Monday, April 13, 2015

I am an SSM ent

In The Lord of the Rings, when the ent Treebeard first meets Merry and Pippin, he tells them, "I am not altogether on anybody's side, because nobody is altogether on my side, if you understand me."

That is the position I find myself in on same-sex marriage. When this issue first started coming to prominence, perhaps half a dozen years ago, I began to seriously ponder Aquinas's reasoning on sexual ethics. As I understand him, Aquinas posits three goods that are the telos of sex: 1) pleasure, 2) intimacy, and 3) procreation. By his reasoning, any form of sex that thwarts any of these three ends is immoral, by falling short of this ideal. So loveless sex without pleasure engaged in by a married couple, just to create a child, per Aquinas is immoral. And masturbation, interestingly, is more immoral than homosexual intercourse, as it can only fulfill aim 1), while homosexual sex can fulfill 1) and 2).

But Aquinas's reasoning seems off to me: why do I have to achieve all the possible ends of an activity for my engagement in it to be good? We might say that music ultimately aims at three ends as well: artistic excellence, enjoyment by an audience, and self-fulfillment for the musician. And the best music will achieve all three (and I grant Aquinas the point that the best sex achieves all three aims of the activity). But that certainly doesn't make it immoral if I go bang around on my bongos just for fun!

Now, things get trickier if I am actively thwarting one of the ends of an activity: say, if I am having fun playing music that is making my audience miserable. I might indeed be inclined to call that immoral.

But is that what homosexuals are doing? It seems that, for many homosexuals, physical intimacy with someone of the opposite sex is not an option. And they don't actively prevent aim 3): I suppose many homosexuals would, in fact, be pleasantly surprised if they somehow produced a baby. So for someone who is oriented towards intimacy with their own sex, only aims 1) and 2) are achievable, and so sex that achieves those is the best sex on offer.

Given the above reasoning, and our current social circumstances, I think that, on the whole, legalizing same-sex marriage is a good idea right now.

But note: I arrive at this position using the sort of moral reasoning that Aquinas, Thomists, and other moral realists would approve of (even if they might think I am mistaken in my conclusion), and the sort that many (not all!) proponents of SSM would completely reject: many (not all!) SSM proponents think that any sort of "moral reasoning" about any sexual activity whatsoever, just so long as it is consensual, is "judgmental" (which it certainly is, but they use "judgmental" as a curse word). They think it is "no one else's business" if, say, they want to have sex (whether homo- or hetero-sexual) with twenty anonymous partners in a night. And this position I regard as sheer hedonistic nonsense: lust is, indeed, a sin.

So, as I say, on SSM I am like Treebeard: I am not altogether on either side, because no one is altogether on my side (an exaggeration, of course: certainly someone else has thought about this issue in the above fashion). From where I stand, the thoughtful opponents of SSM (and I don't for a second deny that there are those opposed to it through sheer bigotry) have reached the wrong conclusion, but for the right reasons, while most of the proponents of SSM have reached the right conclusion, but for the wrong reasons.


  1. Can ask what you're position on this was like during your libertarian days? Most say that the "government should get out of marriage", but it's always been unclear to me as to how it was "involved" to begin with. Do you think this and the marriage-as-contract positions make any sense?

  2. The Kaushitaki Upanishad, one of the oldest Vedantic texts in Hinduism, identifies the same three goods. In the course of describing the reason different parts of the body were created, it says "The ear is one portion taken out of the supreme consciousness, with sound as its object... The male organ is one portion taken out of the supreme consciousness, with bliss, love, and offspring as its object."


Why is it "irrational"...

to not want to work with someone who smells bad? I have the unfortunate job of telling someone whom I am mentoring that when they return ...