Authorizing Marriage? Canon, Tradition, and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions

By Mark D. Jordan; Meghan T. Sweeney et al. | Go to book overview

CAN I REALLY COUNT ON YOU?

Laurence Paul Hemming

The purpose of this essay is very modest. Setting out from the way in which all contemporary accounts of sexed or gendered identity depend essentially on a twofold understanding of difference, a twofold understanding, moreover, that then structures the relationship between private sociality and public life or the polis as such, I ask, in accord with the spirit of this volume, whether in canon and tradition this twofold has always been present. Identifying one canonical text which has ordered sexual difference and gender identity quite differently (whilst at the same time taking into account and giving an explanation of the twofold) I indicate within the very limited space available that contemporary accounts need not be constrained by this binary, nor need they construct the relationship of domestic living to the political in the way that is now taken for granted, nor even do these accounts have to be restricted to sexual coupling itself. I wish, in other words, to indicate (and here I really can no more than indicate) a possible passageway to a more original ontological account of human sexual difference and domesticity, based on an appeal to a matter itself phenomenologically constitutive of the self as such.

The basis of much contemporary discourse on marriage and coupling is that it is for the sake of the preservation of the family as the most basic unit of society. The preservation of normal sexual relations is taken to have, not just a purpose in and of itself, and so to be its own good thing, but rather that its effect goes beyond its immediate goodness to extend to the stabilization of society as a whole. Here, therefore, is the moral drive for the preservation of normal, heterosexual, family life: without it, society as a whole is imperiled. The interpretation of society at issue here is essentially political: family life makes possible, stabilizes, and conditions for good purposes, the life of the polis. Marriage is a coupling of the two, the male and the female, as what is genuinely other to each other, in order to provide the most basic form of alterity on which an intersubjectivity can be resolved. One of the ways in which same-sex coupling has been questioned is on the basis of its inadequacy with respect to genuine alterity: it is morally flawed at an ontological level because it is not the coupling of the other with the other, but the coupling of the same with the selfsame: the argument runs that it is intrinsically turned in on itself.

The appeal to a sexed alterity, grounded in the natural difference between male and female, can seem to be very compelling, especially to any

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