Natural Law, Same-Sex Marriage, and the Politics of Virtue

Speaker: Categories: Sep 10, 2005


[45min, 46sec / 38min, 14sec]


Few other issues have captured the attention of the Christian communities as has that of same-sex marriage. Each of the opposing views has ably supported its perspective from the canon of Scripture, from tradition, and from traditionally considered to be normative behavior. Is there a right view today which may differ from a right view decades or centuries ago? Do moral virtues change over time?

Dr. Chartier notes,"Opposition to the legal recognition of same-sex marriage regularly flows from the belief that same-sex sexual activity is morally inappropriate and should therefore be discouraged. The so-called"new natural law"theorists, including Germain Grisez, John Finnis, and Robert George, have offered what is arguably the best contemporary defense of this belief."

Chartier contends that their defense is unsuccessful by delineating the basic elements of the new natural law theory, citing the new natural lawyers'notion of"basic goods"(life and bodily well-being, speculative knowledge, play/skillful performance, practical wisdom/reasonableness, aesthetic experience, friendship, self-integration, and religion) and the various guidelines for responsible action (such as the"Golden Rule") they term"modes of responsibility."Then he explains why the theory's proponents are convinced that same-sex sexual acts are wrong. The new natural lawyers maintain that any sexual act not"open to procreation"is wrong because such an act exploits the actors and alienates them from their bodies. Chartier suggests that the new natural lawyers could acknowledge the appropriateness of at least some same-sex sexual relationships if they amended their theory in either or both of two possible ways: by acknowledging that bodily pleasure is a good in itself or by agreeing that sexual intercourse can be a way of participating in the good of friendship.

SDAF's September speaker concludes by arguing that even someone who accepts the new natural lawyers'view of same-sex sexual acts might have good reason to support the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. He sketches a view of marriage -- including same-sex marriage -- as a school for civic virtue. He notes that the new natural lawyers recognize that it is sometimes appropriate, within the constraints of the"principle of double effect,"to act in ways one knows will foster what one regards as the evil behavior of others. Thus, he suggests, the new natural lawyers could reasonably believe that legislators and others who regard same-sex relationships as immoral might, nonetheless, encourage the legal recognition of same-sex marriage to foster the virtues marriage would help same-sex couples to develop. Whether they accept his proposed amendments to their theory or not, Gary Chartier argues, the new natural lawyers could see it as reasonable to support the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.


A California native and La Sierra University alumnus (BA, 1987, history and political science), Gary Chartier studied religion and philosophy at Claremont Graduate School and at the University of Cambridge,. England, from which he received a PhD in Christian theology and ethics in December, 1991, for a dissertation entitled"Toward a Theology and Ethics of Friendship."He holds a law degree from the University of California at Los Angeles. He has taught business ethics, philosophy, and religion at La Sierra, Loma Linda, and California Baptist Universities. This fall he will join the faculty of law at Brunei University, near London. His byline has appeared in theUCLA Law Review,Ratio Juris, theUCLA Asian Pacific American Law Journal, theAnnual Review of Law and Ethics, theBrigham Young University Education and Law Journal, theAnglican Theological Review, andConversations in Theology and Religious Studies. He is the author of forthcoming articles in theMaine Law Review, theEmployee Rights and Employment Policy Journal, and theBuffalo Environmental Law Journal. Formerly the managing editor of La Sierra'sAdventist Heritage journaland a member of the editorial staff ofSpectrum, he is also a business consultant, working both as an advisor to an international conference planning firm and as a member of the strategic consulting team of Thomas and Associates LLC. His hobbies include writing fiction, poetry, an occasional song lyric, and engaging in long conversations.

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