But suppose there is no child; do they remain two and not one? No; their intercourse effects the joining of their bodies, and they are made one, just as when perfume is mixed with ointment.” — John Chrysostom, Homily 12 on ColossiansThis quote from John Chrysostom popped upon the HoBD list recently. It provides a good rejoinder to a common assertion made by those who oppose same-sex marriage (and birth control) that the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage cannot be separated without seriously damaging the very concept of marriage itself. Even without Chrysostom’s testimony, it is obvious that the unitive and procreative are separated by nature during the “infertile period” and in not-all-that-advanced age, as well as by accident or illness.
Arguments that an infertile couple are “open to procreation” or that their conjugal acts are “procreative in principle” or “in kind” or “essentially ordered towards children” are a kind of verbal legerdemain. For example Girgis, George, and Anderson compare sex between an infertile couple to a baseball game in which a team plays but fails to win, analogized with failure to conceive. But it’s still baseball, they say. The problem with this analogy is that, apart from a no-hitter or a tie, one or the other team necessarily loses a baseball game; and the possibility of winning is real, not merely intended. The proper analogy to an infertile couple would be a baseball game played without bats, or perhaps in this case more appropriately, balls. Such a mimed game would not be baseball any more than infertile sex is “procreative.” To use an analogy from my own writings, air guitar is not musical. Only a pre-scientific mind would could think that procreation did not require, at minimum, sperm and ovum.
So, as Chrysostom wisely observes, the conjugal act is in and of itself, regardless of any actual, potential, or intentional procreation, unitive.
The real questions ought to be: What, if it is not procreation, is the locus of the unitive aspect of marriage? Can a same-sex marriage be unitive? Can such a marriage be moral?
I think that Scripture and reason together can give us answers to these questions, or at least guidance the testimony of which is not lightly to be discounted.
In response to the first question I say that limiting the unitive function to the genitals is problematical. That the genital is one aspect of union is beyond denial. But it is also obvious that the union is also in mind and heart, as the preface to the liturgy notes. Adam recognized Eve as of one flesh (and bone) with him prior to their conjugal (and postlapsarian) joining. And Jesus helpfully noted, in a negative context, that the eye and the heart could be the organs for adultery. (Matt 5:28) So “unity” is not solely or even necessarily a matter of genital union.
In answer to the second question I hope that no one will doubt that same-sex couples can experience union of heart and mind. It would also appear, again from a negative example, that (at least) a male couple can unite in the flesh in the same way as a heterosexual couple; the oft-cited Leviticus 18:22 could find no other way to describe male homosexual relations than in heterosexual terms: literally, “with a male do not lay the layings of a woman.”
Obviously these negative texts raise the question, “Can such uniting be moral?” However, I think it important to note that not every uniting of male and female is moral; in addition to adultery, there is also the harlotry condemned in 1 Cor 6:16, in which becoming “one flesh” is a scandal, not a good. So, clearly, uniting in and of itself is morally neutral — the good or the bad depends on something other than the union itself.
So the issue before us is whether the uniting of two persons of the same sex can be moral. Clearly it can be, and in a growing number of places is, legal. But the church’s proper province is morality, not legality.
I hope that this brief note has dispelled or at least disabled the circular “impossiblist” argument as expounded in the Girgis, George, Anderson paper (marriage requires a male and a female ordered to childbearing to be marriage, ergo only males and females can marry), and moves us to the real issue that faces us: is same-sex marriage capable of being moral.
To answer that we need to look at the locus of morality, which is not in the anatomy, but in the mind and heart, as Jesus taught.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG