By DONALD DeMARCO
The argument has been put forth that traditional marriage and same-sex “marriage” are not essentially different because, in some instances, a heterosexual union cannot produce offspring. Thus both forms of “marriage” are equal in those cases where there is no ability to procreate.
This argument fails to take into consideration the nature of marriage and how certain imperfections, such as infertility, do not alter that nature. Infertility is not an integral part of the nature of marriage. It is an imperfection, a deprivation of a power that belongs to what marriage is in its wholeness. A same-sex “marriage” is not infertile because of an imperfection, but because it is not in the nature of same-sex partners to be able to conceive.
Therefore, with respect to not producing offspring, a traditional marriage and one between two people of the same sex remains essentially different.
It belongs to the nature of the eye to see. The eye that does not function according to its nature does not change the nature of the eye, but is explained in terms of an imperfection. Once we know what the eye is supposed to do, we can attribute defective functioning of the eye to an imperfection. However, we cannot reason the other way around, arguing from the imperfection to the conclusion that the nature of the eye is not to see. The fact that my thumb cannot see is not due to an imperfection but to an inability.
The notion of “imperfection” implies a perfection since, by definition, an imperfection falls short of a perfection. In this sense, it implies a nature. An inability does not imply either a perfection or a nature. Marriage has a nature; the same cannot be said about a same-sex arrangement.
A more concrete example might be helpful. Johnny Unitas began his football career in the National Football League most inauspiciously. His first pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. He botched a handoff on his second play resulting in a fumble recovery for the other team. At this point the young quarterback’s performance was on a par with someone who had never played the game, or even a blind man. But no one would argue that there is parity between Unitas and one who cannot see, and conclude that a sightless quarterback is not essentially different than the one who was grossly underperforming. An imperfection is radically different than an inability.
What would be overlooked in such a specious argument would be Johnny Unitas’ natural abilities, about which he was not performing up to par on his first two plays. Unitas’ abilities soon came to the fore. In his rookie year, he began a string of throwing touchdown passes in 47 consecutive games, a record for his era. By the year 2002, Sporting News proclaimed Johnny Unitas, as a quarterback, “The Best There Ever Was.” Two imperfect plays did not affect his nature; they were subordinate to it, although an observer may not have been sure whether the problem was due to an imperfection or an inability.
Aristotle understood that nature acts in a certain way, “for the most part.” Most apple trees, but not all, produce apples. Most marriages, but not all, produce children. Nature is the paradigm and is not lost when imperfections mar its performance. It belongs to the nature of marriage, taking marriage in its fullness or normality of functioning, to produce offspring. It does not belong to the nature of a same-sex relationship to have children. Again, an imperfection should not be equated with an inability.
The nature of marriage has been virtually lost in the discussion concerning the legitimacy of same-sex marriages. But its significance is vital. By participating in the nature of marriage, a couple is oriented toward an openness to life. This orientation may have its beneficial effect in what St. John Paul II has referred to as “spiritual parenthood.” Marriage naturally inclines the partners to motherhood and fatherhood. For this reason, it is called “matrimony” (the office of the mother). If the partners do not have children of their own, they are better prepared to serve as spiritual parents to others.
Childless married couples do not have a common bond with same-sex partners. The former operate from within a nature, the nature of marriage. The latter are not truly “childless” since they operate from a structure (rather than a nature) that makes procreation impossible.
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(Donald DeMarco is a senior fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. Some of his recent writings may be found at Human Life International’s Truth & Charity Forum.)