The United Kingdom moved closer to being the latest nation to legislate in favor of same-sex “marriage” this week when it passed a bill allowing such ceremonies to take place in England and Wales.
The bill still has to go before the House of Lords, but such legislation coming even this far would have been unthinkable less than 10 years ago. It follows the passing of similar legislation in France and New Zealand this past month, as well as in the U.S. states of Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota.
Part of the reason for this rapid advance is the inability on the part of traditional marriage proponents to argue their case effectively in societies where personal autonomy takes precedence.
And yet for Paul Gondreau, professor of Catholic theology at Providence College, Rhode Island, defending traditional marriage and opposing same-sex “marriage” is actually quite simple, and can be done without having to resort to faith-based arguments.
Speaking at a meeting hosted by the Acton Institute in Rome May 22, he stressed an urgent need for these arguments to be made known as this is becoming the “defining issue of our time.”
Proponents of traditional marriage “ought not to be kowtowed into silence,” he added, observing that to dare to speak in favor of traditional marriage “is to single yourself out as homophobic, intolerant, bigoted, or a hatemonger” in many of today’s Western societies.
In combatting this subtle form of tyranny, Gondreau said it’s important to first clarify a true understanding of what it means to be human and the proper role of the human body. In the ancient philosophical tradition of Aristotle or St. Thomas Aquinas, being human meant there must be a “body-soul unity” – a body biologically designed, and joined with a soul of a spiritual and rational nature.
For same-sex “marriage” proponents, however, the body is viewed as a “kind of accessory” that “doesn’t really enter into the essential identity of what it is to be human.” What’s important to them is to be rational and autonomous in their choices, Gondreau said. It’s an anthropology, he added, that goes back to the father of modern philosophy, Rene Descartes, who viewed the human person as a “thinking, choosing, self, accidentally and loosely tied to the body” – what’s also known as a “Cartesian-style anthropology.”
But both approaches to the human body have moral consequences. For the former, it means you treat your body with “great respect as you treat your own personhood with great respect.” Your body, Gondreau continued, “shares in your moral responsibility, your pursuit of happiness and fulfillment – in moral terms, what we call human flourishing.”
For the latter, the body comes to be treated recreationally, like a toy, because it has “no inherent moral worth” and is “not essential to our human identity.” Someone with a Cartesian- style anthropology sees himself as a “fragmented self.”
He stressed that every person’s body is “hardwired for certain ends and goods” and that when it comes to sex, that means you cannot act in any sexual way and think there’s not anything wrong with it, just as you cannot feed your body with any substance you choose. In bodily terms, sex is very clearly ordered towards procreation and male and female are complimentary in this regard.
“That’s common sense,” Gondreau argued, “but this is the problem with the gay ‘marriage’ principle: We’re being asked to lay aside our common sense, to take the position that biology and our ordered nature is purely and simply irrelevant.” He pointed out that human sex is very different to animal sex in that it’s not only about procreation but is “face to face,” indicating that it’s not just a “bodily, carnal union but obviously a union of spiritual persons, uniting themselves with each other in the deepest bond of love and friendship.”
It’s a unity of body and soul, and any attempts to separate or divide the two must be denounced as opposed to our genuine good. “Only in a marriage can sexual union be procreative and unitive,” he said. “The sexual act must by symbolically ordered to having a child and that intentional measures aren’t taken to disrupt the very nature of the act from attaining its procreative end.”
He stressed that the natural law teaches us this. “When God made us, He had in mind how we should live, how our sexed nature should be used,” Gondreau said. “We are not our own creators, we are not our own Gods, and therefore we are limited and predetermined to certain goods and ends.” He added that the more sensitive we are to our consciences and moral life, “the more we see that.”
“It all boils down to how we view the human being,” he explained. “Benedict XVI constantly reminded people of the natural law and the recovery of it – a way of understanding the moral life in a way that is accessible to reason.”
Gondreau, who has been actively involved in the public debate on the meaning and purpose of marriage in the United States and debated the issue on a number of panels, said many who defend gay “marriage” are often well intentioned and don’t want to be labelled bigoted. “They want to be compassionate with those who struggle with homosexual desires,” he said.
But he said it’s an act of charity to tell them they are wrong.
“If you really want to help the sinner, you have to have him turn away from sin,” he said. “When the woman was caught in adultery, Jesus didn’t say: ‘Go and do whatever makes you happy.’ He said: ‘Go and sin no more.’ So we must always make it clear that is what we’re talking about.”
Recalling a conversation he had with a gay friend, Gondreau told him he was convinced that his lifestyle was not going to lead to his genuine happiness, nor that he was really happy now. “He wasn’t offended, and saw I was convinced of that,” he recalled. “Whether he agreed or disagreed, that’s beside the point; it’s really about genuine human happiness, and God has predetermined what role it plays in ordered happiness.”
Each person’s ultimate happiness is found in God, Gondreau said. “It can never fully be found in some bodily or earthly good. No created good can fulfill the human heart’s deepest yearnings, only God can. We are made for a good that is without limit, that is infinite, so our enjoyment of created goods are only good when they serve as a stepping stone to God.”
He added: “Sexual pleasure is good, but it’s not the chief good that sex aims at. It’s procreation and unitive love. Pleasure is subordinated to that.”
In follow up questions, Gondreau said he believed the homosexual agenda is about “the abolition of marriage altogether” and that activists outright admit it. “It’s about throwing off boundaries, limits; it’s a view of being human as autonomous, and therefore God, nature and Church are rivals to my autonomy.”
And yet, he said, God and nature are not rivals, but rather “safeguards and means to human flourishing.” The Church, keen to avoid “shortchanging our biological hardwiring,” may lead to some people thinking that the Church has an “obsession” with the mechanics of procreation, Gondreau observed, but that’s only because she “refuses to shortchange the procreative ordering of our sexuality.”
Conveying this teaching on “body-soul unity” is a “hard sell” in a society that views sex “first and foremost as an affair of personal desire of the ‘self,'” he admitted, and it needs to be done carefully and sensitively, not condemning the sinner, but the sin.