Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Gay Marriage: Sin and Inclination

There's been another round of discussion in the Blogsphere lately about gay issues generally, set off by the rumors that a directive on admission of homosexual seminarians is forthcoming. This reminded me of what seems to be a really major problem with what is, so far as I can see, pretty much the sole reasoned justification for gay marriage put forward by progressive Christians.

Rather than try to make a fair summary of the progressive justification for gay marriage myself, I'm going to lift one from LiberalCatholicNews, in the hopes that doing so will provide the most fairness to the other side. The following are excerpts from a longer post by Jcecil3:

If it is possible that the teaching regarding homosexual acts was shaped in cultures with sinful heterosexist bias, and the notion of procreation as the primary end of sexuality is mistaken, it would seem that committed and monogamous gay partnership might be a morally licit expression of unitive love for those who experience the condition of exclusive homosexual inclinations as a permanent fact of life.

Further, the phenomenon of hermaphodism is proof that gender complementarity is a mental construct, and not an absolute construct that can be easily imposed on all people, as is the case with the celibate vocation as well.

A theology of the body may be valid, but it needs to account for all bodies God creates, including hermaphrodites and homosexuals, and the variation among women, and the variation among men.

While there may be some general validity to the theological concept of complementairty, the concept may also be interwoven with sinfully sexist and heterosexist biases.

One principle that has stood the test of time in the tradition is that sin is determined when the golden rule is violated, and it is not clear to moderately liberal Catholics how homosexual people in committed partnership violate the golden rule or threaten the sanctity of heterosexual marriage.

Moderate liberals believe that gay unions should probably be considered something like a marriage between infertile heterosexuals....

Biblically, liberals believe that none of the passages of the Bible referring to homosexual acts address the homosexual orientation.

All of the passages are either ambiguous about what exactly is being condemned, or condemn a particular expression of sexuality that we would still condemn today....

Moderate liberals believe that only a minority of people experience exclusive homosexual attractions, and nothing could cause a heterosexually oriented person to become homosexual.

Sexual orientation is somewhat like being right or left handed, with some ambidextrous exceptions too.

Gay marriages will never be a popular attraction to the heterosexual majority, but such marriages would show the homosexual person that they are loved and accepted by God and the wider society.

It is true that some heterosexuals will chose to engage in homosexual acts during their life-times, and this has always been the case throughout history - especially in prisons or among children engaging in sex play.

It could be argued that since such persons are acting against their own natural inclinations, and do not express either procreation or unitive love, sin is involved in these acts.

Yet, for the person with exclusively homosexual inclinations, he or she would be acting on natural inclinations, expressing unitive love, and may be just as open to child-rearing as an infertile heterosexual couple.

Acceptance of the homosexual person does not cause more people to become homosexually oriented over the course of a life-time.

The moderate liberal argues that gay unions should be an option for those who experience homosexual orientation as a permanent fact of life.

Now, tell me if I'm wrong, but it seems that we can fairly summarize this as: "God wishes us to live in loving relationships according to the desires that he has given us. As such, those with romantic desires for the same sex may virtuously engage in that loving relationship towards which they are ordered."

Now, it seems to me that the problem here is that this justification for gay marriage relies on making inclination the basis of the morality of the act. It also seems to either make a distinction between some inclinations as more valid than others, or else open the door to nearly any form of sexual behavior imaginable.

Clearly, some people exclusively experience attractions toward the opposite sex. Others exclusively experience them towards the same sex. Others sometimes experience the one, and other times the other. Others primarily experience attraction towards one sex, but are willing to substitute the other in a pinch.

Now, the argument for gay marriage seems to rely on the idea that people are absolutely and unquestionably 'gay' or 'straight' and thus it's clear what sort of marriage they may legitimately contract. However, given that being gay/straight is not a binary situation but rather a spectrum, it would leave the door open to infinite scrupulosity to say that the line between a holy marriage and mortal sin was determining whether one was 'gay' or 'straight'. A person with conflicting inclination would be left to discern which of his inclinations was 'true' with the hammer of mortal sin hanging over him if he were wrong.

(I don't think this question is strictly academic or trumped up. I seem to recall reading a piece by David Morrison where he said that although generally attracted to men, there had been one woman with whom he was much in love and would have married, but she chose to marry another. Now, by the progressive argument, would it be sinful for him to have married her? Would be be sinful for him to marry a man? Does God leave such people guessing?)

I think I am right in saying (though if anyone can think of an exception, please let me know) that there is no mortal sin which relies upon one's inclination. Some rely upon circumstances. For instance, the distinction between murder and self defense is the circumstance of being under mortal threat. But there is no action which is either a mortal sin or virtuous depending upon one's inclination. Nor does inclination play a part in the sinfulness of 'straight' sexual acts or relationships. A marriage's validity may rely upon whether one freely consents to marry, but it does not rely upon whether or how much you like your spouse. Nor is the sinfulness of fornication in inverse proportion to how much you want it.

The dilemma of someone with conflicting gay and straight desires trying to figure out which sex it would be sinful to marry leads to my other problem with this argument: while it accepts as good and holy both gay and straight inclinations, it rules all other inclinations as unacceptable. Now, the progressive argument tries to cover this base by saying that only inclinations towards relationships that do not violate the golden rule are acceptable. I'm as willing as anyone to agree that in many cases polygamy, fornication, adultery, masturbation, open marriages, trios, man-boy love, etc are harmful to one or more of the partners. However, in at least a fair number of cases homosexual relationships are harmful to one or more of the partners. In all too many cases marriages are harmful to one or more of the partners.

The argument from the golden rule may be used to help judge a specific circumstance, and to buttress an already established moral law, but I think it is particularly shaky ground on which to make a general moral ruling such as "gay marriage is moral but polygamy is not". I don't question that one may know good and stable same sex couple who seem to do each other nothing but good. (Certainly, the lesbian couple that owns the house next to ours seems as genial as any married couple on the street, and indeed much less argumentative than the married couple two doors down.) However -- perhaps because I spent too much time reading classics and history at a formative age -- I can also imagine that in certain times and places polygamous relationships and relationships between adults and children seemed to do that participants nothing but good.

In the end, I do not think that there is any validity to the argument that the very existence of people inclined towards same sex relationships means that such relationships are moral. Perhaps it seems more comforting in the short term to say, "We cannot imagine that God would deny you, because of your inclinations, a chance at a happy and unitive romantic relationship." Yet as Pascal might point out, the odds are not even. At worst, following the orthodox Catholic moral guidance might result in less happiness in fulfillment in this life. While, if one follows the progressives' guidance, and it is wrong, one risks eternal damnation.


Patrick said...

You might want to clarify-

Mortal sins can depend on intent rather than inclination. You can still commit the sin of murder when your life is threatened, if your intent is to kill your enemy rather than simply to protect yourself.

But it seems that distinction doesn't depend on how angry you fell towards your enemy- how strong your inclination is to kill. It's the question of with what intent you actually act.

Sound right?

Darwin said...


Yes, I think that's a valid distinction. Indeed, that's what gave me the most thought in laying out the argument. Clearly, to the extent that intent is a mental state, one's mental state can make something into a sin.

Further, to the extent that ignorance of morality is a mental state, a mental state can absolve one of blame for a sin, since God does not hold us accountable for committing an action that we did not know to be a sin.

But I think I'm still on solid ground in saying that one's desire to do something never justifies one's doing it.

radiofreerome said...

What about your wager? If you deny basic civil rights to gay and lesbian people and that denial results in illness and death, as denial of equal insurance coverage will, then aren't you risking your soul?

Darwin said...

How does insurance coverage come into it? How, if at all, one dispenses insurance coverage may be an important political/societal issue, but it has nothing to the moral question of whether the desire to have homosexual intercourse makes it morally permissable to satisfy that desire.

However, since you bring it up, I would make the following observations in regard to insurance for same sex couples:

1) The reason insurance plans originally covered the spouse, was that it was assumed that one spouse (almost certainly the husband) would work while the other would remain home with children full time. So it was necessary to extend coverage to the spouse since she had no other source of coverage. Since same sex unions are inherently infertile, the justification for extending coverage would be more the necessity of not giving heterosexual couples a 'perk' that same sex couples didn't get.

2) Why only worry about gays and lesbians who aren't covered? It sounds like from your argument not providing _anyone_ would coverage would make one morally culpable for their deaths. Any position other than universal coverage would be 'risking your soul'.