Thank you, David, for your reply. Little these days surprises me, though some things in our culture do alarm me, as they do also you; and I am grateful for the way in which you have translated your alarm into positive action over these many years. Your response, however, surprises me a little, as it seems to miss the main point of my posting, and perhaps the secondary and tertiary points as well. Let me try again.
I have in fact made no argument about the phenomenon that seems most to matter to you, viz., that people of same-sex inclination often have a sense of discovering this in themselves rather than of choosing it. You think this fact laden with world-changing, or moral universe-changing, implications—analogous, apparently, to the collapse of the Ptolemaic cosmology or of the Roman Empire, or some other frightening and rage-inducing event. I do not. I think it both quite predictable, on the one hand, and highly ambiguous, on the other; like other facts, it requires thoughtful interpretation.
In any case, it has to be said that people of homosexual inclination are not united, and never have been, either on the question as to whether that inclination amounts to a solid “identity” or on the question as to whether it is fixed by nature without reference to nurture. That a goodly number of “gay” people presently affirm both these things may be granted; but, even were they all of one mind, that could hardly be regarded as decisive in any scientific or philosophic attempt to get at the truth of the matter. Indeed, it is not allowed much weight even by some who share their determination to change our laws and languages and cultural attitudes to accommodate “diverse forms of sexual expression.”
Why? Because the “hard-wired” claim only gets us so far. It still implies that there is such a thing as nature, and that nature matters. That may sit well with you, David, but there are very influential factions today who object to that implication. They wish us to go further, much further, in the direction of accommodation than any appeal to fixed natures could allow. They do not believe in hard-wiring; or, if they do, they think it something there simply as a challenge to overcome.
Your new position is more difficult, I fear, than you have yet realized (or perhaps you are realizing it, to judge from the temperature of your response).
Let’s look back on the territory you first inhabited. There marriage is understood as a disciplinary institution tied to basic human goods and hence to nature. Those goods are both unitive and procreative; and perhaps the chief natural good of marriage, as a disciplinary institution involving chastity and faithfulness, is the good it does to children, and so to society as a whole, by nurturing the fruit of procreation under the protective care of fathers as well as mothers. I can’t help but recall here that I first met you fourteen years ago at a McGill conference called (if memory serves) “The Forgotten Father.”
But now you reside in the territory where same-sex marriage is advanced. Let’s set aside for the moment the question as to whether in nature there really is or can be such a thing. Let’s just consider the fact that “marriage” here is not so much a disciplinary institution—certainly not one tied to procreation—as a celebratory institution, useful more for symbolic than for practical purposes. (I don’t say, by the way, that there would be no practical benefits were people in same-sex relationships to confine themselves for life to a single partner. There would indeed be benefits; but I leave it to you to carry that argument, if you can. You’ve more expertise and experience than I, and you’re no longer impeded by false and slanderous charges of something akin to racism, arising from alleged opposition to soi-disant “gay people.” That you yourself now feel free to level such charges is to your shame.) On this territory, the territory of same-sex marriage, the divorce of the unitive and the procreative has been finalized. And in consequence you will need to rethink your entire project.
I have no doubt that you still fancy that there is such a thing as dual citizenship. But there isn’t. For same-sex marriage seals the divorce between the unitive and the procreative, and the project you have been engaged in hitherto can’t survive that divorce. In a culture that is not characterized by fatherlessness and the whole array of negative phenomena with which fatherlessness is inextricably bound up, the unitive and the procreative cleave together. It is for the sake of that cleaving that the whole idea of chastity, or “virtue in sex” (Anscombe), exists. And where that cleaving is repudiated—the repudiation, of course, began more than a century ago—there can be neither virtue in sex nor committed fatherhood. Which is to say, there cannot be human flourishing.
In the dispute between these territories it is not enough to appeal to nature or to what we perceive to be natural. It is necessary to offer an account of human flourishing, and of nature in her strengths and weaknesses, that is coherent and compelling. That is a daunting task, to be sure, and one which can’t be undertaken without speaking to the relation between desires, reasons, choices and actions; even to body/soul relations and to what one thinks a human being is for.
Far be it from me, however, to speak for you! What I am trying to do, David, is to prompt you to speak for yourself. And if I may say so, “Huh?” was not a very auspicious beginning. I think you can do better.