Reilly’s second chapter gets to the heart of the matter, and is his attempt to establish his main argument. His hope is to establish a natural law case against homosexuality by appeal to Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, and to a lesser degree, Aquinas. To do so, he defines Nature thusly: “Nature is what is, regardless of what anyone desires or abhors” (16). That is, nature is objective reality, what is really there. And he frames the argument as a dichotomy between those who embrace objective reality and those who reject it. “Opponents of same-sex marriage say that it is against Nature; proponents say that it is according to Nature and that therefore they have a right to it” (15). Specifically, he argues that natural law views the telos (the intended purpose) of reality as objectively built into the universe while for his opponents meaning and purpose are malleable, that there is no actual telos in the universe.
Now, a couple of comments right at the start.
(1) Appeal to nature, or indeed Nature, will never settle this issue or any other moral issue because Nature isn’t set up this way. According to Reilly’s own definition of Nature, it simply expresses “what is.” But “what is” does not equate with “what ought.” The two are totally separate discussions. Nature simply cannot tell us what is moral and what is not, so the whole program is an exercise in futility. The fact is that both heterosexual and homosexual activity is regularly observed in Nature, but this contributes nothing at all to the question of whether one ought to do something. Theft, rape, incest and murder are all observed in nature, but this does not establish that we “ought” to do any of these things, or that they are morally permissible. Nature simply cannot answer the question and all-to-often simply reflects our own prejudices and preconceptions back upon us.
(2) Reilly’s appeal to the telos of objective reality, that there is inherent meaning built into reality, also suffers from a failure to actually address any of the relevant concerns. Specifically, Reilly only offers us two choices; either meaning is inherent to reality or we just make it up as we go along. This strikes me as a false choice, since there is a third option, that meaning is not inherent to any part of reality, but is given to the world by God, a process that we as images of God can imitate. There is objective reality, but because we gaze at it through the subjective and limited self, our map of the terrain and the terrain itself will never totally correspond to one another; this is the foundational observation of postmodern thought. Not that reality is meaningless or that there is no objective reality, but that we simply don’t have the ability to access it. A number of Christian philosophers have concluded from this observation that God appoints meaning to things, but not because that meaning is inherent in the thing.
(3) Following from this, I raise the problem of knowing when a meaning is really there and when it is invested in by the subjective self. After all a flag, while manmade, can after some time become so closely tied to the meaning invested in it as to be inseparable ever after. And who determines what is natural about the meaning of things in the universe anyway? What is the telos of a tree? If we are simply observing Nature (what is), then certainly cutting one down, chopping it up and making a chair out of it is entirely unnatural. Whatever the original telos of trees was, it certainly cannot be said to be made for sitting, least of all hacked apart and rearranged in an unnatural order for that purpose.
It is also odd that Reilly wants to rely upon the Greek philosophers for establishing the primacy of heteronormative sexualized relationships in marriage as the highest good. He’s at least aware of this objection, and claims that Greek civilization has only a “partial acceptance” of homosexual behavior, expressed in pederasty (22-27). Such a view is starkly anachronistic for a few reasons.
(1) In Greek culture the highest relationship was not the family, heteronormative or otherwise, but same-sex friendship among men. It is quite an error to suggest that the familial unit was the highest form of relationship one could have.
(2) Greek civilization thrived on many types of same-sex relationships, not just pederasty (though this was common enough between teachers and students and between masters and slaves). It is incorrect to argue that the “publicly accepted” homosexual relationship was between an “adult male a male adolescent” while relationships between “mature male adults were not accepted” (22). In fact, “this was a cultural myth,” and that “by far the most common type of same-sex relationship” was between “two women or two men united by affection, passion, or desire,” (Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, 56, 57). In Plato’s discussion of the soulmate in his Symposium, he argues that soulmates were once a single soul, a four footed, four legged, two headed creature and that people spend their lives searching for the other half of their whole. These halves can be opposites, male and female, or two women or two men. He writes that when a man finds his male counterpart, they are “filled with the most wondrous friendship and intimacy and love, and are unwilling . . . to be apart from each other for a second. And they spend their whole lives together.” Aristotle approvingly describes two male lovers who lived and died together in a single household and were buried together like husband and wife (Politics, 2.96-97). Hundreds of more examples could be offered. Reilly’s work here is simple revisionism when he claims that a “homosexual household would not make sense to Aristotle” (27).