If same-sex marriage can be natural can it also be doctrinal?
Through this forum Jean Porter has helpfully illuminated some of the principles of a scholastic understanding of marriage. She concludes ‘[i]n my view, a natural law analysis of the purposes of sex and marriage does not foreclose the possibility of recognizing unions which are by their nature non-reproductive, but which allow for the expression of the mutual fidelity and interpersonal love of the partners – indeed, we have good theological as well as natural law reasons for doing just that.’ This conclusion raises a number of interesting questions.
The natural law is not the eternal law of God. Instead, it is participation in the eternal law. Furthermore, it is a participation which must be responsive to the ‘various conditions of life according to places, times, and circumstances.’ The natural law is not understood by all with perfect clarity both as a consequence of the fact that as participation in the eternal law it has the divine intellect as its object and also because of the effects of human sin. Hence there is a need for perspicacity when establishing the natural law. Aquinas maintains that the virtue required to oversee the discernment of natural law is justice because he understands that all law ‘is nothing else than an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated.’ Given the above background, the magisterium, as the teaching office of the church, and doctrine, as the reflective conceptualisation of faith, have a key role to play in ascertaining the natural law. Hence one important question that Jean Porter’s essay raises is: since church teaching as expressed in formal doctrine contains an exclusively heterosexual definition of marriage is there any possibility for development on this issue? Or to express myself more directly: if Jean Porter has made the case for construing same-sex marriage as natural can a similar case be made for construing it as doctrinal?