[Re-posted from this afternoon.]
Ross is at his most Catholic today in his column on marriage equality, and I'd like to start a response by saying that he has conceded many secular points: that the life-long, monogamous heterosexual nuclear family is not natural and it is not the default definition of marriage in world history. Abandoning these defunct arguments - defunct because they are transparently untrue - is a helpful throat-clearing for which I'm most grateful.
Ross' core argument is that "lifelong heterosexual monogamy at its best can offer something distinctive and remarkable a microcosm of civilization, and an organic connection between human generations that makes it worthy of distinctive recognition and support." I'm going to repeat what I have said before: I don't disagree with this at all. I remain in awe of the heterosexual life-long coupling that produces new human life. There is a miraculous, sacred, awe-inspiring aspect to it. I understand why this is a Sacrament, and have no interest in being included in such a Sacrament since it is premised on the very Thomist arguments Ross puts forward.
Sex for me has long been an intimation of the divine. Yes, we know that there are many ways human beings experience pleasure and transcendence - try magic mushrooms or a great Bordeaux or a rip-roaringly funny conversation or a quiet walk on a summer's afternoon. I see all these things, as Ross does, I think, as part of the glories of divine creation (okay, maybe not the shrooms in his case). But the extreme, compelling, irresistible nature of the orgasmic pleasure - I know of nothing more sublime or self-losing - and the linkage to creating new life does make it special.
This is why the Catholic church upholds this as an ideal. And it does so with great wisdom. But, as Ross concedes, the question is whether this ideal should rest on its own laurels or needs to be elevated by law and doctrine to the highest level of human relationship, and also, in order to achieve this ideal, actively exclude others - both in the religious and the secular sphere?
We know the answer in the religious sphere. The church - even in its current High Ratzinger phase - opts for inclusion over exclusion. It allows the infertile to marry. It does not remove the Sacrament of Matrimony from those who do not produce kids. It even annuls countless marriages, many of which have been consummated, in enormously large numbers. It marries those past child-bearing age. It treasures adopted kids, even though they violate Ross's parent-procreating "microcosm of civilization" ideal. And that's only the Catholic church. The Protestant churches freely allow divorce and contraception - breaking both the monogamy and the procreative elements of Ross's ideal (which is to say all of it). So in the religious sphere, the Church breaks its own ideal with regularity, and the other churches have long since given almost all of it up. And yet the Catholic church still insists that its ideal be enforced as an act of civil exclusion in the secular sphere, even on people who are atheists.
On what conceivable grounds, if you pardon the expression? Look at how diverse current civil marriages are in the US. The range and diversity runs from Amish families with dozens of kids to yuppie bi-coastal childless couples on career paths; there are open marriages and arranged marriages; there is Rick Santorum and Britney Spears - between all of whom the civil law makes no distinction. The experience of gay couples therefore falls easily within the actual living definition of civil marriage as it is today, and as it has been now for decades. To exclude gays and gays alone is therefore not the upholding of an ideal (Britney Spears and Larry King are fine - but a lesbian couple who have lived together for decades are verboten) so much as making a lone exception to inclusion on the grounds of sexual orientation. It is in effect to assert not the ideal of Catholic Matrimony, but the ideal of heterosexual superiority. It creates one class of people, regardless of their actions, and renders them superior to another.
Ross's view is increasingly, therefore, one faction of one religion's specific definition of Matrimony out of countless arrangements that are available for cohabitation in civil society and world history. It's a view freely breached within his own church itself. And it has already been abandoned as a civil matter in some of the most Catholic countries on earth, including Spain and Argentina. And heterosexuals-only marriage is only a microcosm of civilization if you exclude all other relationships from civilization - friendship, citizenship, family in the extended sense, families with adopted, non-biological children, etc.