Friday, June 25, 2010

Eve Tushnet and Ann Althouse Discuss Same-Sex Marriage: The Crazy Ultimate Logic of Magisterial Thinking about Homosexuality

For anyone who has still not recognized the plain craziness—and I choose that word deliberately and with care—of the magisterial Catholic position on homosexual ethics taken to its logical conclusion, I highly recommend Eve Tushnet’s recent discussion of sexual ethics with Ann Althouse.  Althouse has linked a video of the discussion to her blog.

Tushnet is a freelance journalist whose father Mark Tushnet teaches law at Harvard, and whose sister Rebecca is a professor at Georgetown’s school of law.  Several weeks ago, Mark Oppenheimer published an article about Eve Tushnet’s position on same-sex marriage in New York Times.  Tushnet is lesbian, Catholic, and celibate, and she defends the magisterial position that all gay and lesbian Catholics should live lives of complete chastity throughout their lives.

What strikes me strongly in the Tushnet-Althouse discussion is Tushnet’s proposal that it would be less morally offensive for a gay/lesbian person to have a sex-change operation and then engage in sexual activity, than for a gay/lesbian person to engage in sexual activity with a person of the same sex.

In articulating that position, Tushnet is, in fact, pushing precisely the ultimate logic of the magisterial position on homosexuality—the ultimate crazy logic of the magisterial position.  It is more moral for a transgendered person to engage in sexual activity with a person of the opposite sex than it is for two people of the same sex to engage in sexual activity with each other.  It is more moral for a gay or lesbian person to change his or her gender and then engage in sexual activity than it is for a gay or lesbian person to be erotically intimate with a person of the same gender.

As Althouse notes, presumably the Catholic magisterial position is premised on the idea that all sexual activity must be open and oriented to procreation in order to be morally acceptable.  But sexual activity of a transgendered person with a person of the opposite sex is no more open and oriented to procreation than is sexual activity between two persons of the same sex.

The only difference between the two forms of sexual expression is that in one case, the gender complementarity that has now become implicitly normative for Catholic thinking about matters sexual, from John Paul II forward, is respected.  It appears to matter—ultimately so—for the Catholic tradition that those engaged In sexual activity be first and foremost male and female.

Not that they be capable of or engaged in procreative-oriented sexual activity.  Despite the constant insistence of the Catholic tradition on this norm as the ultimate norm by which the morality of sexual acts is to be judged.

I’ve noted over and over on this blog that this is precisely where the logic of Catholic thinking about matters sexual has been headed with John Paul II’s innovative theology of the body—innovative, because it elevates male-female complementarity to a position that this notion has never held in the Catholic tradition up to now.  It makes scripture and tradition revolve around biological gender roles in an exceptionally crude way that has never been part of the tradition, and that certainly is not the primary focus of either the Hebrew or the Christian scriptures.

And so the Catholic church fights bitterly against same-sex marriage, on the ground that same-sex couples cannot procreate, while it freely marries heterosexual couples incapable of procreation due to their age or to physical impediments to procreation on the part of one or the other spouse.

In the final analysis, everything now comes down to gender—in the most crudely biologistic way possible.  In the final analysis, everything now comes down to a defense of the gender symbolism with which most of us are most comfortable, because it’s all we’ve ever known throughout our lives: men and women “fit” together (just as it used to “fit” for Father to work outside the home and Mother to stay at home and care for the children; just as it used to “fit” for two white people to marry and two black people to marry).

It comes down to what makes us comfortable.  Not to what expands us as human communities and communities of faith.  Not to our call to open our arms to those who are other than ourselves.

To what makes us comfortable.  To building communities, including communities of faith, in which we can assure that we meet and rub shoulders only with those like ourselves.  If our parish is largely white, middle-class, and “family”-oriented, then by all means let us work to keep our parish largely white, middle-class, and “family”-oriented.  Even if that means excluding those who are other than ourselves and letting them know they are unwelcome and need to move on.

Pushing the normativity of biology, crudely understood, and of gender roles understood in grossly biologistic terms: this now becomes the center of energy in a faith tradition that is all about welcoming the other, affirming and accepting those who are different from ourselves, living with and celebrating difference.  And communing with a God who is totally, frighteningly Other—a God who cannot be fit into neat boxes and categories of thought, but who calls on us to expand our way of looking at the world to incorporate, always, the possibility of surprising otherness in the world around us, and in God Herself.

We live at a strange moment in Christian history, in which the masculine and its “right” to rule everything in the world, its “right” to keep the female in subjugation, is perhaps the driving force of church life for many Christians around the globe.  And in the thinking of folks like Eve Tushnet, the biologistic understanding of human sexuality as understood by the natural law tradition of Catholic theology fits comfortably into the patriarchal project that is now driving much Christian thought and life around the world—as crazy as it seems.