David S. Crawford of the John Paul II Institute in Washington has written a very helpful analysis of the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling in 2003 legalizing same sex marriages. I realize that we are not at this stage of battling same-sex marriage, only same-sex unions. Nevertheless, some of his comments can give us direction, I think. Here are some of them along with a few comments of mine.
“After telling us that it is not the role of the court to enforce its own moral code, the court argued that the plaintiffs seeking the right to marry were essentially like (and therefore, for legal purposes, similarly situated to) ‘different-sex’ couples. They were [professionals with long-lasting relationships. Several were raising children or caring for elderly parents. So similar were they to ‘different-sex’ couples, that the court felt it could remedy the discriminatory effects of the law by amending the definition of marriage to substitute the word ‘persons’ for ‘gender-specific’ terms, such as ‘husband’ and ;wife’ or ‘man’ and ‘woman.’ Thus, marriage is ‘the voluntary union of two persons as spouses, to the exclusion of all others.’”
“The court’s reasoning was very simple. Since ‘same-sex’ and ‘different-sex’ couples are basically alike, the question of homosexuality must be understood primarily in terms of the assimilation into existing social structures and institutions. Moreover, this fundamental likeness implies that the assimilation can occur without substantially changing the authentic meaning of those structures and institutions. As the court puts it, ‘the plaintiffs seek only to be married, not to undermine the institution of marriage.’ The court found its line of reasoning so compelling that it felt traditional limitations of marriage to ‘different-sex’ couples lacked even the threshold appearance of rationality.”
Crawford notes that when the court framed juridically the question of so-called same-sex marriage, it chose to do so in terms of the “sexual orientation” that characterizes the various “types of sexuality.” By so doing, it “established in this way what the postmodern critique of liberalism would call a ‘pattern of normativity.’ To put it in a more satisfactory way from a Catholic point of view, such a framing of the question (as a ‘form of discourse’) has already established as a social and cultural norm a particular anthropology. If the court’s liberal model, in other words, can be seen as naively accepting assimilation under the ‘norm’ of ‘heterosexuality,’ by the same token but at a more fundamental level, the man-woman relationship described by sexual difference and the nuptial attribute has been inverted into a mere variation within a range of possible and fundamentally parallel ‘orientations.’ The implications of this inversion are profound.”
“Notice that the court’s argument does not purport to challenge basic categories, such as the masculine or feminine, gender, marriage, the family, or even ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual,’ Notice also that it is an essentially liberal argument, in the sense that it appeals to liberal notions of ‘rights.’” Such a notion is one in which rights are conceived as personal liberties that are divorced from obligations towards others. The state is conceived as a contract between individuals without any reference to securing any objective common goods as determined by human nature. Thus the state is simply the impartial arbiter in establishing rules of procedure governing how rights are to be exercised and enjoyed.
Although proponents of same-sex union purport to seek only to have all treated the same, they are nonetheless seeking a radical overhauling of civil society. Crawford points out that there is already a bias against the Catholic understanding of marriage that is contained in the terms used in the public debate. Sexuality is conceived as having two forms: heterosexuality and homosexuality, the former being the preferred form for those who happen to have a “heterosexual orientation,” while the later is the preferred form for those who happen to have a “homosexual orientation.” The implication is that both forms of sexuality are valid and that fairness requires that the juridical system needs to be changed to accommodate both.
“The phrases ‘sexual difference’ or ‘nuptial tribute of the body,’ on the other hand, refer directly to the truth muted by the heterosexual-homosexual duality, viz., that the human person comes from and is made for love, that his or her being, as manifested outwardly in time and space by the body, is given in view of this end, and that the very difference of the masculine and the feminine is necessary for their fruitful and loving unity. The sexual difference manifests in human love a fundamental openness to the inclusion of the child who is the fruit of that love, and who grounds that love within the generations and history of the culture.”
“When marriage between a man and a woman becomes ‘different-sex marriage’ or ‘heterosexual marriage,’ or when the attraction of men and women to each other becomes ‘heterosexual orientation,’ then the man-woman relationship has been assimilated into or supplanted by a fundamentally androgynous, and indeed ‘gay’ anthropology.”Note that there is already present in this way of framing the question a cultural bias against the Church’s understanding of marriage. There is no way we can win the minds and hearts of people if we begin by buying into this way of understanding sexuality. The first task for the defenders of the Church’s magisterium is to reshape the terms of the discourse. This is where the firewall of the defense has to be built. The advocates of same-sex unions want to uncouple an intrinsic link between a person’s identity and his masculinity or her femininity. Instead they want to make the link between a person’s identity and his or her sexual “orientation.” By “orientation” is really meant (although it will never be explicitly said in this way) the orientation toward the preferred object of gratification of one’s sexual appetites. In this way persons disappear and are replaced by objects (viz., things) of gratification.
“This shift effectively demotes the meaning of sexual difference – the inescapable correspondence of the male and female bodies as such – to a sub-personal and purely material significance. A person’s ‘sexual orientation therefore is thought to possess a fundamentally indifferent relationship to his or her body’s natural correlation to the opposite sex.”
“As a result, orientation has been made radically primary, while the sexually differentiated body has been reduced to the material conditions and circumstances for sexual acts. Even if an individual desires and relates sexually to persons of the opposite sex, it is not due to the natural correspondence of the masculine and feminine; it is due to his or her ‘orientation,’ which only happens to be ‘heterosexual’ rather than ‘homosexual.’ The ‘different-sex’ arrangement of marriage and family, while not rejected as a possibility of choice, is nevertheless reduced to constituting the manifestation of simply one of the possible ‘orientations.’ It is, in other words, simply grafted onto an underlying androgynous anthropology as one of its variants.”
Those who seeks to defend the Catholic position should be forewarned that the use of this way of conceiving sexuality (i.e., sexuality comes in two forms: heterosexuality and homosexuality) needs to be avoided since it stacks the cards against us. As Crawford correctly notes: “Indeed, this meaning of ‘heterosexuality’ has only an analogous relationship to ‘sexual difference’ or what John Paul II call the ‘nuptial attribute’ of the body. The terms ‘heterosexual’ or ‘heterosexuality,’ according to the historical account [offered by Michel Faucault, the French post-modern philosopher and defender of homosexuality], are grounded in a ‘pleasure system’ or a ‘pleasure-centered ethic’ – i.e., a way of configuring society in relation to sexual pleasures – abstracted from (although potentially combined with) love and fruitfulness. It refers to the abandonment of the idea of the body as an expression of the truth of the person. In this sense, ‘heterosexuality’ is fatally twinned with ‘homosexuality.’”One depends on the other for its meaning and intelligibility. Open the door to heterosexuality by talking about it and you have opened the door to the need to talk about homosexuality, thereby giving it a standing and dignity that its advocates desire.