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February 22, 2004

On Marriage: The Incremental Morality of Sexual Love

There is none. To the extent my Christianity informs me, there is nothing more particularly sanctified about generosity in sexual gratification of a partner. If this were true, then the whores would be beatified, and sluts would be saints. The way I look at this, it limits the legitimate aegis of the Church's responsiblity for extramarital sex. Sex itself is not moral currency. Nothing depends upon the act itself, rather it is the context in which the act is performed which gives sex meaning (which may or may not be magnified by the degree of sexual quality). While there may be some sexual rites which offer purification in some religions, there are none in Christianity.

Therefore sexual gratification is a purely personal matter of expression, and as such should not be protected nor proscribed except to the extent to which it is a 'gateway' act to sin. But that would put the Church in the position of encouraging the right sort of sex in order that it be a gateway to acts of charity. Non-starter. Sex itself has no sacraments. So I don't buy into arguments that there is something special about gay sex which requires the protection of marriage. I don't buy it for het sex either. American Christianity has a big hole in it because it doesn't ritualize sex. It doesn't say what good sex is, or what holy sex might look or feel like. All it has is Marriage and a Puritan proscription against pre-marital sex, which is hardly a thick enough ethos for people to respect or follow with any detail. There is a difference between blessing the union and blessing the sex. This, ironically, is where I think those would would argue for a change in the Order of Matrimony have a case. I think it is a weak case, but a legitimate one. Sex is not the church's business; one's salvation does not depend on the manner in which you get your rocks off, but with the quality of love you give and receive.

But here's the kicker. I'm never going to ask to marry another man. But I could love a man as much has his gay sexual partner could. Simply think of that man as my brother. What is so special about the love of those gays who would marry that I do not have for my own brother? What indeed is so transcendent of gay love which ought to be recognized as a sacrament which is more transendant than that love of a mother to her son, or a daughter to her father, or between sisters? Nothing.

Sex does not make love more moral.

Posted by mbowen at February 22, 2004 10:51 PM

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Cobb, the problem here is from the rights that marriage provides to unrelated people who love each other.

A mother who loves her son can see him in the hospital without problem.

A brother who loves his sister could take advantage of the medical and family leave acts.

A husband who loves his foreign wife can bring her to this country under immigration law.

Same-Sex couples in similar circumstances can't do that no matter how much love they've got.

Posted by: Jason at February 23, 2004 10:31 AM


maybe I should've waited until you finished your arguments.

Now I know where you were going now that I've seen where you went.

Or something like that.

Posted by: Jason at February 23, 2004 05:48 PM

If you're willing to question the special nature of our current conception of romantic/sexual/monogamous love (comparing or contrasting it to the love of friendship or the love of family members), you're allowing yourself to get into some really murky territory. The fact that we privilege that kind of love over others is indeed arbitrary and not particularly logical. (It does have to be all three of the things I listed--we don't reserve the same respect for "open" marriage, a married couple in love who are completely abstinent would be viewed as sick, and two people in a committed sexual relationship without romantic love would similarly be frowned upon.) I mean, technically you could say that I should be able to, for example, legally guarantee my best friend the ability to see me in the hospital, and that may be true or not, but either way it's getting away from more crucial questions. The point is that, given the fact that we privilege certain kinds of relationships as worth granting legal privilege to and so forth, that just because someone chooses to pursue that sort of relationship with a person of a certain gender should not preclude them from having the same rights and privileges as others. We can get into questioning whether the legitimacy granted to such relationships is right or helpful, but before we debate that I think the more central question is whether or not there is a reason why, in the context of that legitimacy, some should be able to claim it while others cannot, although their relationship is exactly the same with the sole exception of the gender of the participants.

Posted by: susan at February 24, 2004 12:52 PM

Gay partnerships are not exactly the same with the sole exception of the gender of the participants. That's part of my point. (I need to continue the rest of this series including 'Butt Buddies'). What make marriage different is the chance of pregnancy and the responsibility implied.

I can't say how much of gay male culture is bathhouses and cruising, but I know for a fact that part of its appeal is the lack of commitment required. Some real fraction of gay sex has everything to do with getting your freak on without worrying about consequences, and this is why the AIDS epidemic hit hard not only at they health of gays but of much of the gay lifestyle. Consequences and responsibilities are what commitment to Marriage is all about, that is why it is a public declaration of vows and why there is so much loaded symbolism attached to weddings.

What I'm asking in particular here is whether or not gay sex is immoral because het sex via marriage is 'blessed'. But I am saying that the blessing is on the union of husband and wife with specific regard to the probability of children, not the sex itself. The implication is that gay couples need no such blessing and asking for such is in controvention to what makes sense to me about gay culture. Why do gays *want* to get married? Because it's a civil rights issue, not because they need or desire the blessing of society. This is why this is a political battle and not one at Church.

Posted by: Cobb at February 24, 2004 01:15 PM

The fact that there are promiscuous gays doesn't mean that there aren't also gays who have committed, monogamous relationships. I think it's telling that you keep talking about gay men almost exclusively--though, or course, many lesbians also want the right to marry.

It may be that in a religious context, the fulfillment of marriage is procreation. But childless marriages are common, and unmarried couples can decide to parent (though depending on the state, the law might consider them "married" whether they want it to or not).

I don't think it's true to say that "part of the appeal" of "gay male culture" is the "lack of commitment required". If people decided to be gay so they wouldn't have to commit to get laid, a lot of my straight male friends would turn gay. There are enough unappealling things about being gay (the worst being discrimination under the law and having to live in fear of prejudice and violence) that I don't think anyone would choose it for such reasons.

Posted by: susan at February 26, 2004 07:41 AM

I speak about gay men because a number of my close male friends are gay, so I can speak with some personal experience mixed in. I don't know what it is about me and lesbians, not many have outed themselves to me. That's neither here, nor there nor 'telling'.

One of the pieces I didn't finish writing or publish was what I perceive as the effect of contraception on modern sexuality. I'll get around to it anyway, but the gist of it is this: If it weren't for contraception, more men would be engaged in homosexual acts for the freedom and lack of commitment required, and that style of homosexuality would be more broadly accepted in conservative society as it protects the honor of women. Know that you are hearing this from someone who attended an all-boys Catholic highschool - the kind of place that generates 'men of honor'; I know this corner of society. I think a lot of your straight male friends would go bi, if contraception didn't exist.

All in all I don't want to go too deeply into the relative morality of sexual choices because I only see it tangential to the primary argument against Same Sex Marriage.

Posted by: Cobb at February 28, 2004 02:03 PM