Christians, Homosexuality, and the Same-Sex Marriage Question
Zerilli, John, The Humanist
HUMANITY HAS a curious relationship with sex. It obviously enjoys it--there are nearly seven billion people in the world and not all that output could be the fruit of duty. Yet, for a practice so widespread and frequent, its morality is surprisingly controversial. Given that the two strongest urges in the animal kingdom are those for food and reproduction, it's also mysterious that one should receive all the moral attention. Religions are expert at constructing morals from nature and deriving values from facts. And what could be more natural than sex, which in most of the animal kingdom is indiscriminately performed? Why is this aspect of nature so hedged about with limitation? Isn't it true that in both consumption and reproduction, life is at stake--in the former case that of the individual, in the latter of the species? And that both practices naturally combine a survival requirement with pleasant sensations? Just as with the consumption of food, sex organs provide sensory stimulation. It is beyond question that without these sensory incentives--if we were devoid of taste buds or bereft of sexual drive--far fewer of us would eat well enough and still fewer would bother with sex. There is therefore a natural rationality in the coalescence of function and feeling.
The Roman Catholic Church historically condemned sexual feeling while condoning the function; today it says only that feeling and function must at all times be inseparable. As against this, Christians--Roman Catholics included--don't think it base to savor food, and most would consider it acceptable to discuss cuisine quite freely and to be cultivated in the gastronomic arts. There is not nearly the same allowance in the case of sexual leisure. To be sure, there is as good a case for modesty with sex as there is with food; but there is no immediately obvious reason why sex should be so highly moralized when it involves consenting adults. If it is beset with dangers, then surely we ought to deal with them as we would deal with any other dangers in life, primarily through education. At this point established religions ought to be beyond shaming people for giving in to very natural urges when no one is harmed.
Perhaps these remarks are banal but they merit emphasis because the influence of professional morality is still considerable--nowhere more considerable and harmful than in the official position of most Christian churches on the question of homosexuality. To say this is not to overlook the many churches that have embraced the natural variety of sexualities in human culture. The point is that the official opinion in many Christian churches, mostly evangelical, is decidedly against variety in sexual expression. This is what happens when mentality is made to prevail over mind, when an insensitive literalism is allowed to suspend the operations of free intelligence and humane feeling.
As part of its advancement, and as a consequence of the liberation of intellect from instinct, humankind has separated sex from mere reproduction. Homophobic Christians who have personally embraced this advancement-whether or not they care to admit the fact openly--are reluctant to confront its implications for those of a different sexual orientation. Too often Christians revert to the procreative argument in support of the thesis that homosexuality is "contrary to nature" But in this sense so is contraception which, like gay sex, provides the opportunity to separate function from feeling, to curtail reproduction while allowing stimulation of the sex organs. How is the morality of one unprocreative act any more admissible, or natural, than the other? The truth is that the moral condition of both types of participants--judging from participation in the sex act alone--is the same.
To make a fair moral comparison, we have to keep all variables constant between the two types, and so must judge from participation in the sex act alone. …