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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.


About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the Allan R. Tessler Dean of the Cornell Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.



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@Wasting Time,Your assertions are without substantiation.@Tim Huegerich,Thanks for your thoughts. My reference to the evidence as overwhelming is relative to the evidence in opposition. I agree with your conclusions that most studies have limitations and conclusions must be carefully balanced. What we can say is that there appears at this point to be evidence that there is no significant differences in the well being and rearing of children adopted by heterosexual and gay and lesbian parents. There will always be cases, and small percentages of parent populations, that argue for either conclusion. However, I do not agree "that gay and lesbian parents do violence to adopted children" (as the Magisterium proclaims). This is more reflective of ignorance and ideology that truth. There are philosophical, theological and anthropological disagreements about the nature and salvation of people with a same-sex attraction that want to live faithful, loving and sacramental lives in a blessed union, under the same rules and obligations as heterosexual couples. While the debate is much more complex than the so-called consequences of same-sex parenting, the Magisterium has used "unsubstantiated" consequential arguments to argue against same-sex marriage and parenting, but they have used absurd consequential arguments to defend other doctrines such as contraception. Consider what JP II said:1. Contraception lead to neurosis in women (Love and Responsibility, p. 284).2. In the practice of contraception, the woman can expect not only inequity, but very simply "sexual slavery". Parents who cannot master themselves (e.g, through periodic continence) who cannot sacrifice their egoism to the good of the partner, will no longer be able to have generosity, patience, serenity and calm assurance in their relations with their children. They will love them to the extent that they bring them pleasure, that is, they will love them selfishly and not for themselves (Krakow Memorandum, pp. 6-7,10).3. In his Theology of the Body, JP II wants us to believe that Periodic Continence couples treat each other as loving subjects, while couples that use artificial birth control have a utilitarian attitude and a diabolic love grounded in concupiscence. There is no no evidence whatsoever to substantiate this absurd consequential argument. The other major 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, spouses are expressing a false, evil and destructive love. Does anyone really believe this?4. Every marital act is constitutive of a unitive and procreative dimension that can never be broken under any circumstances. However, Natural Family Planning or Periodic Continence, breaks these two dimensions when spouses measure basal temperature and cervical mucus and plot them on a calendar to determine infertile days, then deliberately, willfully and intentionally limit sexual intercourse to those times that render marital acts non-procreative. Further, the term "unitive" is narrowly defined. Unless the marital act is open to procreation, such an act "cannot be unitive". Focusing solely on the act and not on the marital relationship, the spouses and children neglects the human person integrally and adequately considered.As for same-sex parenting and marriage, ask yourself: Is the salvation of people with a same-sex orientation only assured if they practice a life of sexual abstinence? Can celibacy be "imposed by authority" and really work? Or must it be voluntarily chosen? Is life time sexual abstinence and celibacy a gift from God that is given to the very few? If so, is it really given to most or all persons with same-sex attraction? Can two people with a same-sex attraction, which they are born with by nature and do not voluntarily choose, live in a blessed union (call it a marriage) under the same obligations as heterosexual couples?

Nope: there are demonstrable public health and legal issues around marriage that cannot reduce the institution to reproductive management. And to say that procreation is the only reason marriage exists in the first place is to reduce human intimate life partnerships to mere breeding. What a demeaning attitude to a (potentially) rich human relationship! We are human beings, not livestock.

"Note what would happen if we took the unitive instead of the procreative as, not a sole default, but a primary category. Then we look for acts of a unitive kind, which does cut closer to the heart of how good sex enlivens and enriches human lives. Acts of a unitive kind include fertile acts, but also the loving union of the in- or post-fertile. Procreation is a delightful possibility for acts of a unitive kind, but does not, itself, define or somehow verify their human value, any more than the nutritive value of Eucharist defines or verifies its spiritual value. "Lisa, your entire comment puzzles me. I agree that it makes little moral sense to emphasize "breeding" while discounting the unitive aspect of a marital act. But surely the inverse is also true - and yet the beauty of the unitive aspect of marital sex seems to be the crux of your argument in the comment from which I've excerpted here, with the procreative aspect seemingly discounted to a "delightful possibility" (something which many married people would dispute, of course :-)). Also - neither infertility nor post-fertility are categories that are peculiar, or even germane, to same sex marital acts. Either or both partners in a same sex marital act could be fertile. (One of) the moral problem(s) is that same sex marital acts are, of their very nature, neither infertile or post-fertile, but non-fertile. The non-fertility of the act is a problem. By the church's standards, to put it baldly - it is not a marital act. (That the church would have the overweening effrontery to make such a declaration about such a private matter is an indicator of one of the important issues at play here. The church sees such things as its business.)

An voluntary human act such as sexual intercourse has no intrinsic moral meaning. It has a natural end but not a moral end. An voluntary human act is only given a moral meaning by the agent. For example, to kill a person has no intrinsic moral meaning, other than the natural end of the death of a person. As Aquinas has taught us, the "morality" of a voluntary human act is based on the synthesis of the agent's end, intention, circumstances and the act/object. Thus, the killing of a person can be morally permissible in self defense but immoral if performed for vengeance. Self defense and vengeance is the motivation, end and intention of the agent that gives moral species to the voluntary human action. The natural end only gives the act its natural species.Humanae Vitae (HV) asserts that a person cannot do anything (acts), "before, during or after" the marital act that prevent the procreative consequences of martial acts from achieving those consequences. We are talking about voluntary human acts that bring about or make sexual intercourse in marriage non-procreative. The teaching HV itself separates the unitive and procreative meaning of sexual intercourse (the marital act) by proclaiming the licitness of PC which is a program that restricts sexual intercourse to only the times that such acts will be infertile and non-procreative. Thus, sexual intercourse in the practice of PC is non-procreative. PC and taking the anovulant pill for birth control are either both in violation of HV or they are not.Spouses have to "do something" to ensure that "all" acts of sexual intercourse will be infertile and non-procreative. If spouses "arbitrarily" perform sexual intercourse, most of their acts are infertile and non-procreative because the maximum fertility window for couples is only 4-6 days per month. However, to deliberately put into action a program to ensure that all acts of sexual intercourse will be infertile, except by accident, is to prevent the procreative consequences of martial acts. PC programs are brought about by voluntary intentional physical actions (temperature and cervical mucus plotting and deliberate physical action) that render acts of sexual intercourse in marriage non-procreative.The end and intention of the agent in choosing to practice PC or take the anovulant pill in the practice of responsible parenthood is to avoid conception as a result of sexual intercourse. It is the motivation, end and intention of the agent that provides the reason for an agent to choose a voluntary human action, in order to achieve the agent's intention-to-end. To assert that choosing PC is morally permissible because it does not separate the unitive and procreative meanings of the marital act is to ignore the reality of what is taking place.

Good.Adoption is also the way human beings become brothers and sisters of and in Christ. It is so amusing, yet sad to see the anti-gay lobby tie itself up in knots and forget all sorts of good things that happen, even a broader sense of generativity, because people are family by choice, not biology.Our daughter's biological parents were, for a number of reasons tragic and self-inflicted, unable to serve as her parents. My wife and I feel no less generative in that our family has been 100% assembled by choice.The poverty of the current expression of sacramental marriage is an unwillingness to explore generativity outside of a biological context. What the institution does is lower us laity to the status of breeding animals. This is not dignified. This is not of God.Marriages should have tangible signs in a community. People should be able to point to couples with regard not only for the number, quality, and behavior of their children. But also for the generosity, sacrifice, godliness, and sanctity of their life's witness. That the institution has declared so few married saints shows that most all of them Just Don't Get It. Sad.

If only the spirit animating the push for same-sex marriage were a humble desire to care for children in a more stable setting, rather than a (deeply understandable) demand for rights. Yet, let it be so. I have hope that same-sex marriage can renew our cultural understanding of the institution of marriage as a way of giving to others (outside the couple) rather than a way of getting (a fairy tale).

"Since most peoples minds are not as sharp as Robby Georges, 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."I'm not that bright, and I get what George is saying. Yes, it's a fine distinction, but those bent on find some clear bright line between "good" and "bad" sex never tire of parsing those distinctions. Here's what I find weird about that whole perspective re adoption: There are all sorts of acts common to homosexuals and heterosexuals, and you don't have to be a terribly inventive person to imagine what they are. Many of these acts are condemned by the Church. But as far as I know, no one asks heterosexuals if they're engaging in these sexual acts before allowing them to adopt. So if what heterosexual couples do behind closed doors is immaterial to adoption agencies, why is homosexual activity important?Another perspective on gay adoption is to compare it with foster care. Opponents say we should go slow because we don't know that gay adoption won't be harmful. Compare that to the realities of a foster care system that has already proved to be deleterious to thousands of children. Michigan has "lost" 302 children in the Protective Services system. That is, they went into the system, and nobody knows where they are now. Moreover, the practice of moving these children in and out of homes so that they can neither bond with their biological parents nor those contracted to provide foster care for them is nothing short of brutal.

I posted this today on a similar Commonweal article. It is important to note it here because it speaks to the reality of child adoption of heterosexual parents and gay lesbian parents. I quote from Sexual Ethics by Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler.The American Academy of Pediatrics judged in 2002 that children of gay parents fare as well in emotional, cognitive, social and sexual functioning as do children whose parents are heterosexual (ACP, Technical Report: Co-Parent or Second-Parent Adoption by Same-Sex Parents in Pediatrics 109, Feb 2002: 341-44). The American Psychological Association rendered the same judgment in 2004 (APA, Resolution on Sexual Orientation and Marriage 2004).In 2009, a major study by Paige Averett demonstrated that there is no significant difference in emotional problems experienced by children adopted by heterosexual, gay, and lesbian parents, and that the children of gay and lesbian parents had strength levels equal to or exceeding scale norms. In 2010, Nanette Gartnell and Henry Bos published the results of a longitudinal study on the seventeen-year-old sons and daughters of lesbian mothers who have been raised in lesbian households since birth. They report that these adolescents are well-adjusted, demonstrating more competencies (social, academic, and total) and fewer behavior problems than their peers in the normative American population.Yet, despite this reality, the Magisterium continues to deliver ideological judgments contrary to the scientific evidence. For example, the CDF asserts that as experience has shown, the absence of sexual complementarity, in same-sex unions creates obstacles in the normal development of children who would be placed in the care of such persons..allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children.Finally, I could add further comments about the issue of "acts of the reproductive kind" and "acts of potential reproduction". However, I will not for length. I will say that this biological distinction the Church asserts as a requirement for sexual acts in a marriage to be right and moral, is a contradiction in principle when they also denounced revisionist theologians for using "physicalism" (e.g., the use of the sexual faculty only for procreation and its natural ends) in argument against the encyclical Humanae Vitae. This issue demands more than a few sentences, but inconsistency and contradiction is often not addressed by the Magisterium, nor scientific facts as mentioned above..

"The scientific research that has directly compared outcomes for children with gay and lesbian parents with outcomes for children with heterosexual parents has been generally consistent in showing that lesbian and gay parents are as fit and capable as heterosexual parents, and their children are as psychologically healthy and well-adjusted as children reared by heterosexual parents" .... facts are out there, which makes me wonder if those against same-sex marriage are really misinformed or just looking for justification for their dislike of LGBT people.

" potentially reproductive sex and sexual acts of the reproductive type"As I see it, ontologically the only difference between the two is that "POTENTIALLY reproductive sex" and "sexual ACTS of the reproductive type" [emphasis mine] is the difference between a potentiality and an actuality, and, therefore, the "types" are not metaphysically different, there is no difference in kind. An analogous example: a potential singing of an aria and an actual singing of one are not different in kind. They differ only in the actualization of one potential.

I could not find much on Tom Junod, but be advised he believes Fox News pays people to hate our president. So much for even-handedness from this man. For additional context, Charles P. Pierce is the author of Idiot America and the idiots arewait for itsocial conservatives. Anyway, Junod works very hard to insert an anti-adoption thread into the seamless garment of traditional marriage arguments. The only real evidence he offers is that some pamphlet says that adopted kids often yearn to know who their biological parents are.This is news? This is anti-adoption? Even we idiots know better than to believe that.

Unfortunately, the comments above make the research on same-sex parenting sound much more conclusive than it is. (see, for example, )While I agree that the Magisterium is wrong to claim conclusive scientific evidence against same-sex parents, the claim that we know same-sex parenting is equivalent to opposite-sex adoptive parenting is no less ideological. The evidence is not yet in (and how could it be, so soon after same-sex parenting has become prevalent). Any honest argument for one or the other approach acknowledges that.

Tim, your comments make sense to me.However, after having gone through the orientation program to adopt an older child with my husband many years ago, and learning about the horrors of the foster system (e.g., efforts to "fix" the birth family often leave the children in foster limbo for many years only to have that effort fail and mess the kids up worse than before they were put into protective custody). After listening to foster parents talk about their challenges with children in the system, it's very hard for me to conceive of how a gay couple or individual could possibly mess these kids up more than they already are.Placing children in protective custody with other family members--aunts, uncles, and grandparents--is now more common than it used to be, and it is generally much easier on children who cannot live with their birth parents. I would hate to see a relative barred from fostering a niece, nephew or grandchild solely because that relative was gay.

Eduardo, why do both you and Cathleen Kaveny refer to Robert George as "Robby"? Is that one of those "we're in the same guild" things, such that I, who do not teach law or ethics, am not entitled to address him that way, but y'all are? Is it an attempt to belittle him? I have to say that almost invariably at dotCom, I see him referred to as "Robby" when his work or his philosophy is being disputed. At First Things, where his writings have appeared a number of times, he seems to sign his work Robert T George. Presumably, that is how he would like to be known in the public square. Wouldn't it be simple courtesy to refer to him that way?

Tom Junod: " 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."There are people in the world who simultaneously support adoption and oppose same-sex marriage. Some of them possess teaching authority in the Catholic Church. Inasmuch as his article gives no indication that he knows of their existence or their arguments, he should be a bit more circumspect in proclaiming what he "knows". Based on what he's written here, I'd recommend he do a search-and-replace, inserting the world "feel" where he has written "know".

Is it an attempt to belittle him? I have to say that almost invariably at dotCom, I see him referred to as Robby when his work or his philosophy is being disputed.At First Things, where his writings have appeared a number of times, he seems to sign his work Robert T George. Presumably, that is how he would like to be known in the public square. Wouldnt it be simple courtesy to refer to him that way?Jim Pauwels,Robert G. George is frequently referred to as Robby George, including in the media. I have, on occasion, sent e-mails to Rick Garnett of Mirror of Justice about something Robert George has said, and Rick Garnett has written back referring to him as Robby George. It's just his name.

I call him Robby because that is what he calls himself. When I've exchanged email with him, he signs them Robby, so I assume that is what he prefers to be called (like Jim instead of James, I assume). Although we agree on very little with regards to bottom line conclusions about sexual morality, I hold Robert George in the very highest regard as a philosopher, and I rely on and cite his work frequently in my own. There are few people smarter. He's the sort of person who makes you want to check your work over and over again when you disagree with him.

Jim --Plato's real name was "Aristides". His nickname was "Plato", apparently referring to his very broad flat chest. Nicknames are not necessarily put-downs.

Jean, I agree.

I would hate to see a relative barred from fostering a niece, nephew or grandchild solely because that relative was gay.Jean, That is no law prohibiting someone gay from adopting in any state. There are a handful of states that prohibit second parent adoption by an unmarried couple which affects both gay and straights in those states.

@Tim Huegrich,The studies and conclusions the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association, are not proclaiming absolute conclusions for all of eternity. Nor are the conclusions "ideological". The Regnerus article and the study mentioned are questionable and pale in comparison to the peer review process and high professional standards of these organizations. No professional organization denies legitimate studies that demonstrate opposite conclusions. What is clear is that there are overwhelming scientific evidence that "to date" support the AAP and APA conclusions and other studies that show not differences in the well-being and rearing of children adopted by heterosexual and gay and lesbian parents.

Junod's point sounds silly to me. His children have a mother and a father, who represent to them the fullness of humanity in its two aspects. That seems to me the fundamental value at stake in the whole marriage debapte.

Eduardo - thanks.

Michael -- as I pointed out in the other thread, your claims about scientific evidence are the complete opposite of the truth.

@Michael J. BarberiWhat I object to is your claim that "there are overwhelming scientific evidence." You are misstating the conclusions of these professional associations, which qualify their conclusions more than you acknowledge and certainly never refer to the evidence as overwhelming. For example, the summary of the 2002 AAP statement you site begins with, "The small and nonrepresentative samples studied and the relatively young age of most of the children suggest some reserve. However..."What we can say (I gather - I'm no expert on this) is that there is no clear evidence that same-sex adoptive parents affect children differently from opposite-sex adoptive parents, other things equal. (And I imagine there is evidence that both are better for kids than orphanages or whatnot.)

Spiritually speaking, the point of a sex in a married infertile couple is HUGE. The spiriutal implications of any child being raised by gay parents is also huge. But I guess that's part of the debate that is not only politically incorrect, but that we are not permitted to have. In addition to all of the natural law aspects, the spiriutal dimension is what we all seek, but few find. In fact, the reaason as a culture we are all so sex obcessed is that knowingly or unknowingly, it's God we seek. The holiness of a culture is always directly proportional to the sexual fidelity of that culture, and especially the holiness of its women, as truly good women require men to be more worthy, consequently, it eleveates the entire culture. GK Chesterson (paraphrased) once said: Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God. Be it we the people of 2013 or the women at the well who met Jesus, it's God for whom our hearts were made. It's in that void, that we try to fill it with the our best known transendance so to speak, sex. But it's cheap sex, hetero or homo, and outside of God, it's never fails to leave a part of us empty. Consequently, we have a billion dollar sex industry, yet no one has found that "satisfaction" we all seek, the satisfaction only God can fill. Don't be fooled by the Societies of Pediatrics and Psychology, who never met a liberal cause they didn't like. For goodness sakes, the DSM has made more sin into "disorders, than our feds print money. To really explain all of this is way too big for the scope of this thread. It's one of the reasons JPII taught the Theology of the Body, if only anyone could understand it. I have high hopes that Pope Francis might be the one to bring it to down to a level most can understand. Until or if that time, we can debate this stuff until we exhaust our keyboards, but like the women at the well, unless we drink the water of Jesus (people of all sexual orientations), we will not only remain thristy, but may well die of thrist in our refusal of the great gift of God.Spiritually speak, gay adoption is child abuse in the worst degree.

That last line, Patricia. That last line!That last line is why you and yours have lost this battle before it's even come to a close. All the gibberish you gibbered before that last line didn't help, but that last line! Well, that did it.

Eduardo -- What the distinction between infertile hetero couples and gay couples reminds me of is something like this (acknowledging that analogies are inherently opening a can of worms . . . ).1. Gun safety is hugely important. Guns can kill people. So there has developed a strong cultural norm/rule: never ever point a gun at anything you don't intend to kill. That means, no playing around, no goofing off. If it's a real gun, never point it at anyone. Period. [Similarly, heterosexual relationships can and normally do produce children at some point, and are therefore incredibly dangerous. Unlike other animals, human children are desperately vulnerable for over a decade, and we humans therefore need a set of cultural/legal institutions to protect them and to try, even if often in vain, to influence their parents to reproduce only while in a serious committed relationship that we might call "marriage."]2. This cultural norm/rule applies even if you think the gun is broken and unloaded. Habits are best formed if they're 100% -- if you start making exceptions for a particular real gun, no matter how sure you are that it is broken and unloaded, you get out of the 100% habit, and some awful day might make a mistake about which gun you had just picked up. 3. Say that someone then proposes that they have a water gun that feels a lot like a real gun, and that it should both be called a real gun and that it should be subject to the same cultural norms/rules (plus laws) that apply to real guns. To do otherwise is discriminatory.4. One response would be, "It's not a real gun. It's a water gun. It could never under any circumstance, at least not on its own, produce the same level of harm as a real gun. There is therefore no reason to subject it to the same rules/norms. This isn't discriminating against water guns -- water guns may be just great, but they're still not the same thing." [Similarly, homosexual relationships never under any circumstance lead to the unexpected birth of children, and therefore are not similarly dangerous.]5. The water gun aficionado might then say, "But the broken/unloaded real gun [i.e., an infertile couple] is just as harmless as a water gun, yet you still treat the broken/unloaded real gun as a dangerous weapon subject to the usual norms/rules. So if the water gun is the equivalent of the broken/unloaded real gun, it should be treated the same." 6. To this, the response would be, "But they still aren't the same. It is true that neither of them can fire a bullet and cause real harm, but the real gun is still the same type of gun that, in many other cases, does fire real bullets. [NOTE: Here's the analogy to "sex of the reproductive type even if not actually reproductive in this case".] We don't want to get into the business of treating certain real guns as if they were toys, because that might lead to disastrous results in the event that loaded functional guns are accidentally mistaken for a broken/unloaded gun."* * * To sum it all up, you might agree or disagree with the overall argument, but the final distinction there doesn't seem particularly elusive or difficult to understand.

Interesting response Abe.My only follow up question (s), is why you had such a strong reaction? In fact, it's the quesiton I would like to ask the entire band wagon of Americans in favor of same sex marriage: Does anyone care about the spiritual consequences? I would think most don't, anymore than the rest of our self-indulgant sexual transgressions appear to be much of a concern in our current culture. But you know Abe, it's pretty hard to have such a strong reaction to "gibberish." I suspect I struck a nerve of truth within you. As for losing the battle, I've long ceded the lose, but it's the war that ultimately matters. We have a bible to tell us how that one ends, and guess what, we win! Lastly, this is Commonweal, not the NYT's. It's perfectly reasonable to bring into disucssion, in addition to the psychological effects of children being raised by two fathers or two mothers, the spiritual consequences. In addition to the obvious psychological damage absent a mother or a father, to deny or confuse a child the reality of family as God intended is to also deny truth, and the potential of a relationship with God, the meaning of life for which we were all created.

Go and read the history of legal battles for gay parental rights: it fair to say it suggests that opposition to same-sex marriage has never primarily been about the effects of gay parents on children? It also makes me wonder whether the campaign for recognition of same-sex relationships could also have been quieter, but I kind of doubt it.

The reduction of human sex to "acts of a reproductive type" seems to me to be a terribly inadequate description of the role of sex in human life. Indeed, the veterinarian in me objects, because then marriage begins to sound a lot like livestock breeding, not anything like the rich human life partnership that it can be. If sexual ethics was merely about regulating procreation, we could do that a lot easier with a pedigree registry. Magisterial teaching speaks of sex acts as "procreative and unitive." But note how George and others arguing this way have, de facto, raised the procreative "type" to the level of absolute criterion, and unitive becomes a "yeah, that too," or in John Paul's Theology of the Body, the potentially procreative has become somehow a prerequisite for what can be unitive, with no explanation of how, e.g., post-fertile can "symbolize" fertility. In practice, when procreative potential becomes a default criterion, then moral questions quickly degenerate in to matters of where semen winds up, and the good of whole persons and their relationships becomes secondary, at best. One of the outstanding characteristics of humankind is how stunningly sexual we are. (This is not a uniquely human trait, but one shared only by a handful of intelligent social species.) Procreation is an animal (and plant) universal--a fine and necessary thing, but not even close to an adequate description of what sex means for humans. Note what would happen if we took the "unitive" instead of the "procreative" as, not a sole default, but a primary category. Then we look for "acts of a unitive kind," which does cut closer to the heart of how good sex enlivens and enriches human lives. "Acts of a unitive kind" include fertile acts, but also the loving union of the in- or post-fertile. Procreation is a delightful possibility for "acts of a unitive kind," but does not, itself, define or somehow verify their human value, any more than the nutritive value of Eucharist defines or verifies its spiritual value. This approach, I submit, fits much better with human nature, with Jesus' radical emphasis on love, (even his dismissal of biological family in favor of a family of "those who hear God's word and put it into practice,") and with Gaudium et Spes. (These three listed not in order of importance, but chronology. Importance-wise, I'll take Jesus first...)

Wasting Time, your analogy breaks down badly because you are leaving something very important out of your comparison of real (dangerous) gun marriage and water (safe) gun marriage -- namely children and the family.I'm rather tired, honestly, of having to bring this point up over and over. Pace Patricia (if this is possible), there are a lot of same sex couples raising children -- adopted, bio children of one parent adopted by the other, etc. The fact is, you are talking about families, not just couples.Explain to me why federal laws that are intended to protect the non-working spouse and the spouse's ability to take care of a family in the event of the breadwinner's death shouldn't apply in the case of a family headed by a same-sex couple.

I'm wondering if some of those taking such great offense on the behalf of adoptive children and parents and infertile couples could direct me to some of the advocacy they have done on their behalf of them outside the context of the same sex marriage debate.

John McG, second-parent adoption rights, custody rights, etc. had to be fought for in all states, either by bringing cases to trial (ACLU, Lambda Legal Defense/Education Fund, etc.), or by legislative action.The fact is, there are many special legal documents (with state-specific variations) that gay and lesbian couples must make arrangements for in order to have comparable family protections that are afforded legally married couples under the law.I'm not sure precisely what sort of advocacy you are looking for.

Lisa -- The thing about the "unitive" aspect of sex is that it's hard to see how it gives rise to any public policy concerns. And when we're talking about how the government defines "marriage," public policy is what matters.To flesh this out: Suppose that you're a lesbian. If you have unitive sexual relations with zero, one, two, three, however many other lesbians, that's no business of mine one way or the other. It's not my business to condemn you; nor is it my business to reward you. You can do what you want there. Nothing that you do is going to cause new helpless babies to come into existence, and therefore it isn't a public policy concern. But suppose that you're not a lesbian. If you have unitive sexual relations with one or more men, whoa, that suddenly does become the public's business to some extent. Babies might result. And if there isn't a set of cultural and legal expectations around the kind of sex that (at least some of the time) leads to babies, men might not stick around to take care of their babies (not theoretical here: the unwed birth rate is upwards of 60-70% in many cities). That's the only reason that marriage exists in the first place. If humans reproduced asexually, then even if they still had non-procreative but unitive sex with each other, there would never have been a set of cultural and legal rules centered on creating a lifelong pair bond between two heterosexual partners. Absent the procreative aspect of sex, there would be no real reason to care, as a matter of public policy, whether there were pair bonds at all, or whether they were lifelong, etc. Detach "marriage" from procreation, and there's no reason for there to be such a thing as "marriage" as a separate category of relationships set apart from all else and subject to unique legal duties.

Lisa --You're not contradicting me as much as you are simply misunderstanding the point. I have not said that there is nothing to marriage beyond procreation -- there obviously is, as you have pointed out. What I have said, however, is that the things that go on in marriage outside of procreation (love, keeping a household, etc.), as important as they are to individual persons, would never, by themselves, have given rise to a social institution called marriage. In short, marriage does consist of a bunch of important stuff. But procreation is the sine qua non to marriage as an institution. If that were not the case, then explain (since you didn't do it the first time) how "marriage" as pair-bonding would have arisen if humans reproduced asexually.

This issue of procreation in a marriage is not absolute. In 1951, Pius XII's addressed the midwives and said that spouses could be exempt from their procreative obligation in marriage for good reasons, even for a lifetime. Clearly, marriage should be open to procreation but this is not an absolute moral requirement. Some couples do not want children for good reasons. Infertile couples and women who marry after menopause don't have children. There marriages are not immoral, nor are their marital acts intrinsically evil. The real issue is whether the so-callled unitive and procreative dimensions of the martial act can be separated for good and just reasons. Periodic continence or natural family planning breaks these two dimensions in that sexual intercourse is non-procreative. To say that nature causes such acts to be infertile ignores the willful and intentional physical acts that bring such an outcome (e.g., temperature and cervical mucus plotting and limiting sexual intercourse to these times resulting in non-procreative sexual intercourse).Who among us would say that the sexual intercourse of spouses who want no children for good reasons, and those who have children but want no more for good reasons, lack unitive love because their acts are non-procreative?

"Periodic continence or natural family planning breaks these two dimensions in that sexual intercourse is non-procreative."Michael - I'm not sure this makes sense. Continence, by definition, is not an act but the absence of an act.When two fertile individuals engage in a true marital act, at a time of the month that makes conception unlikely - it is still an act open to fertility. The act by its nature is an act with a fertile end. This is true regardless of the temperature-taking or the wishes of the actors. That it is a fertile act even despite the intentions of the parents is testified to by the number of children conceived by parents who thought they were minimizing or avoiding the possibility of conception. "Mistakes" or "oopsie babies" are countless, even in the age of abortion.But a so-called marital act in a same sex marriage is an act without a fertile end. Morally, its meaning is different.

I defer to, well, pretty much everyone who's commented so far. Based on available evidence, you've all thought much more deeply about the unitive and procreative nature of marriage and sex that I have and I thank you for sharing your thoughts and knowledge.I hope I'm not off-topic in observing that the current debate in US society (and before the Supreme Court) about civil marriage for same-sex couples is, basically, about property rights. In fact, the case (US v. Windsor) before the court challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act is a classic, straightforward inheritance case.I'm not arguing the other debates aren't important. But it does seem to me that to engage the debate without addressing the central property and other legal rights attached to civil recognition of marriage is, on some level, to miss the point.

I respect your opinion Luke. Along that same line of thinking, to a Christian, especially a Catholic where marriage is still a sacrament and divorce would be the same as Christ, the bridgegroom trying to separate from His Church (which is impossible), we not only believe marriage came from God, but that in essence, it's the meaning of life (at least in terms of the unity aspect, which can also be obtained by holiness as a single and or in religous life).Consequently, (in "Christian think"), anything, any reason, short of, or taking away from the "oneness with God, our Creator", is unthinkable. I agree with Lisa about the "reproductive" aspect. Most certainly, God asked us to "be fruitful and multiply", and assist in procreation, but the even bigger purpose of marriage is our encounter with Christ.Now of course, that isn't going to fly in a pluralistic society arguing in front of SCOTUS, but sadly, we have only ourselves to blame, in failing to live out the true Christian marriage as God intended. And for the record, we already know that we lost the culture, regardless of how the court rules. Lastly, in this entitlement hungry culture, once SSM is legal and meaningless, I suspect many heterosexuals of the same sex will "marry" for things as practical as health insurance coverage and or tax deductions. After all, in the secular world, isn't it all about equality?

@Patricia (4/3, 8:22 am) Thanks for your response. Catholics have always been a minority in the country, and the Catholic sacramental view of marriage has always been a minority viewpoint. So, it's not the case that "we lost the culture"; we never "had it".I'm not sure what you mean when you say "once SSM is legal and meaningless". What has happened is several states over the past decade is that same-sex marriage has acquired "meaning" by achieving legal recognition. And some of that meaning takes (as it does with opposite-sex marriage) the form of concrete, well-defined legal rights, responsibilities and privileges (hospital visitation rights, inheritance rights, alimony and child support obligations in the case of divorce, etc.).Finally, I'm curious to know why you suspect "many" same-sex heterosexuals will marry each other for health insurance coverage and/or tax deductions. I'm unaware of any, let alone many, cases that fit that description (and I live in Massachusetts, the epicenter of the same-sex marriage legal revolution in the US).I suspect one of the major factors driving the rapidly changing public views on civil same-sex marriage is the experience of what has happened in Massachusetts and other states in the wake of same-sex marriage achieving legal recognition: nothing. No increase in the divorce rate. No weakening of marriage bonds for opposite-sex couples. None of the disastrous social breakdowns predicted by some same-sex marriage opponents. As for whether it's "all about equality" in the secular world...again, I'm not sure what definition of equality you have in mind. (There's the radical Christian notion of equality that we're all children of God, for example.) I'm sure some of the impetus for civil same-sex marriage comes from the notion of equality, but some comes from other notions, e.g., justice.

"I hope Im not off-topic in observing that the current debate in US society (and before the Supreme Court) about civil marriage for same-sex couples is, basically, about property rights."Right. I also think there is some practical wisdom in distinguishing the theology of marriage from what civil US society will countenance for marriage.I understand, and am quite sympathetic to, the reasons given for recognizing same sex marriage.The dispute at the heart of the Supreme Court case, which Luke characterizes as a property right, is more specifically an inheritance-tax dispute. Taxes in general are never popular, and there may be no more unpopular tax than an inheritance tax. There is no constituency that I know of for an inheritance tax.Hospital visitation restrictions are also quite unpopular - again, because they touch upon the painful issues surrounding the illness or duress of a loved one.It's extremely difficult to point to any concrete, tangible harm that a same sex marriage would inflict upon a community or society. Same sex couples as family members, as neighbors - it's pretty common now, and many of us can draw upon our personal experience in weighing this.Americans tend to be fair and tolerant people. It speaks well of the American people that a law that smacks of unfairness or intolerance would be something they wouldn't support.I've commented before that, from the church's perspective, the way this will all play out, sooner or later, is that the church will need to defend its religious-liberty prerogative to not officiate at same sex weddings, to provide public services via charities, food pantries and the like, and to proclaim its theological vision of marriage.

Luke Catholics are anything but a minority in this country. They are the largest voting block in America (approx 70 million). If we all lived our Catholic Faith as Christ intended, and voted as Catholics, the country for the most part, would be likewise in leadership, subsequently, our laws and culture would reflect the same. Catholics fully united could elect ANYONE into office of their choice.What I mean by SSM being meaningless is in respect to any real significance (only harm), to humanity. Of course it's not going to happen overnight, but wait a generation and see how everyone on the SSM train still loves the idea of SSM. Sadly, so many have lost their faith in this country, they not only are unable to see the obvious consequences on society, and children, but give little or no thought to that which matters the most, eternal salvation. SSM is the great deception, period, for all involved, especially the children the left pretends to care so much about.

@Patricia (4/3, 10:56 am) True, Catholics are the largest religious denomination, almost 78 million people according to Wikipedia) in the country. But with current US population at roughly 315 million, that makes Catholics about 25% of the citizenry, far from a majority. It's simply not true that "Catholics fully united" could elect anyone into office.

Luke 25% makes Catholics the "majority" of all voting blocks.

@Patricia (4/3, 11:43 am) Technically it makes Catholics the "relative majority", or "plurality" of all denominational voting blocs. American political history is filled (as are the political histories of other democracies) with blocs of voters that consist of a sizable minority of the electorate but are not able to then elect anyone they want into office. It's easy to imagine a scenario in which Catholics form a united voting bloc of 25% (or 35% or 45%) in a given electorate, but still never (or rarely) elect "their" candidate because the other voting blocs (e.g., Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians) typically unite in opposition to the Catholic candidate.We can imagine other, similar scenarios in which, for example, Lutherans make up 40% of the electorate but the Catholic majority unites against Lutheran candidates. This doesn't just apply to religious affiliation. To this day, voting in Mississippi is divided stongly along racial lines---with upwards of 90% of whites voting Republican and 90% of blacks voting Democratic in presidential elections. The unity of the black minority last fall failed to secure the state's electoral votes for Barack Obama.

Well Luke, maybe a more clearer way to say it is that if it weren't for the Catholic Vote, Barrack Obama would never have been president. Both times, his election was won by the Catholic Vote.And for the record, prop 8 in Ca was won both by the Mormans and the religous blacks, certainly not by the California Catholics, myself one of them

@Patricia, (4/3, 1:45 pm) Thanks for the reply. True, if no Catholics had voted for President Obama last November, he would not have been re-elected.My recollection is that Catholics voted for the president in roughly the same percentages as the rest of the electorate, which is to say by a slight but definite majority.Given that neither major US political party has a platform that is "Catholic", it's not clear to me there's a problem (from the Church's perspective) with American Catholic voters exercising their own best judgment as to which candidate/party to support.

@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 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 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?

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