A Utilitarian Argument for Catholic Sexual Ethics, Part II

In response to my original post on this subject, Steve makes three arguments:
First….

There are several ridiculous arguments here, but Policy consideration #4 is a real clinker: homosexual sex and non-intercourse “come with the costs of emotional bonding and enhanced risk of STD… [and] the benefits for the sexual partners are fleeting.” Wrong. You point out yourself, “if person A and person B only ever sleep with one another for the duration of their lives, there’s virtually no chance of either acquiring an STD.” Regardless of whether persons A and B are both men, both women, or one of each. (In fact, even nonadulterous polygamy also carries no risk of STD: if virgin A marries virgins B and C, and none of the three ever commits adultery, there is no risk of STDs.) Nor are the sexual benefits any more fleeting for a married homosexual couple than for a married heterosexual couple (fertile or not).

This is really a lot of claims wrapped up into one, so let me pick it apart:

  • It’s worth mentioning at the outset that #4 wasn’t just about homosexual sex and non-intercourse, but also about intercourse with contraception, or the intent to abort. As the title of #4 said, “Sex without a willingness to produce a child costs more than it benefits.” My point was simple: sexual intimacy brings with it emotional intimacy and emotional attachments. The biological reason for this is to create a family, a unit capable of raising a healthy child. But when sex is being done without any possibility of family, these attachments do more harm than good. This is for two reasons. One, the primary intent of the attachments (to create a family) isn’t there. Two, the risk of abandonment is greater. Sexually active couples with no children are less stable than sexually active couples with children. Rates of infidelity are dramatically higher amongst the non-married than the married, and married couples without children are more likely to cheat than married couples with children. So what you get is serial monogamy, with the result that there’s more heartbreak and emotional disturbances, less stability, increased risk of divorce later in life, and radically increased risks of STDs. So the argument wasn’t primarily about homosexuality, and it certainly wasn’t about polygamy (which wasn’t mentioned, and which can also be open to new life). I address polygamy elsewhere, but not in #4.
  • Next, Steve argues that two things have the same cost-benefit relationship as the ideal of marriage I’d discussed earlier in that post: (1) two virgins of the same sex becoming involved in a “married” sexual relationship, and (2) three virgins becoming involved in a polygamous “married” sexual relationship. For the reasons that I discussed above, all other things being equal, the same-sex couple is more likely to cheat, because they’re less likely to have kids (assuming, for the sake of argument, that same-sex couples operate the same as childless heterosexual couples, which I’ll get to in a moment).
  • But one factor which I’d be remiss to ignore is that same-sex “marriages” aren’t the same as actual marriages, in terms of rates of infidelity. In gay marriages, the odds of multiple partners are through the roof compared to heterosexual couples. The New York Times reported on a Bay Area study that found that about 50% of same-sex marriages were “open,” in that one or both partners openly had other sexual partners. When you add in the number who are secretly cheating on their partner, or who aren’t (but have, in the past), and the rates are shockingly high. The study in question looked at both gay and lesbian couples, so this isn’t just a natural result of maleness. One possible explanation is that since both spouses may be sexually attracted to the third party, each are more likely to approve of the infidelity — in other words, that the jealousy that comes with heterosexual marriages means that spouses are more protective, and less likely to permit infidelity. I don’t think this explains everything, but it’s probably at least a factor. So in other words, when I say that “if person A and person B only ever sleep with one another for the duration of their lives, there’s virtually no chance of either acquiring an STD,” I’m almost by definition speaking of a heterosexual couple, since there are few (if any) homosexual couples that fit this mold.
  • Finally, to address Steve’s second hypo, within a polygamous relationship, the odds of a partner either lying about prior sexual experience, or cheating during the relationship, so the risk of STDs (either from prior sexual partners, or from infidelity) rises. Additionally, these forms of relationships are less conducive to child-rearing… that is, children raised with polygamous parents turn out worse, for reasons both psychological and sociological.

Finally, and more to the point, traditional marriage exists to create a stable environment for children to grow up. It’s not (primarily) about romance, although romance in a marriage is wonderful, and almost certainly makes the Marriage Thing work a lot better. And on the whole, traditional marriage works. Although married couples cheat, and divorce rates are disturbingly high, the married are much less likely to cheat than non-married couples, less likely to cheat frequently, less likely to leave their stable sexual partner, etc. Comparing the married to the cohabitating, for example, shows this clearly. Marriage isn’t a silver bullet, and there’s lots more that needs to be done, particularly in this society, but if anything can provide a stable environment for growing kids, it seems to be heterosexual marriage. The state has an obvious legal interest in creating the legal bonds of marriage, then, since those bonds have a demonstrable positive effect on innocent third-parties (children). All of this raises an obvious question, though: what’s the state’s interest in creating same-sex “marriages”? Why should the state be involved in a gay relationship, and create legal barriers to break-ups? This is particularly true if, as demonstrated, gay marriages aren’t stopping sexual promiscuity, but it’d be true in either case. Without even a potential for biological children, the legal structure called “marriage” is just completely inapplicable.

Second…

On one point I’m sincerely curious: you state that when “there is no possibility of children,” the phenomenon of emotional bonding poses “a very real danger to those being bound to one another.” What danger are you talking about? What danger is there for, say, a woman who has undergone a hysterectomy and a man who is infertile due to cancer treatment, if they become “emotionally bound” to one another.

Love and intimacy have natural risks, risks that everyone (heterosexual or homosexual, married or dating) exposes themselves to. You become vulnerable, you become attached, and when and if they leave, it hurts like crazy. You come to rely on someone, and then one day, they’re gone. This human willingness to open one’s self up to vulnerability and pain exists for one primary biological reason: because that reliance is helpful for child-rearing. When we start playing around with those powerful forces of love, sex, and intimacy, without both their biological and moral grounding, we’re playing with fire. So the “very real danger” I mentioned exists for all forms of sex and intimacy, including marital heterosexuality (ask anyone who has ever been left by their spouse). It’s just that in the particular case of traditional marital sexuality, there’s an obvious benefit which outweighs these risks, which is the possibility of children. Second, as mentioned, childless couples are less stable and more prone to cheating, so they’re actually getting higher risks, with far less discernable benefits.

Third…

I suggest you justify yourself honesty. Catholic sexual ethics follows directly from the assumption that the church is infallible. It’s a simple argument: it’s right because the church teaches it and the church is infallible. The only reason to fabricate a non-religious justification for Catholic sexual morality (as you try to do) is to justify it without assuming an infallible church. But that’s impossible. Catholic sexual morality is logically flawed without assuming an infallible church. So why bother (unless you don’t believe in your heart that the church is infallible)?

This is ignorant on a number of levels. To begin:

  • I suggest you justify yourself honesty. Catholic sexual ethics follows directly from the assumption that the church is infallible. It’s a simple argument: it’s right because the church teaches it and the church is infallible. […] Catholic sexual morality is logically flawed without assuming an infallible church. So why bother (unless you don’t believe in your heart that the church is infallible)?” Actually, Catholic sexual ethics are directly and explicitly rooted in natural law, particularly on the subject of gay marriage. If you troubled yourself to read up on this issue, you’d see what I mean. In other words, the Catholic Church itself says that gay marriage is against nature, and the intrinsic qualities of marriage. If I were to say that this is true only because of Church infallibility, I’d be disagreeing with the Church. So no, I agree with the Church’s position 100%, and if you read the stuff the Church has said on this, you’d see similar (and better) arguments. Catholics expressly believe that not all Truth is revealed through special revelation, and that there are some truths knowable to everyone, regardless of whether or not they’ve picked up a Bible or heard of the Church. For example, murder isn’t just wrong because the Church says it is — everyone can know it’s wrong through the right of reason unassisted by the Church or Scripture. Likewise, the Church says the same for gay marriage — anyone who thinks through the intent and purpose of marriage can deduce why no society prior to the 1970s ever embraced gay marriage (regardless of that society’s religious disposition).
  • The only reason to fabricate a non-religious justification for Catholic sexual morality (as you try to do) is to justify it without assuming an infallible church. But that’s impossible. ” This is absolute nonsense. The Aztecs, pre-Columbus, practiced very strict monogamous heterosexual marriage, except for nobles (who were permitted multiple wives for political purposes). Are we to suggest that the legal norm of traditional marriage amongst the Aztecs was because they believed in the Holy Catholic Church? The Aztecs, of course, are only one example. Virtually every culture on earth practiced monogamous heterosexual marriages. Those that didn’t almost universally practiced polygamous heterosexual marriages. Even amongst cultures that embraced homosexuality, they rejected homosexual marriage, because marriage is an institution directly tied to the creation of a new family.

There’s an attempt by fans of gay marriage to say that the only reason to oppose gay marriage is religious, and that religious reasons aren’t valid. Both halves of that claim are ridiculous. First, gay marriage isn’t wrong because the Bible or the Church say it’s wrong, but because it’s against nature itself, and the presence of innumerable cultures, worldwide, saying the same thing (but with different, or no, religious basis for marriage) shows as much. The Catholic Church’s own argument acknowledges as much – people knew gay marriage was wrong before the Church was even on the scene.

And second, religious reasons are fine, if they’re rooted in natural law. In other words, a US law that says “everyone must go to Mass” would be invalid, since it’s based expressly out of Magisterial teaching, and there’s no possible secular purpose. But a law which says, “don’t murder” is completely valid, even if proponents were motivated by a religious opposition to murder. Likewise, the claim “all men are created equal,” is a moral claim intrinsically tied to Theistic morality (since naturalism doesn’t arrive at this conclusion). So to say that religious arguments aren’t valid is to undermine the very structure on which the nation is founded.

Hopefully, that answers everything, Steve. If not, the combox is open, and I’ll do my best to respond in a timely manner (it’s the last week before the bar exam, so we’ll see how timely that is). Pax Christi!

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