If you have been watching the news lately you have probably heard the story about former Mozilla CEO Brandon Eich, who was forced from his job because a few years ago he made a nominal contribution to a California political group defending proposition 8. If you have not heard about it you can see more information here . Proposition 8 was a referendum that defined marriage as between a male and female. The gay lobby sees this as bigotry of the highest order and demanded his scalp and of course they got it. Dissent will not be allowed in the People’s Republic of the United States. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh. Mozilla is a private company and it is within their rights to hire who they see fit as their CEO. I would wager a great deal of money however that the same folks making the argument that a private company can choose to fire someone who does not represent their values would be outraged if a Catholic school fired a teacher who was openly pro-abortion, but the hypocrisy of the left is not today’s topic.
One hesitates to write much about gay marriage, as witness the events surrounding Brandon Eich, but what the hell, this is a still young blog and I am not a CEO, so we can take a few risks that free speech might attract the ire of the thought police . It’s worth saying a couple of things. Let’s start with the terminology. Gay marriage is a misleading term, because someone who has homosexual tendencies can in fact get married, that is to say they can join in a permanent union with a member of the opposite sex ordered to the good of the spouses and having and raising children. This was historically the common meaning of the term “marriage”. Everyone has this legal right regardless of their particular sexual orientation. This has been the case for a very long time. The writer Oscar Wilde had multiple homosexual relationships and defended this. Nonetheless Wilde actually was married to a woman, it apparently never donned on him to marry one of the men he was having affairs with. Everyone has the right to eat steak. If you do not happen to want steak, but prefer chicken then no one is taking away your right to eat steak. You simply do not want to take advantage of your steak eating rights. Calling chicken “steak” does not solve the problem. So there is no issue about denying anyone any rights. Gay people can get married. The real issue is should society redefine marriage to include same sex unions. We will see that society has already redefined marriage although in not quite so radical a fashion and this is the part of the current problem, but let’s move on.
It is clear that opposition to the redefinition of marriage to include “same sex” unions is portrayed as bigotry. This is a demagogic technique rather that a real opinion, since no sane person could really believe that not favoring the redefinition of marriage amounts to bigotry. The logic is identical to saying that if one is opposed to redefining marriage to include a union of a blind man and his devoted and beloved Seeing Eye dog, one hates blind people or pet lovers. It merely means one does not think any paired union constitutes marriage. Alas society has gone mad and even painfully obvious things apparently need to be debated. This will be the first of a short series of posts on the topic of “marriage equity” as the cognoscenti like to call it. The main objective is to make four points:
1) The bigotry charge is nonsense and the proponents of same sex marriage probably know it’s nonsense.
2) This charge sticks because what society calls “marriage” bears only a tenuous relationship to the institution that was marriage and the institution the Church recognizes as such. These changes predate the same sex marriage debate.
3) The main goal of same sex marriage proponents is to have a cudgel to attack the Church rather than it is to promote same sex marriage per se. The number of homosexuals who actually end up getting married is very small.
4) The best response of the Church should be to disarm their enemies at the moment. So rather than accept that the state recognize some non marriage heterosexual relationships, but oppose some non marriage homosexual ones, all mixed in recognizing some “real” marriages, it is just as well that the state for now gets out of the marriage business entirely. ( This is a prudential judgment on how one might best preserve in a situation in which the state is so amoral as to think killing unborn human beings is a right, rather than a crime, it is not necessarily the stance one would take if the state was not morally corrupted.)
I do want to mention that the idea for this post was based on a post done in July 2013 by Monsignor Charles Pope ( the link to which is available in a later post in this series).
We can start by looking at the typical argument for same sex marriage and its link to the bigotry charge. The argument goes something like this:
“Homosexuals find themselves born with an inherent trait (like skin color). The trait has no moral consequence since; as long as sex is consensual any kind of sex is morally ok. Gay men and women have a right to seek sexual and emotional solace in any relationship they choose and it is an infringement on basic human rights to interfere with this. For the state then not to “allow “gays to get married, is unjust. In fact it is irrational since there can be no rational reason to prevent to private citizens from seeking emotional solace and sexual pleasure in any manner they choose. Such irrationality can only be evidence of an anti gay animus or hate, that any decent society would make unacceptable, much like racial prejudice is rightly seen as unacceptable.”
So that’s the argument. This is certainly the basic position held by our social elites. Or at least it’s the one articulated. ( I am not sure they actually believe it. ) Perhaps it sounds superficially plausible but when you unpack it, it is false on almost every point. Lets again look at the above argument for gay marriage point by point:
“Homosexuals find themselves born with an inherent trait like skin color”: Well there is no absolute evidence that homosexuals are “born that way”, since we do not know what factors (genetic, environmental etc) result in a sexual orientation that large majorities of people do not share, and that on the face of it would seem to serve no obvious biologic purpose. Nonetheless people experience their sexual orientation as a given, so let’s stipulate that the idea homosexuals are “born that way” really means they do not actively choose to be gay. I would submit that sexual orientation is caused by factors that are poorly understood but likely include at least some that are biologic. To this I say so what? In what way is the cause of homosexuality relevant to whether we should redefine marriage ? The short answer is it is not relevant. This merely a smokescreen to make sexual orientation seem like other factors one is born with and is a tool to make it seem that people who might not embrace and celebrate homosexual expression are analogous to racists. Frankly given the just repulsion most people have against racism, it is a clever and effective tactic. It is also an outrageous falsehood. Homosexuality is nothing like race. Skin color does not specifically influence behavior. It is merely an incidental trait like blue eyes, or having freckles. Homosexuality is a desire specifically oriented to engage in a certain set of behaviors. Like all actions, the behaviors that homosexuals are attracted to may be good if they help direct us to our ultimate end or bad if they fail to do so. Let’s leave aside for the moment whether they are good or bad, it is still clearly a drive to a set of behaviors while skin color is not associated with a desire to behave in a certain way. Race is merely a set of physical characteristics. It is not an orientation to an act, while homosexuality is precisely an orientation. Now an orientation itself is not a matter for sin, (only actions can be sins). Nonetheless like all orientations to particular actions, it can be either ordered to a proper end or ordered to an improper end. We can readily see this if we compare it to our drive to eat.
We need to eat to live; we are normally ordered and attracted to eating food, with the natural end of obtaining nutrition. Some people have a disorder in which they are attracted to eating non nutritive substances such as clay or chalk. (This is called “pica” and if you are interested, you can be read about it here .) I am not saying homosexuality is “bad” like pica is “bad” I am merely pointing out that sexual orientation is a tendency to engage in certain kinds of sex, and is similar to our orientation to eat certain things. It is then reasonable to ask whether the orientation is ordered to a proper end or an improper end. One obvious end of sex is reproduction. Well it is clear homosexuality is not ordered to that. One can ask whether homosexuality is ordered to a meaningful end of sex without hating homosexuals, just as one can ask if eating clay is oriented to the proper end of eating without hating people with severe iron deficiency (which is one cause of pica). From a purely biologic view point homosexuality is a lot more like pica the skin color. Just as pica is the drive to eat non nutritive foods, homosexuality is the drive to engage in non reproductive sex. One can say well… homosexual relationships can be filled with all kinds of emotional rewards, but that is irrelevant. It is also the fact that some people with pica can feel pleasure when they consume non nutritive items like clay. There are multiple consequences of engaging in activities ordered to an improper end. In some cases it may entail physical harm for example. Pica can certainly do this in some, but not all cases, and it’s also true that homosexual sex can entail harm at least some of the time. For example the rates of sexually transmitted diseases are higher in male homosexuals than other groups. (You can read about this in the CDC report here . ) There are other consequences associated with engaging in acts not oriented to a proper end, but this need not concern us now, as the main point is that an orientation like homosexuality is nothing like skin color, it is much more condition like pica.
The pros and cons of such an orientation or drive to a particular behavior is a topic for another day. This also tells us little about gay people themselves who may be good or bad, generous or selfish, much like the rest of us. In fact gay people may even be married (like Oscar Wilde) it only tells us something about the orientation.
Of course that leads us to the next part of the typical same sex marriage argument;
Any kind of sexual activity that is consensual is morally OK. That is an assertion and as such must be supported by argument and evidence. It is not self evident since most humans at most times did not view sex this way. True the rules regarding what types of sexual activity were acceptable and what kinds were not, varied with times and cultures, but few if any cultures held there were no rules except adequate consent. Even our own culture has additional specific social rules surrounding sexual behavior. For example, It is generally regarded as poor form to have sex with a different partner if one is in “a relationship” with someone. This is regarded as “cheating”. It is in most circles socially frowned on although perhaps not completely forbidden. Most of society would consider it unethical for a college professor to attempt to enter into a sexual relationship with their student, even if consensual because of the sense that such a relationship is easily exploitative or coercive. A professor engaged in such behavior would likely be fired. So consent is not the only criteria for moral sexual behavior in our society. It is then clear that one could bear someone no ill will, and even wish them well, but still think it’s reasonable to discourage satisfaction of some kinds of sexual desires, since the fulfillment of those desires conflicts with some higher human goal. This may include homosexual or some kinds of heterosexual desires. This is also basically the position of the Catholic Church and indeed until recently almost all of Christianity.
For the record as anyone who visits this blog would soon learn, at Catholic X-ray, we subscribe to the teaching of the Church regarding sexual morality, but it is not germane to our point to defend this position. At the moment I only suggest that there are rational arguments that make the case for the classic Christian teaching and these arguments are not based simply on the desire to harm gay people. In fact the Catholic Church would argue that some heterosexuals must not seek heterosexual satisfaction (for example anyone who is unmarried or married people whose spouse is not available for a variety of reasons). No one asserts this is evidence of bigotry against heterosexuals. Therefore it seems clear that an argument suggesting that homosexual acts are not good things can be made that does not entail an anti- gay animus.
At this point very little of the standard same sex marriage argument has held water, being gay is not like race and it’s not obvious that any sexual act that is consensual is moral. Even if any sexual act was ok however it does not follow that the state has some obligation to redefine legal marriage to include same sex unions or any other particular sexual (or even non sexual relationship). It is therefore not the case that “prohibiting” same sex marriage is unjust, but more to the point, in reality no one really wants to prohibit anything. What is being debated is whether the state should broaden the number and kind of relationships it should legally recognize. People opposed to same sex marriage are merely saying the state should not change the definition of marriage to include other kinds of unions. If the state ignores a relationship of kind “A” and recognize one of kind “B” , this does not mean it is prohibiting “A”.
Let’s be clear on what “letting gays get married” means. No one is interested in legally preventing homosexuals from developing whatever private relationships they wish. Homosexuals are currently free to engage in whatever kind of sexual or emotional relationships they choose. They are also free to perform whatever private ceremonies they wish to commemorate these relationships. In fact back in the early 90s I knew a very pleasant lesbian couple who considered themselves “married” complete with rings and ceremony and they did not seem particularly interested in social recognition for this status beyond their immediate friends and family. So the state is not “prohibiting” anyone from doing anything even if it does not specifically recognize same sex marriage legally. The real question is what kinds of personal relationships (if any) the state should recognize by conferring a legal status on them. Historically social recognition evolved because of societies felt need to regulate the relationship that ordinarily resulted in the production of offspring. For example most societies have recognized since antiquity a need to legally regulate the rights to inherited property, the duties of parents and children to one another and so forth. There is no particular need to recognize relationships simply because they are emotionally fulfilling to the participants.
Look at it this way; imagine three heterosexual men who were very close, but not sexually attracted to one another, Let’s say they decided to live together and share their property. No one imagines the state should grant this relationship any sort of specific legal status, even though the relationship might be a good thing in and of itself. In fact no one thinks that not recognizing it is the same as prohibiting it. Have we gotten so deranged that we actually imagine to ignore something is the same a “banning” it?
It seems to me perfectly plausible that one could think the state has an interest in recognizing the only union that of its nature has the tendency to bring new human beings into the world, and traditionally has created the typical environment in which most humans are raised into adulthood. I am not clear why recognizing the traditional male – female unions, means one must recognize other kinds of unions regardless of the emotional gratification that attends them in the mind of the participants. That’s not to say the state has no interest in recognizing homosexual unions, but the burden of proof would seem to be on those who want the union recognized to give some broader social reason why such recognition is useful. To simply state that the couple “loves” each other is no reason at all. Why should the state care about this? For much of human history marriage was often arranged and recognized as legal independent of romantic love. In fact given the transient nature of romantic love as currently understood who cares if two people “love” each other? Many such couples are soon at each others throats in contentious divorce proceedings. Just check out any number of hot Hollywood marriages or the messy divorces of rich CEOs and so forth.…
We look at the implications of this in our next post.