Monday, August 4, 2003

To decriminalize behavior such as sodomy is one thing (and good reasons can be given for such decriminalization).Butin Lawrence vs. Texas, the majority opinion went far beyond this, and in effect, declared anal/oral sex — or for that matter, any kind of sexual act, when chosen by consenting adults — to be morally equivalent to the conjugal act.

Moreover, the rationale used in Lawrence vs. Texas, logically demands recognizing the validity of same-sex marriages, as a careful reading of the text clearlyshows.Theopinion praises the constitutional protections afforded to “personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, andeducation,”andthendeclares: “[p]ersons in a homosexual relationship may seek autonomy for these purposes, just as heterosexual persons do.”

With millions of fellow citizens, I think that the Supreme Court erred seriously in morally equating any kind of sex act chosen by consenting adults with the conjugal act and in paving the way to the recognizing same-sex unions as valid marriages. The fundamental flaw in the reasoning used in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion is that it ignores the truth that there is a bond linking sex, marriage and the generation of new human life that the marriage of one man and one woman honors in a way that non-marital sex acts, whether chosen by consenting heterosexually or homosexually oriented couples, simply do not and cannot.

Marriage is not just a “private” matter; it deeply affects society. It is instructive to note that Griswold vs. Connecticut — the grandfather of the “privacy” cases used to support Lawrence — was about “marital” privacy. Eisenstadt — another important precedent cited — opened up contraceptive availability to the unmarried in 1971, but it stated, not once but twice, that the state could still treat extra- and non-marital sex as “evils.” Never before Lawrence had the Supreme Court held that anyone had a right to engage in sex outside lawful marriage.

But what is there about the union of one man and one woman in marriage and the bond linking sex, marriage and the generation of life that makes marriage so unique, and why would it be detrimental to marriage if same-sex couplings were accorded equal status?

The spousal union goes beyond biological union, but biology is an essential component. By their marital acts, husband and wife express, in a profound way, their whole married life together: two-in-one-flesh. When those acts bear the fruit of children, the latter literally issue from the marital union: They embody this union and extend it in space and time.

Genital coition is the only bodily act intrinsically capable of generating new human life. Kissing, holding hands, fondling and anal/oral sex cannot generate children. They can be generated through acts of fornication and adultery, but it is not good for children to be begotten in this way. For millennia, every human culture has recognized the bond linking sex, marriage and the generation of human life and frowned on begetting children out of wedlock. Although many today think it fitting to generate children outside of marriage, the tragic situations accompanying phenomena such as fatherless children, undisciplined youth and abandoned women show the shallowness of such thinking.

Our society, as any society, can survive only if new human persons are generated. The marital union of a man and a woman who have given themselves unreservedly in marriage and who can consummate their union in a beautiful bodily act of conjugal intercourse is the best place to serve as a “home” for new human life, as the “place” where this life can take root and grow in love and service to others. A marriage of this kind contributes uniquely to the common good. It merits legal protection; same-sex unions are not the same, and sadly, merely mimic the real thing.

William E. May is Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at Catholic University of America.

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