Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Same-sex, different dei
On the inadequacy of moral arguments for 'gay marriage'

A book excerpt by JAMES KALB

Someone might ask why "gay marriage" is so different from marriage between two sixty-year-olds, when both unions will be infertile. The answer is that an attempted union of two men is sterile by what it is—by the identity of the parties and the actions of which a pair of men as men are capable—while a union of a sixty-year-old man and woman is sterile by particular circumstances—their age and physical condition. In the latter case, the marital acts are still acts of a kind that by their natural unhindered design and functioning create a permanent connection carrying profoundly serious obligations that trump self-interest and join the two with the whole human community throughout time, even though they do not happen to have that practical result in the particular case because of factors that do not have to do with the identity of the participants or their acts.

The distinction depends on several points: (1) persons and acts have an essential nature that is not determined by happenstance attributes or specific effects; (2) one's nature as a man or woman is essential to who one is and one's connections to others, at least in specifically sexual matters, so that violating it violates oneself and those connections; and (3) the nature of sex includes a procreative aspect that must be respected, and that aspect is violated when we intentionally do something that defeats it, but not when it fails to go to completion because of abstention or circumstance.

In the past, such points have generally been accepted without analysis or dispute simply because they seemed part of what constitutes the human world in which we live, but recently the technocratic outlook has made them incomprehensible to many people. Indeed, commonsense essentialist thinking relating to matters of sexuality and human identity is now viewed as simple bigotry.

That change in outlook has resulted in a collapse of social understandings regarding sex that has been catastrophic for family stability and relations between the sexes and generations, which depend, like human actions and relations in general, not on a technical analysis of cause and effect in particular cases but on what the parties understand themselves and their connections and actions to be.

In the traditional view, being a man or woman, and being married, are matters that, like nationality or friendship, involve certain functions and obligations but cannot be reduced to them. One's sex is basic to what one is. By natural design, the sexual union of man and woman produces children—though not in every case. It follows that such a union should be permanent, transcend particular desires and onterests, and be connected to the social realm. Those implications, because of their importance, become integral to the very nature and meaning of the act. To engage in the act is to enact the union with all its attributes.

The institution of marriage as traditionally understood expresses natural functional understandings of what things are, mean, and should be that tie them to the strongest impulses and very identities of the parties. It promotes an orderly, reliable, stable, and generally satisfying system for the relations between the sexes and the continuation of the human race.

Such things are far too important to the pattern of our lives and how we understand ourselves to ignore or treat as an ignorant way of dealing with matters that should be handled in a purely technical fashion. To say that marriage could as easily involve two men or two women is to say that the importance of sex has nothing to do with its natural life-giving function, and that either marriage or being a man or woman is fundamentally irrelevant to who one is. If such views were accepted, marriage would reduce to a private contract based on idiosyncratic purposes. How could such a contract have enough purchase on human life to serve anything like the function marriage traditionally—and necessarily—has served?

Sexual morality is the part of morality that relates to our closest and most basic connections to others. Traditionalist concern with it is not at all narrow or obsessive. It is a consequence of the importance of the particular person, and of the habits and attachments that make him what he is and connect him durably and productively to others. A view of morality that slights family and sexual life and fails to interpret them to us is inadequate and inhuman.

Excerpted from The Tyranny of Liberalism: Understanding and Overcoming Administered Freedom, Inquisitorial Tolerance, and Equality by Command, published by ISI Books. Used by permission.