Civil Law and the Homosexual Person

Mark Lowery FAITH Magazine July-August 2002

“You Can’t Legislate Morality?”

Why can’t you just let us do what we want to do?” “How does this harm you?” “Don’t impose your morality on us!” “If you don’t like this, fine, you yourself don’t have to do it.” These sentiments, common place in the homosexual rights movement, could easily have been those of slaveholders and those involved in the slave trade, and as such they would strike us as ludicrous. It is so obvious that: a) those held in slavery were human beings (a biological category); b) all humans are by nature persons (a philosophic category), that is, beings with inviolable worth that ought never be treated as means to an end; and c) the evil practice of slavery was not a private matter - the whole community is harmed because we are all communal beings by nature, in solidarity with those who are treated unjustly. Note that we do not claim that slavery is unjust because a majority agreed it is unjust, a vote having been taken. Regardless of the vote, slavery is inherently unjust and intrinsically evil. That truth emanates from our very nature, and hence we can say it is a truth of the “natural moral law.” While many religions might also have such a truth in their set of doctrines, which they might claim are divinely revealed, the truth itself is not dependent on religion. It is a truth built into our nature.

When we find people acting contrary to such a truth of the natural law, how do we respond? We say to our friends, “you don’t really want to do that” right at the moment they are “voluntarily” doing something contrary to the natural law. It is not in their best interests, primarily because the law it contradicts is not an external law imposed on them (a heteronomous law) but is the law of their very being, and to act contrary to who they are will make them, at the end of the day, miserable. Now there might be another reason such action is against their best interests - it might be an illegal as well as an immoral act, and they might get caught and penalised. That is certainly an additional motivation, and for many it would be the most immediate motivation, but it is not themost foundational motivation.

The truth built into our being - ‘participatory autonomy’

The ultimate reason for avoiding the evil act is that it is harmful, not friendly, to one’s being. One’s very being participates in the truth, and to violate that truth harms one’s own being. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor (art. 41), calls such a perspective “participatory theonomy” - a law (nomos) built into our being by the Creator (theos) which is not alien to our well-being, but is something we partake of or participate in. If autonomy means there is no law, and if heteronomy means the law is to be followed because God said so, for participatory theonomy the moral law is something friendly to our being, something built for our genuine fulfilment and for our authentic freedom. The law is not true because God commands it; rather, God commands itbecause it is true. When we use our free will to align our lives with this truth, we possess authentic freedom.

According to such a perspective of participatory theonomy, why would we want to enact civil laws against certain actions contrary to the natural law? Why make slavery or prostitution illegal? It is true that we might make such laws based on the consent of the governed, but the fundamental basis for such laws is not simply the will of the people - a voluntaristic perspective. Rather, we want the law to help educate people about what is contrary to the natural law, and it is a happy fact that a majority consent to this. We want to help people to not follow those passions that lure us, for purposes of convenience, to treat others as objects. Given this educative function of the law, even civil law, like the natural law on which it is based, is friendly to ourbeing. Now, not only moral law but civil law is rooted in participatory theonomy. 

Making laws that are friendly to our being

Consider the bumper sticker that reads “Get your laws off my body.” Would a black person ever say that about anti-slavery laws? Would a young girl forced into prostitution say that about anti-prostitution laws? Such laws are friendly to our being. They are not unfair impositions on us, but are great guides in helping people follow the law that is within them, the natural law. While civil law should never legislate about religious beliefs, thereby violating the separation of Church and State, it had better legislate the natural law. Ask a victim of slavery or of prostitution if it’s all right to legislate at least a portion of the natural law.

They eschew the autonomous view of reality that says “I can do what I want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.” They know very well that the second half of that claim cancels the first half. Acts contrary to the natural law really do hurt other people, and that is precisely why we tell them “you don’t want to do that.” It is precisely such a perspective that is needed in current debates on homosexuality and the issue of civil unions for homosexual persons. To those seeking the legal recognition of homosexual unions, we respond “you don’t want to do that.” And when they ask why, the response must come from within the perspective of participatory theonomy.

Not just because ‘God said so’

Participatory theonomy provides the antidote to the venomous moralism that vilifies and demonises “homosexuality is wrong because God said so”; “we’ve never allowed that sort of thing”; and other irrational sentiments unfit to print. Such a view, the opposite of autonomy, could be termed heteronomy, by which God’s law, and in turn civil law, is extrinsically and somewhat arbitrarily placed upon man with a seeming lack of concern for the actual experience of the persons involved. 

Participatory theonomy goes a different route. It tells us that that the truth about human sexuality is something that ultimately offers genuine freedom to the homosexual person, helping him to escape the slavery to his passions that resulted from the misuse of his free will. This is a truth that, with true compassion, reaches out to the homosexual person in his desperation. Although that person may not be aware of it, he is crying out for the truth. When the response from our culture is heteronomous and mean-spirited, he recoils, and takes false comfort in an autonomous worldview. The Church and society must offer the truth, and offer it in the right way, the way of participatory theonomy. The next sections of this paper show how to address the issue of homosexualitywithin that perspective. We will then conclude by returning to the issue of legalising homosexual unions.

Importance of the right pastoral approach

It won’t do to start with a good logical argument, using the data of reason and Revelation. Such arguments will occupy a central position in the overall natural and Catholic approach, this article included, but only after a compassionate pastoral approach has laid the proper foundation. As Frank Sheed said somewhere, “Win an argument, lose a convert.” We must start with the human person in his existential experience.[1] A first way to do that is to be very careful with our terminology. Let us never use the word “homosexual” in reference to a person, for it is a term that has become an epithet in the usage of those who are biased against persons of homosexual orientation. Let us use either that phrase just noted, or“the homosexual person.”[2] To always use the word “person” emphasises that we are speaking about someone, who possesses an inviolable dignity. Even more importantly, let us never use the word “gay” in reference to a homosexual person. No one is gay. “Gay” is the (unfortunate) word foist upon us for those who have chosen a particular lifestyle. Such a choice entails a misuse of one’s freedom, a misuse that puts the person in a desperate situation. There are ways out of this desperation - no one is constituted as “gay”.

A pastoral approach recognises that desperation is precisely at the heart of the homosexual person’s experience. Often that desperation is hidden behind the cries of liberation of those who, misled by the gay rights movement, have “come out.” Often it is hidden by the false claims of that movement that “gay is normal” and by strident political activism.[3] We could respond to that boldness in kind, but far better to take the high road and see it instead as a cry for help. Gerard J.M. van den Aardweg has shown how homosexual attraction is not just a variant on heterosexual attraction. It is something of a different kind, accompanied by symptoms of depression, jealousy and restlessness.[4] Civil law should not invite people in such a direction.

One way to hide from the challenging truth about the homosexual condition, and in turn to push for its legal recognition, is to claim that it is genetically caused. There very simply is no evidence whatsoever that homosexuality is caused genetically, though there could be a genetic disposition (as in some instances of alcoholism). As Christopher Wolfe has noted, “...if [it] really were genetic, it would have almost certainly died out, or at least be continually declining. Homosexuals reproduce at much lower levels than the general population.... So if homosexuality were a genetic would be found in a smaller and smaller percentage of the population.” And, “...if homosexuality were genetic, then in all sets of identical twins where one was homosexual, the other would be,too.”[5] One cannot prove either that the orientation is caused environmentally,[6] but all the evidence points in that direction.

Addressing the causes of homosexuality

That evidence turns out to be good news, freeing news, for with the right help many can repair their orientation, fully or to some degree. A fine book from Ignatius Press - Battle for Normality by van den Aardweg - offers a “self-help” method, and an organization called NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, is committed to helping individuals find competent professional help. There are a good number of theories about environmental causes, theories that have tested positively in clinical practice. These myriad theories all have a slightly different slant to them, but also hold much in common and are in many ways compatible with one another.[7]

At bottom, homosexuality seems to result from fragmentations within the child/father/mother relationship, and the deepest need of the homosexual person is to repair those fragmentations. As Joseph Nicolosi notes: “Realising the true needs that lie behind our unwanted behaviours, we gain a new understanding.... the reparative drive — the unconscious attempt to ‘repair’ masculine incompleteness — is the deepest transformative shift....the client realises: ‘I do not really want to have fumble with a man. Rather, what I really desire is to heal my masculine identity.’”[8] I want to more fully participate in the meaning-laden nature—the natural law—that has been given to me, and which has sadly been distorted. Participatorytheonomy, in a word. Good civil law in turn, then, would invite people to live in accord with their true nature.

Reparative therapy, however, should in no way be presented as a requirement for the homosexual person. It is an option. What is required is a noble effort to live chastely. Fr. John Harvey founded Courage (, a vast network of support groups, precisely to help people in this task. It is important to realise that everyone has difficult struggles in life, and that we need one another to help handle them. We can make a basic distinction between the raw material each of us brings to the moral life, and the moral life itself in which we make good or bad choices. All of us are disordered in some way and to some degree in our “raw material”—sometimes psychologically, sometimes physically, sometimes spiritually.[9]These constitute objective disorders, one of which is the homosexual inclination.[10]

We are all flawed

We are welcome to make prudent decisions about repairing our damaged raw materials, whether through therapy or medical intervention. But we are all aware that we cannot, this side of the eschaton, somehow psychotherapeutically and medically engineer perfect raw material. That is a utopian illusion. We do well to meditate on St. Paul’s thankfulness to God for giving him a “thorn in his flesh” that made him constantly aware of his utter dependence on God. Then, we can take our damaged raw materials, make prudent decisions about which ones to repair, and live with the others.

In a certain sense, this perspective puts everyone on an even playing field. The homosexual person does not have a disorder that puts him in a separate category from other fragile and finite human beings,[11] and which then deserves special legal protection. We all have our respective crosses to bear—we all suffer from the primal disorder of concupiscence—and we all have the capacity to do as we ought, particularly with the grace of Christ.[12] “What is at all costs to be avoided is the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behaviour of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and therefore inculpable.”[13]

Taking our freedom seriously

Put another way, we really are free. This is not a “pretend” freedom or a “toy” freedom but the genuine article. A “let’s pretend” freedom would give us the nice feeling that we really do make some free choices, about what to eat and what to wear for instance, but that when something really challenging is at stake we’re not really free; for we could not be truly responsible for our actions, since the complexity of life renders such responsibility impossible.

From the opposite angle, when a large-scale challenge comes our way, the great gift of freedom cries out to be used, and used properly. Our human dignity comes from the proper use of our freedom (authentic freedom), especially in the midst of the more staggering challenges of our lives. These challenges often occur right in the midst of the damaged raw materials of our lives—homosexuality being one such instance. Regardless of what the challenge is, we find our true dignity right in the midst of meeting that challenge, right in the midst of that noble effort in aligning our lives with the natural law. The following parts of this article unravel the natural law argumentation in three steps, showing that the natural law is eminently reasonable and sensible - friendly toour being - in the personalist perspective of participatory theonomy outlined here. Without that perspective, the natural law will appear as an extrinsic heteronomous imposition that destroys the uniqueness of the individual person. Within that perspective, these arguments unfold the perspective called “participatory theonomy” and can play an integral role in both reparative therapy and living chastely, and in giving us guidelines for civil law.

The Natural Law I

No Imposition of Religion

In the contemporary debates on homosexuality, many are tempted to start with an appeal to divine Revelation, whether understood from a Catholic, Anglican or Protestant perspective. But if you start there, you will rightly be criticised for “pushing your religion down someone’s throat,” which is disallowed in a political order like ours that prizes religious liberty. We are free to practice any religion or no religion, but we cannot violate the natural law, that moral law to which we are co-natured and which is accessible to reason. That is, we participate in this natural truth intuitively, and it makes eminent sense. 

One hallmark of the Catholic tradition is that it prizes such arguments that take place on the level of reason alone. The important principle at work here, enunciated best by St. Thomas Aquinas, is that grace does not cancel out nature, but presupposes and perfects it. The data of Revelation then both reaffirms the natural argument and adds additional data to the argument. That additional data, derived from the twin sources of Revelation (Tradition and Scripture), is impressive and enriching, and fills in for Christians the full rationale for the teaching against homosexual acts. But even without that data, a substantive argument can be made based on the natural law. Many people claim that “you can’t legislate morality.” We noted above the bumper sticker that says “get yourlaws off my body.” However - and here I will use examples from my own country, the U.S.A., which are easily applicable to Great Britain - the founding documents of the U.S. appeal to the natural law as the cornerstone of our political order (“nature and nature’s God;” “We hold these truths to be self-evident...”). We want lots of diversity in the U.S., but should always be striving for a fundamental unity on the principles of the natural law. “In God We Trust” is not foisting a religion on anyone, but rather reminding us that God has given us natures and the natural law for their flourishing. All good civil laws are based on the natural law. Bad laws are based on a different moral system, like relativism or utilitarianism. Either way, we legislate morality; the onlyquestion is which morality ought to be legislated. The new law allowing “civil unions” in the State of Vermont is not being neutral. It’s legislating a very specific moral code - sheer relativism. 

Being true to what is human

What exactly is the natural law argument against homosexual behaviour? First, we must emphasise that the natural law is in us. It is not an extrinsic imposition from the outside. Rather, it is a truth placed in our being by the Creator, allowing us to participate in the wise plan of the Creator - hence, “participatory theonomy.” Then, don’t think of the natural law as first and foremost identical to our biological laws. The “nature” in natural law is our human nature. The laws of our biological nature turn out to be very significant in grasping the natural law, but they are not the sum total of the natural law. If they were, we would be reduced to animals who must follow their biological instincts. Instead, the natural law makes use of biologicallaws, but it personalises them, grasping the deep personal meaning that is hidden in our biology. The encyclical Veritatis Splendor speaks of anticipatory signs and rational indications inhering in our biology.[14]

As persons, we are capable of “mining” this deep personal meaning that inheres in the body. We discover what St. Thomas calls our “natural inclinations,” namely, that our very human nature inclines us in certain directions. Our biology gives us a good hint about our human nature, but again, we’re not meant to merely follow the inclination of biology but rather the inclination of the human meaning infused in our biology. Animals can’t do this, which is one reason we can euthanize animals - they can’t discover and freely align themselves with the deep personal meaning that lies within their “biological clock” (they have biological inclinations but not “natural inclinations”). Human persons can a) grasp, and b) freely align themselves with, this profound meaning. They discovertheir dignity in so doing. That is why the slogan “death with dignity” is so inappropriate..

Listening to our law in our bodies

It is just as inappropriate for the homosexual person to “do what he wants with his body.” The body speaks a language that we must listen to, and then we either live the truth or live a lie. The human generative faculties are not built for homosexual types of acts, and such acts cause serious disease. This gives us a big hint,[15] written on our biological nature, that there is a profound meaning to our biological heterosexuality. Personal meaning is bound up with biological facticity - an integralist view of the person as opposed to a separatist view. The integralist view sees the person as a unity of body and spirit, whereas the separatist view sees the person as standing over and against the body, the body representing rawmaterial that can be manipulated according to the individual dictate. According to the separatist view, I can treat the body just as I see fit—no transcendent meaning inheres in it. 

The Natural Law II

TheTranscendent Meaning of Our Sexual Biology

What exactly is the transcendent meaning God has placed in our sexual biology? God could easily have chosen to create new human lives by divine fiat. But instead, he works in, through and by means of human beings. God has given them, through nature, a set of instruments to use on their special mission to help Him in the creation (pro-creation) of children.

The instruments given to couples for children should be respected and not thwarted. These instruments are the fertility cycle of the female, the male’s fertility, and the use of the generative faculties. These instruments are all biological, but they are not merely biological—they are infused with a profound meaning. They are the unique instruments that couples will use to participate in God’s plan for them to procreate. It is important to respect these instruments, to respect the “language” they speak.

Consider the equipment God has given the couple, through which He can create new life if He so wills.[16] The conjugal act during the fertile part of the cycle is the most important part of that equipment—call this combination the “sacred interplay of fertility and coition,” or “sacred interplay” for short. If God wills to create new life, that is the only place wherein He can so act. The couple must, then, treat this time above all with the highest respect. It is not always convenient to pay this high respect—following nature doesn’t “come naturally.”

It is sorely tempting to arbitrate over this sacred interplay, to treat it in such a way as to refuse God the opportunity to make use of His special place, to place God outside of the conjugal relationship which then becomes the couple’s own territory over which they alone arbitrate. Homosexual acts, and acts of contraception and sterilisation, are inherently disrespectful of this sacred interplay.[17]

The doctrines of various religions and churches should help couples in the arduous task of respecting the sacred interplay of fertility and coition, and civil law has an important educative function. Note well that the homosexual person, in living chastely, is in a most noble way doing something profoundly positive: by not misusing his sexuality he is respectfully acknowledging that ultimately our generative faculties are not ours to use as we please; the sacred interplay is God’s territory wherein we participate, not over which we arbitrate. 

What is happening when a heterosexual or homosexual couple deny or destroy the sacred interplay of fertility and coition? True enough, they are denying (perhaps unintentionally and with mitigated culpability) something that God has arranged. But left at that, the teaching remains partly heteronomous: God built it this way, so we shouldn’t have wrecked it. A critical step into participatory theonomy needs to be taken: we can only be genuinely free and happy if we give the gift of self to others.[18]

Self-giving not pleasure taking

The way we use our sexuality is intertwined with this giving of self. It is very easy to be self-indulgent with sexuality, - having our own pleasure as our ultimate goal - think of pornographic auto-eroticism. Then, instead of giving of self, we recoil back upon ourselves. Our sexual energy then involves not a giving but a taking, even if the taking takes place mutually (a “mutual accommodation of two independent egos,” to use George Sims Johnston’s phrase, or “mere simultaneous taking” rather than true mutual giving, to use Cormac Burke’s phrase).

Such uses of the generative faculties, because they involve partial goods like pleasure and togetherness, can easily deceive us into thinking we are pursuing something good. That is why many homosexual couples can say that they do not experience any negative repercussions. Likewise many contraceptors claim that contraception has not created any difficulties in their marriages. They are stealing these other goods from their proper place. They are using the body to speak some of the body’s truth, but not all of it—some theologians thus speak of lying with the body, or sexual lies. It is tempting to say that we can be content with just that portion of the good. But all evil acts include portions of goodness (the industrious use of slaves, the skilled thief, who is alsogenerous with his booty), but that is no reason to condone them. Evil consists in that part of the good that is left out; hence we call evil the privation of a due good.

The Natural Law III

The Link between the Unitive and Procreative

Simultaneous taking” is a privation, a lack of genuine self giving. What is left out is not the pleasure, not the togetherness, but an openness to something beyond the couple that places them on the trajectory of self-gift, rather than on the trajectory of self-indulgence. 

This “something else” is openness to an other, or openness to “a third,” which occurs in and through a respect for the sacred interplay by which God creates new life. The unitive dimension opens outward to the procreative, which in turn makes the unitive dimension truly unitive: self-giving, not mutual taking. And the procreative is placed within the context of the profound commitment intrinsic to the unitive dimension: the child has a stable home rooted in unconditional love. Because society benefits so greatly from this stability, civil law protects this mutual interplay of the unitive and the procreative. It cannot force couples into the heights of self-giving, but it can encourage them to be on the trajectory of self-gift. Homosexual acts sever this all-importantlink between the unitive and the procreative. Precisely because of this connection, contraception, adultery and fornication, as well as new birth technologies like surrogate motherhood and artificial insemination, also violate the natural law. They place individuals on the trajectory of self-indulgence, not of self-gift. Consider that permanent commitment inherent in the unitive dimension of sexuality. When we rule out permanence, we are treating the other as disposable rather than non-substitutable. Only a permanent, as well as exclusive, union befits or is commensurate with the dignity of each spouse. A permanent and exclusive union states boldly that the other is not an object that can be replaced or substituted, but a person of inviolable worth. When a couple makes thecommitment of marriage, they say to one another, and their conjugal acts say to each other, “you are irreplaceable to me” and “only to you will I give my whole self.” Divorce or adultery or serial polygamy, then, stand as statements that the partner isn’t irreplaceable after all. And in so saying, the intrinsic dignity of the other is violated.

Denial of fertility changes the nature of sex

Why can’t two committed homosexual persons have this permanence? Homosexual acts by their nature arbitrate against the procreative dimension, as discussed in the previous section about the sacred interplay. Recall that this natural law argument is just as critical of contraception as it is of homosexuality. In both cases, the conjugal act is turned into a different kind of act; the generative faculties are used in a way contrary to their natural inextricably connected ends of unity/procreativity. 

In a word, permanence is driven by procreativity. When we rule out children, the unity of the two turns inward upon itself instead of opening outward. Homosexual relationships do not have the character of permanence because this particular reason, or end, for permanence is missing. It is true that permanence is a value in and of itself, but it is a value intrinsically connected to procreativity.

Heterosexuality can be disordered too

This is not to say that heterosexual relationships are immune from such fragmentation; numerous heterosexual persons lead lives just as promiscuous as many homosexual persons. But when heterosexual persons fragment the unitive aspect, they are simultaneously arbitrating against the procreative element, using contraception, or at least a contraceptive mentality, or abortion. Better for them to say “we shouldn’t be having babies together, so we shouldn’t be uniting sexually with each other.” Permanence and procreativity go together, heterosexually.

Couples who struggle with infertility are poignantly aware of how intrinsic this procreative dimension is for their own commitment. They are profoundly honest in listening to and responding to the language of the body, and hence are courageous witnesses of that language. Listen to them: they tell us that profound permanent unity, valuable in itself, is connected to children. Some factor from the outside, beyond their control, prevents them from having children. But their permanent unity is a procreative kind of unity, their conjugal acts are procreative kinds of acts, their progeny is procreativity itself. They could turn to the new birth technologies, but here too they listen to, and affirm, the language of the body. The conjugal act, profoundly unitive, isa procreative kind of act, and the gift of the child is to be profoundly linked to the spouses’ incarnate gift of self in that conjugal, not merely copulatory, act. Infertile couples can shock us out of our complacency, our tendency to think of the child as a right. They know supremely what we tend to see dimly, that the child is a gift. 

Coming to terms with our wounded nature

That is how God works through human nature, and nature itself is a gift of the Creator. Hence we say that bodily nature speaks a transcendent language to us. The infertile couple sees this giftedness all the more poignantly through the lens of their pain, and hence more boldly than others proclaim the truth of participatory theonomy. The homosexual person likewise can profoundly proclaim participatory theonomy: marital friendship is itself a great gift, not a right. The fallen condition - which is the root of all disorders - is said to be somewhat of a a felix culpa, a happy fault; the distortions that result from it make us more aware than ever of the giftedness of nature.

Our fallenness alerts us to, and orients us toward, participatory theonomy, the voice of God speaking through nature, a voice deeply respective of our personal dignity. That is why we cannot speak of homosexual rights. The entire unitive/procreative meaning of sexuality is a gift that we enter in to - we do not possess rights over it.

Data from Divine Revelation

Thus far we have focused on the natural transcendent meanings that inhere in the body, particularly in the generative faculties. Revelation—Scripture and Tradition as interpreted by the Apostolic Succession—takes us a step further by placing the male/female relationship in a liturgical context. This is important for churches to consider, for parallel to the movement for homosexual civil unions is the movement to give blessings of churches to those unions.

A properly ordered heterosexual relationship is a liturgical event because it is a mirror image - a sacrament - of the covenant between God and mankind, between Christ and the Church. Many biblical texts point to this imaging (Hosea; Is 62:4-5; Jer 7:34, 31:31; Ps 88:26; Mt 9:15; Jn 3; Eph 5:32; Rev 21:2). The unity of the spouses images God’s permanent and exclusive unity with his people, and the procreativity of the spouses images God’s generosity, particularly the outpouring of his own Trinitarian life - or grace - into our being. In a word, the body speaks the language of the covenant. Since the covenant between God and man culminates in the redemptive work of Christ, sacramentally re-presented in the Eucharist, there is a close reciprocity between marriage and theEucharist. The Eucharist is marital (God marries his people) and marriage is Eucharistic (a sacrament of the covenant). The language of the body is not only natural, it is also sacramental. It is due to this profoundly personal sacramental meaning of the body that we find a consistent teaching about homosexuality in the Bible (Gn 3 and 19:1-11; Lev 18:22 and 20:13; 1 Cor 6:9; Rm 1:18-32; 1 Tim 1) and throughout the tradition, wherein this teaching would be infallibly taught by the ordinary universal episcopal magisterium. But again, homosexual acts are not wrong because of this consistent pattern of teaching; rather, this pattern is consistent precisely because homosexual acts are not friendly to our nature. Our very being partakes in God’s loving plan, and his law,rather than being capricious and heteronomous, reflects that plan. The Judeo-Christian tradition must be articulated through the lens of participatory theonomy.

Sex and the sacred, the biblical insight

It is in this context that the arguments of John Boswell and others are best met. They argue that there is no ethical condemnation of homosexual acts in the Bible. Rather, the condemnations must be seen in the light of ritual impurity - homosexuality is condemned because of its use in cultic worship practices, as found in Canaanite religions and then imitated in ancient Israel. The best way to meet Boswell’s argument is to grant for a moment that the O.T. prohibitions reflect idolatrous worship practices, that homosexual acts are wrong because they are used liturgically in false worship of false gods and goddesses. That’s just the point - homosexual acts are in and of themselves liturgical acts, inextricably reflective of idolatry. These acts are wrong precisely becausethey are “inverted sacraments.” Just as the ethical conduct in an ordered marriage images the covenant, so too the unethical conduct of homosexuality is a false image for the covenant, or images a skewed understanding of man’s relation to God.

The reason why sexual practices are used cultically - ie. sacramentally - is precisely because that ordered or disordered ethical activity itself is a mirror image of the true or false relationship between man and God. In response to Boswell, then, the O.T. does not condemn ritual usage of homosexuality, leaving other uses to the side. Sexuality speaks a liturgical language, and thus to condemn the ritual usage of homosexual acts is to condemn homosexual acts in themselves. Most importantly, the condemnation is not a heteronomous end in itself; it points us, along the route of participatory theonomy, to the full sacramental/liturgical outgrowth of respecting the natural language of the body.

The Social/Legal Dimension

Having uncovered the data of the natural law and the data of Revelation, we come full circle and consider again the question of civil unions for homosexual persons. At the outset we argued “you don’t want to do that” and now the central reason should be clear: it violates who you are, you are inclined to something higher. We have virtually ignored the so-called “prohibitions” against homosexual acts, urging instead that all people—heterosexual and homosexual alike - use their sexuality positively.

Civil laws and church laws need to protect, respectively, the natural and revealed truths about our sexuality, precisely because those truths allow us to treat others as persons. It is identical to racial issues: civil and church laws need to protect the truth about the equal dignity of all races because that truth allows us to treat others as persons. In neither case is a religious viewpoint being legislated; rather the natural law, informed by participatory theonomy, is being legally protected. We might say that society has a vested interest in protecting the “sacred interplay” we spoke of earlier, encouraging only permanently committed couples to approach that ground. If society were to give similar benefits to homosexual persons, then it would have to give the same benefitsto any sets of friends that so desire. Instead, society tries to protect what is in everyone’s best real interests—protecting the sacred interplay, upholding the inherent linkage of the procreative and the unitive, is in everyone’s best interests. The rewards that society offers to married couples must be seen in this light.

Protecting the inter-personal well being of society

If a first reason for legally protecting the sacred interplay has to do with all those who approach it - whether to engage in that interplay or affirm it otherwise - a second reason has to do with those new human persons who result from that interplay. Babies and children have a right to be raised in the context of a heterosexual union: their origin was the sacred interplay, and they deserve to be raised in an atmosphere respectful of the same. 

Such an atmosphere is critical for the becoming masculine or feminine, which is a subtle accomplishment, not automatic. If society does not take care to create the right structures for human growth, distortion can easily take place. For example, how does a boy learn to be masculine? Certainly with male models and in particular the father. But part of the father-as-model is the way the father relates to his spouse; the boy learns that aspect of masculinity, an aspect not available with two parents who are male. It is true that we don’t yet have enough data on how children develop in a homosexual household. But we have reasonable arguments such as those given just above, and more importantly, we have an age-old tradition of raising children in the contextof heterosexuality. Are we not experimenting with our children when we think we can “see what will happen” in a homosexual environment? Such experimentation runs contrary to the dignity of the child and suggests a fundamental self-indulgence on the part of homosexual couples adopting children, which is not to deny their unselfishness on many other levels. None of this is to say that heterosexuals are perfect models of unselfishness.

A question of ‘rights’?

Society benefits greatly if the raising of children is done well. The State exists to nourish the vast network of mediating institutions that make up society, and the family, the “workshop of humanity,”[19] is the most important among those institutions. When children are raised poorly, numerous other institutions are adversely affected,[20] and the State is left to pick up the pieces. As Michael Pakaluk notes:

“Because the friendship of marriage results in children, and it is a burden of sorts to raise children, and because society benefits greatly if this is done well, it is usual for society to separate out the friendship of marriage from other friendships, to give it special recognition, and to award it distinctive benefits.”[21]

To grant a special set of rights to homosexual persons would work against those real interests that the State has in the marital friendship. Homosexual persons have, of course, legitimate rights such as the right to work and the right to be treated fairly. Crimes violating the legitimate rights of homosexual persons are intolerable.

“But the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behaviour to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational eruptions increase.”[22]

As the saying goes, no one has a right to do what is wrong. “What is wrong” is that which is unfriendly to our nature, that which short-circuits our full participation in the meaning-laden nature given to us as embodied human persons. The homosexual person may initially recoil at the perspective presented here, but that is because he easily confuses human nature with what “feels natural” or what “comes naturally” - in his case, the powerful desire to engage in sexual activity with another male.

He is only following the cue given by secular culture, which has bombarded him since adolescence with the view that human fulfilment is tied to whatever form of sexual “satisfaction” comes naturally. By habitually following what “comes naturally” he has used his free will wrongly, and has become enslaved. The path out of this desperation, toward authentic freedom, comes in participating in the caring plan that God has built into his nature, and, for religious people, participation made possible by the shining grace of Christ who has “set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence.”[23]

The valuable witness of chaste homosexuals

Persons of homosexual orientation have a unique calling in secular culture. They can become powerful witnesses to participatory theonomy - to the truth that makes us genuinely free, and which in that sense is natural to us, despite the painful fact that it does not come naturally. They are poised, due to their profound accomplishment in chastity, to challenge all others in our culture who violate the truth about sexuality, stealing parts of the great good of sexuality while refusing the whole good. Chaste homosexual persons poignantly show us the real meaning of our sexuality, and in so doing proclaim the good news that truth is neither autonomous nor heteronomous, but participatory. Civil law, in assisting them in this positive and arduous task, invites society into therealm of participatory theonomy.

[1] The strategy is analogous to that of the pro-life organisation CareNet. Their research found that the excellent arguments offered by the pro-life cause for the personhood of the human foetus simply did not meet the existential situation of many women considering abortion, who perceived the unborn child, despite his personhood, to be a threat to their lives.
[2] This is the suggestion of Fr. John Harvey, a genuine modern-day hero when it comes to genuine care for homosexual persons. His most recent book is The Truth About Homosexuality. The Cry of the Faithful (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1996).
[3] In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association reversed their designation of homosexuality as a disorder, under pressure from the National Gay Task Force. See Elizabeth Moberly, "Homosexuality and Truth," First Things 71 (March 1997), 30-33, at 30.
[4]William Main, "Gay But Unhappy," Crisis (March 1990), 32-37, at 36. This is an excellent summary of van den Aardweg's insights. His most accessible book for the layman is Homosexuality and Hope (Ann Arbor: Servant Books).
[5] World, May 20, 2000, 51-54. See the work of Jeffrey Satinover, Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), esp. ch. 5 on twins.
[6] See Jeffrey Satinover, "The Biology of Homosexuality: Science or Politics?" in Christopher Wolfe, ed., Homosexuality and American Public Life (Dallas: Spence, 1999), 3-61.
[7]See Fr. John Harvey, The Truth About Homosexuality, ch. 4, for an excellent overview of the many practitioners. Also see the important document from the Catholic Medical Association, Homosexuality and Hope, available at
[8]"The Cause and Treatment of Homosexuality," Catholic World Report (July 1997), 51-52.
[9] See the excellent chapter in C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity called "Morality and Psychoanalysis."
[10]Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "And the Truth Will Make You Free. Letter to Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," art.
[11] Hereafter PC 11.This realisation might play an important role in reparative therapy itself, as a central antidote to the sense of " self-pity-become-neurotically habitual" that some theorise is one of the central causes of the disorder. See Main, “Gay But Unhappy”.
[12] PC art. 11.
[13] PC art. 11.
[14]See Veritatis Splendor articles 47-53, the Pope's response to those theologians who accuse Catholic sexual morality of succumbing to a brute biologism whereby moral laws are automatically spun out of mere biological laws. The heart of Catholic moral teaching does not fallaciously deduce a moral "ought" from only a biological "is."
[15]As Richard John Neuhaus notes (see "Love, No Matter What," in Wolfe, Homosexuality, p. 245), in an intuitive and pre-articulate way, most people are disgusted by "what active homosexuals do." So too are many among the 2\% of the population that is homosexually oriented (the 10\% figure from the earlier Kinsey Report was fallacious).
[16]It may seem as if we are now relying on divine Revelation, but in speaking of God as the creator of human persons, we remain within the purview of the natural law. A hallmark of the Catholic tradition is that God's existence (though not His Trinitarian nature), the existence of the incorporeal soul (though not the nature of the after life and the beatific vision), the nature of the human person (though not the full truth about the indwelling of grace), and the natural law are all accessible to us without divine Revelation.
[17]Many argue that the Church's allowance of natural methods of family planning are inconsistent with her condemnation of contraception. However, natural methods, when used with right intent, are allowed precisely because they invite a couple to have great respect for the sacred interplay of fertility and coition. Contraception (like homosexual acts) disallows that respect.
[18]"We only find ourselves in the disinterested gift of self" (GS 24) "Disinterested" implies a selflessness inherent in the gift, which will entail death to self, self denial, the way of the cross. Jesus reveals to us the relation between the cross and self-gift. "Christ reveals man to himself" (GS 22). Jesus also makes it possible for us to give a true gift of self - by his redemption he heals and elevates our natures.
[19]PC art. 9.
[20].Jennifer Roback Morse's Love and Economics shows the impact of healthy families on the workings of the free market.
[21]."The Price of Same-fumble Union," Catholic World Report (July 1997), 49. Also, see the fine new book by Jennifer Roback Morse, Love and Economics (Dallas: Spence Publications, 2001).
[22]LP 7 and PC 10.
[23]VS 103.

Faith Magazine

July - August 2002