Wednesday 7 December 2011

John Finnis and same sex marriage

John Finnis (bio here and here) is one of the most prominent philosophers of law in the English speaking world. I include below his views on same sex marriage (full paper here). Remember the next time you are called a moronic Catholic bigot or similar for supporting traditional marriage that Finnis agrees with you.

The Scottish government consultation on same sex marriage closes this Friday. An abbreviated online response form can be found here. Please do complete this or send a brief email to the Scottish government making the following simple points:

I am opposed to same sex marriage on the following grounds:
a) It replaces the traditional understanding of marriage without any demonstration of a benefit to society and without any assessment of the long term risks to society.
b) In particular, it risks undermining the chief function of marriage which is that of providing a stable environment for childrearing without any demonstration of a benefit to society.
c) The existence of civil partnerships avoids any possible existing injustice to homosexuals. There is accordingly no demonstrated need to run the risks detailed in a) and b).

[Update 9/12: the above is simply my own best attempt at a short argument in favour of opposing same sex marriage. Whilst I believe it is in keeping with the natural law approach, it possesses no authority other than that and you should feel free to adapt or change it any way.]

Please do this whether you live in Scotland or not. The Equal Marriage Campaign website says nothing about the consultation being restricted to Scottish residents. The terms of the consultation say nothing about this either. It is, moreover, against commonsense: why should the Scottish government ignore the worldwide reputation of Scotland or expert commentary that may be available elsewhere? By all means add why you are concerned in the consultation (perhaps Scottish roots or a long standing fondness for the country) but please do not allow non-Scottish gay activists to put out the claim that Scotland needs same sex 'marriage' to show itself the best wee modren country in the world unchallenged.


For marriage is rational and natural primarily because it is the institution which
physically, biologically, emotionally, and in every other practical way is peculiarly apt
to promote suitably the reproduction of the couple by the generation, nurture, and
education of ultimately mature offspring. And here we touch on another point of
importance in understanding and evaluating the version of ‘gay’ ideology defended by
Koppelman and Macedo. These writers claim that sex acts between persons of the
same sex can be truly marital, and that to perform such acts two such persons can
indeed marry each other. They want us to evaluate homosexual sex acts by focussing
upon this sort of activity of this sort of couple. Koppelman adopts Sidney Callahan’s
claim that when engaged in ‘with a faithful partner’, such same-sex sex acts
‘produce...intense intimacy, bodily confirmation, mutual sanctification, and fulfilling
happiness’. It seems rather careless of Koppelman to accept that ‘mutual
sanctification’ is ‘produced’ by sex acts in a universe he proclaims to be ‘disenchanted’.
But more interesting is his failure to explain why this and the other effects allegedly
‘produced’ by sex acts depend upon the faithfulness of one’s partner, or partners,
and, I assume, upon one’s own faithfulness.

The ‘gay’ ideology, even in the sanitised Koppelman/Macedo version, has no
serious account whatever of why it makes sense to regard faithfulness—reservation of
one’s sex acts exclusively for one’s spouse—as an intelligible, intelligent, and reasonable
requirement. Only a small proportion of homosexual men who live as ‘gays’ seriously
attempt anything even resembling marriage as a permanent commitment. Only a tiny
proportion seriously attempt marital fidelity, the commitment to exclusiveness; the
proportion who find that the attempt makes sense, in view of the other aspects of their
‘gay identity’, is even tinier. Thus, even at the level of behaviour—i.e. even leaving
aside its inherent sterility—gay ‘marriage’, precisely because it excludes or makes no
sense of a commitment utterly central to marriage, is a sham.

And this is no mere happenstance. The reason why marriage involves the
commitment to permanence and exclusiveness in the spouses’ sexual union is that, as an
institution or form of life, it is fundamentally shaped by its dynamism towards,
appropriateness for, and fulfilment in, the generation, nurture, and education of children
who each can only have two parents and who are fittingly the primary responsibility
(and object of devotion) of those two parents. Apart from this orientation towards
children, the institution of marriage, characterised by marital fides (faithfulness), would
make little or no sense. Given this orientation, the marital form of life does make good
sense, and the marital sexual acts which actualise, express, and enable the spouses to
experience that form of life make good sense, too.

Moreover, a man and a woman who can engage in precisely the marital acts with
precisely the same behaviour and intentions, but who have reason to believe that in their
case those very same acts will never result in children, can still opt for this form of life as
one that makes good sense. Given the bodily, emotional, intellectual, and volitional
complementarities with which that combination of factors we call human evolution has
equipped us as men and women, such a commitment can be reasonable as a participation
in the good of marriage in which these infertile spouses, if well-intentioned, would wish
to have participated more fully than they can. By their model of fidelity within a
relationship involving acts of the reproductive kind, these infertile marriages are,
moreover, strongly supportive of marriage as a valuable social institution.
But same-sex partners cannot engage in acts of the reproductive kind, i.e. in
marital sexual intercourse. The permanent, exclusive commitment of marriage, which
presupposes bodily union as the biological actuation of the multi-level (bodily,
emotional, intellectual, and volitional) marital relationship, makes no sense for them. Of
course, two, three, four, five or any number of persons of the same sex can band
together to raise a child or children. That may, in some circumstances, be a
praiseworthy commitment. It has nothing to do with marriage. Koppelman and
Macedo remain discreetly silent on the question why the same-sex ‘marriage’ they offer
to defend is to be between two persons rather than three, four, five, or more, all engaging
in sex acts ‘faithfully’ with each other. They are equally silent on the question why this
group sex-partnership should remain constant in membership, rather than revolving like
other partnerships.

The plain fact is that those who propound ‘gay’ ideology have no principled
moral case to offer against (prudent and moderate) promiscuity, indeed the getting of
orgasmic sexual pleasure in whatever friendly touch or welcoming orifice (human or
otherwise) one may opportunely find it. In debate with opponents of their ideology,
these proponents are fond of postulating an idealised (two-person, lifelong...) category
of relationship—‘gay marriage’—and of challenging their opponents to say how such a
relationship differs from marriage at least where husband and wife know themselves to
be infertile. As I have argued, the principal difference is very simple and fundamental:
the artificially delimited (two-person, lifelong...) category named ‘gay marriage’ or
‘same-sex marriage’ corresponds to no intrinsic reason or set of reasons at all. It has few
presentable counterparts in the real world outside the artifice of debate. Marriage, on
the other hand, is the category of relationships, activities, satisfactions, and
responsibilities which can be intelligently and reasonably chosen by a man and a woman,
and adopted as their integral commitment, because the components of the category
respond and correspond coherently to a complex of interlocking, complementary good
reasons: the good of marriage. True and valid sexual morality is nothing more, and
nothing less, than an unfolding of what is involved in understanding, promoting, and
respecting that basic human good, and of the conditions for instantiating it in a real, nonillusory way—in the marital act.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks very much for posting the discussion by Professor Finnis. Cogent, lucid and thoughtful.