dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

Adoption and Same Sex Marriage

In 1995, in one of the more interesting exchanges over the morality of gay marriage, Stephen Macedo debated Robby George & Gerard Bradley in the pages of the Georgetown Law Journal. Noting the emphasis that natural law arguments against gay marriage place on the fertility of heterosexual couplessexual acts, Macedo raised the following question:

What is the point of sex in an infertile marriage? Not procreation; the partners (let us assume) know that they are infertile. If they have sex, it is for pleasure and to express their love, or friendship, or some other shared good. It will be for precisely the same reasons that committed, loving gay couples have sex. Why are these good reasons for sterile or elderly married couples but not for gay and lesbian couples? If, on the other hand, sex detracts from the real goods shared by homosexual couples, and indeed undermines their friendship, this should also be the case for infertile heterosexual couples. Sterile couples' experience of sexual intimacy should be as "private and incommunicable" as that of gays.

George and Bradley denied that their argument [against gay marriage] swept in elderly or infertile couples. Those couples, they argued, were capable of having sex of the reproductive type, even if they were not capable of reproducing. And it is the noninstrumental (and, they argue, self-evident) good of this sexual activity of the reproductive type within the "two-in-one-flesh communion" of marriage that gives marital sex its value, not some instrumental connection between sex and reproduction (or pleasure or bonding or any other good). The argument is surely a subtle one. (If it is an argument at all -- it seems to rest on a sort of take-it-or-leave-it assertion about the nature of marriage which in turn incorporates the old "holes and poles" argument, as one of my colleagues at Fordham used to call crude, anatomical/functionalist arguments against homosexual sex.) In any event, the focus on the (at times counterfactual) possibility of reproduction (the sex acts must be of the reproductive type, even if not fertile) at least runs the risk of encouraging those who do not grasp the full subtlety of the argument to place homosexual sex, sex with contraception, and infertile sex in the same category. Since most people's minds are not as sharp as Robby George's, it is not surprising that the distinction between potentially reproductive sex and "sexual acts of the reproductive type" has escaped even many of those people on the anti-marriage-equality side of the issue. Consequently, many of them have focused on the infertile nature of gay marriages as the distinguishing quality that invalidates them. Relatedly, in an effort to discredit gay parenting and hold up the value of "traditional marriage" (which now, since it excludes step-parents and the divorced, includes fewer and fewer people), some have begun to cast aspersions on adoptive relationships in general, at least by implication.Over at Charles Pierce's Daily Politics blog, Tom Junod describes and dissects this tendency from the perspective of an adoptive parent in an infertile marriage. Here's a taste, but you should really go read the whole thing:

Since my wife and I adopted our daughter, weve come to know many same-sex couples who are also adoptive parents, and it is exactly as proponents of natural marriage fear: it is their prowess as parents, rather than as pro-creators, that turns out to be persuasive. I have come to believe that they have the right to be married because I know that I have the right to be married, and I know that they are the same as me because I know that I have more in common with gay adoptive parents than I do with straight biological ones. In my wife and in me, the self-evident biological purpose of procreation may be broken, but by God, we earn the right to be called parents because of the effort required to raise our child apart from the sacred biological bond...and so they, our friends engaged in the same effort, the same mighty and holy labor, earn the right to be called married. People wonder why public opinion regarding same-sex marriage has shifted so quickly; although I can only answer from my own experience, I can tell you that in my case my recognition of the right of same-sex couples to marry grew directly from the arguments mustered against it, because ultimately I realized they were also mustered against my wife, against me, and against the one person all the pro-marriage protestors and pamphleteers have pledged themselves to protect:My child.

 

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

@Jim Pauwels,Your explanation is the Church's interpretation of periodic continence (PC). PC involves several acts, abstinence and the two physical acts of measuring temperature and cervical mucus in order to determine the times when sexual intercourse will be infertile, and the deliberate willful intention and action of limiting sexual intercourse in marriage to those times. Thus, through these voluntary human actions render the marital act non-procreative. It is only by accident that procreation is possible. Such acts are not open to procreation for everything is being done by spouses in the practice of PC to ensure that such acts are infertile and non-procreative. The great Bernard Hering and many other prominent theologians like Richard McCormick argued the procreative and unitive aspects of sexual intercourse are separable in infertile periods, and the encyclical itself acknowledges this separation during the infertile periods. The meaning of the act is wrong by examination of its physiological structure. It is the human person, not some isolated aspect of the person that should be the basis for determining the "meaning" of human action. The meaning of sexual activity cannot be derived narrowly from biological materialities: for this does not take account of the full range of meaning of human sexuality.

Perhaps I should re-phrase in the manner that Commonweal writers often deploy with respect to the bishops and their statements on politics.Certain writer's claiming offense on behalf of childless and infertile couples, as well as adopted children and adoptive parent, in confronting arguments against SSM like Professor George's, absent evidence of other advocacy on behalf of these populations, may lead some readers to believe that the writers are using these people's suffering in order to gain a rhetorical upper hand rather than expressing genuine concern. It would be helpful if these writers could submit evidence of their advocacy on behalf of these populations independent of the SSM debate, so that these readers would not get the wrong idea.

"PC involves several acts, abstinence and the two physical acts of measuring temperature and cervical mucus in order to determine the times when sexual intercourse will be infertile"I don't agree that abstinence is an act - it is abstaining from an act - but leave that aside for now. Certainly, taking a temperature and measuring cervical mucus are acts. But they are not, to use the term we're adopting here, marital acts. They are acts that are related to the marital act in some way, but they are not the marital act itself; they are extrinsic to it. A true marital act, though, in and of itself, is intrinsically procreative in its end. It's the way God, or nature if you prefer, decreed that babies should be made.Just to step back for a bit: what we're discussing here is the nature and meaning of marital acts. I'm making a distinction between a marital act in an opposite-sex/traditional marriage and a so-called marital act in a same sex marriage. And I'm pointing out that, while both acts may have a unitive meaning (if we define "unitive" to mean "an intimate physical expression of emotional connectedness"), the same-sex act, by its very nature, does not and cannot have a procreative meaning. But an opposite-sex marital act, even when preceded by all the measurements you mention, nevertheless, by its own intrinsic nature, has a procreative meaning. The chance of procreation actually occurring as a result of the opposite-sex marital act can vary, from close to 100% all the way down to 0%, depending on all sorts of factors - the health and fertility of the couple, the time of the month, and so on (for the sake of simplicity and clarity, let's set aside the possibility of contraception and focus on naturally-occurring variables in fertility). But that variability in probability is all a matter of degree (and the temperature-taking and mucus measurement give the couple some idea of the degree that obtains); regardless of the degree of reproductive success, the intrinsic meaning of the act itself remains the same.

@ Jim Pauwels,The reason my previous comments are important to the discussion of same-sex parenting is that procreation as an end in marriage is not a moral imperative. If Pius XII proclaimed that couples can be exempt from their procreative obligation in marriage for good reasons, and sexual intercourse between infertile couples and post menopausal couples are non-procreative, as well as the sexual intercourse of PC couples (as explained in my previous post), then what is immoral about same-sex couples in a blessed civil union or marriage adopting children? Why do their sex acts need to be procreative if this is not a moral imperative for other heterosexual couples?I realize and understand the Church's teaching, but the inconsistency and contradiction of the principles that underly the teaching causes many Catholics to respectfully disagree or to call for further debate about many sexual ethical teaching, in particular same-sex marriage and parenting, a debate the Vatican has closed. The Church offers no evidence whatsoever that same sex parenting causes violence to children and destroys the fabric of heterosexual marriages. Nor is the requirement that every act of sexual intercourse in marriage be procreative.

Lisa Fullam,It's interesting that you bring up the Eucharist and it's nutritive value because the Eucharist and the other sacraments exhibit the same relationship between their material nature and their symbolic meaning as the relationship between the unitive and procreative nature of the marital act.Yes, the Eucharist's meaning is not dependent on it's biological purpose. It need not fulfill the nutritive purpose of eating to express it's spiritual meaning. But it's signification absolutely *is* dependent on it being bread. What we eat in the Eucharist must be a bread kind of thing, and what we drink must be a wine kind of thing, and communion itself must be a meal kind of thing, otherwise the meaning is something totally different.In the same way, the marital act need not result in procreation in order to be unitive. It doesn't even require the knowledge or the desire to procreate to be unitive. But it absolutely does require that the act in question be a procreative kind of act. If it's not a procreative kind of act, then it's not a unitive kind of act either.That same relationship exists in language as well. The meaning of 'God most high' is dependent on the literal nature of the sky. And yet, contrary to Internet atheists, we don't worship any 'sky daddy'. We don't literally expect God to be found in the clouds or in outer space. And yet, what would the meaning of the 'Most High God' be without the heavens?In all these instances, nature precedes the spiritual. Nature is fundamental, not in being slaves to it's ends, but in tapping it's potential to express and to mediate. Isn't the relationship the Church invokes regarding the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act an instance of these broader 'laws' of communication, symbolism, and meaning?The church doesn't make the unitive depend on the procreative because it's a big arbitrary meany-pants. It's looks to me like an ontological law of creation.What's true in language, love, and liturgy is also true in lovemaking, when it's really love (unity) that is being made.

@Braian Killian,A good commentary. May I impose some additional reflections.1. According to the Magisterium, the unitive dimension (or meaning) of the marital act is dependent on the procreative dimension/meaning. Without a procreative meaning, there is no unitive meaning. This is one assertion that most Catholics and theologians disagree with. The Magisterium teaches that both dimensions are integrally connected and cannot be separated under any circumstances. No pope, bishop or theologian before 1960 proposed, written or mention that the marital act had two dimensions that could never be separated (the inseparability principle of Humanae Vitae). This principle was proposed and written about by Cardinal Karol Woytyla in his 1960 book Love and Responsibility and in his 1968 Krakow Memorandum sent to Paul VI 5 months before Humanae Vitae was issued. 2. Symbolism has its proper place in theology. The Eucharist is not a symbol but the very body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. This we accept not by symbolism or reason but by faith. There is difference when we use philosophical anthropology, personalism and "symbolism" in proclaiming a moral law, in particular a moral absolute such as asserting with moral certainty that we know God's procreative plan. Such symbolism goes something like this: The love between the Father and Christ, and between Christ and the Church is also a love of total self-giving and self-donation....by analogy, spousal love is a total self-giving love but concupiscence exchanges a self-seeking gratification for the sincere gift of self; it uses the other as an object made for my sake rather than loving the other as subject for his or her sake. Contraception falsifies creative love..it speaks to the diabolic anti-word (Theology the Body Explained, Christopher West). The issue here is whether it is a metaphoric leap that unless there is a total self-giving and openness to procreation under "all" circumstances and in "every" act of coitus, spoused are expressing a false, evil and destructive love.If we are to accept the priority of symbol over intellect, then theology has an important role to play in ensuring that the image does not become the only word, or the last word. This means that we must resist the temptation of proclaiming we know God's procreative plan with moral certainty based on symbolic speculation.

What does "the priority of symbol over intellect" mean?

Pages

Share

About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the John P. Wilson Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.