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Gays and merry oldsters

I’ve argued that sex is right only when it helps constitute an enduring union between two persons that points beyond personal interest because of what the union is, and that can be so only in the case of sex within marriage that is open to new life. Someone who commented on my Sexual Morality FAQ asked why then “gay marriage” is so different from marriage between two 60-year olds, since both unions will be infertile. I replied that a union between two men is sterile by what it is—by the identity of the parties—while one between a 60-year-old man and woman is sterile by particular circumstances, their age and physical condition.

Any thoughts on the argument would be welcome. It seems to me it depends on three points: (1) persons and acts have an essential nature that’s not the same as their factual effects, (2) one’s sexual nature (as a man or woman) is essential to what one is, so that violating it violates oneself, and (3) the nature of sex includes a natural procreative aspect that is somewhat fuzzy, so it’s lost when we intentionally do something that defeats it but not when it simply fails to go to completion because of failure to act (i.e., abstention) or because of circumstances (e.g., time of month or physical defect).

All comments are welcome. It’s hard to think about these things abstractly, but it seems necessary now, when the modernist attempt to reduce reason to formal logic and means-end rationality has caused such practical problems in this and other connections.

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Comments

What authority do you have to speak about gay people’s lives? You are not affected by anti-homosexual policies, so you can just shut the fuck up now, please. Thanks

I don’t understand SixFootPole’s objection. My general point about sexual morality mainly has to do with sexual relations between men and women (it applies to all sexual relations, but sexual relations between two men or two women are comparatively rather unusual). “Gay marriage” is a proposal to give formal public approval to homosexual connections and necessarily makes gay people’s lives a public issue. And it’s obviously false that I’m not affected by the principles on which sexual connections are publicly approved as legitimate and good.

SixFootPole has a strange notion of “authority”. He denies any credibility to the disinterested observer. Such is modern liberalism. It reduces everything to power politics, the struggle between competing interests.

There’s an echo of the philosophical doctrine of incommensurability here. In denying Jim’s authority to speak about gay people’s lives, he implies that those lives can only be understood from the inside, and that this understanding cannot be communicated to outsiders. Or, if it can be communicated, that the understanding of the insiders is the only correct one: the outsider has authority only insofar as he accurately reflects the understanding of the insider.

In other words, self-assertion is paramount, and cannot be checked by reference to universal or objective truth. This is why anyone opposing that self-assertion is told to “shut the fuck up.”

“Sexual relations between a man and a woman” is redundant. “Sexual relations between two men…” is a contradiction in terms.

Using oxymorons like “homosexual” concedes the argument from the outset. Sex is hetero, period.

The old heresies never really go away. The objection to which you reply is a variation on Nestorianism and/or monophysitism: they confuse nature with person.

If the nature of marriage is procreative (and it is) then it requires a couple that is procreative by nature (and it does).

Whether a particular couple that is procreative according to its nature (male-female) is not procreative according to its persons (a particular man with a particular woman) is irrelevant to the argument.

Reg Caesar (3:00 PM) has got it exactly right. You’ve nailed it, sir! Do not concede so much as one inch to these people.

The person signing inappropriately with the homosexual pen name “SixFootPole” talks about “anti-homosexual policies.” There ARE none: he’s dreaming. He’s talking about a fantasy found only inside his own head. As for our society according official sanction to “marriages” between people of the same sex—the withholding of which “SixFootPole” presumably considers “an anti-homosexual policy”—Mr. Kalb’s comment scores a perfect bullseye: OF COURSE we are all, every single one of us, profoundly affected by the choice our society makes of moral framework whereby it will structure itself. A person would have to be blind not to see that.

Finally, don’t anyone be fooled by the claim of homosexualists like Andrew Sullivan that extending society’s recognition of matrimony to include homosexual “marriage” would make relationships between homosexuals more stable and more genuinely loving. It would do no such thing, not the least reason being simply that homosexuality itself is a psychopathology having varied repercussions and manifestations none of which can be made to disappear by societal recognition, any more than can those of other psychopathologies such as, for example, major depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or schizophrenia. If homosexuals got official “marriage” tomorrow they’d simply find some other “societal oppression” to complain about, saying if only THAT were removed they’d find true happiness. It would go on ad infinitum until all of society was brought down, homosexuals along with everything else.

ELC’s comment is also an excellent one, a real pleasure to read! Apart from such excellent comments, however, there’s this, that homosexual “marriage” is simply not normal. There’s a thing called normalness and it isn’t in that category. There’s a thing called health and it isn’t in that one either. It is sickness, depravity, and it would be morally absolutely unacceptible for society to pretend to officially approve it. There can be no compromise whatsoever with any notion of legitimating homosexuality in any way, shape, or form. A society that experiments with this signs its own death warrant—goes nowhere but down to its own certain doom.

Needless to add, no one means homosexuals any harm in all of this, or does them any harm in any of it; it is rather they, foolishly, and their leftist allies, deliberately and wickedly, who mean society the gravest harm, and society must protect itself.

one’s sexual nature (as a man or woman) is essential to what one is, so that violating it violates oneself

You presuppose that, inherently, all men share the same sexual nature. This presupposition is not unexpected, seeing as your approaching the argument from a religious standpoint., but it is a presupposition none the less. You define the argument in the terms which allows your desired conclusion.

the nature of sex includes a natural procreative aspect that is somewhat fuzzy, so it’s lost when we intentionally do something that defeats it but not when it simply fails to go to completion because of failure to act (i.e., abstention) or because of circumstances (e.g., time of month or physical defect

By this argument, birth control should invalidate a marriage, as it is the intentional defeat of the natural procreative nature of sex. The same would be true of having an operation which prevents pregnancy, which can not be considered a physical defect. I also take issue with your claim the abstinence falls into the latter category. Abstinence, in marriage, is an intentional defeat of the procreative process.

Finally, while I agree that the nature of procreation is not, by itself, defeated by defect—the concept of marriage as a procreative tool is defeated, if the two people getting married are doing so knowing they are unwilling or unable to procreate.

The overall problem with your argument, however, is that while it might make an interesting discourse in a philosophy or religion class, the actual issue of gay marriage is a civil, or legal one. The legal definition of marriage, has nothing to do with procreation as evidenced by the fact that no proof of the ability nor desire to procreate is required, that in most states failing to copulate is not grounds for legal dissolution of said marriage, and that non-procreation does not invalidate said marriage.

Henry’s comments lead me to ask: Is there any validity to the distinction between the civil and religious institutions of marriage?

It’s true that my argument presupposes that physical constitution determines sexual nature—that it’s the sexual nature of a man to be a man. That seems reasonable to me since sex and its concrete physical function is altogether fundamental to human life—it’s why we’re here at all—and it’s the thing that makes marriage, the institution we are discussing, of social interest. If subjective inclination determined sexual nature there would be no real point to talking about sexual nature or marriage as an objective union of two persons.

I don’t see why the simple use of contraception would invalidatge a marriage. Acts at odds with the nature of an arrangement don’t necessarily invalidate the arrangement. It’s possible that if the parties entered the marriage intending always to use contraception that they wouldn’t intend the sexual union that constitutes marriage so there wouldn’t be a valid marriage. Ditto if they entered the marriage intending never to have sexual relations. Dunno about vasectomy—if the operation were part of the marriage ceremony I suppose the marriage would be invalid, but suppose it were years before and the man had come to regret it? Would that turn it (at the time of the marriage) into a simple physical defect rather than something intended? I don’t see the problem with periods of abstinence though. The sexual union that constitutes marriage can’t possibly be something enacted 24/7.

It seems wrong to conceive of marriage as a “procreative tool.” If you look at my reply to the query about 60-year-olds you’ll see that all this started with a consideration of how to understand sexual experience and where to situate it so that it becomes comprehensible as part of a good life and succeeds in meaning what it seems to want to mean. A basic point is that sexual love seems bigger than we are—at any rate, it’s not manageable or altogether controllable. That means that while it may have a natural function that should be respected it can’t be understood as a tool.

I don’t see the argument that any of this is essentially religious, unless “religion” is taken very broadly to include any sense that there’s a nature of things and a good life includes respecting that nature. I also don’t understand the argument that civil marriage has nothing to do with procreation. The only reason society takes such an interest in marriage is that it’s a union of a kind that naturally produces children. If it’s a subjective connection between two parties that they can define as they wish it’s not clear why legal formalization makes sense. It’s true that as long as the parties are male and female, so that the union is of a kind that produces offspring, there’s no specific inquiry into physical capacity and particular intentions. Law normally operates by presumptions though so I’m not sure why that matters.

Maybe I misunderstood your argument.

You were discussing sex in the context of the difference between two men, and an elderly man-woman couple: More specifically, why one should be able to marry, and the other shouldn’t. You argument was, essentially, that the infertility of those two ‘couples’ is not the same since the two-men are, were, and always will be infertile because of their nature, why the 60 years olds were infertile by circumstance (age).

Since this discussion is happening the context of who should be able to be married, it’s not (to my mind) a unreasonable inference that you believe procreation to be one of the purposes of marriage. Marriage, by that thinking, can be seen as a form of a procreative-tool, purposed to aid the creation of children. My claim is actually supported by your FAQ:

“The sexual bond between a man and a woman naturally gives rise to children, and therefore to a long-term connection that links the generations and transcends the immediate desires and interests of the parties. The institution of marriage strengthens, orders, and further defines that natural connection. It has therefore been a fundamental social institution in all times and places, unlike “gay marriage,” a modern eccentricity.”

If that premise is true, and I don’t believe it is as stated by the last paragraph of my initial post, but if it is, then it is open to discussion about how fertility affects marriage. Your argument suggested something to the effect of ‘infertility’ in man-woman couples should not be considered the same as ‘infertility’ in man-man (or woman-woman) couples, since man-women couples have a fertile nature, even if that fertility is not realized.

However, you brought up several categories within that category, which you felt were different. I’m claiming that a couple who uses birth control and plans to continue using it, or purposely has an operation which prevents conception, are not logically different. They are both something which is intentionally done that defeats the natural procreative process.

I view this as a religious-based argument, because it assumes that the sexual nature of men and woman are clearly defined.

Many people see the idea that there is one human nature as a religious idea. They don’t accept the Thomistic maneuver as one which sets aside the religious aspects of a question.

They would argue that there is such a thing as “queer nature” and that it is not a given that it is pathological. They would say that it is merely different. I don’t see how reasserting “human nature” and identifying it with heterosexuality responds to their position.

(George Lakoff’s work on categories might have a bearing on this discussion.)

At points, Jim, you seem to be saying that society has supported traditional marriage because such marriages have a procreative nature. But since procreation can occur outside marriage, society must have had some other reason for approving and supporting marriage between men and women.

According to some accounts, marriage was a way of establishing paternity. But our modern society has devised other means for making that determination, along with child support responsibilities, inheritance, etc. Nor can it any longer be said that civil marriage has the force of a binding contract, encouraging stable relationships or households in which children will be raised. No-fault divorce means that either party can break the “contract” whenever they feel like it.

From a purely civic viewpoint, marriage seems to be a quaint, outmoded, unnecessary institution.

The reason gays want to marry is that there are benefits attached to that status. This includes, but is not limited to, official recognition of the relationship. The question which needs to be answered is whether those benefits should exist in the first place, not whether the entitlement should be extended to additional groups.

This, I think, is where civic notions of marriage leave us.

Something can have a natural function without being a tool. The natural function of drinking, for example, is to supply the body with needed liquid. That doesn’t mean that when I have a cup of tea while chatting with an old lady drinking the tea is a tool. My body might not need the liquid, but the act of drinking the tea would still have much the same human meaning.

Still, the functional connection remains—if I took the tea in my mouth and spat it out when she wasn’t looking, or drank it and then immediately went into the bathroom, stuck my fingers down my throat, and vomited it up it would rather change the nature of my action in drinking the tea. So it seems that intentionally interfering with the natural function of an action is different from a human standpoint than engaging in the action when we know the function will not in fact achieve its end. The latter respects our natural functioning and accepts whatever its consequences may be under the circumstances while the former does not. The distinction strikes me as important as a human matter.

Why does “clearly-defined sexual nature” mean “religious”? If someone says “the function of the eye is seeing” is that a religious statement? Scientists say sex has been with us for around a billion years, and throughout that period it seems to have had a rather consistent and well-defined function. Also, I don’t understand the meaning of the second-to-last paragraph. Were some words left out?

It seems to me that talking about “queer nature” gives up the notion of the nature of something altogether. Whatever someone actually does, that’s his nature. On such a view I think it’s very hard to understand human life or for that matter anything else. It becomes just a collection of impulses, techniques and possibilities, and that doesn’t seem enough to me. In any event, I don’t see what’s added by saying something is religious. Isn’t the issue whether it’s true, reasonable and so on?

The reason I think marriage should be supported is that it’s a fundamental—the fundamental—social institution. As Charlie points out it’s possible to produce babies without marriage. The babies then have to be reared, though, and I’m not sure what the substitute for marriage is if you want a setting for rearing children that generally works. Also, we have to do something with sex—place it in a setting of personal connections, rights and obligations that makes it comprehensible and non-exploitive. I think that’s impossible outside marriage for reasons I touch on in my Sexual Morality FAQ and the original reply (linked above) to the question regarding the 60-year-olds. I agree that no-fault divorce etc. have seriously weakened marriage but the answer to that is not to abolish it conceptually altogether but to recognize that a mistake has been made and backtrack.

I’m going to stay away from the drinking analogy, which may not follow similar logic. If, as you are now suggesting, marriage is not a tool to aid procreation, then why bring procreation up as a difference between the 60 year old and the gay couple?

As for my second to last paragraph, I may have attempted to be too brief. My point was that in the third point of your original argument, you broke that argument up into several sub-issues, stating that there is a difference between doing something that ‘defeats’ procreation, and failure to act or circumstance. I disagreed. Choosing not to have sex, or purposely engaging in behavior which prevents procreation, both defeat the nature of procreation.

//So it seems that intentionally interfering with the natural function of an action is different from a human standpoint … .//

I disagree. Two men engaging in sex, know there will be no procreation. A woman, unable to give birth and engaging in sex, knows there will be no procreation. How does respecting the ‘natural function’ alter either of those scenarios?

// Why does “clearly-defined sexual nature” mean “religious”? If someone says “the function of the eye is seeing” … .//

Your implication, however, is that homosexuality does not have a natural function. Yet, homosexuality has been around just as long as heterosexuality, and exists outside the realm of man. So, it would appear there is some natural function to it.

// The reason I think marriage should be supported is that it’s a fundamental—the fundamental—social institution … .//

I don’t think anyone is arguing differently, though perhaps we disagree as to what it means to ‘support’ marriage.

// Also, we have to do something with sex—place it in a setting of personal connections, rights and obligations that makes it comprehensible and non-exploitive.//

Gay sex performs this function just as well as heterosexual sex. Both can be a function of love and commitment, and both can be purely a physical act. The only difference is the opportunity for procreation, which is generally lacking for gay couples. However, it is also lacking for some straight couples as well, which doesn’t seem to invalidate those relationships.

As stated, an arrangement or act—drinking a cup of tea with someone—can have a natural function without being a tool. That’s true of most things that have to do with important human relationships. They have an essential connection to a function but aren’t a tool. Parties to the relationship must respect the function, which means they can’t intentionally defeat it. That doesn’t mean though that the relationship only exists to the extent the function is achieved.

For example, a function of friendship is providing extra security in times of trouble. If it were treated as a tool to that end it wouldn’t be friendship. Nor would it be friendship if one of the parties intentionally defeated the function—if for example he took the phone off the hook so his friend wouldn’t be able to ask him for help. It would still be friendship though if he happened to be unable to help because of circumstances or because he’s impoverished, disabled, and in fact unlikely to help anybody.

On the kind of analysis Henry applies to sex all that seems to become nonsense. The connection is either helpful in a situation or it isn’t. He also seems to identify “natural” with “whatever exists,” so that there could never be sexual conduct or I suppose anything else that would be “unnatural.” Such a view seems to abolish the usefulness of the concept of human nature—whatever people do is natural for them, so “humanity” becomes at most a statistical concept. If that’s so though conceptions of a good life apart from maximum attainment of whatever goals we happen to have seem to become arbitrary.

Is that an adequate understanding of human life as we know it? We are social beings. Is it possible to base a society on an understanding of what we are—of things as basic as what it is to be a man or a woman—that only have to do with observable cause and effect in particular cases? It doesn’t seem so to me.

Charlie said that “From a purely civic viewpoint, marriage seems to be a quaint, outmoded, unnecessary institution.” So he apparently believes it’s not a basic social institution. Hence my assertion that it is. Actually, on Henry’s view, which apparently reduces all human connections to particular cause and effect, I’m not sure social institutions can exist at all. They seem to me to involve conceptions of what we and other things are and should be that don’t reduce to particular cause and effect.

Maybe it would help to repeat the basic line of thought:

Sex is intensely and necessarily expressive. The question is how what it expresses can correspond to the reality of the situation. If it doesn’t our connection to those to whom we claim the greatest intimacy will be radically false. That would be very bad.

I can see how the correspondence can come about if the sexual act is such that by its nature it helps constitute an objective union between the parties that points beyond the desires and interests of the parties. I can see how that’s possible in the case of normal sexual intercourse between a man and woman who have publicly committed to join their lives and fortunes, since normal sexual intercourse tends to produce babies and they’ve agreed to accept that and stick together to deal with it. I don’t see how it’s possible when there’s no objective (i.e., public) commitment, or when the identity of the parties or the nature of the act is such that the act and relationship don’t point beyond themselves. Under such circumstances the “love and commitment” becomes a subjective interpretation based solely on the particular feelings and desires of the parties and so can’t reach beyond immediate experience.

There’s then a question whether the correspondence between experience and reality exists when sex is in fact infertile. It seems that to demand that it always be fertile turns it into a technique engaged in to bring about a particular concrete result, contrary to our experience of it as an act of trust and self-giving. On the other hand, intentionally to interfere with fertility or to do something that’s not of a kind that can ever give rise to new life directly opposes our intention to the experience described. So normal sexual intercourse between a man and woman married to each other seems OK, even though it’s sometimes in fact infertile, while fornication and sodomy do not.

The question then arises what happens when the “sometimes in fact infertile” becomes “always infertile” because of physical defect. I’m not sure where to draw the line. The traditional approach is to draw it broadly and say that if the persons and act are of an OK type you don’t have to inquire into physiological idiosyncracies. I don’t feel called upon to demand a more severe standard.

“Charlie said that ‘From a purely civic viewpoint, marriage seems to be a quaint, outmoded, unnecessary institution.’ So he apparently believes it’s not a basic social institution. Hence my assertion that it is.”

Actually, I agree with your assertion. In my comments, I was playing the part of the devil’s advocate. I wanted to know how you would respond to some commonly-expressed opinions. I apologize if I didn’t make that clear.

As always, your reply was well worth reading. But I am less confident than you seem to be about the possibility of achieving an understanding of marriage which can be defended against the kind of threats posed by gay marriage (or the divorce culture), without grounding that understanding on marriage’s sacramental nature.

I do not wish to abolish the concept of marriage, as you seemed to read me as saying at one point. But I am questioning whether a purely secular concept can be sustained, and whether a secular government has any business recognizing or supporting marriages of any kind.

It seems to me natural law is rationally sufficient for traditional Christian sexual morality (which seems to me pretty much the same as sexual morality in e.g. Plato’s Laws, except that Plato would sometimes permit divorce). As a practical matter I agree there has to be a religious element to make it all seem concrete enough for people generally to take seriously. Also, it seems to me that natural law and nature point beyond themselves, so the “natural law alone” viewpoint is somewhat artificial. And I supposed Charlie was being somewhat of a devil’s advocate.

“The legal definition of marriage, has nothing to do with procreation as evidenced by the fact that no proof of the ability nor desire to procreate is required, that in most states failing to copulate is not grounds for legal dissolution of said marriage, and that non-procreation does not invalidate said marriage.”

Just wanted to address the above comment by Henry since the Massachusetts Supremes used the same argument in Goodrich. Since every couple may not procreate, Henry and the Massachusetts Supremes assume that procreation is not an assumption for marriage. However, as you state Jim, procreation is the only assumption justifying state involvement. The only reason for the state restricting marriage among relatives or polygamy is the possibility of procreation. The state has always assumed that procreation is a possibility. Apparently Gay marriage may force the state to drop that assumption. The Massachusetts court even identified the assumption as discriminatory. The state may be judging itself out of a job.

At the risk of beating a dead horse. Consider the four assumptions that the state may take regarding marriage.

A. All marriages are capable of procreation.
B. No marriages are capable of procreation.
C. Some marriages are capable of procreation.
D. Some marriages are not capable of procreation.

The state has always assumed (A) that all marriages are capable of procreation. Hence, the 60 year old brother and sister still cannot marry despite their questionable fertility.

And doesn’t anthropology back this up?

How many societies can you name that grant to same-sex pairings anything approaching what they offer the married?

And how many societies bother to prohibit the aged from (re)marrying?

Returning to a few points raised in the discussion, as a response to your request for comments on your argument:

“(1) persons and acts have an essential nature that’s not the same as their factual effects, (2) one’s sexual nature (as a man or woman) is essential to what one is, so that violating it violates oneself, and (3) the nature of sex includes a natural procreative aspect…”

On (1), I don’t think there is anyone here who would disagree. The alternative is nominalism. If that is the ground on which the debate is to occur, there are well-known arguments available.

(2) is accepted by many homosexuals. About the centrality of one’s sexual nature, they’re positively militant. But they would probably want to know more about what you mean by your parenthetical comment. They would suspect, perhaps rightly, that you’re using it to smuggle in an unrelated idea, one which properly belongs to point (3).

(3), however, is *not* accepted by most proponents of gay marriage, and it is therefore the crux of the issue. If I understand them correctly, homosexuals define “sex” primarily as an act of intimacy. I.e., the expression of intimacy, rather than procreation, is the defining goal. They see this goal of intimacy, of the union of two persons, as something they have in common with heterosexuals, and this is why they don’t understand why “marriage” is denied to them. They would argue that the intimacy criterion does a better job explaining the “anomalies” of infertile or aged couples than does your procreation criterion. I think your exposition needs to address these points if it is intended to be persuasive.

Your argument in the original article is unsatisfying, I think, because it moves too quickly and makes too many unsupported assertions:

“Marital union. This really seems the only stable and satisfying setting for sex. It’s impossible in the case of homosexual acts, though, because the bodies of the participants do not form an objective functional unity that points by its nature beyond the act itself and beyond the personal interests of the participants. “

What is implied here, but still needs to be proven, is that procreation is the only way in which sexual union can point beyond itself. In driving toward that point, you seem to be ignoring the possibility of other foundations of stability—for example, the commitment of both partners to the institution of marriage, and their understanding of it as a fundamental social construct, which imposes duties that are often in conflict with personal desires. Because these commitments to a fundamental being-with-another often include a willingness for self-sacrifice, dismissing them as mere “personal interests” goes too far.

“It seems to me that talking about ‘queer nature’ gives up the notion of the nature of something altogether. Whatever someone actually does, that’s his nature. On such a view I think it’s very hard to understand human life or for that matter anything else. It becomes just a collection of impulses, techniques and possibilities, and that doesn’t seem enough to me.”

I don’t see how this follows, unless it’s presupposed that the nature of sex is procreative. I don’t see why considering the possibility of other essences leads inescapably to the kind of nominalism you describe.

Someone with a “queer nature” might never engage in any homosexual acts. In fact, he might even be in a heterosexual relationship. That possibility is assumed in talk about “violating one’s sexual nature” and is a common theme in the literature describing gay life.

Thanks to Charlie for his comments. I must say that the arguments he proposes strike me as so much moonshine. People can say the words, but they don’t seem to me to have much purchase on reality.

[Charlie commented] “What … needs to be proven, is that procreation is the only way in which sexual union can point beyond itself … the possibility of other foundations of stability—for example, the commitment of both partners to the institution of marriage, and their understanding of it as a fundamental social construct, which imposes duties that are often in conflict with personal desires.”

Through its procreative aspects sexual union plainly points beyond itself in an extraordinarily powerful and undeniably objective way that leads to a relationship that other family members and society at large have obvious and very strong reasons to support. The unavoidable practical aspects of the situation—the need for a stable setting for children to grow up in that can reliably call on material, social and psychological resources beyond those a single person (almost inevitably the mother) can be counted on to supply for two or three decades—define the content of the marital relationship and applicable standards. They make marriage as an enduring union between a man and woman for the procreation and rearing of children a cultural universal.

In the case of “gay marriage” I don’t see the basis for a clear definition of the relationship or for strong social support. Why think it could ever have remotely the compelling power of marriage as it has universally been understood? People don’t sacrifice themselves for arbitrary social constructs. At least they can’t be relied on to do so, and reliability is needed for something to be a social institution.

[I had said] “It seems to me that talking about “queer nature” gives up the notion of the nature of something altogether. Whatever someone actually does, that’s his nature.”

[Charlie commented] “I don’t see why considering the possibility of other essences leads inescapably to the kind of nominalism you describe.”

What’s the basis of the other essences and how could anyone tell they had been violated? Are they one and fixed or are they many and fluid? Why would anyone apart from the person involved care about them? And does the movement for “gay marriage” tell us what “queer nature” is and how its telos demands marriage as its consummation, so that there’s something wrong about homosexual relations outside the bonds of (homosexual) matrimony?

“[Charlie commented] ‘What … needs to be proven, is that procreation is the only way in which sexual union can point beyond itself … the possibility of other foundations of stability—for example, the commitment of both partners to the institution of marriage, and their understanding of it as a fundamental social construct, which imposes duties that are often in conflict with personal desires.’

Through its procreative aspects sexual union plainly points beyond itself in an extraordinarily powerful and undeniably objective way … “

None of what you said in reply to my paragraph is in dispute, Jim. No one doubts that procreation can have this effect. But the question was whether it could be shown that ONLY procreation can make a sexual act point to something beyond itself and also function as a stable foundation for the relationship or society at large.

The proponents of gay marriage suggest self-sacrificing commitment as one such alternative.

“In the case of ‘gay marriage’ I don’t see the basis for a clear definition of the relationship or for strong social support. Why think it could ever have remotely the compelling power of marriage as it has universally been understood?”

The basis, if I understand the gay marriage proponents, is the union of two people in a relationship characterized by commitment. The reason for social support is that it is better when people form settled households than when they act as promiscuous individuals.

“People don’t sacrifice themselves for arbitrary social constructs.”

No, but they often do sacrifice themselves for the sake of another human being whom they love.

“At least they can’t be relied on to do so, and reliability is needed for something to be a social institution.”

Heterosexual marriage is hardly a reliable institution, as anyone who’s been divorced can tell you.

On the question of “queer nature” I would simply point you once again to the literature of gay life, and the frequently-described sense of being forced to act against or to deny that nature.

I honestly don’t know whether the gay marriage proponents would agree that the telos of what they consider “queer nature” requires marriage as its consummation, so that unmarried relations are wrong. It’s an interesting question. But I think their argument would be strengthened if they would agree to this point. So, on the principle of arguing against the opponent’s strongest possible case, I think we should assume that they would.

I still don’t see the argument. What’s needed for a social institution is a repetitive situation others can readily recognize in which there is strong practical reason for both the parties and for other people to expect and support particular definable patterns of behavior that are likely to go against the immediate interests and impulses of at least one of the parties. I can see why that should be so in the case of sexual connection between a man and a woman. It is the natural function of such connections to produce babies, who then have to be tended, and we all have a strong interest in social standards, understandings and arrangements that secure their proper care and rearing. It seems an absolute social necessity, in fact.

I can’t see how anything remotely similar applies to homosexual connections. “Self-sacrificing commitment” can of course attach to anything at all, but the possibility is not enough to define an institution and its duties. How could the world at large tell what the scope and content of the commitment should be in the case of a homosexual connection? The mere fact that in the abstract some commitment or other would stabilize someone’s life doesn’t seem enough to give a social definition to what the commitment should be. That’s one reason fascism doesn’t work.

The fact that recent developments regarding marriage have made marriage much less reliable doesn’t seem to me a reason to loosen up understandings related to marriage still more. The reverse, I would think.

People may sincerely believe they have a “queer nature.” I don’t know what the practical functions are though that define and anchor that nature and make it likely to settle into a definite social institution with long-term obligations that will seem necessary and just, decade after decade, to those subject to them and to other people.

In other words, self-assertion is paramount, and cannot be checked by reference to universal or objective truth.

Hello? There is no universal or objective truth. That’s the point.

Gee wiz, Henry! Where to begin? Maybe I should just ask if you’re getting enough oxygen since your ability to operate within observable reality is impaired.

BTW: How is “SixFootPole” homosexual? Are you kidding me?

You said: “OF COURSE we are all, every single one of us, profoundly affected by the choice our society makes of moral framework whereby it will structure itself. A person would have to be blind not to see that.”

Interesting. The problem here is just exactly what this “moral framework” consists of? Whose moral framework? More importanly, why the moral framework? Morality doesn’t exist in nature; it’s something that humans manufacture for their own purposes. What’s your purpose?

“[S]elf-assertion is paramount, and cannot be checked by reference to universal or objective truth… There is no universal or objective truth. That’s the point… Morality doesn’t exist in nature; it’s something that humans manufacture for their own purposes.”

“SixFootPole” has thus articulated nihilism.

You can’t explain colors to the congenitally blind.

What needs to happen in this homosexual “marriage” debate is for those with eyes to assert themselves. All the rest is so much sophistry and endlessly trying to give explanations to people without ears.

There is no such thing as homosexual “marriage,” any more than there are square circles, as someone here or at VFR put it.

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