Sexual Morality, Traditional Marriage, Gay Marriage

This is an ISM position paper. Public discourse for and against legislation allowing or excluding same sex or gay marriages has me thinking about sexual morality and what ‘marriage’ means. For thousands of years many theologians and religious body authorities have opined that sexual intercourse is only morally correct and acceptable to their postulated god when done by a male husband and his female wife, with the purpose and hope of pregnancy and progeny. They argue that sex in marriage is a duty in obedience to God's command to go forth and multiply. They have varied views about what sexual activities and positions during or preceding intercourse are acceptable, but all of those making the “sex is only permissible for procreation” argument say that the culmination must be uninterrupted and unimpeded coitus. Otherwise sex is sin, that is, contrary to what they suppose their supposed god’s rules to be. Here, to the right of this capsule, in books available from, are some examples of such opinions -- in these cases written by Catholic Church authorities. I have not yet read these works, and I have read only a little about them. My arguments are those of a novice in the discourse on these matters, and I am open-minded about weighing and considering contrary arguments. Common sense says that this orthodox teaching is nonsense. The teachers of orthodox morality traditionally have framed the argument as EITHER marital sex to hopefully produce children if and as God wills OR prohibited sex for selfish pleasure. Not mentioned is sex as a selfless gift of pleasure to one's mate and as an expression of committed, caring, affectionate love, including in situations in which pregnancy is unlikely or impossible. When a wife has gone through menopause, is sex forbidden her? Among my relations, a couple, both widowed and once each other's high school sweetheart, married when he was in his 90s and she in her 80s. If they had sex after marriage and not for the purpose of having children, was that immoral? The Anglican clergyman and scholar Robert Burton (1577-1640 expressed the common sense, moderate view in his book The Anatomy of Melancholy. Burton wrote, “Ambrose concludes in his comment 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 mutual society, help and comfort one of another, in which respects... Without question old folks may well marry)...‘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. The corollary of that “except” for folks too old to procreate is that sex in marriage to bond emotionally in a mutual 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 is capable of intercourse or of otherwise giving and receiving the loving gift of sexual gratification. Is sex for them a mortal sin? Some think so. Burton quotes a saint who actually said that it is a mortal sin for any husband and wife to kiss. The orthodox view of sexual morality has been in the context of the traditional marriage of the past few millennia -- a relationship of ownership and domination of a husband over his wife. Remnants of traditional 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's last name. Some Americans still use quaint dominant-subordinate expressions like “head of the household” in reference to a husband as a matter of right of position lording it over his wife. It was less than 40 years ago that American law gave a woman the right to bank credit in her own name. In traditional marriage, the basic concept is this: this man owns this woman, given to him a virgin by her father, and henceforth her genitals are his alone. Her children will only be his from his impregnating her. She and they are his, branded with his name, bound by laws of state and religion to serve and obey him. Traditional marriage is all about domination and possession. That is why rape is common and intentional in war. It’s done to damage the property of the enemy and express domination. Traditional marriage as a relationship of domination and ownership by a man over a woman is defined and enforced by dictates of clergy. That is why orthodox theologians teach that any sex other than in marriage for children is immoral. Recognizing that sex between spouses may with moral goodness be an expression and gift of mutual love, affection, pleasure, and companionship, aside from whether pregnancy and parenthood are hoped for or are prevented or are even possible, implies equality 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, obedient wife or a submissive, obedient mistress or harlot. My hunch is that, through the ages, many couples have managed to create together a relationship of affectionate companionship, with the male-dominated model of traditional marriage minimized as much as possible. Different societies have varied in their sexual mores and customs, from quite lenient to the extreme of the practice of female genital mutilation. But these private accommodations and cultural differences have been variations within the violence and fear based social system of patriarchy that mandates and enforces the domination of man over woman. An individual man who regards and treats a woman as his equal cannot alone buck the laws of state and church that dictate otherwise. 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 of this essay. The women's liberation movement of recent centuries, say since the publication in 1792 of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women , is bringing a new age in which the old assumptions of patriarchy, of male dominance, do not compute. People of both sexes, and of all countries, classes, and ages, struggle within and among themselves to form the social norms of the new age. In various countries, such as the United States, in the past half century or more, after innumerable arguments, breakups, and divorces, the marriage relationship is less and less based upon 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 marriage based upon mutual love, commitment, respect, and shared power. The concept of raising girls to be docile, submissive, and obedient to their husbands and of raising boys to presume their right to marital 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 prohibit gay marriage and birth control and to undue the gains of women's liberation are a rearguard reaction against this transformation. What are the appropriate virtues or sexual morals of the new age? Rape is still a crime and a sin, with the difference that now in at least some countries the rape of a wife by her husband is also a crime and socially intolerable. Spouse beating is now the crime of assault, and persistent harassment of a separated or divorced wife or an ex-sweetheart is the crime of stalking. Women’s right to self-defense against abusive husbands and lovers is increasingly recognized. Modern communities differ in how much they tolerate fornication, which I understand to mean loveless sex. Is sex for pleasure because of a convenient, no commitment, opportunity between the ready and the willing moral or immoral? My observation has been that people generally still regard loveless 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, with his or her well being and happiness one’s heart’s desire and joy. In my view, this is preferable to and more moral than loveless sex in a patriarchal marriage. Loveless sex -- fornication -- refers to a relationship in which physical desire, intercourse, sexual pleasure, and the external trappings of being a couple are not combined with commitment, respect,

caring, and affection but rather are a matter of selfish convenience. In the new morality, a cohabitation relationship or common law marriage that is a relationship of true conjugal love is acceptable while a formally-sanctified marriage based on male domination, loveless sex, convenience, and solely selfish interests instead of love is questionable. The former can withstand the tribulations of life; the latter disintegrates with the first serious crisis of wealth, health, inconvenience, or faults discovered. In this new age dawning from the dark time of patriarchy, the difference between moral and immoral sex is between EITHER sex to express freely chosen committed conjugal love in a relationship of equality of power and authority and of right to the pursuit of happiness (with parenthood being a chosen commitment within that context) OR sex without such love and equality, then logically it follows that for a homosexual couple in a relationship of committed mutual love to marry is morally good and that such a marriage should be legal and welcomed and blessed by us all. Lesv

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