The Natural Law Case for Same – Sex Marriage

In advance of the publication at Commonweal of his post on “A Conservative Catholic’s Case for Same – Sex Marriage“, Joseph Bottum gave an extended interview to the New York Times, in which he discussed the article and issues and around it. When I wrote about this article at QTC two days ago, I concentrated on the story behind the case that he makes, on the evolution in his thinking rather than on the argument itself. I did so, simply because that argument draws heavily on natural law theory, and a distinction Bottum draws between the “thick”, original natural law theory of Aquinas, and the “thin”, or new natural law theory more commonly promoted in modern times. While I have read a fair amount on both, I simply do not feel qualified to comment directly on an area where so many eminent scholars have devoted entire lives of study.

However, I was pleased to find that in the NYT interview that was also published Friday, co-inciding with the main article at Commonweal, there’s an extended summary of Bottum’s application of Natural Law Theory to same – sex marriage.

First, the Times notes the prominence of Natural Law in the arguments against:

Religious Catholics are generally united in their reverence for St. Thomas Aquinas, whose theology dominates Catholic thought. The traditional-marriage movement is led by men like Brian S. Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, and Prof. Robert P. George of Princeton, Catholics who rely on Aquinas’s reasoning to make the contemporary case for traditional marriage.

After briefly outlining Bottum’s simply pragmatic reasons for a Catholic change of heart, the Times continues with a summary of the Natural Law argument:

Mr. Bottum now believes — here’s where the essay will really outrage fellow churchmen — that Catholics are mistaken to think that natural law requires them to oppose same-sex marriage.

Natural law, as systematically explained by Aquinas in his treatise Summa Theologica, is the will of God as understood by people using their reason. Aquinas extrapolates many principles of natural law, including those of marriage. But Mr. Bottum contends that these rules are not the point.

Natural law, Mr. Bottum writes, depends for its force on a sense of the mystery of creation, the enchantment of everyday objects, the sacredness of sex. In the West, that climate of belief has been upended: by science, modernism, a Protestant turn away from mysticism, and, most recently, the sexual revolution. The strictures of natural law were meant to structure an enchanted world — but if the enchantment is gone, the law becomes a pointless artifact of a defunct Christian culture.

“And if,” Mr. Bottum writes, “heterosexual monogamy so lacks the old, enchanted metaphysical foundation that it can end in quick and painless divorce, then what principle allows a refusal of marriage to gays on the grounds of a metaphysical notion like the difference between men and women?”

– read the full article at New York Times

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