In the debates over sexuality, a number of arguments have been advanced on both sides. I sometimes feel that the debaters are talking past each other, and that they are coming from totally different conceptual worlds. The problem appears, then, to lie in the premises (or assumptions) that underlie the varying points of view. If we are to come to a resolution of our differences — and it is a big if — it will be important that we begin with certain agreed-upon principles — if we can — and work step-by-step through to that resolution. So what I would like to begin to do in this and succeeding posts to this blog is to begin to unpack and challenge what I perceive to be the underlying premises or assumptions of the traditional view, in an effort to get behind the “reassertions” to find out if there is an actual basis of agreement from which a different settlement might be reached — or if we really are thinking and working from two radically incompatible bases.
In these reflections I want to deal with all of the apparatus of Scripture, reason and tradition. I will in part be challenging the rational basis of a negative view of same-sex relationships because the traditionalist assertion often goes beyond a merely religious disapprobation — that is, many if not most of those who think homosexuality is wrong do not see it as wrong merely in a religious sense — the way, for example an Orthodox Jew might say that it is wrong to eat pork, but not hold a Gentile to that standard — but wrong in a moral or ethical or even legal sense, rightly subject not only to sectarian reproof, but secular regulation; in short, not only immoral but illegal. This is not to say that all who hold any number of things to be immoral wish them to be illegal: in a pluralistic society we recognize that morality is not always subject to legislation. However, in the present case, there are more than a few religious conservatives who are also willing to see (at the extreme) state sanctions against same-sex relationships, or (at a minimum) a denial of state approval in recognition of such relationships.
In order to make this case, it is clear that the voices of the tradition have gone beyond a simple religious basis for their opinion. The primary evidence for this lies in the arguments often advanced in light of an apparent awareness that a scriptural case alone does not bear sufficient weight to “settle” the matter — for if it did, no appeals to natural law or assertion of the complementarity of the anatomy of the sexes (to cite two common examples) would be necessary.
I would like then, to turn to the various arguments advanced, and examine the premises upon which the traditional case is most often made. It is important first of all to tease apart the general from the specific by asking what, specifically, is held to be “wrong” about same-sex relationships, and “right” about mixed-sex relationships.
As a starting point, most of those who oppose same-sex relationships oppose all such relationships, regardless of aspects of fidelity, mutuality, and so on — thus issues rightly and widely recognized as “moral” are held to be irrelevant. At the same time, the conservative view recognizes that these values do exist, and are necessary in a mixed-sex relationship; that is, as commonly put, sexual relationships are appropriate only within the context of a faithful, life-long, loving, mixed-sex marriage. So it appears that the argument from the conservative position is reducible to the irreducible fact of the sex of the couple — the sex difference must be present for a sexual relationship to be capable of being moral, so that even if a same-sex couple possesses all of the other moral values, the lack of sex-difference still renders the relationship immoral.
What this must mean, logically, is that there is some character or quality inherent in the sex-difference that is morally determinative in and of itself, viewed apart from any other aspect. There are two such qualities often advanced as premises:
- that the purpose of sexuality is procreation, and only heterosexual sex is capable of it;
- that heterosexual sex represents a joining of two distinct complementaries
Tobias Haller BSG
Update: The discussion continues with Pro-Creation.
Further Update: This post and those that follow, expanded and supplemented with much additional material, now form part of Reasonable and Holy, published by Seabury Books and available now on order from Church Publishing Incorporated.