The Personalist Project

President Obama's announced support of "same-sex marriage" (SSM) has put the issue in the center of public attention.  Articles and blogs on the subject are proliferating all over the internet.  It's become the stuff of casual conversation even among home-schooled teenagers.  It is practially impossible to keep young children from hearing about homosexuality and asking questions.

This raises a serious dilemma for me, and all of us.  On the one hand,  the SSM lobby relies on and takes advantage of a natural reluctance on the part of most to think and talk about what homosexuality is.  They prefer to keep the discussion focussed on subjective feelings and individual rights: "I love my boyfriend just like you love your wife. Why shouldn't I be able to marry the person I love?"  

This is an appealing line of argument, especially for teenagers.  They easily overlook all the underlying assumptions and assertions it entails.

- That gender complementarity is inessential to marriage

- That pro-creativity is inessential to marriage

- That being the natural offspring of their parents' union is unimportant to the wellbeing of children

- That there is no objective meaning and structure to bodily acts

That last one is particularly important.  Consider a kiss and a slap in the face.  A kiss, in itself, is an act of tenderness and self-giving; a slap is an act of violence.  It's possible to lie with kisses--to kiss abusively.  Some people find slapping gratifying.  But this doesn't mean that those things have no objective meaning; it just means that people can be perverse.  

As John Paul II unfolded so beautifully in his Theology of the Body, the intimate link between the body and soul in the human person means that our free bodily acts (and especially our sexual acts) are fraught with meaning and moral significance.  They both express and "determine" our personal subjectivity and the shape of our relations with others.  They have their objective "language" and "logic."

Part of the way, then, of showing that there is no equivalence between marriage and a liaison between two men or two women is to point to the radical difference between "homosex" and the conjugal act, which, in itself, is a life-giving act that unites the two halves of the human whole.  It is, in its very nature and structure, a pro-creative, all-ecompassing, reciprocal and unifying act.  It's framed to express love and form a communion of love, a family.

Homosexual acts are not.  They are not comprehensive, they are not unitive, they are not procreative.  Some of them are—objectively—violent and abusive. They harm the body. They alientate and dis-integrate persons. 

Part of me thinks that it's good and helpful to point this out—to go into it—to challenge those who are sympathetic to the SSM cause to ponder this radical difference and its ethical implications.  But then another part of me remembers verses in St. Paul's letters.  "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."  And: "It is shameful even to mention what the ungodly do in secret."

The other day, in an online debate at a political forum, someone criticized me for using the term "sodomy," because it's a Biblical term and therefore insinuated religion into a public policy discussion.  So I changed it to a more explicit term.  Afterwards, I felt unhappy—disturbed in spirit, and full of doubts about whether I did well to be typing and publishing the words.  I have those doubts now.

It occured to me that another strategy of the SSM lobby is to get everyone thinking and talking about it.  Because to even to think and talk about it affects us—degrades us morally—opens us to what is wrong. 

I ask honestly.  Have we reached the limits of democratic civil discourse?  Would we do more to advance our cause by refusing to engage the issue and instead giving silent witness to truth by the purity of our lives?  Is this even possible in the given circumstances?

I've been thinking, by way of analogy, about the theory of "non-violent resistance," which I find convincing.  It's not pacifism.  It doesn't deny the justice of self-defense.  Rather, it proposes that non-violent resistance is a more potent weapon against injustice than violence in self-defense, which, however justified, still has its ugly and damaging effects.

Might it not also be true that we do more to advance purity and chastity by  declining to participate in public discussions about things that have an invasive and degrading effect on the moral imagination?  Or, by declining to talk about it openly and rationally, do we abandon our kids and our culture to the shameless?

Help me decide.

Comments (17)

Rhett Segall

#1, May 21, 2012 7:40pm


You frame the issue clearly. I can understand your discomfort. My sense, though, is that not facing the issues surrounding SSM is to deny the elephant in the room. Another issue in the same genre as "such things shouldn't even be mentioned among you" is oral sex among the young. Again, is passive resistance the best educative approach? These areas have become amoral deeds in the minds of many, justiified solely by doing what one feels is right.

I believe St. Paul's injunction to preach the word when convenient and inconvient is applicable here. He is explicit on the issue of homosexuality, as is the Old Testament.

Young people in particular need to be able to have a context in which these issue can be analyzed intelligently and frankly. The issues are out there, whether in the form of talk shows (Oprah did a major presentation on the "oral sex epidemic" among middle schoolers!) or "family" comedies.

I think they can (and should) be analyzed reverently in a proper context, either in a parent-teen situation or religious education setting.

As St. Peter said: "Be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you for a reason for your hope"

Scott Johnston

#2, May 21, 2012 10:52pm

Public schools and university classrooms have been, generally speaking, grooming young people to look favorably upon homosexual unions and lifestyles for decades now. There has been a vacuum of silence as far as there being any sort of different message being presented. Tremendous harm has already been done by this silence.

For some years now, I have believed that this issue will become the number one battleground over the future of our culture (in some ways it already is).

There are so many voices in our culture giving children a warped view of the meaning of marriage, somebody has got to teach them God's plan for marriage. Conscience alone is not enough when they are getting such a huge volume of a warped understanding from so many sources.

The young are increasingly pro-life. And, at the same time, they are less-and-less accepting of marriage as an institution created by God between a man and a woman. Don't mean to be over-dramatic, but I truly believe our culture's last chance to become renewed and healthy lies on this issue.

Katie van Schaijik

#3, May 21, 2012 11:02pm

I agree totally with both of you that we have to speak openly and often about God's plan for marriage and sexuality.

My questions and doubts have to do with how openly and explicitly we speak about what homosexual acts and practices are—as part of showing that they are not and cannot be acts of love.  They are are, in and of themselves, acts of use and abuse, not self-giving, not other-receiving, not procreative.  

To equate them with the conjugal union of a man and a women is a kind of insanity.

Scott Johnston

#4, May 21, 2012 11:07pm

Katie, when it comes to disucussing this issue politically and especially what our laws should be, it seems to me (and I've heard Michael Medved speak of it this way) that the main question is, what sort of relationship should the state give special sanction?

Speaking of the law, it's not primarily an issue of the inner nature of marriage, but rather, what is the state's interest in marriage as compared to any other relationship? Why has the state, so far, seen fit to single out marriage above any other relationship for special support?

I think the answer to this question also indicates clearly the answer to why the state has no compelling reason to give same sex "marriage" special support alongside man-woman marriage.

Heterosexual marriage (and the stable and secure homes that a mother and father together can best provide for children) is literally the foundation of the future of a healthy society. Same sex "marriage" is not. Thus, there is simply no reason for the state to add homosexual unions to the category of marriage for the purposes of specific state support.

I think it's very clarifying to begin by asking, why did government ever begin singling out marriage?

Scott Johnston

#5, May 21, 2012 11:15pm

As far as the issue of how much to discuss about graphic details, my instinct would be to think that this would best handled in the relationship of parent and child.

It seems to me that the primary difference for the sake of public policy discussions, without going into graphic detail, between homo- and hetero- sexual practices, is that one has the potential to bring forth a new, eternal and unique human soul. The other doesn't. No need for explicit physical detail to make this point.

Perhaps another way of saying this which implies the physical specifics, without actually getting explicit, is to say that in one relationship there is the possibility of egg and sperm joining. In the other, there is no egg anywhere on the scene. So, no possiblity of egg and sperm uniting. No human soul, no new life, is remotely possible. That means the nature of that union is completely different on the deepest, most profound metaphysical level.

Scott Johnston

#6, May 21, 2012 11:27pm

Perhaps another way to hint at the physical differences without being too explicit, is to bring the womb into the discussion.

New human life can only be nutured and developed in a woman's womb. No womb, no babies, no future of society. Ditto the egg (ovum).

So, only with sperm and eggs uniting, and a womb, can society continue. Is this relevant for discussing what the state should positively go out of its way to sanction and give its special support? I would say, yes.

To get more explicitly into the details of biology and heterosexual union may be appropriate, for the right age audience, in the context of something like theology of the body presentations. But I don't see this is necessary for the political/public policy debate. Just my first reaction. Perhaps I'm wrong here? But definitely, much tact and care and discretion is necessary.

I think a beautifully rich and profound and attractive Christian vision of marriage can be explicated without needing to be overly explicit about physical details, though this can add additional layers of meaning in a carefully discerned context with an appropriate audience.

Scott Johnston

#7, May 21, 2012 11:49pm

Here is another way to approach this with general principles that have clear consequences for specific actions (e.g. oral sex), without needing to be graphic.

Start with this basic question: is the purpose of sex only (or, primarily), to provide an experience of pleasure to one person (whether or not two or more people are involved)?

The answer has huge consequnces for considering specific actions. If the answer is yes, obviously, all bets are off as far as physical actions are concerned.

An example of how to do this is already among us. I'm thinking of Mary Beth Bonacci. She doesn't do as much speaking to youth as she used to. But, in my judgement, her approach (I've seen her on video and in person) is still the best I've seen, generally speaking, with youth audiences.

She emphasizes, first, what is real love? (the Christian understanding)--bringing in the desires of the human heart. Then, how do we find real love in our relationships? And how does sexuality fit into this in God's plan?

Done really well, I think this approach is highly effective with young audiences. Ideally, this is not a one-time talk, but an ongoing catechesis in authentic love.

Katie van Schaijik

#8, May 22, 2012 11:01am


Rhett Segall, May. 21 at 6:40pm

Another issue in the same genre as "such things shouldn't even be mentioned among you" is oral sex among the young. Again, is passive resistance the best educative approach? 

I don't use the term "passive", but "non-violent".  In the analogy, proponents of non-violent resistance are not at all passive.  They are heroically staunch, absorbing blows with courage and self-sacrifice, in order to expose the evil for what it is, and induce shame in the evil-doers and their enablers.

My concern is that many "normal people" (by which I mean people whose sexual desires are not perverse) do not conceive what homosexual acts entail, so they tend to be naive, which leaves a clear field for the shameless to occupy.

On the other hand, to speak or write about the truth of those acts is to participate in the debauching.  At least, that's what I fear.

Katie van Schaijik

#9, May 22, 2012 11:08am


Scott Johnston, May. 21 at 10:07pm

Katie, when it comes to disucussing this issue politically and especially what our laws should be, it seems to me (and I've heard Michael Medved speak of it this way) that the main question is, what sort of relationship should the state give special sanction?

Yes, I agree.  But, having participated in many such discussions, I can only say that they often reach an impasse, where I feel pressed to spell out more explicitly why there is no comparison between a conjugal union and a SS liaison.  I find myself up against the assertion that since marriage is about companionship and commitment, there's no reason why SS couples can't participate it in.  IVF and adoption allow them to be parents, many of them are good parents, etc.

What I think needs showing is that it is a grave injustice, even a kind of insanity, to declare in law that these two kinds of relationships are moral and social equivalents.  The conjugal union is something beautiful and good, integrated and integrating, healthy and life-giving.  

Homosexual acts are not.  

Katie van Schaijik

#10, May 22, 2012 11:30am

A friend who counsels teens with addictions has alerted me to an article in Homiletic and Pastoral Review that deepens my sense that the left is defrauding the youth with dangerous lies. [emphasis added]

Youth have the right to be provided with the accurate medical and psychological knowledge about homosexuality by pediatricians, mental health professionals, school counselors, educators and parents.  Presently, well-organized attempts are under way to attempt to block youth from being given both the appropriate scientific knowledge, and informed consent about: same-sex attractions, gender identity disorder, transsexual issues, the psychological needs of a child for father and mother, and marriage.

One example of this activity is the American Psychological Association publication, Just the Facts 1, that was sent to all the school superintendents in this country two years ago. It was sponsored by a coalition of 13 national organizations, including the American School Counselors Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Just the Facts advised schools that all forms of sexual attraction are normal, warned against psychotherapy for homosexual attractions, encouraged on-campus gay clubs, and cautioned schools about the scientific literature—such as studies by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH)—that presents heterosexuality as normative.

Katie van Schaijik

#11, May 22, 2012 11:48am

Here's more from the same article:

Well-designed research studies, published in leading peer-reviewed journals, 15 have shown a number of psychiatric disorders to be far more prevalent in teenagers and adults with SSA: major depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and sexual abuse victimization.

The SSM lobby claims that this is because people with SSA are rejected and shamed by society.  But,

Many of these studies were done in countries where homosexuality is widely accepted, such as in New Zealand and the Netherlands.

I think it's important to show (what I'm sure is true) that it is the nature of the acts that causes and/or greatly exacerbates human misery and anguish.

As Kant said, persons are ends-in-themselves, never to be used as a mere means.  Those acts, in their nature and structure, reduce persons to "mere means," regardless of subjective intention.

Scott Johnston

#12, May 22, 2012 1:55pm

Perhaps the higher degree of phsychological problems among SSA persons has to do with the inherent sterility of homosexual acts. (I heard a man with SSA who had left the lifestyle and become a practicing Christian say this). No matter how much you "enhance" same-sex sexual acts, there will never be a new person in the world by the morning. With natural hetero sex, there could be a new person by the next day--a tremendously powerful and mysterious possibility. This, he said, made same sex acts inherently lifeless and meaningless in a way that at a certain point shocked him into realizing the vast difference, even though he still had a desire for such things. If my memory serves, I think this was David Morrison, author of Beyond Gay (Our Sunday Visitor, 1999).

Deviant sexual behavior has been passed off as normal among culturally elite circles (including educators of educators) at least since Kinsey's perverted "research" and the subsequent promotion of his ideas in mainstream education (and entertainment and jornalism and psychology) circles. And actually, before that, with Margaret Sanger and her "Birth Control Review" and other outlets.

Scott Johnston

#13, May 22, 2012 2:16pm

To see an example of this warped view of sex and how it is promoted, see the Planned Parenthood web site. Note the lower right of their home page for the sections, "Info for Teens," "Tools for Parents," and, "Tools for Educators." It's worthwhile looking through these pages because it shows what we're dealing with. The Planned Parenhood attitude is essentially the same as those promoted in public education through health and science classes.

For more about this, look up info on the history and role of SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States). This organization is largely the source of the sex ed content in American schools since the early 70's. The history section of their web site states, "SIECUS has become a recognized leader in the field of sexuality and sexuality education, publishing numerous books, journals, and resources for professionals, parents, and the public." Their first published book was intended for teacher training. SIECUS was founded in 1964. The founder was the former medical director of Planned Parenthood. The amoral, animal-like approach to sexuality of PP is shared by SIECUS. And from SIECUS came the sex ed now entrenched in our schools for 40 years.

Kevin Schemenauer

#14, May 22, 2012 2:24pm

Hello Katie,

You raise two important issues for me: 1) when we talk frequently about something negative are we promoting that negative thing; and 2) what should the Catholic voice be in our current U.S. context.

On the first issue, I have found that you get more out of what you put more into. I think we should talk more about why marriage between a man and a woman committed for life and open to life is good than why same sex unions are bad. That being said, urgency demands that we speak to the danger of particularly harmful actions.

On the second issue, I agree with Scott. Morally, we must speak to the disordered nature of homosexual acts, but unless you seek to criminalize same sex acts, the central issue politically seems to be the state's interest in the having and raising of children. While marriage is about companionship and commitment, the state cannot measure companionship and the reason the state has enforced commitment (unfortunately, largely absent now) in marriage and not in other friendships, I think, is for the sake of children.

What should state policy be concerning adoption placement and surrogacy?

Scott Johnston

#15, May 22, 2012 2:48pm

See also, the "Sex Ed Library," by SIECUS. This is intended specifically for educators (see the prepared lesson plans). Notice how much it sounds like Planned Parenthood. This is where educators are told to go for training for their own presentations on the topic of sexuality. This is the sort of things kids have been taught in many American schools for four decades.

It seems to me that another very important key to talking about this issue is contained in the implications of Catechism nos. 2373-79. Especially see 2376 and 2377, which speak about a "child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage."

Because of the inherent dignity of the human person, the Catechism teaches that each act that brings about new human life should be an act, "by which two persons give themselves to one another." And, "Under the moral aspect procreation is deprived of its proper perfection when it is not willed as the fruit of the conjugal act, that is to say, of the specific act of the spouses' union." (CCC 2377)

I think explaining this beautiful teaching more deeply is essential in this debate.

Scott Johnston

#16, May 22, 2012 3:00pm

I'll make this my last remark for now!

So, children, in a Catholic view of life, actually have a right in accord with their inherent human dignity to be created only in the context of a certain kind of act--the natural sexual union of a man and woman married to each other, thus committed to give to each other for life in the sacred bond of marriage. Anything less is beneath the dignity of every child.

The first time I read this in the catechism (before I became Catholic), I was deeply struck by how beautiful this is! And I was deeply struck with a sense that this has to be the truth about human life.

I don't hear any talk about this aspect of Catholic teaching in the context of same sex marriage debates. I think it is very important to speak, along with other things, of the right of every child to be the fruit of the loving conjugal union of a man and woman joined for life in marriage, that anything less is an insult to the dignity of the human person. (So, any embryogenesis done in a test tube or by a surrogate, etc., is immoral).

Scott Johnston

#17, May 22, 2012 4:43pm

Just came across this. A relevant presentation from a year ago. Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, in a presentation to U.S. bishops:

Same Sex Attractions in Youth and Their Right to Informed Consent.

Also relevant, is this article at Catholic World Report:

Gay Marriage--Nothing New Under the Sun

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