Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Same-Sex 'Marriage' Up-Date

Strange title, I'll grant.

I was just reading the latest issue of 'Dialogue' - the journal of the Canadian Philosophical Association. It includes an article by Scott Woodcock entitled, "Five Reasons why Margaret Somerville is Wrong about Same-Sex Marriage and the Rights of Children." I decided to read it because it proposed to be a reasoned critique of Somerville's 'secular' argument against same-sex 'marriage.' So, one secular versus another. I needed an update on worldly thinking.

I was impressed by the cleanliness of Woodcock's argument, meaning, no ad hominems, no bitterness, very little appeal to pathos. Too much of that in this area of study. And, although, of course, I cannot agree with his 'pro' position, basing myself solely upon Woodcock's presentation of her argument, I was not very impressed by a great portion of Somerville's argument.

Can I agree that there is a secular justification for being against SSM? Catholics are always in a funny position when we are asked whether there is a purely philosophical justification for some ethical position. Our doctrine of Natural Law is a resource but also a bit of a burden. A Protestant can just appeal to revelation and say to hell with human reasoning! Yet there is something faulty in that. There is a law in nature and we see it working in how with good things are generally associated overall positive outcomes, and evil things negative outcomes. Is marriage good? Surely just look at its overall effects to make that decision. Is SSM good? Again, look at the overall results. Now, as Woodcock is quick to point out, there is no philosophical justification for thinking that SSM (i.e. same-sex 'marriage') is bad while marriage is good. Just examine all the spousal abuse, child abuse, divorce, abortion, contraception, adultery associated with marriage. And I agree, let's not make preemptive conclusions. A great deal of argument is helpful here to strengthen and rarify our thinking on this matter.

Now, since neither side in this debate wanted to talk about natural law, they argued around a clumsy phrase - "the institution's inherently procreative function." There is more here, I suspect, than meets the eye. I think that Somerville, who seems to have coined the phrase, means that marriage (you will have noted by now that by marriage I always mean the opposite of SSM) is by nature procreative and that, because of this, marriage is a social good because it makes children good. SSM is bad not only because it doesn't, it is bad because it interferes with the good that marriage does for children and society as a whole by dividing resources and rights (referred to in this article as "social acknowledgement").

It is so interesting, though, how Woodcock dismantles Somerville's argument. It runs something like this - forgive the crudity! There are bad marriages, there are (at least hypothetically) good SSMs. The appeal of his position lies in this: failing short of proof, how can you make an argument based upon the prima facie assertion that SSM is always, usually, often, or generally bad, or at least significantly worse than marriage? You cannot. Unless, that is, you are a Protestant, or a bigot (they are not the same thing!!!).

The strength of his argument lies in the fact that marriage is statistically in bad shape these days; parenting is in bad shape these days. The conclusion is why do you think SSM would end up with worse results? I don't think every SSM family would be worse than every marriage-family. Clearly not. But what is, for instance, the Church's actual view on marriage? It doesn't admit of any of the things that Woodcock uses to diminish the difference between marriage and SSM. But 'the state' does. Our state approves of divorce, common-law, contraception, pre- and extra-marital marriage, sexuality and conception - so how can a state approve of all of these things, and yet not SSM? It can't. Somerville seems to be on weak ground.

I think SSA (same-sex attraction) is the result of one or several different psychological conditions. Should the presence of this or these automatically rule out one's eligibiligity for adopting? I'm not sure. In an absolute sense I want children only to be adopted by saintly Catholic families. Falling away from this I would say looks like this: next, good Catholic families, good Protestant families, good Jewish families, good Muslim families, good secular families, and so on. Couples with mental illnesses need to be evaluated. Homosexuality is just one kind and it admits of many types, likely. What about other illnesses? Diabetes, depression, heart disease, thyroid conditions, etc. Homosexuality is a problem, no doubt. Is it the most significant problem? No. Is it significant enough? I'm not sure, but I am apt to think yes. I am apt to think homosexuality, no matter what its precise shape (again, I think there are types), is significant enough to make adoption a bad idea.
But the real reason why I wanted to read this article was to make sure I wasn't missing anything in the debate, since I really don't read much secular stuff. No, I must admit I didn't really see much here that was new to me or that forced a significant reconsideration.

A Concluding Postscript on My Broken Heart - Cardinal Schonborn.

Related to the above discussion, LifeSiteNews is carrying the depressing account of Schonborn's heriticalizing (solecism - I like it!)

I have loved you, dear Cardinal, but you broke my heart. You who were once so great an apostle against creationism (i.e. the reason why LifeSite doesn't like him anyway - haha!), filled me with hope that the Church might find another great teacher to lead us away from the errors of creationism... But alas, you are just a man, and no god. What is going on with this guy? Now, I will admit that I have not seen the context for his remarks, but I cannot imagine any possible justification for them - although what I can imagine does not include all things.


  1. I wish I could remember where I read it but the argument went something like the following: marriage is in such a terrible state these days; it falls so short of the ideal that one should wonder why the same-sexers could possibly want something that has been watered-down, spat out and left to die on the side of the road. We are at fault; for what we call marriage is little more than abusive co-habitation with papers to prove its existence. But come to the BB marriage prep and you'll be OK...

  2. Love the shameless sales-pitch at the end... you should work for OLSWA!

  3. I agree with you that Margaret Somerville will have a hard time arguing for marriage without an appeal to religious authority and, at the same time, without reliance on natural law. My own view is that we ought to start with natural law and re-cast the argument and terminology in such a way as to make the underlying principles more accessible.

    At one time I thought of going into the practice of family law. What struck me as I studied the jurisprudence on divorce was how, over time, the courts had iterated towards a natural law understanding of marriage. Even when dealing with the reality of marriage through under the principles of divorce legislation, they couldn't but move towards an analysis of marriage consistent with principles of natural law.

    For example, the courts used to proceed on the basis that spousal support is something temporary. They reasoned that, because the marriage is over and, therefore, finality is required, spousal support shouldn't last forever. This was the "clean break" theory of divorce and support. It aimed to facilitate the transition of one spouse, usually the wife, back into the work force and give full effect to what was the apparent purpose of divorce, i.e.: to put an end to the marriage and restore the parties to their previous independence.

    However, a variety of factors led to the abandonment of the "clean break" approach, not the least of which were cases involving long term marriages where wives had spent decades looking after the family and foregone career opportunities. Courts began to order spousal support for longer and longer periods of time, to the point where today many spousal support orders are open ended. That looks to me a whole lot like the indissolubility of marriage.

    The breakdown of the marriage notwithstanding, natural law principles are at play. The courts have acknowledged the inter-dependence of the spouses by looking at the lived reality of the couple and, despite the breakdown of the relationship, concluded that a "clean break" is wrong. In a sense, the marriage goes on, even after the divorce, per force of an open ended legal obligation falling on one spouse (usually him) to provide financial support for the other (usually her).

    Yes, the wreckage of marriage is all around us. But, I think that the natural law principles that underlie marriage are evident not only when marriages "work", but also when they fail. It can't be otherwise because natural law is inescapable. Failed marriages are no argument for SSM.

  4. You make a very good point, Michael. Jurisprudence is in a mess right now since it lacks a single theoretical foundation for understanding the good. Thus, it meanders over several different competing notions. If I had another life to live I might come back and do law too. But that might be a very frustrating choice for one inclined to an objective morality and a certain idealism.