Aquinas, In SUPPORT of Same–Sex Relationships.

Some of the key questions in the Catholic consultation on marriage and the family concern the Aquinas’ concept of natural law, but noted in the introduction to a post by theologian Alban McCoy at the Tablet  ”Many lay Catholics taking part in the Vatican’s survey will have struggled with the questions concerning natural law and sex and relationships”.  McCoy writes:

….. natural law is one of the oldest and, until relatively recently, most influential ideas in moral and political thought. However much disagreement there might be about specifics, we seem unable to dispense with the notion that some things are natural or appropriate to human life.

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It is the assumption that the only those sexual relationships which are open to procreation that are “natural or appropriate to human life”, that is the basis for the traditional Catholic condemnation of same – sex relationships, and so of gay marriage. But that’s a shallow, simplistic view of Natural Law, and its implications for LGBT Christians.

Portal of the Church of Pilgrims, in Washingto...

The problem here though, is that “natural law” is widely misrepresented and distorted in standard Church teaching. The usual presentation of the concept is unambiguous: that by natural law, the “purpose of sex” is primarily about procreation, and so any sexual acts not open to procreation are not “natural”, and so not morally acceptable. This obviously includes all same – sex genital intercourse, and marriage, in terms of natural law, is necessarily and exclusively between a man and a woman.

This conclusion is explicit in Aquinas’ own words, and so (it would seem) beyond contradiction.

However, those words are not the only ones he wrote on the subject of what we call homosexuality. John Boswell notes that he discusses the subject in three different places. One of these flatly contradicts the CDF assertion in Homosexualitatis Problema (the infamous Hallowe’en letter), that a homosexual orientation is gravely disordered.

After discussing some problems with Aquinas’ arguments arising from his shifting, self-contradictory understanding of “nature”, Boswell continues:

This difficulty pales, however, beside the startling revelation following the second definition that homosexuality may in fact be quite “natural” to a given individual, in either sense of the word.

“Thus it may happen that something which is against human nature, in regard either to reason or to the preservation of the body, may become natural to a particular man, owing to some defect of nature in him”.

The “defect” of nature mentioned here should not be taken as implying some contravention of “natural laws”. Aquinas compares this sort of “innate” homosexuality to hot water: although water is not “naturally” hot, it may be altogether “natural” for water under certain circumstances to become hot. Although it may not be “natural” for humans in general to be homosexual, it  is apparently quite “natural” for certain individuals.

(Boswell points out that Aquinas’ use of “defective” does not imply morally reprehensible, as he uses the same word with reference to women, as produced by “defective” circumstances”, and both homosexuality and femaleness are in fact natural to the individual in question).

Then, he continues:

In Aquinas’s view, moreover, everything which is un any way “natural” has a purpose, and the purpose is good: “Natural inclinations occur in things because of God, who moves all things…. Whatever is the end of anything natural cannot be bad in itself, since everything which exists naturally is ordained by divine providence to fill some purpose…….. The Summa does not speculate on what the “end” of homosexuality might be, but this is hardly surprising in light of the prejudices of the day.

Aquinas’ account of natural law takes the raw material of morality to be the human nature with which we have been endowed by God: and the point of moral reflection is to discern ways in which this nature might ­flourish. For Aquinas, flourishing and true happiness are the same thing; so the first question of ethics asks about what makes human beings genuinely and lastingly happy.

McCoy does not go into the implications of “human flourishing” for same – sex relationships specifically, but a moment’s thought, and reflection on the evidence from science and from real- life experience, should make those clear. For those “endowed by God” with a natural orientation to the same sex, then conventional marriage to someone of the opposite sex is unlikely to make them “genuinely and lastingly happy”. (This point is accepted by orthodox Vatican teaching, which does not recommend marriage for gay men or lesbians). But there is abundant evidence, from countless same – sex couples, that this human flourishing is indeed possible in loving, committed relationships with persons of the same sex.

Recommended Books

Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People In Western Europe From The Beginning Of The Christian Era To The Fourteenth Century: Gay … of the Christian Era to the 14th Century
Moore, Gareth: A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality
Oliva, Adriano: Amours : L’église, les divorcés remariés, les couples homosexuels (French Edition)

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