Sexual Morality, Traditional Marriage, Gay Marriage
This is anISMposition paper.Public discourse for and against legislation allowing or excludingsame sex or gay marriageshas methinking aboutsexual moralityand what ‘marriage’ means.For thousands of years many theologians and religious body authorities have opined that sexualintercourse is only morally correct and acceptable to their postulatedgodwhen done by a malehusbandand his femalewife, with the purpose and hope ofpregnancyand progeny. They argue thatsex in marriage is a duty in obedience to God's command to go forth and multiply. They have variedviews about what sexual activities and positions during or preceding intercourse are acceptable, butall of those making the “sex is only permissible for procreation” argument say that the culminationmust be uninterrupted and unimpeded coitus. Otherwise sex is sin, that is, contrary to what theysuppose their supposed god’s rules to be.Here, to the right of this capsule, in books available from amazon.com, are some examples of suchopinions -- in these cases written by Catholic Church authorities. I have not yet read these works, andI have read only a little about them. My arguments are those of a novice in the discourse on thesematters, and I am open-minded about weighing and considering contrary arguments.Common sense says that this orthodox teaching is nonsense. The teachers of orthodox moralitytraditionally have framed the argument as EITHER marital sex to hopefully produce children if and asGod wills OR prohibited sex for selfish pleasure. Not mentioned is sex as a selfless gift of pleasure toone's mate and as an expression of committed, caring, affectionate love, including in situations inwhich pregnancy is unlikely or impossible. When a wife has gone through menopause, is sexforbidden her? Among my relations, a couple, both widowed and once each other's high schoolsweetheart, married when he was in his 90s and she in her 80s. If they had sex after marriage andnot for the purpose of having children, was that immoral?The Anglican clergyman and scholarRobert Burton (1577-1640expressed the common sense,moderate view in his book
. Burton wrote, “Ambroseconcludes in hiscomment upon [the Gospel according to]Luke, ‘They that are coupled together, not to get children,but to satisfy their lust, are not husbands, but fornicators.’ In a word (except they wed for mutualsociety, help and comfort one of another, in which respects... Without question old folks may wellmarry)...‘Matrimony without hope of children is not a wedding.’”It’s the omission of that common sense “except” of Burton's, that third option besides “to get children”or “to satisfy their lust,” that renders traditional sexual morality inadequate and unsatisfactory. Thecorollary of that “except” for folks too old to procreate is that sex in marriage to bond emotionally in amutual expression of affection, companionship, caring, and committed love is morally acceptable. It
seems evident to me that such sex is morally good and a path of spiritual growth.The same “except” can apply to a married couple in, say, their 20s when one (or each), due to war,accident, or disease, is physically unable to impregnate if male or to be impregnated if female, but iscapable of intercourse or of otherwise giving and receiving the loving gift of sexual gratification. Is sexfor them amortal sin? Some think so. Burton quotes a saint who actually said that it is a mortal sin forany husband and wife to kiss.The orthodox view of sexual morality has been in the context of the traditional marriage of the pastfew millennia -- a relationship of ownership and domination of a husband over his wife. Remnants oftraditional marriage are still commonly found in modern marriages. In a traditional wedding ceremony,the father “gives away” the bride to the groom. It is still common for the bride to take her husband'slast name. Some Americans still use quaint dominant-subordinate expressions like “head of thehousehold” in reference to a husband as a matter of right of position lording it over his wife. It wasless than 40 years ago that American law gave awoman the right to bank creditin her own name.In traditional marriage, the basic concept is this: this man owns this woman, given to him a virgin byher father, and henceforth her genitals are his alone. Her children will only be his from hisimpregnating her. She and they are his, branded with his name, bound by laws of state and religion toserve and obey him. Traditional marriage is all about domination and possession. That is whyrapeiscommon and intentional in war. It’s done to damage the property of the enemy and expressdomination.Traditional marriage as a relationship of domination and ownership by a man over a woman isdefined and enforced by dictates of clergy. That is why orthodox theologians teach that any sex otherthan in marriage for children is immoral. Recognizing that sex between spouses may with moralgoodness be an expression and gift of mutual love, affection, pleasure, and companionship, asidefrom whether pregnancy and parenthood are hoped for or are prevented or are even possible, impliesequality of the sexes in dignity and authority and in the right of the pursuit of happiness. For a woman,equality with men is an alternative to being male dominated property, either a submissive, obedientwife or a submissive, obedient mistress or harlot.My hunch is that, through the ages, many couples have managed to create together a relationship ofaffectionate companionship, with the male-dominated model of traditional marriage minimized asmuch as possible. Different societies have varied in their sexual mores and customs, from quitelenient to the extreme of the practice offemale genital mutilation. But these private accommodationsand cultural differences have been variations within theviolence and fear based social systemofpatriarchythat mandates and enforces the domination of man over woman. An individual man whoregards and treats a woman as his equal cannot alone buck the laws of state and church that dictateotherwise. However, collective and communal alternatives are beginning to take hold.
The high and low points of the millennia-long struggle for women's liberation are beyond the scope ofthis essay. The women's liberation movement of recent centuries, say since the publication in 1792 ofMary Wollstonecraft’s
Vindication of the Rights of Women
, is bringing a new age in which the oldassumptions of patriarchy, of male dominance, do not compute. People of both sexes, and of allcountries, classes, and ages, struggle within and among themselves to form the social norms of thenew age. In various countries, such as the United States, in the past half century or more, afterinnumerable arguments, breakups, and divorces, the marriage relationship is less and less basedupon fear, force, patriarchal taboos, oppressive laws, and the pontifications of orthodox moralists.Marriage based on the domination and ownership of husband over wife is being replaced by marriagebased upon mutual love, commitment, respect, and shared power. The concept of raising girls to bedocile, submissive, and obedient to their husbands and of raising boys to presume their right tomarital authority, to sex on demand, and to control of their wives is now seen by more and more --maybe most -- women and men as absurd.Efforts to use the force of law to prohibitgay marriageand birth control and to undue the gains ofwomen's liberation are a rearguard reaction against this transformation.What are the appropriate virtues or sexual morals of the new age?Rapeis still a crime and a sin, with the difference that now in at least some countries the rape of awife by her husband is also a crime and socially intolerable. Spouse beating is now the crime ofassault, and persistent harassment of a separated or divorced wife or an ex-sweetheart is the crimeof stalking. Women’s right to self-defense against abusive husbands and lovers is increasinglyrecognized.Modern communities differ in how much they tolerate fornication, which I understand to meanloveless sex. Is sex for pleasure because of a convenient, no commitment, opportunity between theready and the willing moral or immoral? My observation has been that people generally still regardloveless sex as a moral mistake, or learn so by experiencing the emotional conflict of “making love”with someone unloved.Conjugal love is the committed decision made and affirmed by each spouse moment by moment,without foreseeable end, to regard one's marriage partner as one's nearest and dearest relation, withhis or her well being and happiness one’s heart’s desire and joy. In my view, this is preferable to andmore moral than loveless sex in a patriarchal marriage.Loveless sex -- fornication -- refers to a relationship in which physical desire, intercourse, sexualpleasure, and the external trappings of being a couple are not combined with commitment, respect,