William E. May on Why the Sodomy Decision Was Wrong

Moral Theologian Critiques Supreme Court Ruling

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WASHINGTON, D.C., JULY 7, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Moral theologian William E. May says the recent U.S. Supreme Court striking down a law against sodomy is deeply flawed.



Here, the Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family explains his reasoning.

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Sex, Marriage and the Supreme Court
By William E. May

The reasoning advanced in the majority opinion of the Supreme Court in Lawrence et al. v. Texas (June 26, 2003) went far beyond decriminalizing acts of sodomy (whether chosen by persons of the same sex or opposite sex), and this reasoning is what is most seriously wrong with the decision.

To decriminalize a behavior is not the same as declaring that the behavior in question is morally good and worthy. But Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion assumes that anal/oral sex -- or for that matter, any kind of sex act -- when freely chosen by consenting adults, has the same moral value as the marital act.

Moreover, the rationale used in Lawrence et al. v. Texas logically demands recognizing the validity of same sex marriages, as a careful reading of the text clearly shows.

The opinion praises the constitutional protections afforded to "personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education," and then declares: "[p]ersons in a homosexual relationship may seek autonomy for these purposes, just as heterosexual persons do."

Sadly, the majority opinion completely ignores the intimate bonds between sex, marriage and the generation of new human life. It is blind to the indispensable contribution married men and women make to the common good of society.

The marriage of a man and a woman is unique. It is consummated by a bodily act that literally makes the man and the woman to be "one flesh." In and through this act husband and wife both give themselves to each other in a way proper and exclusive to spouses and open themselves to the gift of new human life that this bodily act, as behavior, is capable of generating when non-behavioral conditions such as the fertility of the couple are favorable.

The coital act, alone of bodily acts, is capable of generating human life; it is impossible to generate human life by holding hands, kissing, engaging in anal or oral sex, or by masturbating. The only bodily act through which it can be generated is the bodily act of genital coition.

Life, of course, can be given through acts of fornication, but human cultures for millennia and for very good reasons universally regarded marriage as the proper framework for the engendering of new human life. Sadly, today some think it appropriate to generate children outside of wedlock, but the tragic situations associated with phenomena such as "fatherless families" show the shallowness of such thinking.

Our society, as any human society, can survive only if new human persons are generated. The marital union of a man and a woman who have given themselves unreservedly to one another and who can consummate their union in the beautiful bodily act of conjugal intercourse is the best place to serve as a "home" for new human life, as the "place" where this life can take root and grow in love and service to others.

Same sex couples cannot marry because they simply cannot do what married couples are capable of doing, i.e., of engaging in the conjugal act, one "open" to the communication of a unique kind of love, conjugal love, and to the communication of life itself.

Lawrence et al. v. Texas completely ignores this and the inestimable service that marriage contributes to the common good. Because it does so it is a terribly flawed document.