The Personalist Project

Over at Public Discourse, Michael Hannon has a clarifying article on the debate over "same sex marriage".  (Hat tip facebook friend Patrick Langrell.)

Hannon shows convincingly that the common case for SSM rests on some basic confusions—or obfuscations (my word, not his)—about the nature of marriage.  

Olson and Boies [the super-lawyers making an apparently sincere case in favor of the legalization of SSM]—and the movement in general—claim that preserving marriage as a union of man and woman is unjust discrimination. For no good reason, they assert, the “right to marry” is being denied to same-sex couples, who are just as capable of loving and committing to each other as opposite-sex couples are. Boies summarized the basic thrust of their position fairly well, saying, “The key thing is that we are all alike in the way that matters: love.”

Later I will want to make the case that the love between husband and wife is radically different in kind from the passion (homo-eroticism) that animates same-sex relations.  Though SS relationships can (and clearly often do) comprise genuine goods (such as friendship and mutual concern), their sexual liaisons, as such, are no more like true marriage than perjury is like testimony, or than poison is like food.

But let me set aside that point for the moment and attend to Hannon's argument.  He is entirely right in pointing out that the other side consistently mischaracterizes the opposition to SSM.  

For our position is not that the government should refuse to let such couples marry, but rather that the government is utterly impotent with regard to this question. Our response to same-sex couples desirous of marriage is not “You may not,” but rather, “You cannot.” We do not seek to bar anyone from marriage; we just believe marriage is a union that is necessarily and by its very nature heterosexual.

In other words, it's a question of metaphysics, not civil rights.  Since marriage is a natural institution that precedes the state (metaphysically, not chronologically), the state lacks utterly the authority to "extend the goods of marriage" to same sex partners.  The state is marriage's servant, not its master.  To play the master over it and manipulate its structure is to arrogate to mere mortals a power and a prerogative that belongs exclusively to God, viz. the power to determine Reality.  It is a kind of blasphemy.  It is worse than an offense toward the Creator and Author of life; it is a kind of cosmic act of war against Him.  

It is also, on the human plane, an injustice of the worst kind; it is to use the coercive force of law to defy and undo The Law that alone gives law validity.  

But I'm getting well beyond Hannon again.  His point is mainly on the level of logic, viz. that the case in favor of SSM is a circular one.

But their argument presumes exactly what it was meant to prove. If you begin by saying that it is within the government’s power to extend marriage to same-sex couples, then of course sexual difference is not an essential feature of marriage. If you frame this as a “May I?” disagreement, then you necessarily treat the “Can I?” question as already settled. But that line of thinking fatally begs the question, because the “Can I?” question is not settled at all.

If the state were to issue a decree that henceforward gold shall be worth no more than any paper colored yellow, is it "extending the goods of gold" to paper?  No.  It is only de-legitimizing itself. 

Hannon concludes by reminding us that we cannot have just laws pertaining to marriage unless we give prime attention to the quesiton of what marriage is. defend this foundational human institution, we must take refuge in the nature of marriage, insisting that all questions of political permissibility wait until the contentious question of metaphysical possibility has been settled. For if Aquinas was correct—as indeed he was—that a “law” at odds with justice is no law at all, then how much less so would be one at odds with reality itself?

Defenders of marriage generally make the case that pro-creativity is of the essence of marriage.  And it is. But the luminous truth of that argument has been obscured by the pro-liferation of contraception and IVF technology.  Marriage is no longer essentially linked in the popular imagination with parenthood.  Restoring that link is among our prime moral tasks.  But, as I said above (and elsewhere), we will need also to take on the terrible lying lie that the sexual passion between two gay men or two gay women is the moral equivalent of conjugal love.  It isn't.  Nor are the acts that express and embody the respective feelings to be compared with each other, any more than a slap in the face is to be compared with a kiss.

More on all that when I've collected my thoughts.

Comments (5)


#1, Nov 21, 2012 3:00pm


You have courage. I also do not believe that the love that binds a man and a woman in marriage can be achieved in a gay relationship. ( I hesitate to use the word union ). It is of course very very unpopular to say so in public, but that does not make it any less true. I look to writers such as yourself for instruction and for inspiration. It may become more and more difficult to speak truth. God Bless you and the other contributors to this blog.

Don Grant

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Nov 21, 2012 3:57pm

Thank you, Don.  I, too, think it not right to use the word "union" to describe homosexual liaisons.  They are not unions properly speaking.  

This is plainly true on the bodily level.   Each of us can observe in our own flesh that we are made for union with someone of the opposite sex.  

This bodily reality is the outward expression of an inner mystery, viz. the interior, spiritual complementarity of man and woman.

But a lot more work remains to be done to bring the point to evidence.

Patrick Dunn

#3, Nov 24, 2012 3:38pm


You may be interested in this article, which touches on the metaphysics of marriage:

A quote:

"No true, total, self-donation is metaphysically possible for human persons without this complementarity, this correspondence, on the deepest level of their constitution."

Jules van Schaijik

#4, Nov 25, 2012 9:59am

Thanks for the link Patrick. Great and very clear article.

(I suppose you know that the author, Maria Fedoryka, gave two lectures for us a few years ago?  You can find them here and here.)

Patrick Dunn

#5, Nov 26, 2012 2:29pm

You're welcome, Jules.

I did not know that (about Maria).  Thank you for pointing to those lectures.

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