Catholics and Gays Part 2: Natural Law, or What Marriage and Sex Are For

Question: Why are romantic homosexual relationships (RHR) incompatible with the Catholic faith? Specifically, what are the implications of different which makes RHR disordered?

In my previous post discussing Catholics and Gays, I explained why RHR are incompatible with the Catholic Faith, though noted that while my explanation was a reasonable one, it would also be rather dogmatic. It was in fact arguably tautological, since the beginning premise was the assumption for the sake of argument that the Catholic Faith is true. To reject the teachings of the Catholics Church is to cease to be a faithful Catholic. I noted that this isn't the most convincing of all arguments to a non-Catholic, but then I was working within the premises given. Now let's approach the question from a different angle: why, exactly, is it true that RHR are sinful?

In her discussion of the issue, Miss Leah Libresco admits, as any honest atheist must admit, that she is familiar that Catholics trace the teaching against RHR both through revelation qua revelation, and as revealed by that part of reason which looks to the Natural Law [1]. The former pertains to, for example, the Law revealed to Moses, Christ's and St Paul's retaining of at least a part of this Law, etc., and was implicit in my previous post. The latter is the "Law written on the heart" as St Paul puts it (Romans 2:15), and it is certainly known to non-Catholics, as for example Profs. Hadley Arkes or J Budziszewski before their respective conversions. And indeed, though Aristotle himself did not teach against RHR [2], it is somewhat Aristotelian reasoning which leads to to the Natural Law proscriptions against RHR.

In this case, it is a bit of teleology, a bit of asking what sex, marriage, and even romance are "for." Romance, for it part, properly belongs to either dating or marriage, the former being "for" discerning marriage. By a similar line of reasoning, we can see that marriage is "for" establishing a family, and sex is "for" growing the family by increasing its numbers. Simply put, marriage is "for" procreation, and sex is "for" reproduction. This is part of why, in a nutshell, RHR are prhibited by the Natural Law, and thus by Catholic moral teaching. The other part is the unitive aspect of sex, which furthers the fostering of intimacy between spouses (the other end to marriage).

A part of the Natural Law argument against RHR is the idea of complementarity. In The Clash of Orthodoxies, Dr Robert George writes (with my emphases) that
"Marriage is a basic human good. By that I mean it is an intrinsic good that provides noninstrumental reasons for choice and action, reasons that are knowable and understandable even apart from divine revelation. Rational reflection on marriage as it is participated in by men and women makes it clear: since men and women are essentially embodied (and not merely inhabitors of a suit of flesh), the biological union of spouses in reproductive-type acts consummates and actualizes their marriage, making the spouses truly, and not merely metaphorically, 'two in one flesh.' The sexual union of spouses—far from being something extrinsic to marriage or merely instrumental to procreation, pleasure, the expression of tender feelings, or anything else—is an essential aspect of marriage as an intrinsic human good. Marital acts are the biological matrix of the multi-level (bodily, emotional, dispositional, spiritual) sharing of life and commitment that marriage is.
But, one might ask, is a true bodily or 'biological' union of persons possible? Indeed it is. Consider that for most human functions or activities, say, digestion or locomotion, the organism performing the function or act is an individual human being. In respect of the act of reproduction, however, things are different. Reproduction is a single act or function, yet it is performed by a male and female as a mated pair. For purposes of reproduction, the male and female partners become a single organism, they form a single reproductive principle. This organic unity is achieved precisely in the reproductive behavior characteristic of the species—even in cases (such as those of infertile couples) in which nonbehavioral conditions of reproduction do not obtain.
Properly understood in light of a non-dualistic account of the human person, the goodness of marriage and marital intercourse simply cannot be reduced to the status of a mere means to pleasure, feelings of closeness, or any other extrinsic goal. Indeed, it cannot legitimately be treated (as some Christians have, admittedly, sought to treat it) as a mere means to procreation, though children are among the central purposes of marriage and help to specify its meaning as a moral reality even for couples who cannot have children.
So marital acts realize the unity of marriage, which includes the coming to be of children. In consensual nonmarital sex acts, then, people damage this unity, the integrity of the marriage, inasmuch as the body is part of the personal reality of the human being and no mere sub-personal instrument to be used and disposed of to satisfy the subjective wants of the conscious and desiring part of the 'self.'"

Note again that there are here both purposes, both "ends", of marriage (and of sex): the intimate (unitive) and the procreative (reproductive). The two ends are related, as two sides to a coin. It is because the two spouses unite as one that reproduction is made possible—and it is precisely in this act of reproduction that the two are uniting as one "organism." As for infertile couples, they may still unite as one organism in this sense, if a slightly "damaged" organism.

To use an analogy, consider locomotion. A man moves about on two legs; if he is involved in some tragedy which damages his legs so that they must be amputated, he is no-longer able to move around by his own power, but he is still a man. Thus, although a normal man has the power of locomotion, a man without this power—whether he loses is (e.g. via amputation) or never himself had it (e.g. he is born paralyzed), he is still a man. When an infertile couple unites in sexual intercourse, they are still uniting, even though a child will not result from their reproductive act. Just as a paralyzed man is still a man, so too does sexual intercourse between an infertile man and an infertile woman unite the two as a single organism—albeit one which lacks the power of reproduction.

Two things should become evident from this. The first is that sexual intercourse belongs in the context of marriage, and the second is that sexual intercourse between a same-sex couple is not merely immoral: it is ontologically impossible. The former is not the focus of this post, though suffice it for me to say that the two purposes of sex are part (and arguably also culminations) of the two purposes of marriage. Reproduction is the first step of procreation, the latter of which might includes conceiving a child and giving birth to him, but then also caring for him, educating him, "raising" him to adulthood. As for the unitive end of sex, this is certainly one way to foster intimacy, and it is also an expression of that intimacy, its consummations. Outside of marriage, sex says "let's reproduce, without then trying to 'raise' the resulting child together,' [3] and 'lets unite together as an intimate couple—let us mingle our bodies, souls, and indeed our very lives, but only temporarily—just this once and possibly never again.'

Concerning the second thing which ought to be evident—that sexual intercourse between same-sex partners is ontologically impossible—this should be evident based on what sexual intercourse is. In order for the couple to actually unite and become "two in one flesh," each must biologically make up what the other is lacking. Thus, we might note that it is not so much a matter of different which makes homosexuality disordered; rather, it is a lack of this complementary difference, the fact that the two cannot biologically join to become one organism for reproductive or any other purpose.

In the specifically Catholic conception of marriage, it actually takes three for marriage: the husband (man), the wife (woman), and God. God is present in that union, and indeed God is present in the reproductive act: for the creation of a new human being means the coming into existence of not only a new physical being, but also a new spiritual being. Or in other words, whereas mere animal biology allows for reproduction to occur, human beings are a dynamic union of body and soul—we are "embodied souls," so to speak—and the soul itself is not a merely physical material thing (it is the form of which the body is the matter). The soul is therefore created by God. But God is not present in such a way during a sexual act between homosexual partners, in which a new human being is not brought into existence.

I will not belabor the point much further here, since others have done so with greater breadth and depth than I can in a single blog post—or even in a series of such posts. There are plenty of books more well worth reading than what I have to write in defending and explaining this point; a few which I would recommend are

Next time, I will consider two objections to this case as outlined.

[1] This is not too surprising, as Faith and Reason is not an either/or proposition but a both/and; they are rightly the compliments to each other.

[2] He did, however, reject homosexual conduct as shameful, as did both Plato and Socrates before him.

[3] And contraception essentially says, 'let's join together to make a damaged organism,' to use my previous analogy; but it is an intentionally damaged organism, akin to saying, 'here's a healthy man—let's amputate his legs!' It also says, 'lets unites ourselves together, but not our whole selves.' In either case, its an intentionally imperfect union, one which is intentionally 'not good' (recall that 'good' has a specific meaning in philosophy, which includes but is not only limited to 'complete').

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