Anyone who reads Retrievals with some regularity knows that I post translations of the works of the Catholic philosopher Robert Spaemann with some regularity. So far I have posted some of his articles on abortion, genetic manipulation, circumcision, and nuclear power. But according to the statistics for my blog, people occasionally visit it after Google search for “robert spaemann gay marriage.” I thought I should oblige them.
I don’t have a personal translation of anything Spaemann has written on “gay marriage,” but he does make some brief remarks on the subject in one of his books that has already been translated, Persons. The remarks occur in the course of a discussion of the phenomenon of promising–marriage being, of course, a promise of great importance. On p. 228, however, he turns to the more particular issue of the distinction between friendship and marriage:
“Yet not every friendship is a marriage. It is not essential for friendship that there should be a lifelong sharing of destinies. The specific unity of the marriage partnership is expressed in the New Testament by the saying that ‘the two shall become one flesh.’ The lifelong horizon of this partnership and the fact that the couple form a legal person, is all of a piece with the sexual difference and natural complementarity of the two persons that goes with it. Their relationship includes sexual intercourse with its a priori ordering towards the objectification of the union in children that belong to them both. Being father and mother to one and the same child means objectively a lifelong relation between a man and a woman, and it lies a prior in the child’s interest that the relationship should have a form matching the personal identity of their common child. The distinctive character of the marriage vow is only conceivable on the basis of the specific complementarity of persons of opposite sex, on which the handing on of human life and the continuance of the human race rely. If personhood consists in having a human nature, it consists of necessity in having either a male or a female nature, which is to say, a nature with its own ordering towards a person of the other sex. The person as such is not endowed with a sex. Its relations are simply to other persons. But this specific and exclusive bond, formed by exchange of promises as a new and permanent union without room for substitution, builds on the sexual relation of two partners of opposite sex. Persons of the same sex can feel erotically attracted to each other. But their sexual relation remains their ‘private affair.’ It lasts for as long as each wants it to last. It does not create an objective and new unity. The two do not become ‘one flesh.'” (trans. Oliver O’Donovan)
That was a long paragraph, so allow me to briefly unpack it. The key comes right there near the end: what sets marriage apart is the possibility of the creation of an “objective” unity as opposed to a “subjective” unity. A subjective unity would be the solidarity that gets created within any friendship, the love of the friends for one another–whether it has an erotic basis or not. But as Spaemann point out, the lifelong “friendship” that is a marriage has an additional possibility beyond the creation of a private, subjective solidarity: children.
Children, as any parent knows, are anything but subjective. Rather, children are objective, public, bigger than the personal feelings of the couple involved. The union that results in children is made permanent, for better or worse. Even if one gets divorced, one’s ex-husband will always be the father of one’s child, or one’s ex-wife will always be the mother of one’s children. Nothing can change that fact.
Spaemann does not belabor the point here with additional legal argumentation. This is, after all, just a small point of analysis within a chapter of a book, and he wrote all this well before the “gay marriage” issue became so pressing in America. But the passage remains useful in drawing attention to the reality that is at stake in the debate. The proponents of “same sex marriage” frame the issue as one of civil rights. The denial of this right is alleged to be akin to racism and all other forms of prejudice. But there can be no right to something fictitious. A same-sex union is not the same reality as a marriage. The demand that it be recognized as such is really just a demand for cooperation in a lie about the way things are.
I would leave off with a “good luck with all that,” but we know this will affect all of us in America. The full reality of marriage has already been wounded by legalized divorce and legalized contraception. The increasing legal establishment of “gay marriage” will be a further wound to marriage, which is the same as saying that it will be a further wound to the family, which is the same as saying that it will be a further wound to society. All the more reason to store up treasure in heaven.