What Male-Female Complementarity Makes Possible: Marriage as a Two-in-One-Flesh Union

By Lee, Patrick; George, Robert P. | Theological Studies, September 2008 | Go to article overview

What Male-Female Complementarity Makes Possible: Marriage as a Two-in-One-Flesh Union


Lee, Patrick, George, Robert P., Theological Studies


SCRIPTURE, THE POPES, BISHOPS, PASTORS, and authorized Catholic teachers have for centuries proclaimed as a significant part of Christian moral teaching that homosexual acts are intrinsically morally wrong. In recent years, however, some have challenged this teaching. For example, in a Quaestio disputata in this journal in 2006, Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler (hereafter, S/L) say that this teaching is incorrect. (1) They argue that what they refer to as merely "the magisterium's teaching," is based on the mistaken tenet that heterogenital complementarity is a sine qua non of a truly human sexual act. (2) Instead, they claim, a broader view of complementarity enables one to see that some homosexual acts can be objectively morally right inasmuch as such acts possess an "orientation complementarity," a complementarity that integrates a "personal complementarity" in a sexual act. S/L contend that homosexual partners can have a "personal complementarity," and that this can be "embodied, manifested, nurtured, and strengthened" in homosexual acts. (3) We propose to show that their criticisms of the Church's historic teaching are unsound, that the argument for their own position fails, and that the immorality of nonmarital sexual acts, including homosexual acts, can be demonstrated by natural reason.

Everyone agrees that the marital union involves a deeply personal union. The disagreement between defenders of "gay" sex, on the one hand, and the Catholic tradition, on the other hand, is whether this personal union is a multileveled union essentially including the bodily as well as the emotional and volitional levels of the human self (the Catholic position), or an essentially emotional-volitional union that then imposes a chosen meaning onto bodily actions, which, therefore, of themselves lack personal significance and acquire it only through an extrinsic imposition (the view defended by S/L). And so the disagreement is, fundamentally, about more than sexual acts. It is about what a human person is. If a human person is a body-soul composite--the Catholic position--and not a soul or consciousness that inhabits and uses the body as a kind of instrument, then the human body and bodily sexual acts cannot be of themselves void of personal meaning; rather, the personal union involving every aspect of the self (marriage) is specified by the biological actions and relations. S/L's defense of homosexual acts is, then, implicitly dualistic; it implicitly identifies the personal with the spirit or consciousness, treating the bodily aspect of the self as material for the imposition of extrinsic meaning.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF COMPLEMENTARITY AND THE MAIN CLAIMS OF SALZMAN AND LAWLER

S/L distinguish among different types of sexual complementarity. According to them, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (hereafter, CDF) distinguishes between biological complementarity and personal complementarity. (4) And within biological complementarity S/L distinguish between "heterogenital complementarity" and "reproductive complementarity." The former refers to the fact that the male and female genitals (penis and vagina) are oriented to each other and are completed by each other. The latter refers to the ability of a particular male and female to reproduce together. Thus, according to S/L, many couples exhibit heterogenital complementary (they are able to have penile-vaginal intercourse) but lack reproductive complementarity (one and/or the other is infertile).

By "personal complementarity," S/L mean a sexual union that includes psycho-affective and spiritual complementarity, but that is brought about by what they call "orientation complementarity." (5) By the latter they mean a match (with respect to emotional attachment, sexual affection, and sexual desire) between two homosexuals or two heterosexuals of opposite sexes, a match lacking between, for example, a homosexual and a heterosexual. Finally, by "holistic complementarity" they mean an overarching complementarity synthesizing the biological and personal levels of partners. …

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