Chapter three of Reilly’s book follows easily in the train of what has come before and bears few surprises. This chapter has to do with Rousseau, and I have nothing to contribute to that conversation because we’re still being forced into Reilly’s false choice between objective meaning built into reality or no meaning at all.
The problem with the natural law argument is that it presumes we can bypass the subjective self to get at external reality. But as many philosophers have critiqued the Greeks over, to observe is to interpret. The subjective self cannot be got around (and even if we want to say that the Spirit or the Bible or God guides us, we’re still as subjective selves choosing to believe that, so it doesn’t answer the question). Now, this does not mean there is no meaning to the world, nor that the objective world is entirely cut off from us. Obviously not. But it does mean that we have to understand that all meaning is interpretive. That is to say, when trying to find out where we are, we consult a map, not the geography around us by itself. The map is an interpretation of the terrain that gives us a big picture that helps us make sense of where we are. The only problem is that no map can perfectly correspond to the geography of the world. For example, ancient maps by Christians and Jews often featured Jerusalem standing in the center of the world. Even today our maps substantially distort the size of Africa and Asia in relation to the sizes of the rest of the continents because the map process involves converting a 3D spherical shape into a 2D flattened surface. And even if we could make a perfect map, the map itself still would not be the same thing as the reality, because it is a representation. We must imagine that external reality is like the terrain we’re walking through, and the map is our worldview or perspective on how to interpret that terrain. The trouble is that some people start to confuse their map of the terrain with the terrain itself, and this causes all kinds of problems.
But Reilly does include a section in this chapter called “The Telos of Sex,” and it is here that he really starts to emphasize the New Natural Law (NNL) theory. The NNL is different from the original Nature Law (NL) theory, and this is sometimes confusing. NL taught that heterosexual coitus was the only just and good form of sexuality because it was procreative. NNL, by contrast, teaches that heterosexual coitus is the only lawful form of sexuality because it is both unitive and procreative. That is, they claim that coitus is the only means by which “union” can be achieved. That is, “only a unitive act can be generative, and only a generative act can be unitive – in that only it can make two ‘one flesh'” (36).
The NNL is perhaps the most sophisticated non-religious moral argument against gay marriage – which is why I find it so completely strange. The phrase “one flesh,” upon which they have rested their entire argument, comes after all from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” (Gen. 2:24). To suggest that this idea comes from “nature” or even “Nature” is quite dishonest. It comes right out of the Bible. So much for Natural law.
Further, it is unclear what exactly is meant by this phrase “one flesh.” Does it mean something spiritual or metaphysical? The mystical way in which NLL theorists speak of it, you would certainly think so. In the Bible, of course, this phrase is used by the New Testament to refer to the mystical union between Christ and the Church (Eph. 5), referring to mutual participation in one another. Clearly it is symbolic of participation and not to be taken literally. This does not stop NNL theorists, of course, who claim that it is in fact literal. They see the couple engaged in coitus as becoming “literally, not metaphorically, one organism,” (George, In Defense of Natural Law, 183). It is unclear what exactly is meant by this claim, since it is obviously not the case that a husband and wife become a single organism. Unless they both merge into a single, breathing beast with two heads, four arms and four legs, it seems like the word “literally” is being misused here.
Thus we can safely conclude that the “one flesh” phrase is a metaphor. The bride does not literally become the husband, nor the husband the wife. But this can be a powerful symbol of a life of mutual sharing in common. But if this is the case, then the specialness of coitus is found in the minds of the people involved; that is to say, sexual contact releases chemicals into the brain that increase the sense of intimacy between the partners involved. If this is the case, though, then the “unitive” factor comes from the brain upon sexual release, not the specific means by which this release is accomplished. Nothing is, of course, preventing a same-sex couple from sharing lives in common and having the same general intimacy as opposite-sex couples – cuddling, making out, sleeping in the same bed, doing chores, watching movies. And if the “unitive” sense comes upon sexual release, then it is not dependent upon coitus.
The most obvious way to approach the NNL argument is to point out that their theory requires us to forbid infertile couples from marriage. They cannot meet the criteria of the NNL view of sex. Their coitus might be unitive, but it cannot be generative. As Reilly says, “”only a unitive act can be generative, and only a generative act can be unitive – in that only it can make two ‘one flesh'” (36). Thus, according to their own principles, infertile couples cannot be “one flesh” even though they are heterosexual.
Reilly claims that same-sex behavior is inherently unable to be satisfying because it is “felt as a betrayal, as a lie with the body,” followed by “emptiness, by alienation” (37, 38). If this is the case, then we should expect relationship satisfaction to be far lower among same-sex couples than among other-sex couples. Except that sexual and relational satisfaction is equal among gay and straight couples. Likewise, if this is true we ought to expect that anal sex is unsatisfying, or less satisfying than coitus, yet many heterosexual couples enjoy anal sex, and a surprising substantial number of women get more intense orgasms from it, and enjoy it more than coitus. Such information is unlikely to impress NNL theorists because to them this is definitionally impossible: “No matter how many times homosexual advocates say it, two flesh of the same kind is not, and cannot become, ‘one flesh'” (38). From the outset, then, the NNL theorist simply assumes this cannot be true – and is enthusiastically unwilling to reconsider, no matter what evidence is presented to the contrary. Such is simply willful ignorance. Moreover, this ignores real people and their experiences in favor of a theory. It is the equivalent of saying, “People don’t enjoy apples,” and when people come forward to say, “Actually, we do like apples,” you respond by saying, “You don’t know what you like.” This is a blind assertion that can be neither proven nor disproved, and as such deserves to be simply cast aside as hubris and arrogance. It is simply an excuse to privilege heternormative behavior and nothing more.