SS: In a discussion about advocacy for traditional marriage, one Princeton graduate student told me that she was uncomfortable with the idea of trying to convince others to oppose same-sex marriage by appealing to social science or the kind of arguments you have articulated in What Is Marriage. Although she herself is Catholic, to this student, such an approach felt deceptive—like smuggling in religious precepts under the guise of neutrality and disinterested intellectual inquiry.
How would you respond to her? Is it intellectually honest to make arguments based on natural law or social science for positions you only hold because of your own religious faith?
RG: From your description of her, it sounds like the graduate student you were talking to doesn’t understand the teachings of her own Catholic faith when it comes to the nature of morality, moral questions, and moral judgments, including those concerning marriage. Catholicism self-consciously embraces and proposes a certain understanding of marriage and the norms shaping and protecting it for reasons—reasons that are in principle accessible to anyone, Catholic or not. The point of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense was to articulate, explain, and defend those reasons.
Catholicism is not a fideistic religion. Quite the opposite. Its basic view of marriage as conjugal union (and not a mere form of sexual-romantic companionship or domestic partnership), for example, is not a matter of “religious precepts” that we (or the pope, or the Church) know because God has communicated them to us only by special revelation. Your friend may happen to believe what she believes about marriage because that is what the Church believes and teaches; but the Church herself believes and teaches what she believes and teaches on the subject for reasons that by the Church’s own lights—and her teachings—are available to be understood by “disinterested intellectual inquiry.” These reasons are matters of natural law.
— Public Discourse (@PublicDiscourse) March 21, 2021