Can Sarah and St. Elizibeth Fornicate Licitly?

Part of an Ongoing Conversation:

“If your argument is that it is immoral to father a child out of wedlock and leave that child and its mother to their own devices, I do not believe you will find anyone here to argue against that fact. However, what happens if I and my sweetie are both 80, well past child bearing age?

(Yes I’m aware that a man is theoretically virile until he dies. The woman, most definitely, is not) Or perhaps we are 20 and one or both of us have had our gonads removed because of some rare childhood cancer? Neither of these situations require the use of some 99% effective contraception, nor are they situations contrived by the participants simply to indulge in sex which will not result in a child.

“Certainly there are still arguments for waiting for marriage before sex, but in these situations there is no child involved. As such, putting forth the argument that it is wrong for the couple to have sex for the sake of said child is senseless. I’m curious as to what assertions you would make.”

Interesting question, but more interesting is the unspoken assumption behind it: that sex between the sterile can be differentiated in custom or law or morality from sex between the fertile.

The mere artificiality of the situations you propose militates against their being taken seriously: as if we were to argue that since it may be morally acceptable to eat a dead castaway in a lifeboat rather than starve, ergo cannibalism is acceptable, ergo murdering another human being to eat him is acceptable.

I propose to you that merely from a legal standpoint, if no other, treating marriage as sacred and inviolate minimizes the various social pathologies related to single-parent child-rearing.

For example, in real life the handyman who works on my mother’s house just killed himself. His fiancee left him, taking their child, now hers. He lost his job due to the economy, and our current laws allow for child support upon proof of paternity, with draconian punishments leveled against deadbeat Dads, including, in this case, him not being allowed to see his own son. In effect, because he ran into the “for poorer” times, she was legally allowed to deprive him of herself and his family, with no showing or allegation of fault on his part. It might have been for good cause, it might have been whim. However, a society that treats marriage as sacred and inviolate does not allow for either fornication during engagement nor for no-fault divorce nor for depriving fathers of their children arbitrarily.

For example, in real life, I spend a long hour talking with a Chinese friend of mine about how he had to get permission to marry and permission to have a child; and when the permission to have a child was denied, he was advised by the bureaucrat who controlled his life to send his wife home to her mother, so as to remove the temptation to have sexual relations with his wife. However, a society that treats marriage as sacred and inviolate would not allow such a tyranny to take place, especially if human life from conception to natural death were also treated as sacred and inviolate.

My sister in law divorced my brother, and to this day, he still does not know the reason. My father divorced my mother, and there was no allegation of fault, no cruelty, no adultery, no abandonment: he merely found her tiresome and difficult.  He remarried a woman whose husband had left her in order to pursue his happiness with a male lover half his age. He abandoned his two young children for my father to raise in his stead. The event ended in suicide.

Again, However, a society that treats marriage as sacred and inviolate certainly has problems of its own, some of them horrific problems. But all taken in all, the problems of a society that treats marriage like a contract, or like a convenience, or like an obstacle, has far worse problems that ruins far more many lives.

I personally have known too many lives ruined by the modern sexually liberated culture to take seriously the claims of those who say the way my grandmother and grandfather lived with more fraught with injustice, or evil, or imprudence. I know three people who have died due merely to breeches of the laws of sexual continence: two suicides and one murder. Perhaps I know a darker strata of humanity than you do, due to my work in a law office or a newspaper office, but I do know them, and I cannot pretend I do not know them. I am under no obligation to invent excuses or spin out hypotheticals to place the blame somewhere else. The desecration of marriage is to blame.

Due to the way the human mind works and the way human institutions work, the problem of marriage cannot be severed into discrete aspects. While a science fiction writer can imagine a society that has one set of rules for post sexual adults and another set for fertile women, such a society cannot grow out of any society currently occupying the surface of the earth. For us, in the real world, the choice is whether to hold marriage sacred or to desecrate it.

Fornication desecrates marriage. That is simply a given, learned by hard experience. The theoretical problem you pose of sex between sterile partners still falls into the category of fornication. While a philosopher could make a distinction between sterile sex and sexual sex, in real life, the way the human mind works and human institutions work, particularly the way human envy works, the two are inseparable. It is a matter of take it or leave it. A society where sex between sterile partners out of wedlock was licit would be a society where marriage was not sacred, merely a contract or a convenience. It would not long remain a society where sex between fertile partners out of wedlock was illicit.

Here I do not mean ‘illegal’ — something is illicit when the consensus of opinion voluntarily upholds it as blameworthy, whereas licit means common opinion upholds it as praiseworthy. But a thousand unseen and unenforced acts of blame and praise, a society urges, cajoles, menaces, persuades, and grants incentives to certain behaviors of which it approves, and the opposite for those it disapproves. When laws make illegal what is no longer illicit, the laws are merely ignored, held to scorn, and enforcement of such laws is regarded as injustice.

Marriage is an organic whole. Parts of it cannot be sacred while other parts are desecrated. Desecrating part of it desecrates the whole: witness the rapid degeneration from legalizing no fault divorce to the Supreme Court holding that no bar on any sexual relation out of wedlock, not even sodomy, is properly within the power of the state to regulate. Whether this is a corruption, to be lamented, or an evolution, to be saluted, is not here the issue: the issue is merely that they are linked by the logic of the way the human mind works and human institutions. No fault divorce desecrates marriage. Once marriage is desecrated, fornication is licit, including those things the law has called unnatural acts since time immemorial.

May argument is rather straightforward, if you grant me my assumption that marriage is organic, not to be divided. If childrearing is sacred, then sex is sacred. If sex is sacred, marriage is sacred. If marriage is sacred, anything that desecrates marriage is illicit, including those things that have only a remote connection to child rearing.