fundamentally indifferent to the underlying natural correspondence of the bodies, since it can just as legitimately be directed toward the opposite (biological) sex or toward the same (biological) sex (or to both).
The problem with this developing anthropology, and its codification in law, is that it is impoverished as a human form. The identity of the person is no longer grounded in his masculinity or her femininity understood as a personal-somatic ordination of love; it is, rather, grounded in his or her “orientation” and thereby removed from the body as an expression of the person. Hence, the extinction of the sexual difference is also an extinction of the personal-somatic ordination of man and woman.
Rather, if “orientations” really are conceived as equivalent and parallel, if the difference of the sexes has been lost to an underlying androgynous sameness, then the unavoidable fact of the sexually differentiated body has been reduced in its significance to being merely the biological and material conditions and circumstances of sexual acts of whatever kind. The “different-sex” arrangement of marriage and family, while not rejected as a possibility of desire and choice, is nevertheless reduced to constituting the manifestation of simply one of the possible “orientations.” It is, again, simply grafted onto an underlying androgynous anthropology as one of its variants.
Note that the mechanistic assumptions about the human person are entirely consonant with the experience of same-sex attraction as “innate” or “natural.” Efforts to find the “gay gene” or other physiological causes of homosexuality express the desire to substantiate the source of this self-experience in precisely the world as so conceived. The “natural,” here, clearly means something like the non-free; it stands for the idea of this self-experience as rooted in empirical and therefore deterministic circumstances, to be discovered at either a physiological or psychological level.
Of course, it is universally recognized that human desire can be directed in ways that ultimately invert the true meaning of desire. Lost, then, is the deeper reality of the body’s expression of form and finality, which offer a firmer basis for understanding the authentically human. Indeed, the treatment of sexuality on the basis of “orientation” expresses the arbitrariness of the body’s natural ordination. What is not taken into account, then, is the personal order of love expressed by the body in its very visible form as male or female.
This suggests a basic paradox. The personal meaningfulness of the body’s specification as male or female is in fact inescapable – that is to say, it is affirmed even in its outward denial or rejection. We can see this truth when we consider that sexual acts must rely on the sexualized body, but that the body is only sexual insofar as it is male or female. Furthermore, the fact that a body is either male or female depends on the correlation of male and female to each other. After all, the structures of the male body would make little sense were it not for the concrete reality of the female body, and vice versa.
The odd result is that, under the shift to orientations, sexual acts rely for their very being on that from which fully human and personal meaning has been drained. This paradox is particularly clear with regard to homosexual acts, which both depend on the fact of the body’s sexual polarity for their very possibility and also tacitly deny any deep anthropological significance of that polarity. In effect, homosexual acts and desire are only parasitic on the bodily correspondence of the masculine and the feminine.
But this paradox also characterizes the concept of “heterosexuality.” As we have seen, the anthropology of orientation conceives of the man-woman couple not according to their natural correspondence but according to their orientation, which is labeled “heterosexual.” The idea of “heterosexuality” as a category alongside “homosexuality” therefore fully incorporates the logic of “orientation,” viz. the indifference of the self and desire to the natural ordination of the body.
Because it also rests on the abstraction of the person from this natural ordination, it also views the ordination of the male and female bodies to each other as only the external or material conditions necessary for sexual acts. This leads us to an odd result: even sexual acts between a man and a woman are conceived in a way that makes them also to be parasitic on the natural correspondence of the male and female bodies.
This fact is suggestive of a deeper point. The person as conceived by this anthropology lives an unnatural relation to his or her body. Sexuality clearly is an unavoidably natural attribute of the body. As we have seen, the anthropology of orientation pertains especially to personal and social identity. But the body presents a real problem for this identity. It is a problem precisely because, no matter how far we remove it to a subordinate realm of function and mechanism, it threatens to name us, to tell us who and what we are precisely on the basis of its visibility and the fact that – however much we may put it at a distance – it is undeniably and in a substantial way part of us. This is particularly true in the realm of sexuality. The anthropology of orientations is, therefore, in the awkward position of trying both to affirm and deny the meaningfulness of the body’s sexuality.
The result is a fragmentation in both personal identity and sexual love. The simultaneous dependency on the sexualized body and loss of that body’s deep meaning leave no place for the development of sexual love as an expression of the deepest reaches of the I. The implicit androgyny leaves us no way to integrate the body, desire, love, or personal acts. To the extent these are rooted in the sexualized body, they are reduced to a material impulse of the organism.
On the other hand, since according to the ideology of orientations sexual desire and love can run contrary to the sexual ordination of the body just as reasonably as they can run in accordance with it, we might believe that they are separate from the body, that they are purely spiritual realities that merely use the body.
But then it is difficult to see how sexual acts, which after all are bodily acts, can really be fully personal acts. Does the specifically sexual – as love and desire – arise from the body or from the disembodied self? If from the former, then it is hard to understand how to characterize them as properly human and personal; if from the latter, then it is difficult to understand how they can be expressed as specifically sexual.
Here then is the dilemma and the source of human impoverishment. The primacy of the category of “sexual orientation” implies a fundamentally extrinsic relationship between a functionally-mechanistically conceived body and a correspondingly spiritualized freedom. Ironically, once this starting point has been accepted, sexual desire and love are left without a real home. They must oscillate between the functionally sexual – an order that has been treated as one of mechanistic determinism – and the spiritually androgynous – an order of bodiless freedom and love. But they cannot fit comfortably in either.
Public Reason and the Child
This disintegration of bodily acts as personal enactments of love is carried over into the implications for love’s fruitfulness. To reduce the difference of the sexes to biological function, which in the end can be replaced and improved upon by the technical processes of the lab, is assumed to humanize physicality by making it an expression of human freedom. The increasingly clear connection between “gay marriage” and developing reproductive technologies is telling evidence of this. The logic of the anthropology of orientation and the logic of the technologization of human conception (which is, of course, a much broader practice than “gay marriage”) are in fact the same.
Indeed, the use of technology to enable gay partners to conceive has at times been viewed as superior because it is rooted in what is thought to be a mature choice rather than sub-personal natural processes. Again, to conceive the question this way is to have reduced those “natural processes” to the merely functional-mechanical. There have been predictions that in the near future the majority of children in medically developed societies will be produced by means of the lab, both to prevent the sorts of problems that occur in the less perfect mechanisms of nature and to allow for certain enhancements thought to be on the horizon. Where natural conception and reproductive technologies are equated, as the courts have done, the child (even in the case of natural conception) is treated as a product of mechanical function.
At a deep level, however, the inescapability of the experience of the body in its maleness and femaleness reminds us that we are not self-originating. To already be something before an act of freedom suggests to the modern mind a loss of freedom rather than its ordination. But the importance of what we do not simply choose, but only choose as an expression of a more deeply possessed gift, is especially evident in the difference and correspondence of the male and female bodies. This becomes all the more obvious with respect to the procreative implications of sexuality and, by extension, the natural relations of the family, despite their suppression by the anthropology of orientation. The sexually “other” represented in the masculinity or femininity of the body serves as an invitation to love, precisely in its difference. It is an invitation that is by its very nature “open-ended,” both in its origins and in its destiny.
This open-endedness already implicit in the vocation inscribed in sexual difference finds its complete expression in the fruitfulness proper to the love of man and woman precisely as such – viz. the child. Clearly the fact of birth – both being born and giving birth – does not fit comfortably with the notion of personal identity as rooted most primitively in the individual’s act of choice.
The visible expression of the parents in their bodies – their knowledge of each other and their self-knowledge in relation to each other – already bespeaks the fruitfulness proper to their love. It bespeaks the fact that this fruitfulness both requires and precedes their freedom. The body in its sexual ordination indicates our being something before any possible act of our freedom. It indicates being part of a lineage, of being a child of this mother and this father.
Similarly, the child’s knowledge of him- or herself – his or her personal and social “identity” – is simultaneously a knowledge that his or her origin is embedded more deeply in reality than any act of his parents’ wills. The parents did not give themselves their own bodies. Their bodies represent what stands behind them and shapes their freedom. The parents’ act of freedom is in fact an act of consent to this deeper origin in a fabric of relations that precedes them, gives meaning to their love, and stretches out from the past into the future.
According to the logic of “reproductive technologies,” the ideas of conception and birth are viewed in terms of choice and instrumentalism, technique presiding over a set of biological processes. The implication is that “natural relations” are only part of the functionality of the material universe, except of course to the extent that they too are viewed entirely in terms of choice – that is to say, a choice to utilize these processes for a human good.
But such a line of reasoning misconceives both the meaning of birth and of love. In principle, the act that causes conception by technical means could occur without there ever having been any sort of bodily communion of the spouses or even without the spouses’ gametic contribution. Hence, the relation between love and the act of choice to have a child is motivational and moral, rather than ontological. But the child needs more than to know that the intentions of his parents were good. He needs to know that his ontological origin is good, and this means that he needs to know that he is more than the functionalistic product of another man’s freedom.
Where reproductive techniques are used, the bodily relations of the parents are abstracted from – are merely accidental to – the conception of the child. This last point is crucial. The child born in this fashion cannot understand him- or herself as having been already implicit in the parents’ bodily composition and the love proper to it prior to any particular choice or act of the parents. In this way, the child’s coming to be is abstracted from the “open-endedness” of the love proper to the “sexual difference” of the parents.
Rather, the parents and the child must see the child’s origin as the act of choice initiating technical means, rather than in the consent to the fruitfulness already implicit in their bodily acts of love. The conception of the child, then, is radically the result of an act of choice rather than the always-already implicit fruit of love. Hence, the act is restructured on the model of “making” (poiesis) as opposed to the “acting” (praxis) of fruitful love.[ Robert Spaemann, “Genetic Manipulation of Human Nature in the Context of Human Personality,” in Human Genome, Human Person, and the Society of the Future, Proceedings of the Fourth Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, ed. Juan de Dios Vial Correa and Elio Sgreccia (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1999): pp. 340-350, at 342.] The very logic expressed by the courts is that of Baconian and Hobbsian knowledge-as-production rather than knowledge as reception or discovery of what is.
The symbolic meaning of such a “making” then is that the child does not have a deeper origin than the parents’ freedom, or that, to the extent it is acknowledged that there is such a deeper origin, it amounts to a denial that that deeper origin stands in relation to the child in any way differently from any other sort of production that begins with materials given in the physical order. That procreative fruitfulness is at a radical level something the parents give themselves in an act of choice insinuates that the child is subordinated to that choice. This is why Donum Vitae tells us that artificial means of reproduction treat the child as property. Such means are a violence on the child’s dignity and self-knowledge as both “earlier” and “greater” than the parents’ freedom.
The foregoing suggests ways in which political and legal liberalism, while seeming to protect and produce pluralism, in fact at the deepest level produces and enforces an absolute monism of beliefs about such absolutes as the meaning of person, freedom, and the world. Radical differences in various beliefs all drift toward mere stylistic expressions of an underlying liberal conception of what is.
This is why political liberalism tends to remake pre-political and inherently non-liberal relations (e.g. marriage and family) and institutions (e.g. churches) in its own image and likeness. It tends to view these only as various types of voluntary association. There is little doubt that the question of “gay marriage” has been caught up in this process.
This is why the underlying anthropology and the type of rationality to which it gives shape offer little basis for cognizable objections to the inevitable if gradual assimilation of the anthropology of orientation into educational systems, professional organizations, public ethical standards, tax policies, anti-discrimination laws, and so forth, enforced by the technocratic-bureaucratic leviathan that constitutes the environment in which the modern individual moves and breathes. It is this underlying anthropology and its implications for the person that must be challenged, if arguments against “gay marriage” are to be sustained.