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Part 11: Why Same-Sex Unions Cannot Express a Total Gift of Self
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Mar 8, 2016)
The following is the eleventh in a series on Homosexuality and God's Merciful Love. You can follow the entire series here.
Let's remind ourselves where we left-off last time. Catholic author Melinda Selmys was explaining to us the significance of human sexuality that can be known and experienced by any loving, heterosexual couple. In short, sexual intimacy has the unique capacity to express a total gift of self to another person, and at the same time to be the vehicle of the creation of new human life. As Selmys puts it:
So we come back to the meaning of sex, and the gift of the body. The gift is often an amusing, mysterious, unknown, strange, and difficult gift. Sometimes it seems like a white elephant. Still, it is a gift. This is the meaning of sexuality, underneath all the superficial hubbub. The body has its own language; the meaning of sexuality flows out of the nature of the gift, which proceeds from the fact that man is not a hodge-podge of faculties and organs, but a unified whole. To give the body is to give the self. ...
The body is given, as a gift, to another, who makes an equal and identical gift of himself, and from this the gift of a body is given to a new human being who has never before existed. This is the meaning of the body. This is the meaning of sexuality (Sexual Authenticity, p. 107).
Of course, Selmys does not mean that every sexual act must result in the conception of a child — again, even at the natural level, we can see that this is not always the case. What she means is that the human sexual act has the unique capacity to express a total gift of two persons to each other, and the same act has the natural potential to be the vehicle for the creation of new human life. In other words, the most intimate expression of love can produce the most precious gift of all: the gift of a child.
Quite a wonderful thing, when you stop and think about it. Of course, people can and do misuse their sexuality, and even procreate new human life outside of the context of a true conjugal gift of self. But the point is: anyone, just using their reason, and without necessarily leaning on the Bible or the Catechism at all, can appreciate the incredible and unique potential of the sexual act. For it alone both can express the deepest human love and open the way to new human life.
Now, we have to ask the question: Why can't same-sex unions be expressions of this "total gift of self"? Can't homosexual partners love each other every bit as deeply and passionately as heterosexual spouses do? So what's the difference — and what's the big deal here?
Gathering up everything we said in last week's article, as well as this week, we should now be able to see that a same-sex relationship, even with the best intentions, inevitably involves a truncated and distorted expression of the total gift of self.
1) First of all, because same-sex couples cannot give themselves in totality to each other in their sexual acts. For there is always something incapable of being shared. In particular, they cannot give their fertility to each other, their awesome and wonderful capacity to procreate new human life, because it is naturally and biologically impossible to do so (even though their sexual acts involve bodily expressions with precisely those organs which carry that potential).
2) This leads us to a second realization: that homosexual acts are by definition unnatural or sub-natural forms of sexual intimacy (remember St. Paul's teaching in his Epistle to the Romans 1: 18-27). For heterosexual intimacy and sexual intercourse clearly have the unique, natural capacity to be both unitive (an expression of a total gift of self) and procreative (of new human life) at one and the same time. Same-sex unions have neither capacity in its fullness. Inevitably, they fall well-short of the meaning and purpose of human sexuality. And this leads inexorably to a third problem. ...
3) Same-Sex erotic acts, medically speaking, are fraught with peril to an extraordinary degree. This is especially true of male homosexual acts. We shall examine the evidence for this over the next few weeks. But we should hardly be surprised by this, if these acts are unnatural and truncated forms of human sexual intimacy. And we are not just talking about the AIDS virus here. Suffice it to say for the moment that two people who truly love each other would not subject each other to the kinds of extraordinary medical dangers that same-sex unions involve. Some may be ignorant of these dangers, but for those who aren't, and who proceed anyway, there must be a strong desire to use their partner for their own sexual fulfilment, rather than to express anything like a total gift of self.
4) Finally, the body-language of same-sex love is all confused anyway. As Melinda Selmys tells us:
The depth of meaning expressed through conjugal love between a man and a woman simply is not possible in any other scenario. The mouth is not the body's "holy of holies" — it is the organ by which you consume and digest things. The anus is the organ by which you excrete waste. On purely symbolic, archetypal grounds, oral and anal sex are a mess — and the beauty of these acts, considered objectively, is quite elusive (p. 107).
Before we finish these reflections on why same-sex unions cannot be true expressions of love in its totality, we need to beware (again) of putting on our "Catholic Pharisee hats." Yes, homosexual acts of "love" are inevitably truncated and unnatural expressions of self-giving, medically very dangerous, and profoundly ugly.
But let's get real here. There are plenty of sexual sins committed by heterosexuals (as well as by some homosexuals) that are worse. These acts involve betrayal, cruelty and exploitation: one thinks, for example, of adultery, rape and incest. The gravity of such immoral acts surely outweighs the sins of those who enter into a same-sex erotic union, half-ignorant of the real nature of what they are doing, and moved with affection as well as disordered sexual desire for each other (a disordered desire that in most cases — as we shall see next week — is the result of deep inner wounds that they did not cause themselves).
Moreover, there are plenty of marriages between men and women in which the true potential of their conjugal acts does not even come close to being realized. These couples usually "make-love" to each other largely as a result of occasional fits of animal lust, sometimes aided and abetted by alcohol. Whatever they are "making" in bed with each other, it is hardly the fullness of love!
In these ways, both heterosexuals and homosexuals can and do misuse their natural gift and capacity for conjugal love. The trouble with homosexual erotic acts, however, is that they cannot help but fall far short of that capacity, even if they are accompanied by affectionate feelings between the partners. Feelings of affection, and good intentions are just not enough. The acts will be truncated expressions of self-giving, unnatural, medically dangerous and symbolically ugly no matter what the feelings they have for each other. Sadly, as the song goes, they are inevitably "looking for love in all the wrong places."
Next Time: Aren't Some People Just Born Gay?
You can follow the entire series here.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.