Andrew M. Greenwell on Same-Sex 'Marriage': Framing the Issue Right
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 to what is an obvious moral and political truth.
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - For many of us confronting the issue of same-sex "marriage," our thinking about it is deeply marred by the conventional heuristic. A heuristic is a simple rule used by people to make decisions, including moral or political ones. A heuristic is a mental shortcut, a rule of thumb, a quick and dirty application of common sense.
A heuristic can be a valuable tool in decision-making. But a heuristic can be catastrophic if it is flawed. A heuristic may be flawed because it is the wrong heuristic to be applied to a particular moral or political problem. A wrong heuristic applied to a moral or political problem can wreak havoc in moral or political decision-making. It can lead to systematic and institutional errors, even so-called "institutions of sin."
As an example taken from St. Thomas Aquinas, it is generally true that we are under an obligation in justice to deliver property placed under our care to its owner when the owner asks for it. This is a good heuristic in almost all ordinary circumstances. However, the heuristic is flawed if the owner that is requesting the sword has in the interim become mad, and returning the sword to him would result in harm to him or to others. See S.T. Ia-IIae q. 62 a. 5 ad 1.
Sometimes the wrong heuristic is advanced as part of an ideological agenda, or for the purpose of obtaining a certain result or hiding the moral truth. This is true for the moral and political debate involving same-sex "marriage." The wrong heuristic is being advanced by the advocates of same-sex "marriage. " It creates horrible confusion, and results in wrong decision-making.
The heuristic that we are asked to use as a short-cut to thinking about same-sex "marriage" is framed in terms of love and equality. We might call it the "love and equality" heuristic. The "love and equality" heuristic goes something like this: Two persons who are in "love" should have an "equal" opportunity at marriage.
The "love and equality" heuristic works great in most areas. For example, it is a perfect heuristic to be used against a miscegenist who advocates that marriage between two different races ought to be barred by law and public policy. Applying the "love and equality" heuristic one can say, as a short-cut, that a black man and a white woman who are in love should have the same opportunity at marriage as a black man and a black woman or a white man and a black woman. Any law that prevents this opportunity is therefore wrong.
However, the "love and equality" heuristic is flawed when applied to same-sex marriages. The flaw comes from treating as morally equivalent the conjugal acts between a man and a woman committed to each other in a life-long, exclusive marriage (which are good independent of race) and homosexual genital activity.
If--as the natural moral law, Scripture, and the Church's moral teachings all hold--homosexual acts are gravely sinful, then the "love and equality" heuristic is flawed when applied to same-sex "marriage" questions.
As the Church has taught in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons: "There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family. Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law."
It would be wrong, therefore, for a Catholic to adopt the "love and equality" heuristic into the context of same-sex "marriage," because it directly contradicts the natural moral law, the teachings of Scripture, and the teachings of the Church. Invariably, this thinking short-cut will lead him to the wrong conclusion.
The Catholic must rid himself of this flawed heuristic if he has adopted it. And he should find one that more properly fits the moral and political issue that confronts him. In fact, he has a moral obligation to apply a proper heuristic. You cannot avoid moral obligations by the mere expedient of using a false moral heuristic.
As a proper heuristic in the context of same-sex "marriage," I would suggest turning to Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisted. In that novel, Waugh places these words in the mouth of Julia as she explains to her illicit lover Charles the Catholic notion of sin versus "living in sin."
"Living in sin, with sin, by sin, for sin, every hour, every day, year in, year out. Waking up with sin in the morning, seeing the curtains drawn on sin, bathing it, dressing it, clipping diamonds to it, feeding it, showing it round, giving it a good time, putting it to sleep at night with a tablet of Dial [a barbiturate, a sleeping pill] if it's fretful."
To legitimize same sex "marriage" is to legitimize "living in sin, with sin, by sin, for sin, every hour, every day, year in, year out. Waking up with sin in the morning, seeing the curtains drawn on sin, bathing it, dressing it, clipping diamonds to it, feeding it, showing it round, giving it a good time, putting it to sleep at night with a tablet of Dial if it's fretful."
It seems rather obvious that it is no moral or political good for a law to legitimize "living in sin, with sin, by sin, for sin, every hour, every day, year in, year out. Waking up with sin in the morning, seeing the curtains drawn on sin, bathing it, dressing it, clipping diamonds to it, feeding it, showing it round, giving it a good time, putting it to sleep at night with a tablet of Dial if it's fretful."
It is impossible to spin the issue any other way. Using the proper heuristic instead of a flawed one makes all the difference in the world.
As the Church has clearly taught, the common good demands that marriage be recognized in law as fundamentally and by nature limited to a life-long relationship between one man and one woman. It is only within this institution that sexual relations are a good.
The Church has also taught the common good demands that same-sex "marital" unions are farcical, ape real marriages, should be prohibited, and certainly never given the sanction or protection of law. For this reason, a Catholic is morally compelled, under penalty of grave sin, to oppose same-sex "marriage" to the extent of his powers and influence, and certainly never see it or advocate it as a moral, political, or legal good.
The first step for a Catholic to recognize this obligation, if he does not see it or comprehend it currently, is to rid himself of the flawed moral heuristic some result-driven, sin-justifying ideologue has chosen which may be blinding him to what is an obvious moral and political truth.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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