A Proposal of Strategy in the Battle over Marriage

There is prudence in not trying to fight along the lines of battle as one wishes they were drawn or thinks they should be drawn, but rather as they are in fact drawn. Otherwise, one stands to lose the battle, as one’s strategy ceases to be informed by the actual state of things.

This goes for the intellectual and cultural battle over the nature of marriage and the preservation of its integrity. While we may try to fight this battle from the standpoint of the natural teleology of marriage originally understood as the begetting and raising of children, for all practical purposes it seems that in many important ways ground here has for now been lost. For a whole slew of reasons – i.e. an assumed unsound understanding of the human body and its place in the existence of the human being, deep mistakes about the end of man, a lack of a proper and deep understanding of nature in light of formal and final causes active intrinsically within it, a pervasive forgetting of moral good and evil as being the rational and free ordering or disordering of human life and things in face of the finality of man and nature – people generally are practically unable to see that the intrinsic ordering of sexuality is first and foremost an ordering to offspring, and that any action contrary to this ordering is bad. We may desperately wish to fight the battle on this hill, as absolutely considered it is the best and most reasonable hill on which to fight it; but for all practical purposes we have lost the hill.

Rather, marriage is now seen as the enshrinement and (something like) a making firm of the love of two human beings as pure persons or pure subjects and not as human beings considered in their totality, and a celebration of this enshrinement and making firm. In light of this, there seem to be two purposes why many still bother with marriage, given the sort of sexual license that is now taken as normal and good. As many have pointed out before, and as seems clear enough, one reason is that marriage serves as a kind of validation of what the parties take (or wish to be) a true expression of their love by means of their sexuality. (Even if it is denied, as Roger Scruton has pointed out in his book Sexual Desire, this is already an admission that the body in a certain sense is the one loved, as the lover takes himself to reach a union, or seek a union, with the beloved through bodily, sexual engagement, and vice versa; but never mind this for now.) Second, marriage is taken by most concerned to serve as a means of ensuring that, through making it firm and enshrining it, the love those parties getting married have for each other is protected, preserved.

I would aver that the latter reason is probably operative in the minds of at least some of those of homosexual inclination as well as people who find themselves blessed with a properly ordered sexuality. It does not seem prima facie impossible that two homosexually inclined persons may have a love for each other, something of a willing of each other’s good, even if they are mistaken about what counts as an ordered expression of this love. Looking from the outside, and in a way that is free from all that colors and shapes a sexuality bent toward homosexual activity and the psychology and emotions of the one whose sexuality it is, this does not seem so: if one considers with a clear mind what sodomy proper involves, it is disgusting; and mutual masturbation, at best, is perversely childish. But there is much that can happen to one that prevents him from seeing what is obvious to others, and what is obvious in itself; people can act toward another at junctures in his life when he is especially vulnerable in such a way that from that he takes what are in fact perversions to be that through which love is expressed and experienced. In any event, Plato seems to have thought that there can be love between homosexually inclined persons even when its expression is sexual (although even he admitted that this should be transcended, finally – see his Phaedrus); and the fact that one can make errors in the specification of the principles of practical reason in such a way as not to be fully culpable, and considering the nature of sexuality as in part an ordering to union with another on account of the actual or potential, or merely apparent, good found there, seems to suggest that Plato had a point, and that what is stated above can obtain.

So, let’s take those homosexually inclined who wish to be married with another such as they at their word; let’s assume that there is indeed love there that they wish to see protected, preserved. Given that marriage serves at the same time as a validation of a sexual expression of the love of the parties getting married as a legitimate expression of this love, we can ask: Is homosexual activity in harmony with and supportive of true love, or does it hinder and damage, even destroy, true love? That is, as whatever else it is love is a willing of the good of the beloved, is homosexual activity assist or hinder the realization of the beloved’s good? And if homosexual activity is opposed to love, the good of the one loved, can such a relationship be enshrined and made firm if one really loves the one whom he would wish to marry?  All accept that love is in fact love, and that it is a good worth preserving. Let’s take the battle there.

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2 thoughts on “A Proposal of Strategy in the Battle over Marriage

  1. I disagree with the beginning of your argument: “There is prudence in not trying to fight along the lines of battle as one wishes they were drawn or thinks they should be drawn, but rather as they are in fact drawn.” It is true that argument and debate should always begin with truths that are held in common, but I think the surest way to lose is actually to concede too much “for the sake of argument.” As a homosexual playwright once put it: “I don’t think we should give up our values to find common ground. Then it’s not common ground, it’s their ground and we’re just standing on it.” On the contrary, I think that what we have to do is really go back to first principles. I think this is especially true in the case of marriage, which is so deeply rooted in human nature. What we have to do is question the romantic, Hollywood ideal of marriage as merely the enshrinement of love, point out its inconsistencies (why does “romantic” love need such protection, whereas friendship does not etc.), and try to lead people back to the truth about marriage as naturally ordered to the procreation and education of children, a truth which is really inscribed in their hearts.

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    1. Thanks for your response, Pater Edmund!

      What I mentioned at the very beginning of my piece is simply a principle of sound tactics that must figure into one’s strategizing. It just means that one must adapt to the situation as it is, rather than carrying on as if the situation were different than it is. This does not entail conceding ground where ground has not been conceded or where ground need not be conceded; it does not entail giving up one’s principles and his principles of engagement; and it does not entail giving up the principle objectives of one’s efforts: Give up those, and you are not adapting at all. Surely then, you must have meant to criticize my application of the principle to the marriage debate, and to point out that I was wrong as to what ground had already been lost, yes?

      If so, I would admit that you have a point: Ground I take to have been lost is, in many ways, still and always will be ours. The order of being and love is what it is; we are what we are; and the human heart always remains essentially itself: The moral law is in fact written indelibly on the human heart, and so the deepest of nature and of sexuality need only be recollected. So, yes, I admit that my treatment was in some ways too extreme; we can’t give up arguing for the essential ordering of marriage and sexuality to procreation, and the latter to the prosecution of one’s duties to his children, with the former’s activity necessitating marriage for it to be good, given that to which it is ordered. It can be heard; and many will hear it.

      Attempting to lead people directly to see the nature of marriage, and the ordering of love and sexuality in light of the first principles of practical and speculative reason seems, however, often enough to be futile. People these days either cannot, or just do not want to, see things directly in the light of first principles – not explicitly, anyway – and that for any number of reasons. So, it seems we have to take indirect routes that would, ultimately, lead to this anyway: The approach I outlined is, I think, such a way: Bring people first to see that the good they have found and hold dear will be destroyed by having the very thing they take to be a safe-guard of that good; from there, once they see that, they can be brought to see the why of it all.

      So, if my thought has been one sided – as I admit – I still do not see how the approach I have outlined would not be a good one, at least with some people and in some quarters. (I would say many people and in many quarters, but that we can debate.)

      What do you think?

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