September 10, 2007

2. Pro-Creation

This post is a continuation of a discussion begun with Where the Division Lies. As this is part of an ongoing discussion, I would like to ask commenters to attempt to cleave to the main point of each post and allow the argument to unfold. A number of comments on the first post actually anticipated issues to be addressed in this one; as well as bringing up important questions that I hope to address subsequently.

In this post I will respond to the assertion that the purpose of sexuality is procreation. This assertion is well-summarized by a leading member of the reasserter community, in a comment on the earlier post:

The reasserting position is that sex is specifically given for the purpose of furthering the ends of marriage: procreative, uniative, and reflective. One of those ends cannot be separated in such a way as to stand exclusive of the others and form a proper basis for the introduction of sex outside of the other three. All three are essential to marriage. And sex is specifically given as a function of them.

I intend to demonstrate that not only is procreation not essential to marriage, but that its relationship to sexuality is not absolute; that it can be (and is) separated from other ends, which in themselves can and do form a proper basis for a sexual relationship within marriage.

Ways and means and blessings

Before entering into the specifics, I want to address the language of “purpose” and “function” or “ends.” In general, although this language has a place in the tradition, it seems to me to reflect an overly utilitarian ethic focused on results. I would prefer to follow another aspect of the Christian tradition that refers to the “goods” of marriage. In a virtue ethic, sexuality is not simply a function, or the use of a person (or two persons’ use of each other) towards some purposed end or goal, but an act growing out of the love between persons that is open to the good that may be imparted. Self-giving love, rather than self-asserting need, provides the basis for the action which grows out of the love, and which is a blessing in itself apart from any result.

In addition, “purpose” in this context implies an a priori assumption, a social or theological one at that. There is a difference even between a purpose and a function. Purpose sees sexuality not merely for what it does and how it does it, but as a naturally or divinely intended “plan for humanity” — depending upon one’s worldview of a secular personified Nature or theological divine intent. It is important, therefore, to be aware of this subtext in the secular and sacred tradition before proceeding. (I am not challenging the notion that sexuality has a purpose in the natural world or in God’s plan; I merely flag that this is a second order question, which I will address at the proper point in the discussion.)

Defining the goods

Avoiding both “purpose” and “function” at the outset, let me say that most people (including those outside the faith) would agree that human sexuality appears to have two principle goods, procreation and the union. (The “reflective” good, in which marriage serves as an image for the relationship between Christ and the Church, or God and Israel, is solely theological. I will address union and reflection in subsequent posts; as well as a “cause” or end of marriage that has dropped both from this reasserter’s list and from the preface to the Episcopal marriage liturgy: marriage as a remedy for fornication, for those who lack the gift of celibacy.)

In regarding procreation and union, the church has (until fairly recent times) traditionally emphasized the former over the latter, but it appears that such an emphasis is not well supported by Scripture, reason, or even other elements of the tradition. In this and succeeding posts I hope to sketch out a number of points concerning the various goods of sexuality, and consequently, of marriage.

In the process I will demonstrate that procreation is neither essential to marriage, nor the principle good of human sexuality. I use the word human intentionally, in order to highlight the fact that sex and sexuality are not unique to human beings. We share our being members of a species predominantly male or female, and our capacity to reproduce sexually, with most animals and many plants. It has been observed in the past that expending theological energy on the mere existence of the sexes and the capacity to reproduce — which is part of our animal nature — shifts the focus away from what makes us truly human, as well as serving as locus for the image of God in human form: our capacity to love and to reason.

The witness of nature

No one would claim that sex has nothing to do with procreation; rather it is obvious that the existence of male and female in many species of animals and plants is a part of the natural process by which life is perpetuated. It is not, of course, the only means of such propagation, and many forms of life, even some vertebrates, reproduce without making use of sexual differentiation or sexual intercourse.

However, when it comes to human beings, it is trivial to observe that the existence of male and female, and their exercise of the capacity for sexual intercourse, is intimately connected with procreation. The natural law tradition takes this as given; but that is, in part, why this tradition is of little use in the present discussion, as it begs the question: it assumes as a premise the very matter under discussion; that is: that procreation is the primary purpose for or good of sex.

The difficulties with ends-based natural law arguments in this regard, which are advanced against birth control as much as against same-sexuality, in particular those that focus narrowly on the mechanics of sexual intercourse, are well summarized by The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics.

It is one thing to say that the natural function of the eye is to see. But even bodily organs can and do serve several functions. And if one asks of the body as a whole what its function is, the answer is much less clear. Even less clear is the answer to questions such as “What is the function of a human life?” or “What is the function of sexuality in a human life?” The way one might try to answer these questions seems quite unlike the way one might try to answer questions about the function(s) of the endocrine glands or the heart in the human body. The notion of “function” at this point becomes much more a matter of moral assessment than a scientific inquiry. (“Natural Law,” 413)

Given that caveat, from an objective standpoint the following observations are telling, even in light of a functional or ends-based viewpoint:

  • Procreation is not simultaneous with intercourse, which in humans is not the planting of a seed (as the pre-modern world imagined it) but the placement of millions of sperm in a place where they are capable of eventually reaching a single ovum, at which point one of them may fertilize it
  • Intercourse does not always lead to procreation. Women, unlike the females of most mammals, do not have an estrus cycle, which in many other species limits sexual behavior to times of fertility; thus there is a completely natural separation between capacity to have sexual relations and the capacity to procreate
  • Procreation can take place entirely apart from intercourse (through artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization); and, perhaps needless to say, apart from marriage
  • Intercourse can take place when procreation is impossible or avoided: in addition to the lack of estrus, human beings can engage in intercourse when some other cause (intended or incidental) prevents conception
  • From a sociological perspective, in looking at the question of “the function of sexuality in a human life” is is clear that sexuality has major social implications apart from procreation; and has taken many forms in many cultures

At the same time, it is fair to notice the fact (which reasserters occasionally raise in such discussions) that every human being who ever lived is the result of sexual congress between a man and a woman. This, however, in addition to overlooking conception via artificial means or in vitro, neglects an exception significant to the religious question; which brings me to the witness of Scripture.

The witness of Scripture

The most important conception in human history, that of Jesus Christ himself, took place apart from sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. This is, naturally, an article of faith and revelation, not reason. However, we are presented with this theological fact and reason can seek to understand what God may have intended by it. That God should choose this means of entering upon the human scene should give pause to those who wish to make more out of heterosexuality in the scheme of salvation than is actually evidenced in Scripture. As I will demonstrate below, this choice on God’s part is best seen as a reflection of the teaching of Jesus on the new Creation, which is not simply a recapitulation of the old, but the beginning of something truly new.

Back to the beginning

But let us for a moment return to that beginning, to the Book of Genesis, which is naturally often cited in discussions of human sexuality. It is important firstly to note the obvious fact that Genesis contains two creation accounts, and they are not harmonious in numerous details. This has not prevented people merging the two accounts in various ways. Jesus himself performed such a midrash, though with a significant omission.

However, it appears best to treat the two accounts with some care in distinguishing the concerns each expresses. It is immediately apparent that Genesis 1 refers to procreation (both animal and human), while Genesis 2 focuses on the good of companionship and unity, which I will address at greater length in a succeeding post. This alone indicates to some extent the way in which these two goods can be discussed apart from each other.

Many reasserters seem to think that Genesis offers the best argument against same-sex relationships, and regularly return to it in discussions of the subject. However, the fact that Genesis presents us with the creation of male and female as ordered towards procreation does not in itself automatically indicate or even imply a prohibition on same-sex relationships, any more than the pre-scientific discussion of the origin of the world, or the structure of the cosmos, need automatically rule out the learnings of physics or cosmology.

Moreover, the divine establishment of X does not in itself imply a negative assessment of Y, in particular if X and Y can be shown both to belong to a larger category, and have more in common than in contrast. Part of our problem in the present discussions is our tendency to see heterosexuality and homosexuality as somehow opposed to each other, or mutually exclusive, rather than as (admittedly differing) expressions of one overriding reality — the human capacity to love.

Beginnings and ends

In addition, Genesis 1 is a creation account, an account intended to explain the origin of certain things. As such, it is quite natural that — as with many other creation stories the world over — it should recount the creation of the sexes. Procreation — a function of the sexes both in animals and in humans (as Genesis 1 states explicitly) — is intended to fill the world with living things. But this is, after all, the first word on sexuality, not the last. This is the genesis of the world, not its intended end. The scriptural testimony may begin in a Garden, but it ends in a City, where the only marriage is that of the Lamb and his Bride, the Holy City itself. The goal and eternal plan of God is not mere restoration or recapitulation, but redemption and transfiguration.

This leads to an issue sometimes raised by reasserters, who envision salvation in terms of a return to or restoration of the prelapsarian world. However, although Genesis 1 includes a commandment to procreation, Scripture does not indicate this being acted upon until after the fall, in Genesis 4. Procreation, in the second creation account, is postlapsarian.

The Christian vision thus portrays the life of the resurrection as prelapsarian only in this sense, as pre-sexual, a world in which there is no more “male and female” — by which Paul (Gal 3:28) is speaking less of an eschatological disappearance of gender, than of an end to the marriage relationship based on sexual distinction. As with the other distinctions (ethnic and social), Paul points to the restoration of equality and mutuality rather than of domination and exclusion.

This harmonizes well with Jesus’ description of the resurrection life as prelapsarian only in this narrow sense: a world in which “they do not marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more” (Luke 20:35-36); that is, there is no more need for “male and female” to “be fruitful and multiply” and “fill the earth and subdue it.” For the old earth will have passed away, and all will be new. Procreation will be no more — but love will endure for ever.

A change in the law

It is notable that Jesus’ midrash of Genesis 1 and 2 in response to challenges on divorce (Matt 19:4-5; Mk 10:6-9) omits the reference to procreation — he passes directly from “God made them male and female” to “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Omitting any reference to procreation, his emphasis is on the unitive aspect, and its permanence through the grace of fidelity. (Those who attempt to pitch Jesus’ teaching here as a condemnation of same-sex relationships, rather than as Jesus intended it in response to the question on divorce, are doing justice neither to their position nor to Scripture.) I will return to this passage in my discussion of the unitive good of marriage — the one which Jesus emphasized.

However, Jesus’ rejection of the divorce statute of the Mosaic Law (given by Moses but attributed to God in the Torah) brings me to another significant change in attitude towards procreation in the teaching of Christ.

The Rabbis regarded the commandment to be fruitful and multiply as applying to all people; as the first commandment given to humanity. Thus celibacy was held in low esteem or even contempt in mainstream Rabbinic Judaism, even to the extent of being considered a serious moral failing.

No man may abstain from keeping the law Be fruitful and multiply, unless he already has children: according to the School of Shammai, two sons; according to the School of Hillel, a son and a daughter, for it is written, Male and female created he them. (Mishnah Yebamoth 6.6)

So important was the commandment to be fruitful and multiply that the biblical law mandated a special form of marriage which would otherwise have constituted incest by affinity (Deut 25:5-6) in order to provide for continuation of a family line ended by death before fulfillment of the divine command. For the same reason, biblical law also allowed for polygamy, and the historical accounts attest to its employment to that end. One of these incidents, however, also shows the importance of the unitive aspect of sexuality, apart from procreation: as Elkanah comforted his barren wife Hannah with the words, “Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (1 Sam 1:8) The fact that the story of Hannah was later typologically parsed by Saint Luke in reference to Mary and the birth of Christ casts even greater significance on this episode from early Jewish history.

However, more importantly, and perhaps related to the contrary teaching of Jesus, so important was the duty to procreate that the Rabbis enjoined divorce should a man find his wife to be infertile after ten years of marriage. (M Yebamoth 6.6) In a prescientific world, of course, failure to bear a child was most often seen as the woman’s fault, as women were held to be “fertile soil” for the growth of the male “seed.” Even given that, the Mishnah allows a woman so divorced an additional 10 years with another husband just in case the fault lies with the man.

Jesus overturns this traditional understanding and emphasis upon procreation; and this may relate to and reflect the larger Divine intent in his own Incarnation apart from sexual intercourse. Whatever the source of his teaching, beginning with God’s act in the Incarnation, and contrary to the main stream of Rabbinic thought and Jewish culture, Jesus approves and commends celibacy (Matt 19:12); as does Saint Paul (1 Cor 7:7-8).

Celibacy is, of course, a radical option, as both Jesus and Paul recognize — it is a charismatic gift of which not all are capable, but it is also an eschatological sign, a symbol for the new world in which there is no marriage.

This brings me, incidentally, to another argument often advanced against same-sexuality: that if everyone “practiced” it it would be the end of humanity. I raise this argument here because it is also true that if everyone practiced celibacy that would also be the end of humanity — though no one apart from an Orthodox Rabbi would thereby suggest celibacy was morally wrong. The distinctly “unorthodox” Saint Paul, in his only extended discussion of marriage cited above, actually did suggest that he wished everyone were celibate as he was — though this may be regarded as a rhetorical flourish rather than as an actual intention, since he goes on to tolerate marriage in the meanwhile, even as he advises against it. (1 Cor 7:28-31)

The witness of tradition

Finally, I turn to the testimony of the church’s tradition. Although relatively recent in the body of tradition, it is helpful to start with the preface to the marriage liturgy in our Book of Common Prayer. This exhortation states the issue rather clearly, both in demoting procreation to third place among the “causes” for which marriage was instituted (as articulated in the 1662 Prayer Book’s preface), and in adding the important proviso “when it is God’s will” in recognition of the fact that not all marriages will result in procreation.

It also note once again the disappearance of the 1662 Prayer Book’s second “cause” — missing both from the comment by the reasserter and from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: marriage as a remedy for sin and the avoidance of fornication, that those who “have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled.” As this is one of the biblical ends of marriage (as elucidated by Saint Paul in 1 Cor 7:8-9) its omission is surprising. I will address this additional “cause” in a subsequent post.

It is perhaps also interesting to note that reference to these causes or ends or goods of marriage were entirely omitted from the marriage liturgy of the Books of Common Prayer from1789 up through 1928 — and only made their reappearance as part of the much-maligned 1979 edition and its immediate trial antecedents. (The 1928 edition did add an optional prayer for the “gift and heritage of children” and their upbringing, but apart from this there is no reference to procreation in the 1928 marriage rite.) Thus the American prayer-book tradition entirely omitted or downplayed any reference to procreation until the current version, where it makes an appearance with the note of its provisionality. (The present form of the Roman Catholic nuptial mass also places the references to progeny in parentheses.)

This is, of course, natural. For the Church, unlike the Jewish tradition described above, never made procreation a necessary end or good of marriage, even when it gave it pride of place in exhorting the bride and groom; and did not allow infertility to stand as an impediment to marriage, or serve as a cause for divorce (unless concealed prior to marriage). Moreover, the Church does not hold marriage to end with menopause, or after hysterectomy or prostatectomy, or any other circumstance rendering one or both of the couple permanently infertile. Thus, while the church has seen “the gift and heritage of children” to be a blessing, it has never regarded it as essential to the institution of marriage.

For the sake of the children

As the preface to the marriage rite in the BCP (1662 and again now in 1979) reminds us, however, sexuality and marriage do often involve the mechanics of conception and birth. But as these texts also show, procreation is the beginning of a process, which includes the care and nurture of children in the knowledge and love of the Lord. In one way this reflects the same direction taken by the whole of Scripture, from Eden to the New Jerusalem, from the biological beginnings to the incarnate and spiritual presence of God in and with the new transfigured human community.

As a practical matter, same-sex couples can fulfill the intention of procreation though in-vitro fertilization, or by adoption. Surely the biblical imagery of adoption (in the New Testament) is at least as powerful — and as grace-filled — as the biblical imagery of birth — and we have the prime example of foster-fatherhood in Saint Joseph himself, the patron of the Universal Church. Surely this fulfillment of the upbringing of otherwise abandoned children in the way of the Lord is a noble task commendable to all people.

Jacob Milgrom has reflected on this in light of the rather different Jewish traditions and law, in his magisterial work on Leviticus, and suggests that adoption is one means for same-sex couples to fulfill this part of the good of procreation. (Milgrom notes that the Levitical prohibition on male homosexuality does not apply to non-Jews, about which I hope to say more in a later series of posts, to address the biblical texts addressing same-sex relations.) Writing to Jewish homosexuals, Milgrom advises that in order to fulfil the “first commandment” they ought to

adopt children. Although adoption was practiced in the ancient world (as attested in Babylonian law), there is no biblical procedure or institution of adoption. As a result the institution of adoption is absent from rabbinic jurisprudence. Yet there are isolated cases of a kind of pseudo-of adoption in the Bible... Adoption is a certainly a possibility today. Lesbian couples have an additional advantage. Not only do they not violate Biblical law, but through artificial insemination each can become the natural mother of her children. (Leviticus 17-22, 1787)

Surely, from a Christian perspective, true religion does not lie in procreation, but in part in caring for orphans. (James 1:27) So in the broader sense in which procreation itself is the beginning of a process, same-sex couples (and infertile mixed sex couples) are capable of fulfilling the “procreative end” or benefitting from this “good” of sexuality even though their own sexual relationship does not produce the children they adopt, nurture, and care for.


I acknowledge that apart from in vitro fertilization only a fertile male and female couple can accomplish the first steps of procreation. But as I have shown, the capacity to procreate is neither essential to marriage nor inseparable from its other goods.

This leaves us with the obvious question: What is it about males and females (apart from the capacity to procreate) that should limit marriage to such couples? Asked another way, What is present in a sterile mixed-sex couple that is lacking in a same-sex couple, apart from the difference in sex? I think the only reasonable answer is, The difference in sex is precisely the issue.

Now, getting to this point after all the forgoing might seem ludicrous, since we know that folks approve of mixed-sex marriage and disapprove of same-sex relationships precisely because of the sex of the couple. The reason I have taken this course, however, is to disprove the rationalization for this restriction on the basis of the capacity to procreate.

So I will in subsequent posts turn to the other goods of marriage (union and representation) to see if these are essential to marriage, or limited to mixed-sex couples. In short, I will address the question of whether there is something essential about men and women, apart from their ability (in some cases) to procreate, that would distinguish their unions from those of same-sex couples.

Tobias Haller BSG

Update: My reflection continues with True Union (1).

Further Update: This post and those that follow, expanded and supplemented with much additional material, form part of Reasonable and Holy, published by Seabury Books and available on order from Church Publishing Incorporated.


Anonymous said...

this is delightfully nice, and i have only one initial comment, about something at the beginning, where you say "most people (including those outside the faith) would agree that human sexuality appears to have two principle goods, procreation and the union."

this runs entirely roughshod over the simple and obvious good that sexuality has: pleasure. it is perhaps a striking thing that pleasure is left out, as if merely the enjoyment of the activity in itself were irrelevant. it is certainly not all that matters, but it certainly also is something that matters.

nor can it be subsumed under "union". the good of union refers to the way in which sexuality can be a central part of certain relationships, and play a role in tying them together. and, to be sure, the pleasure involved can be one part of how it does so.

but the pleasure is good not only because it plays a role in union, but it is simply good all by itself.

and, i would submit, that to those outside the faith this is so blindingly obvious, that the failure to acknowledge it within the faith stands as the sign of a fundamental denial of what sexuality is, let alone what it ought to be.

simply put: if a space alien read your discussion of sexuality (or the ones the vatican puts out) would they ever understand that it feels good? i see no indication they would.

Chris Ashley said...

It seems to me that the reasserter case (which I personally find unpersuasive on this matter) would view your examples as beside the point. Sterility is a consequence of the Fall; a sterile marriage is a type of God's judgment, not the way things are supposed to be. Adoption is a wholly laudable act, but nevertheless a response to the fallen reality of abandoned children. So the reasserter case would take both situations as an improper base for building Christian norms. Hence the reasserter emphasis on Genesis: We can only build Christian ethics, by their view, on the revealed witness to unfallen creation.

I absolutely agree with you that the proper response to this line of thought must start with the other end of history. Arguments from eschatology, unfortunately, never seem to find much purchase in reasserter circles: They lack the pungent Protestant force of an ad fontes, ad Genesem call, and they don't speak as obviously to a faith and order that are "the same yesterday, today, and forever." Much easier to ring those sorts of changes if your argument starts at the beginning rather than the end of the story.

I look forward to this series' continuation, and pray that at minimum it brings more light than heat into our common discourse.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Thomas. I plead guilty to some extent to overlooking the obvious about the physical joy of sexuality. But I did plan to address it under the topic of union -- not because it is limited to that, but because that is where (I think) the BCP marriage preface intends it to be, under the term of "mutual joy." The "mutual" is, I think, important here, and that is why I'm leaving the question to the next section of the discussion. I'm also including under "union" the other matter of "help and comfort" -- another important social aspect of sexuality that could be addressed here. Thanks for flagging this.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Yes, Christopher, I do think that could be a problem, in seeing sterility as a form of dis-ease attributable to the Fall; but I wonder if that would explain the "natural" cessation of fertility at menopause; to say nothing of the end of procreation in the new creation; and it would also have to address the reality that the church does not regard infertile marriages as "cursed" even if they are not "blessed with issue." I'm not sure even the most ardent reasserter is so hard-hearted; and I've never encountered that as an argument from that side.

I know that Augustine has some rather peculiar speculations about sexuality in Eden, but the Scripture is silent apart from the reference to Adam's first "knowledge" of Eve; and other parts of the tradition (I can't recall the first source) suggest that the creation of Adam and Eve and their fall all happened on the same day. I assume this comes from the reference to the "day" which begins at Gen 2:7, continues through 2:17 and culminates with God walking in the garden in the cool breeze of the day (i.e., the early evening, 3:8)

R said...


One argument I've made from time to time is that the married couple provide a locus of hospitality that benefits not only children, but the entire community. I know in your own writings you have referred to this as householding-the almost foundational unit of community (and brings in the disciplines of ancient Christian traditions).

Anyway, I have frequently seen the hospitality/householding of coupling as a broadly pro-creative act; a mirroring of the greater relationships that literally "create" space for life.

Would you agree, or do you see this falling better elsewhere in the argument yet to come?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I think householding is one of the transitional issues from the broadest understanding of procreation (in the sense of nurture, upbringing, etc.) edging over into the good of "union" which is not just about the couple themselves but radiates outward into the larger society. In any case, that's where I intended to develop the theme begun here with adoption: as well as bring in the recognition of the "avuncular" role that gay and lesbian persons play in their families even when they do not adopt. "No person is an island" -- and neither is a couple!

John D Bassett said...

I think that in a way the natural law emphasis on procreation actually supports same-sex relationships.

After all, the function of procreation is to ensure the survival of the species. But what happens when humans procreate so successfully that millions of other species become extinct due to habitat loss, and the resulting environmental devastation in turn endangers human life itself? Is this "natural"? It does not seem so to me.

The fact that some humans choose not to procreate and so limit the human impact upon the environment, ultimately improving the chances of the entire race as a whole surviving, seems pretty moral to me. Laudable, in fact.

Anonymous said...

My Mother's relatives were mostly "Covenanters" (an austere form of presbyterianism practiced by the followers of John Knox). I recall getting the impression from them that an encapsulated view of their take on sin was this: If it's fun its a sin. Sex was solely for procreation and was not to be enjoyed.

My other point is that in the story of Adam and Eve, procreation is a direct result of the Fall. Perhaps this is what has given large parts of the Church an ambivalent attitude toward, not only sex, but marriage as well. And let's not forget that many Christians believe sex and Original Sin to be one and the same.

Anonymous said...

Your arguments here are primarily theological, addressing "What is the Christian concept of marriage?" That seems to me a separate question from whether it is a good idea to expand the legal meaning of marriage beyond that of a relationship of opposite sexes.

We may of course legislate to change that meaning to include same-sex partnerships, non-sexual friendships, business partnerships, simple co-habitation, sibling relationships--any of those may be considered socially good, but they represent a decision that there is nothing about potentially procreative relationships that require any special attention from law and society. That is a decision that we can make, just as we have chosen to change marriage from a life-long relationship to one that lasts only as long as both wish it to last. Whether it is a good idea is another question.

Nothing you say mitigates against the trivial fact that children are born (apart from our halting attempts to manufacture children as products) only from the union of a man and a woman. Of course not all heterosexual sex leads to conception. Similarly, not every automobile ride leads to an accident--but the law requires us to wear a seatbelt when in a moving car, because there alone an accident may happen, as opposed to in a stationary vehicle in your driveway, or while eating at table. The law deals in categories that may only typically give rise to circumstances calling for social intervention.

And of course the law may change in that regard. We have pretty much removed any penalties from unmarried heterosexual sex. The notion of "fornication" as an offense strikes most as unbearably quaint. And we have as a result an explosion of illegitimacy and single parenthood (it is, in fact, women that bear most of the burden). We adults are much freer, but the children do without. That's the choice we've made.

The current arrangement still assumes that the law and society retain some interest in particularly addressing literal, simple procreation. We can choose to move more in the direction of not doing so. But, cui bono?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Rick, it seems rational to say that the state has an interest in regulating (or regularizing) various human relationships, contractural or otherwise. A traditional rationale for the state's regulation of marriage was its interest in inheritance, although there are many other issues involved. Now, various cultures have handled even inheritance differently in different times, and provision is made in the laws of various states and nations in various ways for what to do when there are no children. Or when there are, for that matter.

Take, for example, the interesting tradition preserved in Louisiana, in which children inherit but the surviving spouse retains "usufruct" -- the right to continue to occupy the shared domicile for life, but not the freedom to sell it. Then there's the ancient Irish principle of female ultimogeniture -- an interesting adaptation to keep people waiting as long as possible to find out who the heir might be!

But given this incredible range of law governing marital relationships beyond mere procreative or inheritance issues (to say nothing of the extensive Jewish legal tradition on polygamy, enshrined in the biblical text) -- none of this seems to me to stand in the way of the state recognizing a same-sex relationship as easily as it does an infertile mixed-sex relationship. A couple who are biologically infertile (due to menopause, hysterectomy, prostatectomy, etc.) are not "potentially procreative" by definition, yet the state does not forbid marriage to them simply on the basis of the fact that the law provides for inheritance by children even if there will be no children. That provision of the law is simply not employed in their case. Your seat-belt argument, I think, supports my suggestion that the law should provide for all -- even those who may not need all of the particular protection provided by the law. There is more to the civil institution of marriage than protection for the children who might be born.

Thus, as "legal persons" there should be absolutely no difference between the two couples (the infertile mixed-sex and the same-sex couples), who, in the interest of stability and decency should have some reasonable expectation of inheritance should one member of the couple die; hospital visitation privileges, pension benefits, and all of the other regulatory goods that have nothing to do with progeny. Or if there is a difference between the couples, what is it? And how should the law address it.

In short, I see no compelling reason for the state not to permit same-sex marriage; in fact, it would be a positive step towards social stability.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Rereading your note I was also struck by the statement that "we have chosen to change marriage from a life-long relationship to one that lasts only as long as both wish it to last."

Civil divorce has been recognized for as long as civil marriage has been around. Ancient Near Eastern Law, Jewish Law, Roman Law, etc. have all provided for divorce. "We" did not invent it. Rather, Christianity introduced the notion of life-long and indissoluble marriage (although this was recognized as an ideal in Judaism) and this was eventually taken up as part of the Constantinian merger of church and state. So the idea of an indissoluble marriage is a theological inheritance, and you are making a theological argument. The state regulates what goes on in a divorce just as it regulates what goes on in a marriage, and various legal systems have handled this in various ways over human history.

But divorce is not my issue. My concern is with the question, since you essentially raise it: What is the difference in the state's interest in the regulation of a non-potentially procreative couple, whether mixed- or same-sex.

Anonymous said...

Rick A., a principle in civil and criminal law, frequently abused, is that it is a Bad Idea to pass a law that is by its nature likely to be selectively enforced. The old fornication and adultery laws are a prime example of same. The act is common. Law enforcement has better things to do with its time. The only time an arrest is likely to be made is when some citizen persists in demanding an arrest for private revenge reasons. Perhaps one in a hundred or one in a thousand perpetrators will be charged. Charges against prominent individuals are likely to be dropped somehow.

All this leads to public contempt for the law in question - and lawyers and legislators in theory prefer to have the criminal and cival law respected. The damage done by unequal application of the law exceeds the putative benefit of the law as actually applied.


Anonymous said...

Of the language of purpose you say "it seems to me to reflect an overly utilitarian ethic focused on results." ?????Hardly. Teleological ethics are not consequentialist. We're talking about the order or orderliness of creation and the goods to which something are intrinsically ordered.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I think there are situations in which a teleolgical ethic, while not being consequentialist, tends towards utilitarian modality. (I think there is a difference between consequentialism and utilitarianism; the latter being precisely about the acheivement of the "greatest good" -- that is, the focus is on the "good" rather than on the act.) The Westminster Dictionary of Ethics gives Utilitarianism as an example of a telological ethic rather than a deontological one.

It also, in application, tends towards the begging of the question problem, as reflected in the citation from that Dictionary. How does one determine if something is "intrinsically ordered" towards some good apart from seeing that it results in that good --- and how "intrinsic" is it if it is equally capable of failing in that good or achieving some other good?

BTW, I ask anonymous posters to identify themselves at least by a pseudonym, in case more than one anonymous person posts a comment.

Anonymous said...

(Those who attempt to pitch Jesus’ teaching here as a condemnation of same-sex relationships, rather than as Jesus intended it in response to the question on divorce, are doing justice neither to their position nor to Scripture.)

Tobias, I find the prohibitions against same-sex relationships pretty compelling, but I also find it significant that there is no affirmation of any sexual relationship outside of marriage. It's prohibited, plain and simple.

So, I don't think that the positive argument should be discounted, nor does it do an injustice to scripture. Marriage was instituted for what? To define the family unit and provide a framework for raising the kids, being fruitful and multiplying.

As for equating the sterile heterosexual couple with the homosexual couple, and therefore allowing both to marry, I don't follow the leap you have made.

All heterosexual couples with all the reproductive parts working can attempt to procreate. No homosexual couples with all of the parts working can attempt to procreate.

Therefore, the sexual act can be unitive and procreative in a normative heterosexual relationship, but only unitive in a homosexual normative relationship.

So, if there is no procreative aspect of a normative homosexual relationship, there are no naturally-occurring offspring. What is the need for a defined family unit for stability of raising the kids if there can never be naturally-occurring children?

Anonymous said...

The argument that procreation is the primary function of marriage, and that because same-sex couples cannot procreate using their own gametes, they should be excluded from marriage - is REALLY, REALLY ANNOYING to adoptive parents and adoptees, not to mention the infertile couples who don't manage or don't choose to adopt.

But of course those people who use this argument are perfectly free to P.O. 10% of the heterosexual population (infertile and unhappy about it).

NancyP (adoptee)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Paul B., the topic of the biblical prohibitions will form a (much) later discussion. Perhaps needless to say, there are a large number of people who, unlike you, do not find them to be "compelling." You are also mistaken concerning sexual relations outside of marriage, if you are referring to monogamous marriage. (Under Hebrew law, a man essentially "married" a woman when he had sexual intercourse with her, unless she was a prostitute. Prostitution was regulated, but not universally forbidden under Hebrew law.) Again, this is a matter for later discussion, but I flag this here since you brought it up.

I fear you are drifting off in a direction where I can't follow you when you assert that an infertile couple can still somehow exercise the capacity to procreate. That seems to be irrational. The question isn't about "all heterosexual couples with all the reproductive parts working" but about those without all the parts working; in, as NancyP helpfully points out (thanks for the testimony!), a significant percentage of the population. We are talking about reality here, not some purported ideal -- or theory of what is "normative." In a significant portion of mixed-sex marriages (and in all of them after a certain time of life) the sexual relationship can only be unitive (in its broadest sense) or only procreative in the later sense of upbringing and nurture, whether of children born while the couple were fertile, or through adoption. All marriages of a certain duration, then, come to emphasize the unitive over the procreative. This is not just "normative" -- it is virtually "universal."

So the questions are, How is an infertile mixed-sex couple different from a same-sex couple, apart from the sex of the parties involved? What is the state's interest in allowing one union but forbidding the other? I've asked the questions a number of times but not yet received an answer, and not just in this forum.

As I noted in a response to Rick above, there are many other reasons to regulate human relationships apart from the issue of childrearing. As I pointed out, most of our liturgies for marriage treat procreation as optional to the marriage, not essential. So does the state, which provides regulations concerning children, but does not require people to have children, or to be fertile, in order to marry.

C.B. said...

Tobias - I apologize but I am getting confused. Are you writing to provide a rationale for why the state should sanction same-sex unions or why the church should, or why the state should based upon what's in Scripture?

The reason I ask is because while the state has certain interests in common with the church they are not same. And certainly the context and/or limits of those interests are not the same.

For one, the state does not examine the sexuality of heterosexual couples who seek to marry. That has been considered a private matter. The state has only been interested in sexes of the couple.

By contrast the church has been very interested in whether the couple had consummated their relationship sexually.

The point I am trying to make, badly I fear, is that I sense a comingling of contexts that are obscuring your points instead of clarifying them for me. But then maybe it's only me.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the reasserter's proposition that "sex is specifically given for the purpose of furthering the ends of marriage" is not how the natural law argument is typically put.

The typical natural law argument would go something like this: marriage is a human good-an end in itself. Marriage is a 2 in 1 flesh communion actualized by marital acts which are reproductive in type if not in effect. The union of the reproductive organs of the husband and wife really unite them biologically. In the reproductive act unlike any other act-eating, walking, talking, sodomy etc.- the spouses are one. This is why historically both civil and canon law did not recognize a marriage until the spouses had consummated the marriage(become one).

Phil Swain

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I understand your confusion; but I beg indulgence as I am not the one who introduced it! That is, the question of marriage is very much "confused" between the civil and sacred authorities. Some contend that marriage is solely the concern of the church; others take a middle view and would say they are entirely separate. Still others, following Luther at the other extreme, would go further, and reject any explicitly religious significance to marriage.

So I find I need to address both issues. The civil matter seems to me to be trivial: as a number of jurisdictions have already observed, there is no compelling state interest in supporting marriages, that cannot apply to same-sex unions, apart from the question of children. (And even then, adoption and surrogacy can be undertaken by same-sex couples and infertile mixed-sex couples, with proper state regulation.) So the legal question seems to be clear; though I still leave open the offer for an explanation as to why the state should be interested in one but not the other.

The religious or theological question is broader, and my focus will now shift to that. I have already shown that procreation is not essential to Christian marriage, but that at least some of the goods of procreation (in the sense of nurture) can be exercised by same-sex couples. The next step is to look at the unitive and reflective (and "remedial") causes for marriage.

Hope this helps to clarify what is an admittedly confused issue.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for this other form of the natural law argument. I will be addressing it more in the next section when I address the assertion that some form of "actual" union takes place during marital acts that are "reproductive in type if not in effect."

It is an interesting and traditional assertion, but I see no evidence that it is true that genital union between a man and a woman (apart from conception, which is not the locus in the biblical use of this phrase) create a "union" that does not exist in other sexual acts.

I note in addition that I find this distinction between "type" and "effect" a strange concept, although I've encountered it before. I dare say no one would apply it in any other context of human activity. It does seem to get us back to abstract notions of ideal rather than the "real" reality of what is going on. It also raises the question of what the "reproductive organs" are, and what form their purported "union" takes.

Speaking more broadly, historically, the question of consummation was hotly debated in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. Not all marriage law saw coitus as the "making" of the marriage. In many parts of Europe consent was considered to be the governing factor. Canons on this subject diverged between northern and southern Europe.

Anonymous said...

So the questions are, How is an infertile mixed-sex couple different from a same-sex couple, apart from the sex of the parties involved? What is the state's interest in allowing one union but forbidding the other? I've asked the questions a number of times but not yet received an answer, and not just in this forum.

Tobias, as discussed earlier, there are differences in whether you are answering this from the State's point of view or the Church's.

But, this is the right question. And, the the State's view of the normative relationship is really germane to the answer. The heterosexual couple is assumed to be fertile or have been fertile in the past. There are no fertility tests. So, the states interest in providing a legal framework, legal protections, for the raising of any possible children of that marriage is well established. These people are in an intrinsically-fertile relationship, even if they themselves are not fertile.

The homosexual couple, in the normative relationship, is always infertile, although the participants could have been fertile in previous hetero relationships. Okay, you've got past children needing protection, but no possibility of natural children from the States viewpoint.

So from the State's point of view, why should it allow the marriage of two intrinsically-infertile people?

Well, they might have offspring from other relationships. Okay. That is valid.

But now we are providing State protection, State sanction, for intrinsically-infertile relationships for the benefit of raising children from past relationships or potentially artificially produced from the present relationship. Couldn't that apply to everyone?

To me, this throws things wide open. If we are simply "householding", creating a "family unit", why not three people, and why have all the prohibitions against incest, cousins marrying, and all of that.

If you take sex off of the table, then all intrinsically-infertile relationships should be allowed. Heck, why take fertility into account at all? Why be constrained by affection? Why be constrained by number of participants? Why be constrained by anything?

Why are you requiring that people in a "marriage" have sex at all?

So, Tobias, I would ask - if you've taken potentially procreative sex off of the table as a prerequisite for marriage, what ARE your prerequisites? What do you want?

Anonymous said...


Great post, really appreciated it. As a Roman Catholic, I have personally never understood my Church's teaching on sexuality, which I think is similar to the reasserter view you critique. Please allow me to be a little simple, and considerable less artful then you, on this. I understand the teaching to be that: 1) sex is for procreation, 2) God also made its unitive, 3) God also made it enjoyable. If you are getting 2 and/or 3 without being open to #1 you are perverting God's intent and illicitly swiping 2 and 3 outside of God's plan.

My respose to this is what I call the Diet Coke argument. How is sex without procreation different than food without nurishment? Are we not equally seeking pleasure, and perhaps unity or fellowship, while willfully dodging the purpose of the act?

I know sex has ramifications and complications that are greater than those posed by eating diet foods, but, seriously, if someone could tell me the difference without resorting to some form of the "because I say so" argument, maybe I could understand the reasserting viewpoint.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Paul B., and I think you are putting the question squarely.

I first need to repeat my disagreement with the concept of people being "in an intrinsically-fertile relationship, even if they themselves are not fertile." Fertility is, by definition, not "intrinsic" to the mixed-sex relationship, any more than an ability to sing is "intrinsic" to having vocal cords. Some people are fertile, others aren't; that is the reality.

You recognize the problem when ask the right question, "why should it allow the marriage of two intrinsically-infertile people?" I would say that this applies both to same-sex couples and to a mixed sex couple in which one or both are permanently infertile. Their infertility is intrinsic to their bodies, due to removal of testes (as often happens in prostate cancer) or the prostate itself, or the uterus in a hysterectomy. I feel the need to keep repeating this because it doesn't seem to get clear to folks.

One reason you offer is children from previous marriage. But as I've already noted, there are many other state reasons for regulation of marriage besides childrearing. In case you are unaware of it, there are hundreds of legal benefits and responsibilities that come with civil marriage, and only a few of them deal with children.

However, I note that rather than answering the question, you instead employ the slippery slope fallacy by bringing up polyamory, incest, etc. I realize these can become issues, but I think there are rational answers to those questions, which mitigate against them. But these are not my concern; and I would rather keep the discussion on point.

I will stick to the question at hand, as you phrased it. Given the number of state regulations of marriage which have nothing to do with fertility or progeny, I can see no reason for the state not to regulate same-sex unions according to the same standards applied to mixed-sex marriages. Can you?

My prerequisites would be the same as those applied to mixed-sex marriages: commitment, mutuality, consent, fidelity, and so forth. Sexual expression would potentially be part of this relationship, which is what distinguishes it from other forms of common life -- for which there is ample evidence in both civil and religious tradition.

By the way, I am not "requiring" that people in a marriage "have sex at all." However, I think that is what distinguishes marriage from those other forms of householding. At the same time, although one stream of the canonical tradition, as I noted in response to Phil, required "consummation" another stream emphasized consent. Common domicile is another major factor in some cultures (i.e., the Spanish word for "married" is "casado.") Still, it is helpful to distinguish marriage from other forms of common life on precisely this ground.
Tom, thanks for the Diet Coke argument. That does to some extent raise the same issue in a different context. I am afraid that much (re)assertion does take the form of "authoritative pronouncement" rather than reasoned explanation.

Anonymous said...

So the questions are, How is an infertile mixed-sex couple different from a same-sex couple, apart from the sex of the parties involved? What is the state's interest in allowing one union but forbidding the other?

The simple answers from my perspective are "they're not" and "none." For the reasserters, this argument always seems to come down to plumbing. If you were born with the right equipment and each have a different kind, you can marry in most states. It doesn't matter if the equipment works.

Paul B's throws in the usual bugaboos about marriages possibly including family members (incest) and more than 3 members, but I'm grateful that he didn't include bestiality like some do.

All of that is bunk. By excluding couples who would always be infertile, would Paul B exclude mixed-gender couples who are beyond the age of menopause from marrying? I'll bet not.

It has always boiled down to plumbing for those opposed to same-sex anything (though original equipment only please). [Aside: How do reasserters view marriages involving transgendered people? Or does the fact of being transgendered make everything else an "abomination" anyway?]

This whole attempt to provide a rational basis for a discussion of these issues seems somewhat naive while being extremely interesting. It seems to me that reasserters will never change their opinions based on rational argument. They will change when they change. The change will either come through experience with knowing loving committed gay and lesbian couples, or through change into dust.

I just don't see rationality as the solution. Reasserters probably see these attempts as confirmation that we think they are ignorant. They probably find it insulting. Their certainty of their understanding of biblical truth makes appeals to understanding rather quaint. While we strive for concilliation and diversity, they are trying to find a mechanism to steal away in the night and grab power and property from TEC (e.g. Pittsburgh).

I'll keep reading, but for the most part, you are preaching to the choir and to some extent fiddling while Rome burns.

Anonymous said...

Tobias, the union(one flesh)that occurs in the reproductive act is due to the fact that the function of reproduction requires the spouses to become one reproductive principle. Unlike other functions which can be performed individually the reproductive function requires the pair to become one organism. Other forms of intercourse do not require this 2 in 1 flesh principle. It's just two people doing things to one another. Whether they derive great pleasure or even spiritual nourishment from the non-reproductive act they are not engaging in the one flesh communion.

I don't see what's unusual about engaging in a type of behavior without intending all the possible consequences of that behavior. It's called family planning.

Phil Swain

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Walt, thanks for the comment. I am not really out to convert the prosecution, but am addressing the jury.

There have been cases of people on the reasserter side coming to change their views when faced with logical argument. (It usually flows that way; I know of few on my side who have been convinced by the reasserter arguments.) I think Fleming Rutledge is one example of a change in a more liberal direction on this issue; although she remains a traditionalist on many counts, she has articulated a clear understanding of how a same-sex sexual relationship can have a place withing a Christian context.

Phil, I'm afraid you've lost me here. What is "one reproductive principle" or "one organiism." I don't see that a mixed sex couple become "one organism" -- I'll accept the biblical witness of "one flesh" -- but I think the biblical witness is that this "oneness" can occur apart from marriage, and may not be limited to mixed-sex couples. Also, I have noted that the "function of reproduction" does not "require" the spouses to have sexual intercourse; in vitro and artificial insemination can lead to reproduction. Again, more on this in the next chapter.

From your comment on family planning, I take it you do not equate the "union" with procreation or conception itself. (Scripture would agree with you there.) Could you say what you mean by this "one reproductive principle" or "one organism" at greater length? Or perhaps you might want to wait to comment on this after the next chapter?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

And Phil, let me just say once more that an infertile mixed sex couple are not engaging in "reproduction" when they have sex. Would you, on that ground, suggest they are just "doing things to each other"?

June Butler said...

Tobias, in conjunction with my brother Thomas up there at the beginning of the comments, I wanted to mention the pleasure aspect of sexuality, but I thought it might not be becoming from une femme d'un certain âge. But I cannot resist, and I worked out that I can use "the devil made me do it" defense, if it appears unseemly.

I'm pleased that you will cover that aspect of God's gift of sexuality in another post.

Puritanism - the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. H. L. Mencken

Anonymous said...

Walt said:
By excluding couples who would always be infertile, would Paul B exclude mixed-gender couples who are beyond the age of menopause from marrying? I'll bet not.

No, I wouldn't. BUT, those people are indeed performing an intrinsically procreative act. An act that CAN be procreative.

Walt said

Paul B's throws in the usual bugaboos about marriages possibly including family members (incest) and more than 3 members, but I'm grateful that he didn't include bestiality like some do.

....While we strive for concilliation and diversity, they are trying to find a mechanism to steal away in the night and grab power and property from TEC (e.g. Pittsburgh).

So, let me be honest. Like Tom, I am Catholic. I'm not Episcopalian. I have no use for Episcopal church buildings. I wouldn't know how to hide one and steal into the night, anyway. ;)

I am not employing a slippery slope fallacy here. I am really trying to get to the real argument. The present norm for marriage is a male and female building a life together; you want to change that. The option on the table is to add only two males or two females. What is the reasoning behind that? Why are you stopping there?

What makes two males or two females having sex that is intrinsically non procreative and accruing the legal benefits of marriage different from a brother and sister that have sex alone or with others and want to accrue the legal benefits of marriage? How about two friends, or a father and his son who don't have sex with each other but want the legal benefits of marriage? The son has committed to talking care of his father until his father's death. They have a committed life together, although not sexual in nature.

If the legal benefits of marriage are all that important, how do you justify only opening them up to homosexual couples and not to any couple that is living a life together?

That's where the three or people come from. If you allow two, you'd be a hater to not allow three, wouldn't you?

Anonymous said...

NancyP said:
The argument that procreation is the primary function of marriage, and that because same-sex couples cannot procreate using their own gametes, they should be excluded from marriage - is REALLY, REALLY ANNOYING to adoptive parents and adoptees, not to mention the infertile couples who don't manage or don't choose to adopt.

NancyP, I didn't mean to offend, but, really, I believe the primary function of marriage is to have kids.

My argument is that, as a society, we assume a man and a woman can perform an act that, if everything goes right, COULD be procreative. Obviously, every act doesn't result in pregnancy. And, for some couples, when they perform the procreative act, no procreation occurs. I am truly sorry for that.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Paul B.,

Your first statement is not logically consistent. Sex between an infertile couple is not "intrinsically procreative." It is by definition intrinsically non-procreative. That's what infertility means. You can keep saying that it is procreative or reproductive as much as you want, but it is not true by any rational standard. If you wanted to say, an act which would be potentially (not intrinsically) procreative if the couple were capable of procreation, I could agree with you. But "intrinsic" means "essential" and clearly procreation is not a necessary result or essential to sexual intercourse, even when the couple are fertile.

And yes, you are introducing the slippery slope argument by raising questions other than the one on the table. They are interesting questions, but not the one under discussion. That is the nature of the "slippery slope" argument.

Anonymous said...

Paul B:

I think that the only thing that can be labelled as intrinsically pro-creative about an infertile mixed gender couple is that they have complementary plumbing. That's it. Their sex is no more pro-creative than same sex couples. It has exactly the same chance of producing a child - zero.

Marriage / coupling / householding issues are all about drawing a line. I thing there is a reasonable biological case that says that sexual orientation is as intrinsic to the human person as eye color. There is no similar case to be made for polyamory or incest. When did I choose my heterosexual life style? I KNOW I never did. It was always a part of me. Why would I presume that it is any different for someone with a same sex orientation?

I draw my line to include all of the many faithful, committed same sex couples that I know. I am proud of knowing and worshipping with such loving people.

C.B. said...

ICBW but Paul(b) seems to be (perhaps unknowingly) advancing the religous notion that only a man and a woman have the capability to symbolically reenact the ideal preFall relationship of Adam and Eve where man and woman were intrinsically capable of biologically copulating and procreating. And that this latent ideal is the feature that distinguishes heterosexual couples from all others and serves as the defining characteristic of marriage. If the requirements of this distinguishing feature are removed, then not only is our connection with the symbolic ideal lost (which is one of the purposes of marriage), but there does not seem to be any alternative basis for limiting marriage in any way other.

Walt - on the other hand reminds us that unless you accept the notion that same-sex love is an expression of an "orientation" on the par with a heterosexual "orientation" - very little can be accomplished. However, Reasserters believe that homosexuality in any form and/or orientation is the result of the Fall. And therefore "intrinsically" can not fulfill one of the dominant purposes of marriage, but makes a mockery of that purpose - that of connecting us to our lost ideal selves.

Consequently, for my two cents, the Fall and its relationship to sex, sexuality, the family, the role of the church and, most importantly, the life and work of Jesus Christ, must be looked at comprehensively to fully understand our divisions on this matter.

trueanglican said...

Tobias, I was struck by your observation that the 1928 and earlier Episcopal BCPs had nothing to say about procreation being a purpose of marriage. That may be, but the old marriage canon certainly did. When I married in the Episcopal Church in 1956 (I'm now a widower), my wife-to-be and I had to sign a Declaration that said among other things that we had made no "concomitant contract inconsistent with the contract constituting canonical marriage." One such concomitant contract, we were told in prenuptial counseling, was a prenuptial agreement not to have children. Valid marriage required that we be open to the possibility of children. Of course, in those days Episcopalians couldn't remarry in church after divorce either. Times have changed, no?

Anonymous said...

I am not sure when the "slippery slope" became a "fallacy." If you spend a lot of time reading judicial opinions you see that it is very common that a principle established in one case will be applied across the board, and indeed often must be.

There is nothing illegitimate about asking whether the rationale for prohibiting the limitation of marriage to a relationship of opposite sexes will have other ramifications when appealed to by other "sexual minorities."

Anonymous said...

Just a few other random observations:

Is T-ball a form of baseball? Seems to me that we could argue till we're blue in the face about whether pitching is essential to baseball.

Marriage is not something invented by the Church. It was a social fact, monogamous in Second Temple Judaism, and Jesus' teaching that led to change didn't so much go to its creation or elements as to its duration.

Again, we can argue whether an infertile heterosexual couple is more like a fertile heterosexual couple or a same-sex couple. In fact, the existing institution never concerned itself with that because infertility, even today, is hardly an apparent fact. (And our poor credulous ancestors would have doubless kept Abraham and Sarah in mind if assured that old age should be a consideration.)

As I have said, we may write our laws any way we please. Do we want marriage to include same-sex couples? We may make that change. But why then do we insist that there be something sexual going on for two people to get the "benefits of marriage"? Why not two men who have no sexual attraction at all for one another? And why require living at the same address? Why can't I marry my next door neighbor (who I mihgt not want to touch with a ten-foot-pole) if I need access to his health care plan? Why this sudden discrimination against nonsexual people (hey, there are married couples who don't have sex any more) or people who don't live together (yes, there are married couples who live apart)?

The answer to all of these, to me, is simple. Look at marriage as a fact on the ground, now, in ancient Rome, in medieval China, wherever and whenever, it is the relationship of opposite sexes that society regulates in light of the ordinary consequence of heterosexual sex, i.e. children.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Very briefly, as I am about to head out of town for the weekend.

The "slippery slope" argument is not necessarily fallacious. It is in this case because as I've said, I want to hold same-sex couples to the same standards as mixed-sex couples. That would include all of the matters of relationship, age, consent, and so on. So I've already answered the argument. If someone wants to show how allowing same-sex couples to marry implies incest they are welcome to do so. But that is not my concern.

The major problem with the "slope" approach is that it removes the focus from the main question. It is also a completely consequentialist argument and thus moves out of the realm of virtue ethics or deontology, which determine acts to be good due to their source. If one wants to look to consequences at all in this case, one should look to the consequences of the actions actually proposed, not the possible other actions that might be proposed.

Rick, you are mistaken on several important areas of fact. Judaism permitted polygamy up until the 10th century of the common era. It may have become less common by the time of the second temple, but it was not prohibited. The major pressure for monogamy in Palestine was the influence of Rome, whose laws frowned on polygamy (although allowing concubinage).

You are also mistaken concerning the ubiquity of monogamous mixed-sex marriage. A number of cultures have instituted forms of same-sex marriage. As a cultural institution such relationships are widespread even when not publicly provided for or acknowledged. So if you want to look at "facts on the ground" it would appear to support same-sex relationships being recognizable.

You also appear to fail to recognized that same-sex marriage and/or civil unions are now a part of the law of a number of jurisdictions both in the US and the world. This is also a fact on the ground, no longer simply a matter of theory.

Now, I must be off. I may not be able to post over the weekend, so I hope people will remain patient during my absence.

Anonymous said...

"In a virtue ethic, sexuality is not simply a function, or the use of a person (or two persons’ use of each other) towards some purposed end or goal, but an act growing out of the love between persons that is open to the good that may be imparted. Self-giving love, rather than self-asserting need, provides the basis for the action which grows out of the love, and which is a blessing in itself apart from any result."

But this sets us up to beg the question at the very outset. Is the underlying assertion here that if two people are fond of each other and both enjoy a certain activity, then indulgence in that activity (whatever it may be) is "a blessing in itself"? This is surely wildly overbroad in any reasonable Christian context.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Craig, perhapse you could explain how this is "begging the question" -- which is assuming ones conclusions in ones premises, and merely restating them. That is not the same thing as making a statement that then leads, through a logical process, to a conclusion. If this premise is incorrect, it must be incorrect in itself, and not on the basis of a conclusion that might be drawn from it. What, in the statement itself, do you disagree with? Beware that my premise is carefully built upon the teaching of Jesus as to the determination of moral action: "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" and "there is no greater love than to give up one's life for one's friends."

You may well argue with my application of the premise, but if here you are challenging the premise itself, I'd be interested in knowing why.

As to begging the question, I think the reasserters deserve the hands-down award for that one. I disagree with almost all of their basic premises -- which is one of the reasons I'm not commenting over at Stand Firm (though I am reading with interest). If the basic premises are wrong, then no amount of argument can lead to a correct conclusion.