On April 8 of this year, Slate published an essay by Will Saletan regarding Amoris Laetitia (AL). AL is an important document recently issued by the Catholic Church regarding marriage and the family. The essay is called:
In his essay, Mr. Saletan predicted that the Catholic Church will eventually accept same-sex marriage. He argues that it might take “centuries,” but when it happens, he believes that the Church will quote from AL as justification.
After reading his essay, I noticed the date it was published: April 8, 2016. That is the same day AL was released. AL is 264 pages long. Did he read the whole thing and write his essay in less than a day? Pope Francis specifically requested that people take their time while reading and reflecting on the document:
I do not recommend a rushed reading of the text. AL 7
OK, so it is possible Mr. Saletan rushed through AL. That alone doesn’t mean his prediction is wrong. But I will show that he made a major oversight about Catholic teaching, and that this oversight undermines the basis for his prediction.
His essay contains a number of points about why he thinks the Church will eventually accept same-sex marriage. He talks about how same-sex couples love each other, are committed to each other, can adopt children, and so forth. But his prediction rests on an argument that I’ve seen many times. I call it “the infertility argument.” The infertility argument posits that because some people who are married do not bear children, this means that there is an exception to the procreative aspect of marriage. This supposed exception is the door, so to speak, that people like Mr. Saletan use to argue for allowing same-sex couples to marry. (This argumment has an interesting and little-known problem that I will discuss tomorrow. I call it “the empty set problem.”)
Even so, we can’t apply the infertility argument to the Catholic Church. The first paragraph of Mr. Saletan’s essay has a dramatic oversight about Catholic teaching and infertility:
But if you’re straight and infertile, the rule about transmitting life doesn’t apply. Your marriage is just as valid as anyone else’s…
He does not realize that the Church makes distinctions among married, infertile opposite-sex couples. To be validly married, couples must be open to life in their sexual activity. If they are not, then the Church has a concept known as “simulation against the good of children.” It is when a couple predetermines to engage in coitus in marriage while never achieving pregnancy or childbirth, then accomplishes this through contraception, surgery and/or abortion. It is grounds for receiving a declaration of nullity (annulment) from the Church. Nullity means there was never an actual, valid marriage, even though the couple has a marriage certificate from the government.
In setting up his argument, Mr. Saletan did not account for this group of couples. So this goes back to what I said about him being hasty. He didn’t investigate what the Church teaches about this, then made a prediction that misrepresented the Church.
Does this oversight invalidate the basis of his prediction? I think it does. How can the Church accept same-sex couples as married (who are 100% guaranteed, permanently infertile through their free choice to engage in sexual activity with somebody of the same sex), while at the same time finding other infertile marriages null? Couples of both types make a free choice to engage in sterile sexual activity. They are therefore the same with respect to marriage.
I wish he would represent the Church correctly by acknowledging that she makes distinctions regarding infertility among opposite-sex couples. Then he can try to rework his prediction, but I don’t think the argument can be made based on what I demonstrated here. And as I will explain tomorrow, the infertility argument in general suffers from a fascinating yet fatal flaw that I call “the empty set problem.”