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Seattle Catholic
A Journal of Catholic News and Views
20 Jul 2004

Arguments Against Homosexual Unions

by J. D. Palmer

Baglione, Giovanni, 'Sacred and Profane Love' (1602), Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome


The battle lines over homosexual marriage are now drawn in many "first world" nations. In the United States, proponents of homosexual unions have demonstrated both their political acumen and tenacity: the early victories have gone to them. A flurry of ad hoc homosexual civil unions in New York, California served as a prelude to outright legal sanction in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, a proposed federal amendment, defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman, failed to garner support in the Senate.

Homosexual union proponents also deserve credit for their mastery of populist sophisms. They, by turns, appeal to the notion of personal liberty, scold the government for unwarranted intrusion, and remind the populace that hospital visitation procedures and inheritance laws can be decidedly unsympathetic.1 Let us not overlook, however, what is really at stake in this political game. The issue of homosexual "marriage" is about more than seven grooms for seven brothers, or Adam and Steve. Too, it is about more than rendering insolvent the popular concept of marriage. Rationality itself is in danger.

This was strikingly apparent in New York City where council members recently enacted legislation requiring companies who contract with the city to offer domestic partner benefits to their employees. Mayor Michael Bloomberg had rightly argued that

city contracting process should not be used to promote social issues.

"The city has an obligation to get the best services for its citizens at the lowest price," said Bloomberg, a Republican.2

The Mayor's argument was one of practicality but, as such, not a bad one. He is at least willing to consider the greater good.

The resistance offered by others has been rather less impressive. I had hoped for more from political conservatives, for example, but their objections have generally been some variation of the argument from custom—i.e. They can/can't have domestic partner benefits but/and they can't have marriage also/either. Marriage is between a man and a woman and that's the way its been done.—or (an improvement) an argument from Scripture—God made things a certain way. He made the first couple man and women. God destroyed Sodom, and St. Paul called homosexual passion a sin. Their merits or demerits aside, I think that both arguments are too vulnerable to sophistical attack. Against the former, it may be argued that customs change. Where once there was a general rejection of contraceptive practices, now there is a general acceptance. As Jonathan Rauch, author of a new book on this topic, observes:

Most Americans today are reluctant to smuggle a sectarian theology into law; and, of course, where heterosexuals are concerned, they long ago relinquished any idea that non-procreative sex is wicked. They decided instead...[that these acts]...can bring not only pleasure but heightened intimacy, and they partook vigorously. They stopped crusading against contraception as a threat to marriage (if they ever had) and began seeing it as virtually a marital necessity...[T]he few people who take the view that marriage is worth having only if it has the possibility of procreative-type sex, and not otherwise, are in effect saying that homosexuals are to be the unwilling last subjects of canon law. Thanks, but no thanks.3

As for the argument from Scripture, it is difficult to found a moral position upon the evidence of Adam and Eve, or the destruction of Sodom, when a consensus exists among rabbis and Catholic and Protestant theologians that the events of the Old Testament are to be viewed as nothing more than inspiring and unifying myths and allegories—as being no different from the Homeric stories. The imperative to "be fruitful", for example, can be dismissed as so much poetic language, or as a phrase inserted to encourage population growth among the Israelites, a tribe living at a time and in a region where the potential size of one's army counted for a lot. St. Paul's denunciation, on the other hand, can be weighed against Christ's perceived silence on the issue.

A clever person could even avoid contesting the sinfulness of homosexual activity altogether and confine his advocacy to pointing out that our pluralist, non-sectarian society allows many things viewed as sinful by certain segments of the population, e.g. gambling. As Rauch said, "We are talking...about whether same sex marriage should be legal, not about what type of sex is best in God's eyes." 4

From there, the argument of "live-and-let-live" usually morphs into one of equal treatment/opportunity under the law. This line of reasoning inevitably produces comparisons between the "gay rights" movement and the civil rights struggles of the 60s. Needless to say, such a comparison does not engender sympathy from blacks.5

Similarly, proponents will also invoke the notion of "the pursuit of happiness." Justice Thomas had something like this on his mind when, in the Supreme Court's Lawrence vs. Texas decision, he wrote

I join JUSTICE SCALIA's dissenting opinion. I write separately to note that the law before the Court today [a Texas anti-sodomy law] "is . . . uncommonly silly." Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U. S. 479, 527 (1965) (Stewart, J., dissenting). If I were a member of the Texas Legislature, I would vote to repeal it. Punishing someone for expressing his sexual preference through noncommercial consensual conduct with another adult does not appear to be a worthy way to expend valuable law enforcement resources.


To defeat such arguments, we must identify and offer a critique of their principles. Senator Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), for example, correctly stated

...if you make the case that if you can do whatever you want to do, as long as it's in the privacy of your own home, this "right to privacy," then why be surprised that people are doing things that are deviant within their own home? If you say, there is no deviant as long as it's private, as long as it's consensual, then don't be surprised what you get. You're going to get a lot of things that you're sending signals that as long as you do it privately and consensually, we don't really care what you do. And that leads to a culture that is not one that is nurturing and necessarily healthy. I would make the argument in areas where you have that as an accepted lifestyle, don't be surprised that you get more of it. ...We have laws in states, like the one at the Supreme Court right now, that has sodomy laws and they were there for a purpose. Because, again, I would argue, they undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family. And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does. It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn't exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution, this right that was created, it was created in Griswold-Griswold was the contraceptive case—and abortion. And now we're just extending it out. And the further you extend it out, the more you — this freedom actually intervenes and affects the family.6

Indeed, once Justice Thomas' principle—that consent among adults to a noncommercial activity overrides the interests of the state—is exposed and teased, it is seen to be fraught with grave consequences and numerous absurdities.

Secondly, we must insist that the common good is the true end of all political activity, not private indulgence. An appreciation of the political theories of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas will keep us from wavering on this topic. We may have to part company with many conservatives on this issue, but it is for the best. For, if we are seduced by the notion of the primacy of the individual and his needs, we will fall into the sentiment trap of the homosexual marriage advocates: Shouldn't I be able to love the person I chose to love? Senator Lincoln Chafee's comments to his Republican colleagues concerning the marriage amendment are indicative of this mindset: "To be seen as the party that's coming between two people that love each other doing what they want to me that's going to be seen as a liability, politically." 7

To his credit, Rauch, does appeal to the common good when he writes

...young, unmarried men are three times more likely than are comparable married men to commit murder, and they are also more likely to rob and rape. To worsen the problem by an order of magnitude, make these young men not only unmarried but unmarriageable.8

His argument, however, is an example of equivocation. There is no evidence to suggest that a homosexual union provides the same sort of fulfillment and contentment found in marriage. In fact, homosexual pairings are notoriously volatile. The result should not go unrecognised: when "homosexual marriage" proponents are forced to argue on our turf, so to speak, they cannot produce convincing arguments.

The same is true if we argue from the natural order and biological purpose. Liberals are proficient at inventing pro-environmental metaphors that allude to a natural order, e.g. that of a "chain" or of a "balance".9 They also yammer about not "upsetting" nature, of "respecting" and "living in harmony" with it, and of the importance of using products that are 100% natural. So far, so good. As Christians—as rational beings, more generally—we should share their concerns about the gratuitous spoilage of nature, the presence of toxins in food and water, the frivolous consumption of resources, so-called "Frankenstein foods", etc. However, let us ask liberals to apply their principle consistently. We must not allow them any credibility until they stand with us against abortion, or until they clean out their medicine cabinets of mind- or body-altering pharmaceuticals that are not being used to treat a medical condition.

We must turn to Aristotle and St. Thomas for a thorough discussion of this topic. For them, everything has an end or purpose. As St. Thomas said:

...there are three principles of nature: matter, form, and privation. But generation [coming to be] requires more than these. Whatever exists potentially cannot make itself exist actually. The bronze potentially a statue cannot cause itself to be a statue; an agent is needed to bring the form of the statue from potentiality to actuality...In addition to matter and form, therefore, there must be a principle that acts...And since, as Aristotle comments in Metaphysics II (2; 994b 15), nothing acts without some aim, there has to be a fourth thing, namely the aim of the agent; and this is called the end.10

An eyeball, for example, is not merely an organ of a certain shape or colour, but rather an organ arising from the body's need to see things.

For the purpose of this essay, it is similarly evident that certain organs have an undeniable compatibility with those of someone of the opposite gender. Their finality is found in pairing, just as the eye's is found in looking at things. To transgress, e.g. to try to use the eye to pick up a piece of paper, is to insult and reject the intention of the natural order.

Someone may object that St. Thomas condones celibacy and fasting, which also thwart the purpose of the body. However, it is one thing to suppress a bodily urge, and another to misuse it. If man were an appetitive creature it would be correct to say that celibacy or fasting are contrary to human nature, but man is a rational animal and, as such, the use of his rationality—e.g. avoiding food to achieve a spiritual good/the mortification of the body—is not in conflict with his nature.11

Others may object that my principle—that the natural order must be observed—implies that non-procreative sex is prohibited. Notice how Rauch, in the first quote, sneaks this sloppy characterisation of the opposing position into his analysis. In referring to heterosexuals, he speaks first of "non-proceative sex," and, as if ashamed, later amends himself to "procreative-type sex" (emphasis added). Regardless, no one should suppose that, in choosing not to abuse the sex organs, heterosexuals are bound to use them only when it is possible to achieve pregnancy. If this were the intention of the natural order, both the ovulation cycle (with its periods of infertility) and the fertility-stifling effect of breast-feeding would be superfluous.12

Still others might insist that, in order to be consistent, I should not only oppose abortion but all medical procedures, in so far as they represent a contravention of the processes of nature. However, a distinction must be made between operations that are corrective and those which are not. Pregnancy is not a something for which a cure is needed. Cancer, on the other hand is the true contravention of nature. It inhibits the proper function of the body. Therefore, it is one thing to talk of removing a baby from the womb and another to speak of cutting out a diseased organ.


In the foregoing, I have by no means exhausted this topic, but only examined the key arguments. As I noted above, the argument of last resort for homosexual "marriage" proponents is some variation of this: I love so-and-so, therefore I should be allowed to marry him, just as heterosexuals are allowed to marry (and have children with) the ones they love. An answer is forthcoming if we contest the terms of the debate. We are under no obligation to grant that the affection which a man may feel toward another man—that which he calls "love"—is synonymous with that which he is capable of manifesting toward a woman, or that it is even love. For one, many people say they love each other, but the reality is often at odds with the profession. Absolute conviction is not the same as absolute truth. Secondly (and in answer to those who argue from the notion of equal protection/opportunity under the law), a society is under no obligation to give legal recognition to what is essentially a recreational pursuit. The law regulates relations between a man and a woman because such unions, since they produce children, are tied to the good of the nation. Homosexual relationships, on the other hand, are sterile and, in this regard, there is no reason for the civil authorities to take an interest in them. However, in so far as homosexual relationships are especially detrimental to both physical and mental health, I would argue that there is sufficient reason for the law to prohibit this behaviour. Third, and most obviously, a person cannot possibly be said to express love for another by leading him into mortal sin.

In conclusion, I hope that the challenges advanced by our opponents will instill in us, as we repulse them, a greater respect for marriage. It is worth noting that an increasing number of homosexuals see marriage as an opportunity for their relationships to grow and thrive. The heterosexual population, meanwhile, is spending its time thinking up excuses to avoid this hallowed vow, and employing legions of divorce attorneys to sabotage it.


The author writes from New York. Mr. Palmer holds degrees from St. Mary's College and The Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, both in California.

1 As J. Pohle wrote, in his article on "Religious Toleration" (old Catholic Encyclopedia): "for it is notorious that clever sophistry coated with seductive language may render even gross errors of faith palatable to a guileless and innocent heart."
2 "NYC Passes Domestic Partner Benefits Bill", The Associated Press, May 6, 2004.
3 Jonathan Rauch, Gay Marriage (New York: Times Books, 2004), p.119.
4 ibid, p.118.
5 For example: " 'Gays have never gone through slavery nor been put down and abused like blacks,' said Bishop Frank Stewart of the Zoe Christian Fellowship, a group of 21 churches in Southern California. 'It's an insult to use that parallel.' " [Don Latin, "Black clergy gathering to fight gay matrimony", San Francisco Chronicle, May 15, 2004, online edition]
6 "Excerpt from Santorum interview", AP, April 7, 2004 (posted at
7 Mary Dalrymple, "Senate to Debate Marriage Amendment", AP, July 9, 2004 (posted online at Yahoo news).
8 Rauch, p.129.
9 As Bourke noted: "Oddly, most evolutionary theories introduce some surreptitious notions of purpose." [Vernon J. Bourke, ""Natural Law, Thomism-and Professor Nielsen," Natural Law Forum, V, 1960.]
10 St. Thomas Aquinas, "On the Principles of Nature" in Mary T. Clark, An Aquinas Reader (New York: Fordham University Press, 2000), p.48.
11 Cf. Aquinas, Summa Theologica,
12 Perhaps I am giving Rauch too much credit but I detect a whiff of Louis Dupre in his argument. The latter had concluded that since a woman was periodically infertile then contraception was not a violation of the natural order. He overlooked the notion of intention and clumsily built his case on a superficial cause-effect relation. First, in the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas cautions against confusing the definition and use of marriage:

That which has a place in the definition of a thing is most essential thereto. Now inseparability, which pertains to sacrament, is placed in the definition of marriage (44, 3), while offspring and fidelity are not. Therefore among the other goods sacrament is the most essential to matrimony...[F]idelity and offspring can be considered in two ways. First, in themselves, and thus they regard the use of matrimony in begetting children and observing the marriage compact; while inseparability, which is denoted by sacrament, regards the very sacrament considered in itself, since from the very fact that by the marriage compact man and wife give to one another power the one over the other in perpetuity, it follows that they cannot be put asunder. Hence there is no matrimony without inseparability, whereas there is matrimony without fidelity and offspring, because the existence of a thing does not depend on its use; and in this sense sacrament is more essential to matrimony than fidelity and offspring. Secondly, fidelity and offspring may be considered as in their principles, so that offspring denote the intention of having children, and fidelity the duty of remaining faithful, and there can be no matrimony without these also, since they are caused in matrimony by the marriage compact itself, so that if anything contrary to these were expressed in the consent which makes a marriage, the marriage would be invalid...The end as regards the intention stands first in a thing, but as regards the attainment it stands last. It is the same with offspring among the marriage goods; wherefore in a way it is the most important and in another way it is not." [Supplement, 49.3]

In this passage, St. Thomas makes clear that marriage is, in its essence, indissoluble. The intention to have children is necessary for the valid contracting of marriage, but a subsequent absence of children does not invalidate it. Otherwise, St. Thomas notes, we would be forced to say that the marriage of the Blessed Mother and St. Joesph was a sham:

Marriage or wedlock is said to be true by reason of its attaining its perfection. Now perfection of anything is twofold; first, and second. The first perfection of a thing consists in its very form, from which it receives its species; while the second perfection of a thing consists in its operation, by which in some way a thing attains its end. Now the form of matrimony consists in a certain inseparable union of souls, by which husband and wife are pledged by a bond of mutual affection that cannot be sundered. And the end of matrimony is the begetting and upbringing of children: the first of which is attained by conjugal intercourse; the second by the other duties of husband and wife, by which they help one another in rearing their offspring. [3.29.2]

Similarly, the marriage act also has two perfections. Lechery is opposed to the perfection of form (cf., 11), while contraception and abortion are opposed to the perfection of end. The non-attainment of conception, therefore, does not render a marriage act unworthy, providing there is no attempt to frustrate the procreative intention. As St. Thomas said, the act of rendering the marriage debt is in itself meritorious.[Supplement, 41.4, & cf. 64.1]
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