This essay unfortunately has a number of plagiarized passages that were only discovered after First Things had translated and published it. Please see my explanation and apology for details. —R. R. Reno
A great many of our fellow citizens see demands for homosexual marriage as just one more step in the democratic struggle against injustice and discrimination, a continuation of the fight against racism. It is in the name of equality, of open-mindedness, of being progressive and right-thinking that we are asked to accept this challenge to the foundations of our society. It seems, moreover, on the basis of public opinion polls, that this challenge is already accepted by a majority of our fellow citizens and thus the question of its establishment as a matter of law has not provoked a debate worthy of the momentous issues at stake.
I believe, on the contrary, that it is a matter of the greatest importance to make clear the true implications of the negation of sexual difference and to debate publicly what is at stake rather than falling back on principles, such as equality, that flatter those who set themselves up as their standard bearers, even though the way these principles are invoked to justify the homosexual-marriage agenda does not stand up to critical scrutiny. This subject deserves better than the court of political correctness, whose authority, advocates of homosexual marriage hope, will prevail until the law is voted on—a tribunal they defend by means of disqualifying caricatures against anyone who dares to question their project and their motives.
I speak as a rabbi, and more particularly as the Chief Rabbi of France. I am not the spokesman of a group of individuals but the voice of French Judaism in its religious dimension. Like other rabbis, I am a reader, a teacher, and a commentator on texts of Jewish wisdom that are part of a great tradition of dialogue, of dialectics, of hermeneutics—in a word, of pluralism. I have always understood myself as duty-bound to intellectual engagement in the great choices of history and first of all in the great choices faced by my country. Thus I am necessarily concerned by the proposed legalization of homosexual marriage, as well as by plans to change our laws so as to accommodate homosexual parenting and adoption. This is why I reject the stance of a minority of religious leaders who withdraw from the debate on the grounds that we have the possibility of preserving marriage as a religious institution distinct from civil marriage. There is nothing to admire in such withdrawal when it serves the interest of those who avoid debates.
My choice to speak up is the studied expression of the solidarity that binds me to the national community of which I am a part. It also reflects my sense of responsibility to uphold the universal principles that France has forged and defended over the centuries, principles on which the Republic was founded and without which it cannot endure. If non-Jews choose to hear me out, they will receive what I say in light of their own personal judgment, their own system of values, and their own identity as religious, agnostic, or atheist. It will be up to them to recognize any wisdom or moral value in what I say.
It will surprise no one that my worldview is guided by the Bible and by the rabbinic commentaries. On the key subjects of sexuality and reproduction, it is based on the complementarity between man and woman. In this essay, I have referred only to the Book of Genesis and thus have chosen not to mention the prohibitions against homosexuality included in Leviticus, for it seems to me that what is at stake now is not homosexuality, which is a fact, a reality, whatever my view of it as a rabbi might be. What is at stake is the risk of irreversibly scrambling genealogies, as well as legal and social statuses (the child-as-subject becoming child-as-object) and identities—a confusion that would be harmful to society as a whole and that would lose sight of the general interest in seeking the advantage of a tiny minority.
Let me add that my biblical vision of the world, in which justice is a central principle, leads me naturally to condemn and to fight strongly against the physical and verbal attacks of which homosexual persons are victims, in the same way that I strongly condemn and fight against racist and anti-Semitic speeches and deeds.
Rabbi Bernheim offers an analysis of arguments advanced by those who favor a law establishing homosexual marriage, first giving the argument that we hear for it and then what we often neglect to say.
Homosexual marriage in the name of equality?
What we hear: “Homosexuals are victims of discrimination. They must have the right to marry, the same as heterosexuals.”
What we often neglect to say: From the fact that people love each other it does not follow necessarily that they have the right to be married, whether they be heterosexual or homosexual. For example, a man cannot marry a woman who is already married, even if they love each other. Likewise, a woman cannot be married to two men on the grounds that she loves both of them and that both want to be her husband. A father cannot marry his daughter, even if their love is uniquely paternal and filial.
Of course, we understand the wish of people who are in love that their love be recognized. Still, there are strict rules defining what kinds of unions can be recognized as marriages and what kinds cannot. Thus “marriage for everyone” is only a slogan, since after the authorization of homosexual marriage the law would maintain forms of inequality and discrimination that would continue to apply to those who love each other but to whom marriage is not available.
The argument for marriage for all conceals a split between two existing visions of marriage. According to one worldview, which I share with a great number of people, both believers and nonbelievers, marriage is not only the recognition of a loving attachment. It is the institution that articulates the union between man and woman as part of the succession of generations. It is the establishment of a family—that is, a social cell that creates a set of parent—child relations among its members. Beyond the common life of two individuals, it organizes the life of a community consisting of descendants and ancestors. So understood, marriage is a fundamental act in the construction and the stability of individuals as well as of society.
According to another worldview, marriage is an obsolete and rigid institution, the absurd legacy of a traditional and alienating society. Is it not paradoxical to hear those who share this worldview raising their voices in favor of homosexual marriage? Why do those who reject marriage and prefer free unions demonstrate alongside activists in favor of homosexual marriage?
Whichever worldview you hold, it is clear that what is going on behind the slogan of “marriage equality” is a substitution: An institution fraught with legal, cultural, and symbolic significance would be replaced by a de-sexed legal category, thus undermining the foundation of individuals and of the family. In the name of equality and the struggle against discrimination, should we suppress all references to sexual difference in relations between citizens and the state, beginning with the marriage ceremony and the family records that issue from this ceremony?
Homosexual marriage to protect the partner?
What we hear: “Many homosexuals find themselves in a precarious situation without legal protection after a death or a separation. Homosexual marriage will provide a remedy.”
What we often neglect to say: Marriage, or for that matter civil union, cannot create rights and obligations unless it is legally contracted. In other words, the authorization of homosexual marriage in France would not automatically guarantee the protection of all partners in all homosexual couples. The partners would still need to marry. This is equally true for heterosexual couples, many of whom choose to live together without marrying.
Many heterosexual couples choose civil unions (in French, the pacte civil de solidarité , or PACS) because they find this form of union in their interest, in particular the economic and legal parameters that define the material interests of the parties (housing, finances, social insurance, and so on). The gap between the two legal forms is limited. Even if certain provisions given automatically to the married are not given automatically to those in civil unions, they are nevertheless possible. Take the example of inheritance. A partner in a civil union can inherit under the same conditions as a spouse in a married couple, but his partner must have drawn up a will and designated him as the heir. In the case of PACS, as in the case of marriage, the partner’s inheritance is not subject to estate taxes.
A question does arise about the difference in compensatory payments when a separation causes a significant decline in income for one of the partners, though the partner can apply to a family law judge to divide joint property and redress grievances. I want to express my wish that technical solutions be found that would protect partners in civil unions at the same level as married spouses in the case of death or separation.
And I wish especially to emphasize that in the framework of civil unions already in place in France, there is no reason that our concern for protecting partners would cause us to put in question the institution of marriage in the radical way implied by the authorization of homosexual marriage.
Homosexual parenting in the name of love?
What we hear: “What is most important is love. A homosexual couple can give much love to a child, sometimes even more than a heterosexual couple.”
What we often neglect to say: To love a child is one thing; to love a child with a love that provides the necessary structure is another. There can be no doubt that homosexuals have the same capacity to love a child and to convey this love as do heterosexuals, but the role of parents extends beyond the love they feel for their children. To reduce the parental bond to its affective and educative aspects is to overlook the fact that the parent–child bond is a psychological vector of fundamental importance for the child’s sense of identity.
All the affection in the world will not suffice to produce the basic psychological structures that address the child’s need to know where he comes from. For the child establishes his own identity only by a process of differentiation, which presupposes that he knows whom he resembles. Thus he needs to know that he issues from the love and the union between a man, his father, and a woman, his mother, thanks to the sexual difference between them. Even adopted children know that they originate from the love and the desire of their parents, even when these are not their biological parents.
Father and mother represent a genealogy for the child. The child needs a clear and coherent genealogy in order to find his place as an individual. What has always and will always constitute our humanity is the capacity for language in a sexually differentiated body and as part of a genealogy. To identify a child’s parentage is not only to indicate who will raise the child, with whom he will have affective relations, and who will serve as his adults of reference. It is also, most important, to situate him in a generational chain. The chain guarantees each individual a place in the world in which he lives, for he knows where he came from.
Today we face the immense risk of irreversibly scrambling the chain of generations. Just as one cannot destroy the foundations of a house without the house collapsing, one cannot reject the foundations of our society without putting that society in danger.
“Homosexual parenting” is not parenting. The term itself was invented to mitigate the impossibility of homosexuals’ being parents. This new foundation, invented to promote the legal option of giving a child two “parents” of the same sex, is part of a fiction. Neither marriage nor parenthood has ever been based on the sexuality of individuals but rather on sex itself—that is, on the anthropological distinction between man and woman.
Thus, by abandoning the man–woman distinction in favor of the heterosexual–homosexual distinction, homosexual activists demand not parenthood (paternity or maternity) but the right to some new abstract parental status that reduces the role of the “parent” to the exercise of certain functions such as education. This overlooks the fact that, even in the case of adopted children, to be a parent is not only to educate the child but also to recreate lines of paternity and maternity.
We must therefore strongly reaffirm that to be a father or a mother is not merely an affective, cultural, or social function. The term “parent” is not neutral; it involves sexual difference. To accept the term “homosexual parenting” is to strip the word “parent” of its intrinsic bodily, biological, and fleshly meaning.
The Association of Gay and Lesbian Parents and Future Parents has proposed several substitutes for the term “parent” depending on the various functions to be performed: “stepparent,” “co-parent,” “homo-parent,” “mother to another,” “biological parent,” “legal parent,” “social parent,” “second parent,” etc. It seems unlikely that a child could manage naturally to find a stable meaning in relation to all such terminologies.
Homosexual parenting to give legal protection to the children who already have homosexual parents?
What we hear: “Homosexual parenting already exists as a matter of fact: Hundreds of thousands of children are being raised by homosexual couples. A legal framework must be created to protect these children.”
What we often neglect to say: The law already allows for the practical organization of recomposed families. Article 377 of the civil code of France lets parents delegate the exercise of parental authority to a third party by the decision of a family law judge. The mechanism was made more flexible in 2002 and now lets family law judges organize the sharing of parental authority as best suits the educational needs of the child and in accordance with parental wishes. The Supreme Court has already accepted the proposition that parental authority can be shared between a mother and her homosexual companion. The Court affirmed that the civil code “does not oppose a mother who has sole parental rights delegating all or part of the exercise of those rights to the woman with whom she lives in a stable and continuous union, as long as the circumstances require it and as such a measure is in conformity with the best interests of the child.”
There is no need to add to the law. French law already has the resources to address the needs of recomposed families, including “families” led by homosexual “parents.” Rather than adding to the legal code, wouldn’t it be better simply to make more people aware of the law, encouraging flexible solutions appropriate to individual situations?
Adoption to protect the right to a child?
What we hear: “Homosexuals are victims of discrimination. Just like heterosexuals, they must have the right to have children.”
What we often neglect to say: The right to a child does not exist. The desire to have a child in no way establishes the right to have a child, neither for heterosexuals nor for homosexuals. The wishes of an infertile heterosexual couple may not be honored if conditions are not optimal. For example, one may judge that a young and healthy couple is better suited to have a child than an older couple in fragile health. If a right to a child for homosexual couples were recognized, then all heterosexual couples denied children would feel themselves victims of discrimination in one way or another and would have grounds for claiming the same right.
There is no question of denying the suffering experienced by homosexual couples owing to their infertility—a suffering they share with heterosexual couples who cannot procreate. Such homosexual couples now demand that their suffering be recognized and alleviated. But no one has the right to be relieved of suffering at another’s expense, particularly when this is to the disadvantage of the weak and innocent. Their suffering is not a sufficient reason to give them the right to adopt.
The child is not an object of rights but a subject of rights. To speak of a “right to a child” instrumentalizes and objectifies the child. In the current debate, the child as a person, as a subject, is absent in the arguments of those who demand adoption for homosexual couples. This absence allows adults demanding rights to avoid asking about the rights of the child, what the child might need, and whether the child might prefer having a father and mother instead of two parents of the same sex. This is a case where our carelessness borders on cynicism. The right of the child is radically different from the right to the child. The former right is fundamental. It consists in particular in giving the child a family in which he will have the best chance to have the best life.
Adoption to help the children waiting to be adopted?
What we hear: “Thousands of children are waiting for adoption, and it would be better for them to be adopted by a homosexual couple than to remain in an orphanage.”
What we often neglect to say: The adopted child needs a father and mother even more than other children. At the deepest level, viscerally, he desires to find a place close to the basic cell that gave him life: a father and a mother. The adopted child is burdened by the simultaneous traumas of abandonment and of the family’s double identity. Even more than other children, this child needs a clear sense of a biological chain. This is because he or she has no sense of being the fruit of a loving union. He was not desired, he has no one’s eyes, and he cannot recognize himself in any member of his new family.
It is common for the adopted child to reject one of the two sexes. It is therefore important that the child be able to identify with two parents of different sexes: with his mother, because he needs to be reconciled with the woman; and with his father, in order to know the presence of a man, without whom his mother would not have been able to have a child.
Homosexual adoption thus risks aggravating the trauma of the abandoned child, for the generational chain would be doubly broken: first in the reality of the child’s abandonment, and second, symbolically, in the fact of the homosexuality of the adoptive parents. Do we have the right to ask a child who has already been wounded by his past to adapt to the affective situation of his parents, a situation that is very different at once from that of the great majority of other children and from what the child aspires to rediscover? Is it the adopted child’s responsibility to adapt to the affective life choices of his or her parents?
Adoption exists to provide the child a family, and not the reverse. Adoption is intended to address the child’s hardship. It is thus essential to clearly discern the intentions of every couple that submits a request for adoption: Is the child to be adopted for himself, or to satisfy the couple’s need? Does the couple want to remedy the child’s hardship, or does it seek a remedy for its own pain in not being able to have a child? To be sure, a couple would not adopt a child if it did not feel the need to do so. Nevertheless, we must be sure that the child’s interests come first, as this is stated in our family law: Every child has the right to a family—first of all to his own family, and, failing this, to a family suited to become his own by adoption. This is why it is necessary to remind ourselves that desiring a child is not sufficient grounds for adoption, and that apparently simple solutions based on compassion are not always good solutions: Much harm can be done in the name of the good.
New forms of homosexual parenting to create equality?
What we hear: “The meaning of parenting is evolving, particularly thanks to medically assisted procreation. The law must take account of such developments.”
What we often neglect to say: The lesbian and feminist association LesBienNées (The Well-Born) gives the four forms homosexual parenting would take following its legal authorization: “It can be the result of a family’s recomposition with a partner of the same sex following a heterosexual union. It can come about within a system of co-parenting in which gays and lesbians agreed to have a child who will be raised cooperatively between the two households. It can also be the result of an adoption. Or, finally, it can be the result of artificial insemination or of a medically assisted procreation.”
LGBT activists seek to advance the idea that any limits on the rights of “parenting” would be a violation of the principle of equality and thus an injustice, thereby setting aside the fact that a child is always born of the union of a man and a woman—even if this union may sometimes be medically assisted. These activists demand the consistent application of the principle of equality to leverage their cause, in particular in the case of medically assisted procreation for lesbian couples.
These new forms of homosexual parenting have opened the door to a frightening array of possible combinations. For example, a lesbian might donate an egg to her partner, who would then be inseminated and carry a child for the couple. The sperm might be provided by a couple of male homosexuals who would then function as co-parents for the child, who would thus have four parents. Such combinations and others are now a reality. These invented combinations give rise to two demands. The first is to legitimize them because they already exist. The second is the creation of a universal right to any such combination, on the grounds that access to these means of reproduction in foreign countries is expensive and therefore a source of inequality.
It is well understood that, in many domains of life, an infraction—that is to say, a failure to respect a prohibition—cannot be sufficient grounds for lifting the prohibition that has not been respected. In other words, the reality of certain facts is not sufficient to create a legal reality. This holds as well for the new forms of homosexual parenting.
It is also clear that what is at stake in medically assisted procreation and in surrogate pregnancy goes far beyond the mere question of homosexual parenting and far exceeds what is provided for in French family law. It is essential, therefore, that the subjects continue to be treated in the proper framework of the law of bioethics and that this framework not be taken hostage by demands aiming to erase all sexual difference in our society.
The law to be changed because many people want it to be?
What we hear: “Hundreds of thousands of adults and children are concerned. The French favor homosexual marriage. Other countries have already legalized it. Why fall behind?”
What we often neglect to say: The statistics cited in 1999 in support of civil unions (the PACS) were grossly exaggerated, and this practice continues in the case of homosexual marriage. In 1999, we were told that it was urgent to adopt PACS because five million persons wanted to enter into such unions. But the official government statistics now show that 904,746 entered into them between 2000 and 2010 and that only 7 percent of these were between persons of the same sex (that is, 63,609 PACS in ten years). The same overbidding is at work today: The legislative proposal states that there are 3.5 million gays and lesbians in France and cites the Association of Gay and Lesbian Parents and Future Parents (APGL) to the effect that 45 percent of lesbians and 36 percent of gays desire to have children. This would work out to about 700,000 homosexual marriages.
In Spain, a country of 46 million inhabitants, there are about 3,100 homosexual marriages each year, after a first year (2006) of 4,300 marriages.
The number of children of homosexual couples has also been greatly exaggerated. According to the APGL, there is an urgent need for legislation because 300,000 children are being raised in France by parents of the same sex. The National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED), the official state agency for demographic data, estimates the number of children to be between 24,000 and 40,000. There is one number, by the way, which is easy to verify and not subject to debate—namely, the number of members of the APGL: There are 1800 in all of France.
The legalization of homosexual marriage and adoption is a measure neither of progress nor of the advanced status of the nation. It is often said that France is falling behind in relation to other countries that have legalized homosexual marriage or adoption in the framework of a civil union. I prefer to consider, as an index of the progress or advanced status of a nation, the well-being of the population and its confidence in the future, alongside traditional data on socioeconomic status and educational and scientific achievements. Where questions of social justice are concerned, the nation might appear at the same time far behind and very advanced, depending upon quite arbitrary standards of classification.
No doubt some will take pleasure in a classification in terms of homosexual marriage, but one would first have to demonstrate that it is in the nation’s general interest to be out in front. Or one might appeal to a classification in terms of minority rights, but there again, wouldn’t the first priority be to concentrate on the integration of certain minorities in the republic and especially on the number of attacks based on racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia?
Over the past ten years, several institutes that study public opinion have regularly asked representative samples of the population of those over eighteen years of age whether they favored or opposed homosexual marriage and adoption of children by same-sex couples. These two questions reflect an interest in adding to the rights of homosexuals as part of a larger concern for the struggle for equality and against discrimination. These polls show undeniably that the percentage of French people who favor homosexual marriage has increased steadily for ten years and that this group now forms a significant majority: 65 percent held this view in the most recent poll, in August 2012. Fifty-three percent favor adoption for same-sex couples, a figure five points below the level of support a year earlier.
It would be useful to debate the vision of politics according to which facts must become law—that is, that the law must change as soon as polls reveal that a majority of the public favors an opinion. But this debate would take us too far from the immediate subject of homosexual marriage and parenting. Public opinion is volatile in a number of areas. The fact that a public opinion poll reveals a result above 50 percent is not enough to justify a law or to decree that a debate must not take place.
Nevertheless, if one were to accept public opinion polls as the compass of our society, would it not make sense to survey the French people also on all the demands made by LGBT activists in the name of equality and antidiscrimination? Would it not make sense above all to ask questions from the point of view of adopted children, as well as questions concerning the concrete consequences in their daily lives of the effacing of sexual differences? The fact is that the two questions regularly posed over the past ten years do not allow us to understand the state of public opinion on a whole range of issues associated with homosexual marriage and parenting.
Rabbi Bernheim shows that in this debate there is a confrontation between two worldviews. On the one hand is the worldview of the LGBT activists who wish to deny sexual difference and replace fixed sexual identity with a chosen sexual orientation, in service of the project of destroying marriage. On the other is that of the biblical vision of the irreducible difference between man and woman and of their complementarity, a constitutive difference that opens up transcendence.
The Negation of Sexual Difference
LGBT activists wish to deny sexual difference. One of their tools is “gender theory.” First used by feminists in their struggle for sexual equality, gender theory was taken up by homosexual activists in their fight against sexual difference. In the 1960s, Anglo-Saxon feminist movements denounced the social differences that persisted between men and women based solely on sexual difference. Their ideas gave birth to the notion of “gender,” which can be defined as the social role attributed to each sex. Gender is relative to norms and standards that determine what is considered masculine or feminine. In other words, it defines the difference and the social hierarchy between men and women as a function of their sex. Such gender norms are supposed to be the systematic basis for male domination over women.
Whereas sex is a matter of biological difference between men and women, gender refers to social differences based on these sexual differences. Gender could therefore be described as the social dimension of sexual difference. Theories that confine individuals to certain roles, jobs, or images, such as “the man at work and the woman in the home,” are thus denounced as oppressive.
Gender theorists believe, as Simone de Beauvoir said, that “one is not born a woman, one becomes a woman” by assuming certain “gender characteristics” that are, for the most part, cultural constructions that these theorists denounce. One is born “neuter,” and it is society that imposes a male identity on each man because of his masculine sex and a female identity on each woman because of her feminine sex, with all the inequalities implied in this difference.
These theorists do not define the individual by his or her sex (man or woman) but by his or her sexuality (homo-, hetero-, etc.). They tend to efface the biological and anatomical dimension that separates the two sexes in order to see only multiple genders, dictated by culture and by history. Since they consider sexual difference to be a social and cultural construction and therefore artificial, feminist movements denounce existing social relationships and demand a culture capable of protecting women. One implication of this protection is the renunciation of heterosexuality.
The most radical theorists go further: They express the wish to eliminate all disparities between men and women and to achieve perfect equality between them. Since they believe there can be no difference without inequality, they demand the end to sexual difference between men and women. (What a paradox it is, in a society where we swear by nothing so much as the acceptance of difference, to perceive difference as a problem. But there is no antinomy between difference and equality; the opposite of equality is not difference, and equality is not contradicted by sexual difference.)
Since these theorists presume that sexual difference is the enduring cause of the submission of the woman to the man, equality necessarily implies the end of sexual difference. Thus it appears that the final goal of the feminist revolution is not only to have done away with the privilege of masculinity but also to eliminate the very distinction between the sexes. If gender is a pure social construction, then all social representation of sexuality is acquired and artificial. In this way, little by little, sex understood as a natural category is put in question and sexuality itself as a natural given is relativized.
Queer theory pushes gender theory to its extreme point and blames as heterosexist the assumption that heterosexuality is the norm and therefore superior to other sexual orientations. Once heterosexuality has lost its self-evidence, all forms of sexual construction become possible. Queer theory demands the creation of a new anthropology that would not be subject to “obligatory heterosexuality” or to “the self-evidence of heterosexuality,” with the aim of returning to some earlier stage before the existence of sexual or “gendered” difference. It wishes to have done with the “gendered” perception of the individual and with all “gendered” usage of words, so that “man” or “masculine” might designate a feminine body and the body itself is no longer understood as a given reality. Being only a social construction, sexual identity no longer in any way determines the psychic constitution of the individual. Thus there is no point in taking it into account.
In the place of sexual identity, which is considered a thing of the past, queer theory proposes the notion of a “sexual orientation” chosen by each individual based upon the gender that somehow defines his or her interior being. By distinguishing the sexed (sexuality as a given fact) from the sexual (sexuality as a behavior), queer theory defends the idea that one can be physically masculine but psychologically feminine, or the reverse. It follows that, independent of one’s biology or sex, one can experience desires that are homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, or asexual.
Queer theory thus invites the individual to leave behind the straitjacket of “manhood” or “womanhood” that he did not choose and express himself according to his self-perceptions. For example, a person who is male biologically and “gendered” as a woman could have heterosexual desires and thus live with another man. From this point of view, the sexual orientation chosen by the individual would never be definitive and could vary over the course of one’s life. If gender is constructed, it can thus be deconstructed. Femininity and masculinity become simple roles that one can choose to take on or to reject, to parody or to exchange as one wishes. Women, men, heteros, homos, bisexuals, or transsexuals . . . . In this merry-go-round of genders, sexual identities are replaced by individual expressions, which are ceaselessly created and recreated in relationship to one another. What is authoritative is no longer an individual’s sexual identity but his sexual orientation.
It is in the name of tolerance that defenders of queer theory demand social recognition for all forms of sexual orientation, but tolerance in this case is nothing but a Trojan horse in the fight against heterosexuality, a social norm that they judge to be an obsolete imposition, since it is built upon sexual difference.
This fight clearly aims at the current model of the family, which is felt to be a form of social conditioning and an obstacle to the expression of the activists’ “deep self”—that is, their gender. Medicine and law will have to adapt themselves to these personal expressions of sexuality. If an individual who is physically masculine can in fact be psychologically feminine or the reverse, and if it is the will of the individual and no longer nature that determines sex, then why not institutionalize the union of two people, whoever they might be? And, in particular, what would be the point of refusing to confide children to such a couple, since all the different models are considered equivalent?
Faced with such a series of demands, we are justified in asking whether the activists’ purpose is not finally the destruction, pure and simple, of marriage and of the family as these have been traditionally conceived. With this aim in mind, homosexual marriage and the right to adoption for same-sex couples appear as nothing more than a means for exploding the foundations of society, making possible all kinds of unions, finally liberated from an ancestral morality, and therefore definitively doing away with the very notion of sexual difference.
The Biblical Vision
The complementarity between man and woman is a fundamental principle in Judaism, in other religions, in some nonreligious intellectual traditions, and in the organization of society, as well as in the opinion of a very large majority of the population. For me, this principle has a biblical basis. Others will find its foundation elsewhere. Here I will concentrate on the biblical view, not to the exclusion of other views.
“So G-d created man in his own image, in the image of G-d he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). The biblical account grounds sexual difference in the act of creation. The polarity of masculine–feminine pervades all that exists, from clay to G-d. It is part of what is given primordially and what guides the respective vocations—the being and the agency—of man and woman. The duality of the sexes is part of the anthropological constitution of humanity.
Thus, every person is brought sooner or later to recognize that he possesses only one of the two fundamental versions of humanity and that the other will remain forever inaccessible. Sexual difference is thus a mark of our finitude. I am not the whole of humanity. A sexed being is not the totality of the species; it needs a being of the other sex to produce its likeness.
Genesis finds the similarity of the human being with G-d only in the association of the man and the woman and not in each one taken separately. This suggests that the definition of a human being is perceptible only in the conjunction of the two sexes. Because of his sexual identity, each person is referred beyond himself. From the moment a person becomes conscious of his sexual identity, he is thus confronted with a kind of transcendence. The person is required to think beyond himself and to acknowledge the independent existence of an inaccessible other—that is, of one who is essentially related to himself and desirable yet never wholly comprehensible.
The experience of sexual difference thus becomes the model for all experiences of transcendence; it designates an indissoluble relation with an absolutely inaccessible reality. On this basis we can understand why the Bible so readily uses the relation between man and woman as a metaphor for the relation between G-d and man: not because G-d is masculine and man is feminine but because it is man’s sexual duality that most clearly manifests an unsurpassable otherness within the closest relation.
It is significant that, in the Bible, sexual difference is mentioned just after the affirmation of the fact that man is in the image of G-d. This means that sexual difference is embedded in this image and thus blessed by G-d. Sexual difference must therefore be understood as a fact of nature infused with spiritual intentions. This, we think, is indicated by the fact that in the seven days of creation, the animals are not presented as sexed beings. What characterizes them is not the difference between the sexes but the difference of orders and, within each order, the differences among species: There are the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the beasts of the earth, etc. All living beings are produced, according to the repeated refrain, “after their kind” (Gen. 1:21). In this account, sexuality is not mentioned except in the case of mankind, for it is precisely in the loving relation, which includes the sexual act by which man and woman “become one flesh,” that the two fulfill their proper end: to be in G-d’s image.
Sex is therefore not an accidental attribute of the person. Genitals are the bodily expression of a sexuality that affects a person’s whole being—body, soul, and spirit. It is because man and woman perceive themselves as different in their sexed being, while they are both equally persons, that there can be complementarity and communion. “Masculine” and “feminine,” “male” and “female,” are relational terms. Masculine is masculine only insofar as it is oriented toward the feminine—and, through the feminine, toward the child; and this holds true for every instance of paternity, carnal or spiritual. The feminine is feminine only as oriented toward the masculine; and, through the man, toward the child—in every case, then, toward the maternal, whether carnal or spiritual.
The second account of creation deepens this teaching by presenting the act of creation of the woman in the form of a surgical operation by which G-d extracts the one who will become Adam’s companion from what is most intimate to him. Henceforth, neither man nor woman will make up the whole of humanity, and neither one will know all that is human. This expresses a double finitude: I am not everything; I am not even all that is human; and I do not know all that is human: The other sex always remains partly unknowable to me. This double finitude implies that self-sufficiency is impossible for a human being. This limitation is not a privation but a gift that allows for the discovery of the love that springs from wonder in the face of difference.
Through desire man discovers sexual difference at the heart of nature. “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” Openness to this other leads to self-discovery as complementary difference: “She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” In Hebrew, “one flesh” refers to “the One,” Ehad—the divine name par excellence, according to the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is G-d, the Lord is one.” It is in this union, which is at once carnal and spiritual, a union made possible by difference and by complementary sexual orientation, that man and woman reproduce, in the created order, the image of the One G-d.
As a counterpoint, the third chapter of Genesis presents sin as the refusal of limitation and therefore of difference: “For G-d knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be as gods, knowing good and evil.” “The tree of knowledge of good and evil—“the tree of knowing good and knowing evil”—symbolizes precisely the two ways of apprehending the limit. First, “good knowing” respects otherness and accepts the fact of not knowing all and consents to not being all. This way of knowing opens toward love and therefore toward “the tree of life” planted by G-d in the middle of the garden. Second, “evil knowing” refuses limits and difference. It eats the other in the hope of reconstituting the whole within the self and of acquiring omniscience. This refusal of the relation of otherness leads to greed and envy, to violence, and ultimately to death.
Isn’t this what is implied in the notion of gender: the refusal of otherness, of difference, and the demand to take on sexual behaviors independent of sexual difference, the first gift of nature? Is this not, in other words, the pretension to “know” the woman as the man, to become the whole of humanity, to emancipate oneself from all natural conditions, and therefore “to become as gods”?
I have written in light of the French debate. Whether legal rights concerning homosexual parenting and adoption are extended or limited, it is also clear that LGBT activists will use homosexual marriage as a Trojan horse in their greater efforts to deny natural sexuality, to erase sexual differences and replace them with orientations that make it possible to leave behind the “straitjacket of nature” and to pursue the destruction of the heterosexual foundations of our society.
There would be no courage and no glory in voting for a law based more on slogans than on arguments, in conforming to the dominant political correctness out of fear of being anathematized, and in hiding behind a question such as: “Even if there is no reason to pass a law, why is it a problem if we want to pass one?” The problem with the proposed law is the harm it portends for our society as a whole, and this solely for the benefit of a tiny minority. This harm consists in the irreversible scrambling of three things: genealogies, by substituting “parenting” for fatherhood and motherhood; the status of the child, who would go from being a subject to being an object to which others have a right; and sexual identity as a natural given, which would have to give way to orientation as an individual expression, in the name of the struggle against inequality, perverted into the elimination of differences.
The stakes must be clarified in the debate about homosexual marriage and parenting. They have implications for the society in which each of us wants to live.
I am one of those who believe that a human being is not an autonomous construction with no given structure, order, status, or role. I believe that the affirmation of freedom does not imply the negation of limits and that the affirmation of equality does not imply the leveling of differences. I believe that the powers of technology and of the imagination do not require that we forget that being is a gift, that life is prior to all of us, and that it has its own laws.
I long for a society in which modernity would have its full place but without implying the denial of elementary principles of human and familial ecology; for a society in which the diversity of ways of being, of living, and of desiring is accepted as fortunate, without allowing this diversity to be diluted in the reduction to the lowest common denominator, which effaces all differentiation; for a society in which, despite the technological deployment of virtual realities and the free play of critical intelligence, the simplest words—father, mother, spouse, parents—retain their meaning, at once symbolic and embodied; for a society in which children are welcomed and find their place, their whole place, without becoming objects that must be possessed at all costs, or pawns in a power struggle.
I long for a society in which the extraordinary dynamic that is at work in the encounter between a man and a woman continues to be established, under a specific name.
Gilles Bernheim is the Chief Rabbi of France. This statement was translated by Ralph Hancock of Brigham Young University, and adapted for publication from a longer essay.