Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

5/11/2013 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Infertile couples have the right to marriage because they have the capacity to perform the conjugal act that is naturally ordered to procreation, even if it can't lead to procreation for reasons unintended by them. 

Highlights

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

5/11/2013 (1 year ago)

Published in Marriage & Family

Keywords: same-sex marriage, right, duties, office of marriage, Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.


CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - I recently wrote an article on the issue of why there can be no such thing as a "right" to same-sex "marriage."  The article focused on the notion of marriage as a natural "office" (in Latin officium), and argued that, viewed as an "office," marriage gave rise to certain duties (in Latin a "duty" is also called officium), and it is from both the office and its duties that a person can be said to have natural rights to marriage.

The "office of marriage" is a natural office which anticipates the sexual or conjugal union of a man and a woman for reasons of procreation.  Although there are other benefits to the "office of marriage," it is the sexual or conjugal union naturally ordered to the procreation of children which is at the heart of this institution, which distinguishes it from any other natural communion or friendship, and which informs it above all else. 

It is one of its sine qua nons. It is not, however, its only sine qua non.  For example, as part of the office of marriage, the sexual or conjugal act has to be performed within the auspices of a permanent and exclusive commitment.

No same-sex couple has the capacity to assume the "office of marriage" since, as much as they may try, it is impossible that their sexual union can be in any manner procreative.  It is not even ordered remotely to procreation.  It has no procreative meaning at all.  In fact, it has the exact opposite meaning: it is anti-procreative.  It is an act that frustrates the natural purpose of the act, in fact makes a mockery of it. 

Accordingly, same-sex couples have no right to the "office of marriage," because they lack the capacity to perform its underlying duties.  To claim a "right," a false right, is to impugn and caricature the reality of marriage.

In response to the article, I received an email that was complementary of the article, but which posed a question that, I thought, justified a supplemental article.  The question: "If the right to marry can only be claimed by those who can fulfill the duties and obligations of marriage, and if the primary duty of marriage is procreation, then it would seem the argument would follow that the infertile couples could not marry."

Simply put: Can couples who are infertile assume the "office of marriage"? 

(Here, I limit "infertility" to unintentional causes, i.e., to infertility due to physical impediments [e.g., low sperm count, ovarian problems], age, unintended consequences of medicines used to treat some malady, and so forth.  I do not address the issue of infertility caused by the intentional use of artificial contraception for the purpose of preventing procreation.  I will call conjugal acts involving the former situation (those not intentionally impeded) as "unimpeded conjugal acts."  This is to distinguish them from conjugal acts involving intentionally impeded conjugal acts, or sexual acts rendered sterile through artificial contraception, which are of an entirely different moral character, though these will not be addressed in this article.)

To answer the question, we have to focus more intently on the "office of marriage," and make an either/or distinction.  Here is the watershed question: Is the "office of marriage" fulfilled by the unimpeded conjugal act even if the parties know as a result of some physical, age-related, or other unintentional impediment procreation is impossible as a result?  Or, rather, is the "office of marriage" only fulfilled by the unimpeded conjugal act together with knowledge that procreation will, or will probably, or may possibly result?

We can therefore collapse the question to one framed in this manner.  Does the "office of marriage" involve the capacity to undertake a work or action: an unimpeded conjugal union that is naturally ordered to the procreation of children--or does it also involves the capacity of knowledge (whether certain, probable, or possible) of a result (conception) in addition to the action?

The clue to the answer is given, once again, in the meaning of the word "office."  As explained in the earlier article on this issue, "office" comes from Latin opificium, a combination of opus ("work") and facere ("to do" or "to perform").  What is involved in the "office of marriage" is the ability to do the "work," to perform the conjugal act that is naturally ordered toward the procreation of children.  The work or act of the "office of marriage" does not require us to have knowledge, whether certain, probable, or possible of a particular result from the conjugal act.

Therefore, the issue of knowledge as to whether an unimpeded conjugal act will, or will not, lead to conception is not relevant to the issue of the capacity to perform the duty, and hence is unrelated to the right.  This means that a man and woman capable of the conjugal act have the capacity to assume the "office of marriage," even though they may have knowledge of the fact that the act, for whatever unintended reason, is, may probably be, or may possibly be infertile. 

Infertile couples have the right to marriage because they have the capacity to perform the conjugal act that is naturally ordered to procreation, even if it can't lead to procreation for reasons unintended by them.  Again, same-sex couples do not have the capacity to perform a conjugal act naturally ordered to procreation.  Therefore, fertility--certain, probable, or possible--is irrelevant to the question of capacity of the ability to perform a conjugal act ordered to procreation (i.e., whose intrinsic meaning is procreative, though some accidental and unintended quality may in fact render procreation impossible).

There are also some practical reasons why this has to be the case.  If, in addition to the performance of the conjugal act that is naturally ordered to procreation, knowledge that conception will, or may probably, or may possibly result is demanded, then it is virtually impossible for anyone to assume the "office of marriage."  No one "knows" whether a woman's ovum will be penetrated by a sperm cell as a result of any one particular unimpeded conjugal act.  This is beyond normal human capacity.  It is crazy to require it.

Also, to require knowledge of a future result--whether that knowledge is certain, probable, or even possible--is to fall into a sort of utilitarian or consequentialist view of marriage.  It is well-known how impossible the utilitiarian or consequentialist moral "calculus" is.  Similarly, if the "office of marriage" required a "calculus" of conception, we would be importing an impossible standard into the mix.  There is every practical reason to avoid this view.

Imagine: if the office of marriage, like the conjugal act, were only justified by a conjugal act that resulted in procreation, then we would not know whether a particular conjugal act was good or evil until we learned that it resulted in conception.  Such a view is not reasonable.

More, the capacity to undertake an office, which involves moral, psychological, physical, and perhaps legal capability, cannot depend upon contingencies that are outside of the person's control, things that involve conditions or even involuntary processes that occur even hours after the conjugal act.  We do not hold people morally responsible for things outside their control. 

In addition, one ought not forget that there are goods associated with the conjugal act in addition to procreation, which exist regardless of procreation, so that the good of the unimpeded conjugal act--even where it does not lead to conception for reasons of happenstance--remains.  These also justify the "office of marriage."

While these honest goods (such as the expression of a permanent and exclusive love, remedy of concupiscence, etc.) are found in a conjugal act, these honest goods are not found in any sexual union outside of the conjugal act within marriage.  Sex outside marriage, homosexual sex, adultery, contraceptive sex, self-abuse, and other aberrant sexual expressions cannot be said to contain any honest goods.  It is simply wrong--intrinsically evil, in fact--to express love or unity or to ease concupiscence--by a sexual avenue other than the unimpeded conjugal act.

Finally, if procreation itself is viewed as the exclusive sine qua non of marriage and the conjugal act, then marriage and the conjugal act are reduced to instrumental goods.  Marriage and conjugal sex then become merely useful goods, means and not ends.  But marriage between a man and a woman, and any unimpeded conjugal act within such exclusive and permanent marriage, are goods in themselves, are ends in themselves, irrespective of whether they result in conception.  Marriage and the conjugal act within it are basic human goods, and need no further justification.  This is entirely untrue for same-sex marriage and sexual acts other than conjugal acts.

For these reasons, permanently or periodically infertile couples (so long as the couple is one man and one woman) are capable of assuming the honorable "office of marriage," are capable of making exclusive and permanent commitment, are capable of assuming its conjugal duties, and therefore have an authentic right to marriage and the conjugal act that is so essential to it.

-----

Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at agreenwell@harris-greenwell.com.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for August 2014
Refugees:
That refugees, forced by violence to abandon their homes, may find a generous welcome and the protection of their rights.
Oceania: That Christians in Oceania may joyfully announce the faith to all the people of that region.



Comments


More Marriage & Family

Remember the Alamo - Texas' abortion law now challenged in court Watch

Image of Abortion rights activists protest on August 4, 2014, outside a U.S. federal court in Austin, Texas, where a hearing started for a case by the Center for Reproductive Rights against a new set of restrictions on abortion clinics in the state that go into effect in September

By Lisa Anderson, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Abortion rights groups challenged Texas' sweeping anti-abortion law in federal court on Monday, as a federal judge in Alabama ruled that the state's similar restrictions on abortion were unconstitutional. NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In its second challenge ... continue reading


Indian toddler with severe water on the brain survives surgery Watch

Image of Surgeons carried out a series of operations to reduce the size of Roona's head. Sent home after surgery, her parents were warned she had little chance of survival.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

With a freakish head 37 inches in circumference, a three-year-old Indian girl has underwent surgery to reduce her deformity. Arduous hours of surgery later, she's smiling for the first time with a more normal-sized head. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - ... continue reading


European Court of Human Rights: Europe CAN NOT be forced to recognize same-sex 'marriages'

Image of Marriage IS between a Man and a Woman ONLY.

By Adelaide Mena

Is the disordered homosexual lifestyle destroying our great American culture? Strasbourg, France, (CNA/EWTN News) - The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the refusal to recognize same-sex "marriages" does not violate the European Convention on Human ... continue reading


Are You a Ready or an Unready Catholic?

Image of

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

There are many Catholics who are "unready" Catholics, that is, operating under ill advice or bad counsel.  They have adopted the counsel of sophists, satanists, or doubt-sowers, and have departed as a result from the teachings of the Church.  Their ... continue reading


Andrew M. Greenwell on Same-Sex 'Marriage': Framing the Issue Right Watch

Image of

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

The first step for a Catholic to recognize his obligation to oppose same-sex "marriage," if he does not see it or comprehend it, is to rid himself of the flawed moral heuristic (a moral rule of thumb or short cut) some ideologue has chosen and which may be blinding him ... continue reading


Pacing a New Online Relationship

Image of Pacing an online relationship is different for each couple.

By Catholic Match

Every couple that meets on CatholicMatch moves at their own pace. For some, it's important to move from online connection to a face-to-face date as soon as realistically possible. For others, it's important to let things grow gradually. Matt and Katie fell into the ... continue reading


The example of the Holy Family: Do you follow it?

Image of The Holy Family is the ultimate example for us to follow in our daily lives. We need a daily reminder of this.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

There is no community as sacred as the family. When we reflect on the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph, we see modeled for us how to be as a member of our own family. Whether we're a father, a mother, or a child, the Holy Family shows us how to be. It is ... continue reading


Michael Proposed With A Video

Image of Michael and Laura.

By Catholic Match

Laura was tired of the dating scene or at the very least the relationship scene. By the time the 24-year-old from Maryland got to CatholicMatch, all she wanted was to go on some dates with nice guys, but to keep it casual, just have dinner, and maybe hear that she was ... continue reading


Children: The Crowning Glory of Marriage Watch

Image of

By Deacon F. K. Bartels

The American cultural lens of late has warped the way in which children are viewed to the point that they are seen not as gifts but as burdens. Many people no longer recognize children for who they are: precious jewels of indescribable beauty and worth whose growth, ... continue reading


How One Couple Met, Fell in Love, and Met the Pope

Image of Deanna and Michael with Pope Francis.

By Catholic Match

Deanna, 24, and Michael, 28, had never dated before they meet each other on CatholicMatch. Michael had been discerning the priesthood for four years, and it seems God had placed a bubble around lovely Deann a saving her just for Michael. They were married on October 5, ... continue reading


All Marriage & Family News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, First Corinthians 2:10-16
10 to us, though, God has given revelation through ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13, 13-14
8 Yahweh is tenderness and pity, slow to anger, full ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 4:31-37
31 He went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for September 2nd, 2014 Image

St. Ingrid of Sweden
September 2: Born in Skänninge, Sweden, in the 13th century, St. Ingrid lived ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter