Friday, August 6, 2010

More on Gay "Marriage"

Editor's NOTE:

In response to my editorial comment of yesterday regarding the overturning of the California Proposition 8 ban on Gay "Marriage" several readers have asked that this essay which I penned a while back be posted again in order that they might have access to critical philosophical concepts located therein. This may be seen as a companion piece to what was posted yesterday where a link was provided to the article I wrote for the Intellectual Conservative in 2005.

What of Non-Traditional Marriage?

By: Dr. J. P. Hubert

Over the past several years marked interest has grown in what must for the sake of intellectual honesty be termed non-traditional “marriage.” By this is usually meant “civil unions” or arrangements in which same-sex couples formalize their relationship and in so doing derive the benefits usually reserved for married heterosexual couples. To date, little organized interest has been expressed for other kinds of non-traditional “marriages” such as polygamous ones or those involving animals and humans (bestiality). In any case it has now become necessary to flesh-out the philosophical implications of marriage including the nature of what it means to be a human person and what is meant by “tradition.”

As mathematician/physicist and philosopher Wolfgang Smith has taught, “traditional” when used as an adjective before anything connotes the transcendent not simply ancient or of historical significance. To say that marriage for example is traditionally a life-long commitment between one man and one woman is to say in part that it is based in the transcendent “other” which theists understand as God (being personified from a philosophical perspective); that it “embodies an element of revelation.” According to Smith, a “doctrine is traditional by virtue of the fact that it partakes somewhat of eternity.” In this sense traditional marriage is not only a horizontal but a vertical relationship (metaphysical reality) with God as one of the “partners.”

To develop this concept a bit further, traditional marriage (TM) is a microcosm/reflection of penultimate being that is, non-derivative being in much the same way that man was created in the imago Dei (image of God, Gen. 1:26). Orthodox Catholics understand it as a recapitulation of the Trinity [tri-unity (“3” who’s in one what)] that is the Blessed Trinity—wherein the “two (male and female possessing complementarity) become one flesh” (Gen. 2: 24) in the sense of giving life to a child (the third member of the human triad/family, not simply copulation between the 2 adults). From the perspective of human anthropology (nature or essence) marriage, in a traditional sense can join only one man and one woman in a permanent (covenant in religious terms) or exclusive relationship if it is to retain any semblance of meaning. As such the Traditional marriage union is a metaphysical (outside of space and time) reality as well as a physical one which is unbreakable by human means. It is this facet of traditional marriage which has been expunged in large part from post-modernity by the way.

The notion that individuals of the same sex or that multiple partners (in the sense of the simultaneous pleural marriages practiced by polygamists) could “marry” is to rob the term “traditional” marriage of any real meaning. These and other “unions” such as between humans and animals are non-traditional in the extreme. Not only do they fail to mirror in microcosm the transcendent other (GOD) as understood in Christianity, they for the most part lack complementarity (anatomically at least) as well. While pleural marriage (simultaneous or serial) on an anatomic basis may possess complementarity, it clearly lacks exclusivity. Traditional marriage then for Christians must contain the elements of complementarity and exclusivity. This is true because of the essence of what it means to be human and because traditional marriage has both a vertical and a horizontal dimension, one in space and time; one outside of or beyond it. Unfortunately, the Enlightenment, much of modern philosophy (particularly the Utilitarianism of J. S. Mill) including Cartesian Dualism followed on by Baconian notions of science including Darwinist philosophy (philosophical naturalism) have emptied traditional marriage of its true meaning. The details of these assaults on traditional marriage (TM) are beyond the scope of this short essay. However, suffice it to say that as a result of the above--human nature is no longer considered “fixed.” It is simply assumed that one can create their own nature and for that matter reality itself. This reduces marriage to a completely horizontal “arrangement” of our own making that can be undone at will--resembling something more akin to a business transaction.

Admittedly, the idea that marriage is a recapitulation of the Blessed Trinity is unique to Christianity as it is predicated on a unique and divinely revealed understanding of the nature of God. Both Judaism and Islam which either tacitly or explicitly reject the Blessed Trinity; have historically allowed simultaneous pleural marriage between human beings, (multiple wives with one husband) usually on economic, or other utilitarian grounds including custom. Nevertheless, over time, each has moved away from the practice of polygamy. It is safe to say that no monotheistic religion has endorsed non-traditional marriage between adult human beings of the same sex or between humans and animals presumably because of the issue of lack of complementarity and the recognition that traditional marriage (TM) in order to be legitimate/genuine must contain no impediment to the natural generation of children which would ensue from a lack of complementarity. This is another way of saying that marriage arrangements must not be incompatible with the Natural Law. Procreation--and with it the education and rearing of children--has traditionally been seen as either the primary/only or dual reason for marriage (along with the obvious positive unitive benefit for the spouses). Clearly this is an impossibility in the natural for same-sex and human/animal “unions.” Moreover, incest (parent/child) in recorded history has universally been sanctioned in all of the “3” monotheistic religions at least in part for reasons having to do with complications arising as a direct result of copulation and procreation (genetic disorders for example among other severe psychological problems).

While heterosexual incest is correctly ordered anatomically, it is clearly disordered from the perspective of lacking exclusivity (parents already have or should have a monogamous and exclusive relationship), genetic complications and behavioral problems. Since traditional morality holds that sexual intercourse is proper only within the bounds of marriage, it is apparent that incest could never be morally acceptable. Even in the event of death of one of the marriage partners, incest (sexual relations with one or more of the children) would be immoral on multiple other grounds including on the basis that in doing so, the remaining marriage partner would be guilty of a sin against charity with respect to the children. This would be true even if for some misguided reason the offspring were said to have given “consent.”

Some would argue that while same-sex human or opposite-sex human/animal “unions” are not marriage in the Traditional sense, pleural marriage between for example one man and multiple women should be afforded the designation “traditional marriage.” There is a certain logic to this contention in that complementarity is preserved and with it the ability to procreate. The difficulty comes in that there is no exclusivity of the partners or of their offspring for the biological parents, thus not as organically related families in these arrangements. Such “unions” fail to recapitulate the divine pattern in microcosm and are inherently horizontal in nature; important criteria by which marriage is ultimately to be judged traditional where Christians and most monotheists are concerned. Atheists and agnostics or other nominal or fallen-away theists who embrace traditional marriage presumably do so in a more limited sense, one in which the historical, economic and conventional aspects of heterosexual marriage (in the horizontal sense only) are desired.

There is of course a certain collective wisdom of the ages which supports so-called traditional marriage. It has not been by chance that this kind of marriage has existed as the most frequent marital arrangement in virtually all cultures and time periods. TM has many obvious advantages and arguably the fewest negatives. Pleural marriage is associated with many hardships particularly where it is illegal. Even where polygamy is legal the natural tendency toward conjugal fidelity/exclusivity which is a natural part of human anthropology is difficult if not impossible to suppress and can lead to disastrous problems associated with jealousy of one or more of the spouses for each other. Attempting to preserve an equitable relationship with multiple marriage partners would seem to be an impossible undertaking. It is truly difficult to imagine how one could honor the biblical imperative to treat their neighbor fairly under such a circumstance.

Same-sex “marriages” are perhaps the most difficult to justify philosophically. Not only is there no complementarity of the sexes, statistically there is a high incidence of non-exclusivity of homosexual partners (particularly among men) which exceeds those of heterosexuals in which the marriage is considered a civil contract only and where they are not bound by the notion of indissolubility which comes with traditional marriage through verticality (covenant). If civil contract marriages between heterosexuals are removed from divorce statistics, overall divorce rates are much lower indicating that the problem in heterosexual marriage dissolution lies in the concept of a breakable civil contract. Therefore, in the interest of the common good it would be better to limit marriage to those who intend to form a traditional marriage rather than some other “arrangement” especially same-sex ones. Heterosexual couples considering marriage would be best served by exposure to traditional marriage and all of its obvious benefits since civil contract marriages fair so poorly over the long run.

Not to be underestimated are the potential medical complications predominately among male same-sex couples due to their incompatibility anatomically. For example since anal intercourse is usually involved in male/male same sex “unions”, the columnar lined rectal epithelial mucosa which is not suitable for intercourse (the vaginal mucosa is composed of squamous epithelium and designed for intercourse) is frequently damaged predisposing it to disease including anal warts, HIV/Aids, anal gonorrhea, fissures, fistulae and incontinence etc. Corresponding pathologies are invariably seen in the male partners of those who are frequently sodomized. This should alert us to the fact that something is inherently wrong with anal intercourse (heterosexual or homosexual) even if we had no other way of knowing it—fortunately, a careful study of human anatomy and physiology coupled with an adequate grounding in Aristotelian/Thomistic moral philosophy assures that other ways of knowing do exist.

As the reader may have deduced, from the moral perspective, traditional marriage follows the general construct that the “ought” should follow the “is” meaning that the proper moral formulation should flow from the reality of being in this case the human anthropology (including anatomical complementarity and the deep desire of human beings for exclusivity) of the partners. Only if one assumes that human nature is an accident, evolving or otherwise irrelevant would the nature of human being not be of critical consideration. According to the Aristotelian/Thomistic synthesis human nature is fixed not evolving, meaning it is unchangeable by man. As a result only traditional marriage as described herein can be judged morally licit. All other so-called “arrangements” would lack one or more necessary key elements in order to be considered marriages at all, or traditional marriages in particular--including polygamist ones which are closer to traditional marriages than are those between individuals of the same sex. Despite this reality, it is noteworthy that public (political) pressure in the West is increasingly in favor of same sex “marriage” rather than polygamous ones, a fact which given the realities of human anthropology is difficult to comprehend. While neither should be legalized in the interest of the common good, polygamist “marriages” are less deranged from the perspective of the natural law than are those of a homosexual nature.

The most commonly proffered justification for same-sex “marriage” is that each human person should have the “right” (a claim advanced on society; the result of a personal choice) based on Western notions of freedom, equality and autonomy to marry anyone they wish. Given the necessary elements of traditional marriage as herein defined, it is clear that same-sex “marriage” could never be considered marriage in any meaningful sense without doing damage to the English language and thousands of years of history including that which is common to all “3” monotheistic religions presently encompassing the vast majority of global inhabitants.

In helping to focus the morality involved in non-traditional marriage some critical questions might be waged as follows;

To what extent should individuals be allowed freedom to act if those actions debase the common good and transgress established moral norms?

Only if no harm (direct or indirect) is done to other individuals and or the common good.

Do we as individuals have a moral responsibility to act personally in ways which are compatible with and enhancing of the common good?


Does personal freedom include the ability to act in ways which while not directly or immediately harmful to others are nonetheless indirectly so and eventually very injurious to the common good?


It is clearly in the common good for healthy life-long marriages between one man and one woman to be strongly encouraged if not codified in law. Moreover, it is beyond doubt in the best interest of our children to be reared in stable, two parent biological families. The sociological data strongly establish that this is the case irrespective of protestations to the contrary by those who advocate for non-traditional marriage.

Moreover, certain behaviors are not only immoral but have been made illegal as well. This is to protect individuals from injury and to insure the common good. Murder is both immoral and illegal as is rape for good reason. While homosexual activity and sexual activity with multiple sex partners is not illegal throughout the United States, it is currently illegal for multiple partners to marry (polygamy), for animals and humans to marry and in all but one state for same-sex partners to marry (Massachusetts, Editor's note: since originally written, other states have followed Mass.). The latter reality is extremely regrettable. Since homosexual behavior and sex with multiple partners is immoral and destructive of the common good, non-traditional marriage in these circumstances should remain illegal. Massachusetts should repeal its current same-sex marriage law on the grounds that it represents poor social planning where a commitment to the common good is concerned. The wishes of some individuals especially when they are violative of the natural law should not be allowed to eclipse the interest of the common good. Unfortunately, that is exactly what has transpired in the case of US laws allowing abortion on demand and destructive embryo research.

From a traditional (scholastic) moral philosophical perspective, sex with multiple partners, between humans and animals (bestiality) and between individuals of the same sex are all morally illicit. This is true because of the nature of what it means to be human (unique and fixed human anthropology) and because of the principles of the natural law (they cannot be expunged in the same way that the 4 fundamental forces of physics cannot be denied) which includes complementarity of the sexes. The record of the last half century in the United States stands as a testament to the fact that the natural moral law cannot be revoked—it is immutable. Nothing but misery comes from denying or breaking it particularly on a massive scale e.g. at the level of nation states. Those who are familiar with the so-called perennial philosophy are well aware of this reality. Obviously, those who are steeped in Modern and post-Modern philosophy find this exceedingly difficult to accept.

Therefore, a key question remains; Are non-traditional “marriage” arrangements morally licit?

No, because; they are contrary to the common good and established moral norms including those between heterosexual couples who arrange civil contract marriages. The answer is simple but not easy given post-modern confusion with respect to what constitutes truth, reality and morality. In a pluralistic secular society such as ours, it would be impossible to make heterosexual non-traditional marriages illegal (although they should be discouraged) given the nature of current civil and human rights laws. On the basis of these, proponents of same-sex marriage have made similar appeals the results of which are in flux. From the perspective of the common good of society it would clearly be best if all marriages were “traditional” in the sense utilized herein that is, both vertical and horizontal and understood as a life-long commitment between one man and one woman. The fact that this is not possible in the developed West is a testament to the disadvantageous nature of living in a pluralistic society. This negative development which can be traced to the Enlightenment is extremely regrettable.

Finally, should non-traditional marriage be legalized?

No, it is unwise public policy to legally allow behavior which is; destructive of the common good and contrary to well established moral norms. The balance between individual desires on the part of individuals and the common good is too tipped in favor of the individual to the detriment of society.