Non-consummation and ‘same-sex’ marriage

The Realms of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, in both the United Kingdom and in Australia are considering legalising so-called “same-sex marriage”. The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have issued a very interesting judgment on the matter. Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith of the Catholic Herald has comments on it.

One thing he highlights is the inconsistency that could result from changes to the English law to legalise “same-sex marriage” in relation to the question of consummation. In English law, if a marriage is not consummated, it may be declared invalid, null and void – ie. non-consummation is grounds for annulment. But what would constitute “consummation” in a “same-sex marriage”? By definition, consummation is impossible in such relationships (unless, along with changing the definition of marriage, we are now going to change the definition of consummation as well).

This is a very serious point – for England. In Australia, at some stage in the past, the law must have been changed, because according to this page, non-consummation is no longer a legal ground for annulment. So, we can’t make that a basis for an argument against changing the definition of marriage here in Australia then. Still…

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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56 Responses to Non-consummation and ‘same-sex’ marriage

  1. John Nolan says:

    “An honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union which is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men … First, it was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.”

    Thus the Book of Common Prayer, 1662. I don’t know what the situation is in Australia, but in England the established Church has the right to solemnize marriage without reference to the State and on its own terms; there is no strict distinction between ‘civil’ and ‘religious’ marriage. Those who are married in a Catholic church (even one registered for marriages) must first meet the requirements of a civil marriage, although there is no need for a separate civil ceremony, as is the case in France.

    The government’s proposals will open up a legal can of worms, and the fact that the Conservative Party, for which I have voted for the past 40 years, will forfeit my support (I shall simply stay at home) won’t trouble David Cameron in the least; however, the Tory backbenchers are becoming increasingly critical of their leader’s abandonment of Conservative values – watch this space.

    • Peregrinus says:

      Hi John

      There’s no distinction between civil and religious marriage in Australia either; there’s just marriage.

      What there is, though, is a variety of celebrants – persons who are authorised to officiate at marriage ceremonies. Regardless of who officiates at your marriage ceremony, what you end up with is just a plain ol’ marriage. But:

      (a) There’s a “fast track” by which ministers of religion (of a wide variety of churches and denominations, including the Anglicans and the Catholics) can be very easily registered as celebrants for civil purposes, wheres non-clerics need to be public servants appointed for the purpose, or they need to complete a course of training and to have prescribed qualifications and skills.

      (b) If your marriage celebrant has been authorised on the basis that he is a minister of religion, then there’s minimal civil regulation of the marriage ceremony. The only civil requirement is that the marriage be “solemnised according to any form and ceremony recognised as sufficient for the purpose by the religious body or organisation of which he or she is a minister”. By contrast, if you are married by a non-clerical celebrant – public servant or freelance – there are certain components which, legally, the ceremony must contain it if is to be legally valid. They’re fairly minimal, but they do exist.

      The legislation also provides that (a) ministers of religion are not legally required to solemnise any marriage (so a Catholic priest, for instance, cannot be compelled to marry a couple, one of whom has been divorced but has not had an annulment), and that ministers of religion can impose conditions and requirements that the law does not impose (so they can impose higher age limits, or a longer notice period, or a requirement to complete a marriage preparation course, or whatever).

      In short, you’ve got religious and non-religious celebrants, and you’ve got religious and non-religious ceremonies. But you don’t have religious and non-religious marriage; all these different celebrants and ceremonies lead to the same status of marriage.

      Celebrants who officiate at marriage ceremonies have statutory responsibilities with regard to registering and certifying the marriage. Clerical and non-clerical celebrants have identical obligations in this regard.

  2. Peregrinus says:

    Couple of points:

    1. This discussion commonly proceeds on the assumption that the civil legal understanding of marriage currently aligns with the Catholic understanding. In fact it does not, and this is one of the areas where it does not.

    2. Non-consummation has never been grounds for nullity in English Law.

    3. Impotence was grounds for nullity (and still is, in England and in many other countries) – not the failure to consummate but the inability to consummate.

    4. Impotence only made a marriage voidable – not void (another distinction foreign to the Catholic understanding). A void marriage is just that; not a marriage at all, ever. But a voidable marriage is valid and effective unless and until, during the lifetime of the parties, one of the spouses seeks and obtains a degree of nullity, in which event it is retrospectively invalidated. Only the spouses can do this; a third party cannot, and it can only be done during the currency of the marriage – i.e. not after one of the spouses has died, or obtained a divorce. Finally, even where the spouses are both alive, they can’t obtain a decree of nullity on the grounds of impotence if, being aware of the impotence, they “approbate” their marriage by conduct – i.e. by sticking to it, or by doing something like adopting a child. This concept of voidability is, obviously, is nothing like the concept of nullity applied by the canon law tribunals.

    5. But, yes, the concept of impotence still requires a notion of what “consummation” is, since impotence is defined as the (permanent, incurable) inability to consummate.

    6. And, while you might think that it’s blindingly obvious what consummation means (in a heterosexual marriage), you’d be wrong. I don’t want to get too explicit in what might be seen as a family blog, but it’s been established since the nineteenth century that consummation is achieved by “full penetration”. Fertility is irrelevant, and so is ejaculation. To be blunt, if you can get it up and get it in, that’s consummation.

    7. This (it has to be said, rather male-oriented) focus on erection and penetration as constituting “consummation” has some surprising results. First. it’s entirely possible to consummate a marriage by means which exclude the possibility of procreation (because the husband doesn’t – perhaps even can’t, for psychological or physiological reasons – ejaculate). Secondly, it’s possible for spouses to have a rich, active and physically satisfying sexual life without consummating their marriage. Thirdly, it’s possible for the spouses to beget a child without consummating their marriage, and there are instances. (And, no, I’m not talking about cases involving, um, technological intervention; there are forms of sex which are open to conception but do not require penetration.)

    8. There is, in short, a significant disconnect between “consummation”, as understood in civil law, and procreation, or the possibility of procreation. The understanding that was arrived at in the nineteenth century was probably more influenced by male-centric notions of sexuality and the active and passive roles of husband and wife respectively than by Thomistic considerations of the procreative purpose of marriage. Significantly, it’s only in recent times that we find cases where a decree of nullity is granted on the basis of the wife’s impotence; in the past, if she had an insurmountable aversion to penetrative sexual intercourse, that wasn’t impotence; it was “wilful refusal to consummate”.

    9. And this points to one of the features of English common law; the ability of the courts to adapt and develop concepts as new cases are brought before them. The recognition of the reality of female impotence is an outcome of a modern understanding of psychosexual issues. But there is very little of this development in relation to impotence today, because the cases through which this might happened don’t come before the courts. Even in England and other countries where impotence is still a ground for nullity, nullity cases have been almost entirely eclipsed by divorce cases. A divorce case, even if motivated by sexual difficulties of this kind, doesn’t involve the kind of brutally intrusive forensic picking-over of people’s intimate sexual lives that a nullity case would. So, even if Australian couples were still free to seek a decree of nullity on the grounds of impotence, it is very unlikely that they would do so. (For the record, they could do so until 1977, but I think many years had past since any number of people actually had. In theory an Australian couple who have been married since before 20 June 1977 can still petition for nullity on the grounds of impotence. I wouldn’t hold my breath, though.)

    10. If it becomes necessary to decide what “impotence” might mean in a same-sex relationship, the courts will decide it. They will necessarily have to develop a concept which is not connected with procreation or the possibility of procreation, but will probably be connected to a broader notion of sexual function. But as they did this about two hundred years ago for opposite-sex relationships it won’t be a stretch to do so again. The reality is, though, that even in the UK the introduction of same-sex marriage is unlikely to lead to a flood of nullity cases in which the question of what impotence means in a same-sex relationship will be teased out.

    • Stephen K says:

      May I compliment you, Peregrinus, on a truly masterly summary? (I could not let your excellent presentation pass unacknowledged.)

    • Joshua says:

      Yes, many thanks to you, P.! – I certainly learnt much from your excellent summary. A+

      • Gareth says:

        The summary didnt adress the broader issue at hand though that re-defining marriage leads to quite a number of inconsistencies in common law, which of course indirectly impacts on the Church community.

        • Peregrinus says:

          Quite right. What I’m discussing here is really a very limited aspect of a very broad question.

          I guess my narrow point is that, yes, it might be true to say that it is not clear what might constitute “consummation” of a same-sex conjugal relationship but, no, this isn’t a terribly powerful argument against legislating for same-sex marriage. Even in an opposite-sex relationship, consummation doesn’t have the legal importance that it once had, and in any event it doesn’t mean what we might assume it means or think it should mean. Similar murkiness in same-sex relationships is unlikely to give rise to practical problems.

          There’s a wider point, though, that goes to the very heart of the English Catholic bishops’ submission. In paragraph 1 they make this claim:

          “There is a common and instinctive understanding of the meaning of marriage, shared by people of any religion and none. It pre-dates the Church, and its essence is captured in the commonly understood definition of marriage as the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.”

          Obviously, this is only true for certain values of “any religion”, since there are plenty of religious traditions which embrace polygamy. And, even where different religious traditions agree on this language, they often disagree about what it means – that is to say, they use the same words to express different, and often inconsistent, ideas. I’m thinking in particular of the words “for life” here which, as we all know, mean radically different things even within Christianity.

          And, of course, it goes without saying that nowadays there are plenty of people of various religious traditions, and of none, who don’t accept the “one man and one woman” bit of that language. Whether those people are a majority or a minority is irrelevant; the fact they exist at all means that, when we claim that the traditional formula is a “common understanding”, we’re not saying that it’s the understanding characteristic of the community; just that it’s an understanding held by many people. What characterises the community on this issue is, in fact, disagreement. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is a matter for debate, but I do think we have to start by accepting that it’s a real thing. Social policy and political campaigning which is not rooted in reality is almost invariably unsuccessful in the end.

          In short, I think the bishops are claiming a degree of community agreement about this which goes beyond the reality. If they seek to influence public opinion or public policy with arguments which proceed from premises which seem to be unreal or overstated, I don’t think they are going to succeed. There argument will of course appeal to people who do hold to the Catholic understanding of marriage, but if you want to influence the outcome of this debate the people you need to appeal to are those who don’t, and they’re going to spot the dubious nature of the opening premise very quickly.

          The discussion of consummation and impotence highlights the point that views on marriage are pretty diverse. For two centuries now, English-influenced legal systems have had an understanding on this question which is not, in fact, aligned with the Catholic understanding of marriage. It’s a very narrow point, so the disconnect hasn’t been terribly obvious in practice, and most of us have managed not to notice it, and no great harm appears to have resulted. But it’s just one of numerous instances where the civil concept and the Catholic concept have diverged. Other less easily ignored instances include beliefs and practices about the dissolution of marriage, and the question of whether marriage requires a procreative intent.

          In fact, leaving aside for the moment the question of whether marriage is inherently opposite-sex, the only big issue on which the civil and Catholic understanding of marriage align is probably the notion that marriage imports sexual exclusivity. And even that is under pressure from (a) minority communities whose tradition is polygamous, and even more so (b) attitudes within the majority community to open marriage or to “swinging”, but most of all (c) what I suspect is now a majority view that infidelity within a marriage is the concern of the spouses only, rather than of the community at large.

          OK, so where does all this get us? I think the starting point for a debate about same-sex marriage has to be an acceptance that the concept of marriage reflected in civil law already diverges in many significant ways from the Catholic ideal, and this has been so for a very long time. We cannot honestly present this as a radical rupture of a hitherto seamless shared understanding and, if we do, we are likely to be called on it.

          It seems to me that the challenge is to say, in a way that appeals to non-Catholics and non-Christians, why this particular disconnect between the Catholic and the civil understanding is going to be harmful or unjustified in ways that the existing disconnects are not. And this has to be done in the UK context, where there is already a legal “civil union” status which is functionally very similar to marriage. And this has to be done in a way that respects the injunction of the Catechims to accept homosexual persons with respect, compassion and sensitivity, and to avoid not only unjust discrimination but “every sign of unjust discrimination”.

          It’s a big ask, frankly.

          • Gareth says:

            You wouldn’t win an award for getting to the point would you Pere?

            Remember on your last point of the Catechisms ‘injuction’ to treat those suffering from the mental disorder of being attracted to people of the same sex with ‘respect’ (whatever that means) must not be misrepresented to mean that sexual pervesions should be tolerated in any shape or form.

            It would be nice also to clarify precisely what you mean by “every sign of unjust discrimination”, because that is open to interpretation.

            • Peregrinus says:

              Remember on your last point of the Catechisms ‘injuction’ to treat those suffering from the mental disorder of being attracted to people of the same sex with ‘respect’ (whatever that means) must not be misrepresented to mean that sexual pervesions should be tolerated in any shape or form.

              Well, at a minimum it probably means not going out of your way to characterise homosexual attraction with a loaded term like “mental disorder” when neither mainstream medical opinion nor authoritative Catholic teaching so characterise it.

              It would be nice also to clarify precisely what you mean by “every sign of unjust discrimination”, because that is open to interpretation.</i?

              It’s not my phrase. Surely the important question is not what I might mean by it, but what the Church might mean?

            • Stephen K says:

              Do you mean, Gareth, that there should be no tolerance of any shape or form of behaviour you regard as perverse? Or that there should be no tolerance, in any shape or form, of behaviour you regard as perverse? There’s a big difference in the attitude you’d be urging.

              Either way, I’d be fascinated to see whether you, Gareth, can come up with an attitude that simultaneously shows what most people would regard as genuine and not merely theoretical respect to a person alongside zero tolerance of their sexual behaviour you condemn as ‘perverse’. Are people, do you think, so dissectible?

              What does it mean, practically, to say one does not ‘tolerate’ another’s sexual behaviour? Not even ignore, put up with? Not communicating at all? Or something more interventionist?

              And I think Peregrinus got to the point very nicely.

    • Peregrinus says:

      [Blush] You are too kind!

      • Gareth says:

        lefty love fest

        • Peregrinus says:

          Well, since our cover is now blown, at least now I can publicly welcome you to the Trotskyite hard left, Joshua. Our cell meets on Tuesday evenings to plot the destruction of Australian freedoms and bring about the dictatorship of the proletariat, which we hope to do through constructing a battery of intercontinental ballistic missiles hidden in a hollowed-out volcano. Tea and biccies afterwards; please bring a plate to share.

          • Gareth says:

            Reminds us all of Bob Brown’s kooky speech to his “fellow Earthians”.

          • Joshua says:

            Is there a lever to pull that drops unsuspecting guests into a pool of sharks?

            (Gareth: this is called “humour”. It is not a sin.)

            • Peregrinus says:

              As good Trotskyites, we’ve been unable to proceed directly with the installation of the shark pool without first attending to the customary split. A debate exists between those Stakhanovite heroes who believe that we can successfully carry through the construction of the ICBM battery and the excavation of the shark pool in tandem without sacrificing either or delaying the glorious day of the revolution, and those backsliders, gradualists and saboteurs who believe that we must prioritise one over the other. The latter group is further divided between those who would attend first of all to the shark pool, on the grounds that the ICBM construction site must be secure, and those who would devote all efforts to making a dash for the ICBM battery on the grounds that, once we have that, the ultimate victory of the workers is assured, shark pool or no shark pool. A final group argues that a shark pool is a bourgeois affectation, but I have arranged for them to be denounced. A subcommittee has been appointed to bring forward a report on the competing perspectives to the party presidium, who will consider the matter at the XXIVth party congress and in a democratic centralist fashion identify the purges which must be undertaken in order to resolve the disagreement effectively.

  3. Gareth says:

    Reports are coming out that homosexual marriage supporters have done the number cruching and they will be systematcially smashed if a Bill went before Parliament.

    Even within current ALP MPs, opposition slightly outweights support.

    An answer to prayers.

  4. John Nolan says:

    Peregrinus, please elucidate the meaning of ‘female impotence’. Should this exist, there would be no need to have laws against rape.

    • Peregrinus says:

      Impotence is the inability (on the part of either spouse, or both) to proceed to “ordinary and complete intercourse” (which, as I’ve said, is understood as vaginal penetration of the female by the male) . There is no impotence if vaginal penetration is “practically possible” (not in the sense of “nearly possible”, but of “possible in practice”). To establish impotence it’s not necessary to show that penetration is physically or absolutely impossible; it’s enough to show that it would only be possible “under conditions to which a spouse would not be justified in resorting”.

      Thus, if a husband suffers from a psychosexual dysfunction such that he can only sustain an erection in public, or in some other conspicuously transgressive situation, his wife is justified in declining to have sex in public (or however), impotence is established and the marriage can be declared void. (Unless they actually do have sex in public, in which case the marriage is approbated, notwithstanding the impotence. So the, um, seriously kinky can have valid marriages, if the marry someone who shares, or is willing to indulge, their kink.)

      And this cuts both ways. If the wife has a psychosexual dysfunction such that she is unable to allow her husband to penetrate her, the fact that he could do so by force is irrelevant; he is justified in declining to penetrate his wife by force. And the same would be true if the wife could only allow her husband to penetrate her in some other conspicuously transgressive fashion. The wife’s inability could be manifested through the physical symptom or vaginismus – a muscular spasm which physically prevents penetration – or simply to the inability, when the moment arrives, to agree to or allow penetration. This would be impotence on the part of the wife.

  5. Gareth says:

    Pere: Well, at a minimum it probably means not going out of your way to characterise homosexual attraction with a loaded term like “mental disorder” when neither mainstream medical opinion nor authoritative Catholic teaching so characterise it.

    Gareth: You just cant help it can you Pere?

    Everyone knows homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder in official medical and physchological standards before 1973 the militant US homosexual lobby group unjustly as a politcal stunt forced the American Psychiatric Association declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

    There is still a large section of the medical community that maintain that it is a disorder.

    The Catholic Church’s teaching seemes to imply that homosexuality is a deviation of variation of natural and ordered human sexual ‘orientation’.

    The modern Catechism (which on this forum I have previously expressed some concerns) describes homosexual behavior as ‘objectively disordered’ (objectively morally reprehensible) because such behavior can NEVER lead to a morally licit act.

    It is not morally licit because the procreative and unitive aspects of sexuality are violated by the unnatural acts of homosexuality. This is why the Church teaches that any orientation to this behavior is objectively disordered – it is an orientation to acts that are sins against nature and God.

    Heterosexual attraction is natural to man and woman while homosexual tendencies are unnatural. Heterosexual attraction is God-given, and for the vast majority of the human race, leads to marriage, children, and family; same-sex attractions are an objective disorder, but not sinful in themselves.

    Putting it bluntly the Church teaches that if one has a sexual-genital attraction to another person of the same sex, it can never lead to a morally good act between the two individuals, but rather it will always lead to an immoral act. That is why it is called an objective disorder.

    Therefore to take the stance that homosexuality is not a mental disorder or a normal/natural variation of human sexual ‘orientation’ (which in effect says some people are essentially homosexual) is to turn Christian anthropology on its head. Christianity holds that we are all heterosexual in our God-given nature, though some heterosexuals have a problem with same-sex attractions.

    If one believe that homosexuality is part of a person’s nature, given by God, then homosexual acts become a fulfillment of a person’s God-given nature. And that has NEVER been the Catholic teaching.

    The modern Catechism makes this distiniction by classifiying homosexuality as an “inclination which is objectively disordered.”

    Therefore, it is not loaded at all to use the term ‘mental disorder’ of a condition that is neither normal nor natural.

    The homosexual condition is neither normal nor natural.

    • Gareth says:

      Pere:

      FYI information – an article by Lifesite on how the APA’s decision to APA’s decision remove homosexuality from the list of disorders was highly influenced by homosexual activism and not objective scientific data

      http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/archive/ldn/2006/feb/06020902

      A good read

    • Peregrinus says:

      Gareth: You just cant help it can you Pere?

      Can you?

      Everyone knows homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder in official medical and physchological standards before 1973 the militant US homosexual lobby group unjustly as a politcal stunt forced the American Psychiatric Association declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

      Yes, there are divergent views within the medical community on this, and the mainstream view has certainly shifted over time.

      And you can choose for yourself which view you choose to accept and promote, and own your own reasons for making that choice.

      What you can’t do, though, with any credibility, is suggest that the Catechism endorses one view over the other, or leans in favour one over the other.

      The catechism is not a medical or psychiatric textbook, and does not pretend to be.

      The catechism describes homosexual acts as intrinsically disordered, and from this proceeds to the statement that the homosexual inclination is objectively disordered. But this – as you concede – is moral disorder; not oriented towards good. It’s a completely unwarranted leap to move on to describing homosexuality as a mental disorder, with all that that connotes.

      It has to be remembered that homosexuality is by no means the only thing which the catechism describes as “disordered”. In no particular order we have lust (para 2351), affection for created goods (para 1863), lying (para 1753), the desire for money (para 2424) and masturbation (para 2352) all described as “disordered”. Unless you describe people who are tempted to masturbate, tempted to attach excessive importance to created things, tempted by money, tempted to tell untruths or tempted by lust as suffering from a “mental disorder”, then describing homosexual people in that way is a discrimination, and one which you would be hard put to justify.

      Treating someone with “compassion, sensitivity and respect”, as you are explicitly and authoritatively called to, does I think require you to remain open to the possibility that the NARTH view to which you link might be mistaken, as the weight of medical opinion would seem to suggest. And if that view might be mistaken, then the same obligation probably suggests that you should not go around trumpeting it as proven fact, ramping up the heat of a discussion which the church, through its pastors, apparently prefers to conduct on other terms.

      • Gareth says:

        Pere, you are explicitly and authoritatively called to accept that homosexuality is NOT part of God-given nature

        We cant blur the line between treating people respectfully (which could mean anything) and not rightfully calling sexual pervesions that deviate away from nature as a sin.

        • Peregrinus says:

          “We can‘t blur the line between treating people respectfully (which could mean anything) . . .”

          No, it couldn’t mean anything. But it certainly means something, and your attempt to dismiss it as practically meaningless looks very like a tactic to evade giving any serious thought to what it does mean. Can you say “cafeteria Catholicism”?

          ”. . . and not rightfully calling sexual pervesions that deviate away from nature as a sin.”

          You didn’t call it a sin; you called it a “mental disorder”.

          • Gareth says:

            Pere: But it certainly means something, and your attempt to dismiss it as practically meaningless looks very like a tactic to evade giving any serious thought to what it does mean.

            Gareth: Pere, I certainly did not dismiss is a meaningless, but putting things into context it is right for the Catholic reading this sentence (which incidently comes after three or four paragraphs explaning the Church’s teaching on why homsexual acts are gravely sinful and contrary to natural law) to ask precisely what it does mean?

            After all, arent we meant to treat every citizen of society with respect and sensitivity, whether it be a child molester, our next-door neighbour, Buddhist or wife?? No exaggeration, surely the sentence does needs some further clarification or concrete examples to back up the statement on what constitutes unfair discrimination.

            I believe the current Pope sometime as Cardinal did give meaning to what I am saying by putting in concrete terms that unfair discrimantion
            cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions. Which makes sense because it is Catholic teaching that we can discriminate against sin. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20030731_homosexual-unions_en.html

            I find it slightly ironic then that you have a crack at me for dismissing the sentence in dispute as meaningless when it was I precisely made some inroads to clarifying the statement that surely the sentence does not mean (as some Catholics seem to suggest) that inclinations to homosexual attraction are normal or that homosexual acts are in any way not gravel sinful.

            Pere: You didn’t call it a sin; you called it a “mental disorder”.

            Gareth: No I didnt – I always maintained that homsexual acts are sinful and that the homosexual inclination is therefore not in God given nature, thus morally disordered.

            If something is morally disordered, there is a good case that there is some sort of psychological issue at play, a fact confirmed that for over a hundred years homosexuality was treated as a mental illness with little or no suggestion from the psychiatric community that homosexuality might be conceptualised as anything other than a mental illness that needed to be treated.

            You quite unfairly claimed that I was using ‘loaded language’, but I am genuine in the use of the term because based on my research the removal of homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses was not triggered by some scientific breakthrough. There was no new fact or set of facts that stimulated this major change.

            • Joshua says:

              Presumably, Gareth, if such unnatural attractions are mental disorders then those subject to them are not fully responsible for their actions and thus do not ipso facto fall into mortal sin by committing them – but something tells me you would not intend to claim that sodomites and the like are only fallen into venial sin, and therefore don’t need to go to confession before receiving Communion!

              I think you may have ended up contradicting yourself. Try not to get too intense.

            • Gareth says:

              Josh,

              The issue at hand is a serious one, is in some ways still a widely-held view and as a matter of fact to take such a line is in fact a compassionate one in which the indvidual (if they were freely open to it) would seek genuine treatment.

      • Catherine says:

        Way to go Perry, big clap:)

  6. John Nolan says:

    My late father, an Irish Catholic with a somewhat prudish outlook, once remarked that it would be a good thing if the Church were to say nothing on the subject of sex for at least the next hundred years. To say that masturbation is gravely disordered is to suggest that the vast majority of the population is disordered; and the sodomite can actually justify his perversion by claiming he is part of the majority.

    I rather like Woody Allen’s comment on masturbation: “Don’t knock it, it’s sex with someone you really love!”

    • Gareth says:

      But a true confessor or Catholic for that matter John should at the very least take the Church’s perenial teaching to heart. What we perceive as minor matters can lead to major issues – better safe than sorry. We are called to holy chastity.

    • Peregrinus says:

      “. . . To say that masturbation is gravely disordered is to suggest that the vast majority of the population is disordered . . .”

      And here we have an important point. Because, of course, the vast majority of the population is disordered; isn’t that pretty much the Fall in a nutshell?

      But an understanding of this truth is not aided or illuminated by attempts to equate fallen nature with “mental disorder”, particularly when those attempts are selective. It seems to me that we need to find new language to discuss the consequences of the Fall which doesn’t lend itself to this particular misconception.

      • Gareth says:

        Comparing God-given natural heterosexual attraction to homosexual inclination is a furphy because if a man or woman is able control a natural attraction and wills to express it in the natural state of marriage, it is a good thing.

        Homosexual attraction can never lead to a morally good act. It technically speaking is always an occasion of sin for which a willful chastity is necessary for avoidance.

        Note that reading Catholic teaching thoroughly, the term or phrase “sexual orientation” is problematic. It is a phrase that evolved for political reasons – from sexual perversion to sexual deviancy to sexual preference – in the same manner that homosexuality was falsely characterized as being “gay”.

        I hold that being inclined to a behavior that is an intrinsic moral evil has not only moral but psychological/mental issues. Totally ignoring this or chastising those Catholics that call a spade a spade is witholding the whole truth.

        • Peregrinus says:

          “I hold that being inclined to a behavior that is an intrinsic moral evil has not only moral but psychological/mental issues. Totally ignoring this or chastising those Catholics that call a spade a spade is witholding the whole truth.”

          Unless you hold (and express) this view with respect to all intrinsic moral evils, rather than just with respect to homosexuality, those leave yourself open to being accused of manifesting what the catechism refers to as “unjust discrimination” towards homosexually-inclined people.

          So I think you need to ask yourself questions like these: Do I believe (and say, whenever the subject is discussed) that those who practice or advocate abortion (an intrinsic moral evil) are suffering from a mental disorder? Do I believe and say this of those who support or advocate the use of nuclear weapons (given that the targeting of noncombatants is an intrinsic moral evil)? Do I say it of those who tell lies, or support, advocate or defend the telling of lies (given that lying is an intrinsic moral evil)? Do I say it of those who practice or justify masturbation, given that masturbation is an intrinsic moral evil? Do I say it of myself, or am I morally certain that I am not inclined towards any intrinsic moral evil?

          And if the answer to any of those question is “no”, then the inevitable follow-up must be “how do I justify saying this of homosexuals, if I do not say it of all these other groups and persons?” This is clearly a discrimination, and I am called to avoid it unless it is a manifestly justified discrimination.

          Or, in short, why pick on the gays?

          • Gareth says:

            In case you didnt notice Pere, most Christians are consitent in condemning most moral wrongs/evils – it is just that homosexuality is so topical that it gets so much attention from the secular media in which Christains have to defend their position.

            It is a bit high and mighty (or a typical lefty tactic) to use the term ‘picking on’ when there is no other choice but to put the Christain position forward.

            Also it is a far greater issue in the Church community (and this is why the Vatican released a whole document on the matter) for lukewarm and cafeteria Catholics to fully accept ‘unfair discrimantion’ does not constitute the approval of sinful behaviour or to legal recognition of ‘unions’ contrary to the Church’s teaching.

            • Peregrinus says:

              “In case you didnt notice Pere, most Christians are consitent in condemning most moral wrongs/evils – it is just that homosexuality is so topical that it gets so much attention from the secular media in which Christains have to defend their position.

              It is a bit high and mighty (or a typical lefty tactic) to use the term ‘picking on’ when there is no other choice but to put the Christain position forward.”

              Homosexuality is hardly the only issue discussed on these pages, Gareth, nor the only topic on which you contribute.

              But I look in vain for your posts on the topic of war, asserting that those who employ indiscriminate weapons or indiscriminate tactics, as suffering from a “mental disorder”. In your many posts on abortion, I find no argument that (say) Tony Abbott’s position on the question shows that he is suffering from a mental disorder. All the evidence that I have seen is that homosexuality is the only intrinsic moral evil that you associate with mental disorder.

              Now, of course, you’re free to believe this if you choose. But I think it behoves all of us to scrutinise carefully the foundations for our beliefs, particularly where they are pejorative. Charity requires at least this. And if, for you, the foundation of this belief is the Catechism then your belief is, objectively, unjustified.

              Those who believe that the Catechism suggests, or supports the view, that homosexuality is a mental disorder, not only make a (usually selective) confusion between moral disorder and mental disorder, but they also ignore the explicit and unambiguous statement in the Catechism that the “psychological basis [of homosexuality] remains largely unexplained”. In the light of this teaching, so suggest that Catholic church teaching is that homosexuality is a mental disorder would be not only lacking charity but lacking in truthfulness (another intrinsic moral evil!) and arguable also engaging in scandal.

            • Gareth says:

              Your are very predictable Pere – I dont remember having a disucssion on Tony Abott or nuclear weapons or anything else you want to bring in from left-field to accuse me of having an opinion on when I havent even discussed such matters??

              A deliberate divergent away from the hard truth that the medical and psychological world held same-sex attraction as a mental disorder (something even Sigmund Freud even admitted to) for over one hundred years and the fact that many in the medical profession claim this was declassified for militant politcal reasons rather than proper scientific research.

              I hold firm to the work of those working against the odds that argue mainstream scientific consensus on the matter has been hijacked by the propoganda of militant lobby groups with great political clout and that a proper scientific investigation of politically unpopular views is being censored.

              It appears in not respecting such a viewpoint and diverting the issue to other issues that have absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand you are engaging in the same-sort of behaviour characteristic of those opposed to Church teaching.

              You are on the record as denying the Biblical truth that Sodom was destroyed for homsexuality and fornication (instead peddling the LIE that it was for inhospitality) – so I really wouldnt expect anything less than a running from the truth.

            • Peregrinus says:

              “A deliberate divergent away from the hard truth that the medical and psychological world held same-sex attraction as a mental disorder (something even Sigmund Freud even admitted to) for over one hundred years and the fact that many in the medical profession claim this was declassified for militant politcal reasons rather than proper scientific research.

              I hold firm to the work of those working against the odds that argue mainstream scientific consensus on the matter has been hijacked by the propoganda of militant lobby groups with great political clout and that a proper scientific investigation of politically unpopular views is being censored.”

              I stress again, Gareth, that you are entitled to hold that view, and you are entitled to support that view by reference to a conspiracy theory which of course others are equally entitled to find unpersuasive).

              But you cannot – with integrity – invoke the Catechism in support of your view, because the Catechism does not support it.

              And, to come back to the topic of the English and Welsh Bishops’ submission on gay marriage, the topic on which David originally opened this thread, you’ll find – unsurprisingly, when you think about it – no support at all for your view in that document

            • Gareth says:

              Pere: ‘conspiracy theory’

              Gareth: Now you are the one using loaded language against someone that genuinely holds to a true course of events

              I think you will find that a genuine search of the facts of the case at hand will reveal dishonesty and propoganda reigned supreme from a selective group whom hijacked the APA (the same Assoication that would later tell us all that sadism, masochism and pedophilia are no longer disorders) to open the door to the acceptance of sexual perversion as a ‘civil right’ by agreeing that there is nothing wrong with what was an unchallegened widespread-held belief that certain human inclinations have psycholgical /medical overtones.

              To this day, there is honestly no scientific facts in the issue above.

              This is the the modus operandi of the militant homosexual movement: If it is given an inch, it will take a mile toward not only the promotion of homosexuality as a right, but also the making it a hate crime for anyone to say otherwise, in particular, that the inclination is objectively disordered.

              When one ignore this facts or clamour that Catholics need to be ‘compassionate’ without referencing what precisely this means, one is adding more fuel to a fire.

              I am happy and many Catholics should not be intimated by being on the side of honesty and truth.

          • Catherine says:

            Peregrainus, I really do appreciate your contribution to this blog topic.:)

    • Catherine says:

      Thanks for that contribution John Nolan. There is far too much emphasis on sexual matters as if they were the biggest and only sins worth worrying about.

      • Gareth says:

        There is an issue right there for you Catherine.

        Our Lady at Fatima told us that more souls go to Hell because of the sins of the flesh than for any other reason.

        You appear to be joining in the flogging the log cheersquad and think it is all a big laugh.

        Remember also that some of our most recent Popes have told us that the greatest sin of our generation is that it has lost all sense of sin.

        Well, I would rather heed Our Lady’s kind warnings and take things seriously.

        • Catherine says:

          I highly doubt that everyone who masturbates will go to hell,as otherwise it is going to be very crowded.

          • Joshua says:

            It is a mortal sin. If unrepented of, as with any and all other mortal sins, yes, it will damn souls to hell. (It’s been many years since I read the relevant part of the Catechism, but I seem to recall that it is still classed as such.) That’s why people should go to confession.

            To say with an airy wave that, because, allegedly, everyone does X or Y or Z, and therefore that somehow proves it is not a damnable sin, is a total non sequitur.

            Wide is the road to hell, and narrow the road to heaven – I believe Our Lord said as much.

            • Schütz says:

              Catherine and Josh, according to CCC 2352 the act is in itself gravely disordered, and if committed with full knowledge of the nature of the act and with the full consent of the will, would certainly be a mortal sin. However the paragraph goes on to state a number of factors that need to be taken into account with this act (as with any gravely disordered act) before it can be judged to be a mortal sin.

            • Catherine says:

              Well if we are going to say instigating genocide is a mortal sin or comitting incest is a mortal sin, or murdering someone is a mortal sin, it seems pretty unreasonable to classify masturbation as mortal sin.

            • Schütz says:

              I think it is important to emphasise once again that the “mortal” part of “mortal sin” is the relational part. What makes any sin “mortal” is that it breaks the bond of friendship with God (nb. the sinner breaks this relationship as a consequence his willful, fully informed sin, it isn’t God who breaks off the relationship as an arbitrary punishment for sin). Sin, like holiness, is personal. So yes, it is just as possible that I might break my relationship with God by committing a sin that appears “less serious” (objectively) as by one which appears “more serious” (objectively), because it is really about what is going on in my will and my heart in relation to God’s clear commandments.

              Objectively, there is the “grave matter” of the sin itself. The “gravity” of the act is easily misunderstood as a comparitive term (ie. is this sin “more grave” than that sin). While the Church does make a distinction between “grave matter” and matter which is “not grave”, this isn’t a sliding scale (ie. there isn’t a “somewhat grave” category).

  7. maryh says:

    @peregrinus In answer to Gareth’s question of what you meant by “every sign of unjust discrimination”, you said “Well, at a minimum it probably means not going out of your way to characterise homosexual attraction with a loaded term like “mental disorder” when neither mainstream medical opinion nor authoritative Catholic teaching so characterise it.”

    It is true that homosexual activists consider “mental disorder” to be a loaded term, but I don’t see why it is inherently so. I also suffer from a “mental disorder” – clinical depression – which I have under treatment. Is it ‘unjust discrimination’ to describe my condition as a “mental disorder”?

    The fact is, an exclusively homosexual orientation may very well *be* a mental disorder. No, the catechism doesn’t require us to take this position, but neither is it inherently uncharitable or discriminatory.

    Nor does it necessarily imply that anyone with that mental disorder is thereby committing only a venial sin, although that may very well be so in certain (or many?) cases. It depends on how severely the mental disorder impacts the ability to make moral choices. Thus, if I go off my medication and then commit suicide, I am not likely guilty of mortal sin (at least not for suicide – I may have other mortal sins on my soul for which I am culpable). However if, while I am under treatment to the extent that I can make moral choices, I commited suicide, I would be culpable.

    The same distinction could very well apply to exclusive homosexual orientation, if it turns out to be a mental disorder.

    • Peregrinus says:

      “It is true that homosexual activists consider “mental disorder” to be a loaded term, but I don’t see why it is inherently so. I also suffer from a “mental disorder” – clinical depression – which I have under treatment. Is it ‘unjust discrimination’ to describe my condition as a “mental disorder”?

      It’s not unjust discrimination if you yourself accept that your condition is a mental disorder, and experience it as such.

      But what if I were to describe your religious faith, say, as a mental disorder? (I have heard some of the less insightful new atheists say precisely that.) If I said that feeling drawn to secular and atheist beliefs and attitudes was appropriate and healthy, but feeling drawn to religion was mentally disordered? Would you not see that as an unjust discrimination, as a rationalisation – and a fairly transparent one – for privileging the secular over the religious?

      The problem with characterising somebody’s position as mentally disordered is that it serves to marginalise them, and to exclude their experience from consideration, or at least from being considered as valid and insightful. Anything they experience or report can be dismissed as the distorted perception of a mentally disordered person.

      That’s not to say that mental disorder doesn’t exist, or isn’t real, even if those who suffer from it do not perceive it to be a mental disorder. But that’s extremely rare; there are delusional mental conditions there the imaginary appears materially real, but even people who suffer from delusions are normally extremely – and visibly – distressed by them. The notion that somebody’s romantic and sexually experiences indicate that the person is mentally disordered, not because they distress or disturb the person concerned or lead to pathological outcomes but because – not to mince words – they distress a third-party observer such as Gareth – is a challenging one.

      Gareth doesn’t actually say why he believes homosexual inclination to be a mental disorder. Well, to be fair, he mentions the catechism, but the catechism doesn’t support him on this, and I suspect he reads the catechism in the way he does in order to bolster a belief that he actually wants to hold for other reasons. Likewise he mentions “dishonesty and propaganda” from “a selective group who hijacked the APA” but, actually, this is Gareth’s explanation of why other people disagree with him, not his explanation of why he holds the views he does. And of course Gareth himself has, so far as I know, no medical or psychiatric qualifications or training which would enable him to offer an authoritative view on the question of mental disorder, or that would give him grounds to think that he could resolve a dispute among psychiatrists to his own satisfaction, never mind to anyone else’s.

      The bottom line is that Gareth holds this view very strongly, and I have no doubt completely sincerely, but he holds it for reasons which he cannot or does not explain very coherently. Characterising homosexuality as a mental disorder in that circumstance is I think a radically different process from characterising depression as a mental disorder through a process which starts with an engagement with the experience of those who suffer depression, and their own understanding of that experience.

      With respect to your wider point on culpability, I don’t think you have to characterise something as a mental disorder in order to say that the degree of culpability may be reduced by mental or psychological factors. The catechism itself points out (in para. 2352) that moral responsibility [for masturbation, but the point is not confined to masturbation] depends on immaturity, habit, anxiety and other psychological or social factors.

      And Gareth, to his credit, expresses no judgment about people who engage in homosexual act. That’s entirely right and proper and I commend him for it, but it does suggest that his commitment to the view that homosexuality is a mental disorder is not born from a desire to avoid making negative moral judgments about homosexual people. He doesn’t make that argument at all; nor does he need to.

      • maryh says:

        @Peregrinus “It’s not unjust discrimination if you yourself accept that your condition is a mental disorder, and experience it as such.”

        So it would be unjust discrimination if I didn’t accept that it is a mental disorder or experience it as such? That makes no sense at all, as you seem to realize further along when you say “That’s not to say that mental disorder doesn’t exist, or isn’t real, even if those who suffer from it do not perceive it to be a mental disorder.”

        @Peregrinus “But what if I were to describe your religious faith, say, as a mental disorder?”

        I would say you were wrong and I would provide the evidence and arguments to support my position. I wouldn’t automatically assume that you were unjust or discriminatory or anything other than incorrect.

        @Peregrinus Would you not see that as an unjust discrimination, as a rationalisation – and a fairly transparent one – for privileging the secular over the religious?

        Not necessarily. Why should I believe it is a “rationalization” for the purpose of “privileging the secular over the religious” rather than an honest description of what someone thinks is true? I have no reason to assume, if you’ll forgive the expression, “bad faith.” Belief in imaginary beings contrary to any evidence is generally considered a mental disorder. The Church, in any case, has tended to take for granted that she must show good evidence and logical reasoning for her tenets. That’s basically what all of Catholic apologetics are about. I’m not saying that the Catholic faith can be proved by logic and evidence alone; simply that it can be shown not to be contrary to logic or the evidence.

        @Peregrinus “The problem with characterising somebody’s position as mentally disordered is that it serves to marginalise them, and to exclude their experience from consideration, or at least from being considered as valid and insightful. Anything they experience or report can be dismissed as the distorted perception of a mentally disordered person.”

        There are two problems with this statement:
        First, this is no less a trap if the mental disorder is real. In other words, it happens to people who suffer from what the APA actually does recognize as mental illnesses.
        Secondly, the fact that it does happen doesn’t mean it ought to happen. Autism is a mental disorder, and we’ve certainly learned a lot about it by listening to Temple Grandin. And if an exclusive homosexual orientation is a mental disorder, then I would think that their reports would be particularly valid and necessary. Heck, even if it isn’t a mental disorder, I’d think that we’d want to get as much information and data on it as we could. Something doesn’t have to be an illness for it to be useful to study.

        You say that people who don’t realize they are mentally ill are rare and that “even people who suffer from delusions are normally extremely – and visibly – distressed by them”.

        I’m not sure what your point is here. The fact that most people who are mentally ill know they are mentally ill and are distressed by this doesn’t have any bearing on whether a particular condition is a mental illness or not.

        @Peregrinus “The notion that somebody’s romantic and sexually experiences indicate that the person is mentally disordered, not because they distress or disturb the person concerned or lead to pathological outcomes but because – not to mince words – they distress a third-party observer such as Gareth – is a challenging one.”

        Erm, I don’t see anyone, let alone Gareth, making that point. In any case, once again, the definition of mental illness does not depend solely on whether it distresses or disturbs the individual. In fact, some mental illnesses, such as sociopathy, are defined precisely by the individual NOT being distressed or disturbed when a mentally healthy person should be.

        As for whether “romantic and sexual experiences” have pathological outcomes, you’re begging the question. I may be wrong, but I would guess that without “pathology” there is no “illness.” That’s the question concerning defining it as an illness: is homosexual orientation pathological?

        “With respect to your wider point on culpability, I don’t think you have to characterise something as a mental disorder in order to say that the degree of culpability may be reduced by mental or psychological factors. ”

        Agreed. You seemed to me to imply that calling homosexual orientation a mental illness meant that homosexual actions would be considered, at the most, venial sins. I just pointed out that wasn’t necessarily the case. But it does point out that it would be good to know whether an orientation that predisposes someone to a particular sin is completely under the control of the will (not an illness) or not.

        As to the whole point about whether homosexual orientation should be considered a mental illness or not, I have to say I’m bemused by it. From a Catholic point of view, the only reason to define it as a mental illness would be if that were the truth. There’s no point in defining it as such if it isn’t. Besides the fact that truth in itself is a good, it also helps us to determine the best ways to minister to those with the condition.

        As to whether it actually is a mental illness, there’s a strong prima facie case that it is. If it excludes any heterosexual intercourse at all, it prevents otherwise healthy individuals who are otherwise able to find healthy partners of the opposite sex, from becoming biological parents without medical intervention (artificial insemination for women; in vitro fertilization with a donor egg and a surrogate mother for men). Requiring medical intervention to perform an otherwise normal function tends to be the definition of illness, mental or otherwise.

        My whole point has been simply that it is not at all discriminatory or uncharitable to consider the homosexual orientation a mental illness. It may or may not be incorrect, but that is something else altogether. If it actually is a mental illness, it is unfortunate that the APA has stopped classifying it as such, but they’ve been wrong before. And it is disturbing that the APA’s change in its classification does not seem to be based on any new data or discoveries. Or perhaps I am misinformed. Is there such data that you can refer me to?

        • Peregrinus says:

          Mary, rather than go through your post point by point I want to pick up what I think is a fundamental misunderstanding between us which underlies much of what you say. I think it’s encapsulated in what you said when I asked how you would react if somebody identified your religious faith as a mental disorder. You said:

          Why should I believe it is a “rationalization” for the purpose of “privileging the secular over the religious” rather than an honest description of what someone thinks is true? I have no reason to assume, if you’ll forgive the expression, “bad faith.”

          I wasn’t suggesting bad faith, and I think you make a false distinction between “rationalisation” and “honest description of what someone thinks is true”; an idea can easily be both.

          If I regard your beliefs as mentally disordered, and (say) Gareth’s beliefs as a rational choice, that’s discrimination (because I am treating the two sets of beliefs, and the persons who hold them, differently) and if the difference in the treatment is not objectively justified then it’s unjust discrimination, regardless of my subjective honesty, good faith, good intentions, etc.

          So I’m not saying that those who regard homosexual inclination as a mental disorder are engaged in a deliberate conspiracy to victimise and marginalise. I’m just saying that it is in fact detrimental, and potentially very detrimental, to someone to treat them as mentally disordered, that treating the homosexually-inclined as mentally disordered when we do not regard the heterosexually-inclined as mentally disordered is plainly a discrimination and a potentially damaging one, and therefore that there is a high onus on us to ensure that the discrimination is objectively justified. It’s no answer to that to say that people who hold this view are honest and well-intentioned; they may be, but that does not mean that their view is objectively justified, or that the fact that they hold and advocate it cannot injure the people concerned.

          And in this particular context we have to bear in mind that there is a solid history of unjustified social and legal repression of homosexuality, up to and including denigration, victimisation, criminalisation and imprisonment. So we know there’s a risk here, and we can’t imagine that the risk has suddenly evaporated. Nor have we any justification for assuming that our own views are entirely uninfluenced by such social and cultural attitudes.

          And this isn’t a problem which is limited to homosexuality; it’s not that long ago since, in some western societies, unmarried mothers were committed to mental institutions on the grounds that they were moral deviants, dangerous to themselves and others, and must be mentally deranged or deficient.

          There’s two lessons from this. First, if we can abandon the view that unmarried motherhood is indicative of mental disorder, obviously we can at least question the view that homosexual inclination is a mental disorder, and we don’t need to resort to conspiracy theories and accusations of ideological bias as the only or likely reason why anyone would challenge or reject that view. Secondly, If we held the view about unmarried motherhood for inadequate reasons, we must concede the possibility that we hold a similar view about homosexuality for inadequate reasons. We must, therefore, scrutinise very carefully our reasons for thinking that homosexuality is a mental disorder.

          I think this may be what the Catechism is getting at when it urges us to avoid “every sign of unjust discrimination”; if we hold attitudes or beliefs which are, or may be, detrimental to homosexually-inclined persons, we have to scrutinise the basis for those very carefully indeed. It’s not enough that we hold them honestly.

          We may well hold a particular view because it comforts us, or because it is familiar, or because we find it reinforces another view that we hold (e.g. the view that homosexuality is morally disordered). The explanation we give for our view – even the explanation we give to ourselves – may not identify these motives. (My personal suspicion is that any view which is supported by a conspiracy theory is almost certainly held for different reasons, unacknowledged even to the self, but feel free to dismiss that as my bias showing through.)

          So I ask myself, why would we regard a homosexual inclination as a mental disorder? What does it have in common with other mental disorders? And the answer, I think, is “not a great deal”. Gareth points out that “there are some people still distressed by unwanted homosexual attraction in our community”, and this is unquestionably true – but it’s also true of heterosexual attraction. He also points to “the strong correlates with counterculture”, but if being countercultural was indicative of mental disorder then, surely, Christianity would be a mental disorder.

          We’re straying very much outside my area of expertise here, but I understand that the question of exactly what does constitute a mental disorder is a topic of much reflection and debate within the psychiatric/psychological community. But mental disorder is generally characterised by aberrant or unexpected behaviour, usually associated with distress or (social) disability, in a way that is not considered to reflect normal development within the subject’s culture. References to “norms” and “culture” point to a highly subjective element; whether someone’s experience or behaviour amounts to “mental disorder” depends not only on their experience and behaviour, but on other people’s expectations. So there would be no case for saying that in ancient Greece, for example, a man who engaged in socially condoned and socially expected sexual behaviour (homosexual or heterosexual) was mentally disordered, even if in our society his behaviour would be considered grossly aberrant.

          What it comes down to, then, is this; if someone’s experiences/condition significantly and damaging their your relationships with others in society, or with society at large, they may be viewed as connected with, or stemming from, a mental disorder. (Or they may not be; they may for example be viewed as criminal.) But if they don’t, they won’t be. The case for viewing homosexuality as a mental disorder has eroded as homosexuality, and homosexuals, have become more open, more visible and more integrated into society – an inevitable development if “unjustified discrimination” against homosexuality is dismantled. This, not some leftist conspiracy, is what is behind the near-universal acceptance of the view that homosexual inclination is not, in itself, a mental disorder.

          • maryh says:

            @Pere

            I do indeed think we are talking past each other.

            Certainly, it can be damaging to call something an illness, mental or otherwise, if it actually is NOT an illness. Just look at the results of treating fertility and pregnancy like illnesses instead of natural, healthy processes. I thought I had been quite clear about that, but just to be sure, I will state that, of course, it requires objective evidence before we call a homosexual orientation, or any other condition, an illness, mental or otherwise.

            From the way you define “mental illness / disorder” though, it looks like the whole usefulness of the term is questionable. If it simply means “something that bothers the person afflicted and impacts the society at large”, it’s simply been turned into something that describes someone who is bothered by being at odds with society.

            If I have “arachnophobia”, but my life is naturally so ordered that I am almost never exposed to spiders, do I have an “anxiety disorder” or don’t I? It doesn’t bother me or society at large. Personally, I would say that I have an anxiety disorder but it doesn’t require treatment. But by the way you describe things, it sounds like you would say I don’t have a mental disorder at all. (By the way, I don’t happen to be afraid of spiders).

            As for the objective justification for calling exclusive homosexual orientation, at the very least, a mental illness, I gave you one in my previous post, which you didn’t answer. There are many others, which we could go through. And while the ancient Greeks may not have considered homosexual activity itself necessarily a sign of a disorder, they certainly would have considered someone who was exclusively homosexually oriented to have something wrong with him – which they probably would have named “impotence”.

            In my previous post, I asked for the data the APA used to determine that homosexuality was no longer a mental illness. You made the good point that with more people living openly with their homosexual orientation, we know, or should know, more about the condition. Very well, what do we know now that is any different? Where’s the data? That’s an honest question. I’d like to look at something other than NARTH, since most homosexual activists don’t accept that source. So far, the “homosexual orientation isn’t an illness” data that I’ve seen has a strong self-selection bias.

            Finally, you realize that it is just as dangerous to refuse to recognize something as an illness that actually is one, as it is to say something is an illness that isn’t. People with depression can die when they’re told they should “just snap out of it” instead of receiving adequate treatment. If homosexual orientation is in fact a mental disorder, we should be determining ways to treat it and if possible cure it, instead of saying “just avoid sin by sheer force of will” or “give in”.

  8. Gareth says:

    Pere: Gareth doesn’t actually say why he believes homosexual inclination to be a mental disorder.

    Gareth: I’ve got a question Pere – why do you think that the medical/psychological world did hold to this view for over one hundred years and mot only this was virtually unchallenged. This all happened in the advanced, civilised world.

    Do you think this view held true for so long because it was all a bit of a laugh, or due to ‘unfair discrimination’ or that it was genuine?

    If you answer anything along the lines of discrimination, then the onus is on you to prove how something that was true for so long is suddenly not true based on actual scientific findings or research.

    Massive evidence is avaliable to point to the fact that the change was not due to any scientific fact or actual psycholgical research but rather to undue political pressure by a militant group.

    Please do not point the finger at me for holding to a view with no explanation, when it appears you are on the side that fails to put foward any evidence at all. This same side wants to hold the whole of society ransom in order to legitimise abnormal behaviour and spreads lies that take hold amongst the faithful (eg. that Sodom was destroyed for inhospitality not foul homosexual practices and fornication).

    I am grateful to God that I am not gullible to lies and rather take head of the side of truth.

    • Peregrinus says:

      Gareth, I haven’t expressed a view that a homosexual inclination is or is not a mental disorder; only you have expressed a view on this. It seems to me that it’s reasonable to ask you to justify your certainty. But I am not claiming any certainty.

      For the record, I’m sceptical about claims that homosexuality can be classified as a mental disorder. I’ve met people who suffer from undisputed mental disorders – some of them people very close to me and their condition causes distress and dysfunction and damage and disruption to their lives and health, in a way that just isn’t true for the gay people of my acquaintance. Nothing in my own experience, therefore, suggests that it is helpful or meaningful to classify homosexual orientation as a mental disorder, and this perhaps disposes me to accept that professional consensus that, indeed, it isn’t.

      Why was it ever regarded as a mental disorder? Good question. You seem to accept rather uncritically that the former view that it is a mental disorder was correct. Bearing in mind that the notion of a sexual orientation and a sexual identify was only recognised (or invented, if you prefer) in the nineteenth century, I think we need to be cautious about assuming that it was instantly and fully understood, and that everything people thought about homosexuality at the time must have been right. We know that there was widespread disapproval of homosexuality and victimisation of homosexuals at the time; it is beyond the bounds of possibility that this might have coloured people’s judgments about homosexual orientation? As you must know, a standard narrative of nineteenth-century psychology and psychological understandings is that they were produced by sceptics and rationalists who were seeking non-religious justifications and supports which would bolster the social and moral values that they were familiar with. Hence we have bizarre views about masturbation causing enervation and “racial degeneration”; if we must abandon scriptural views with which to inculcate certain attitudes towards sexuality, we simply develop “scientific” views which serve the same purpose. Is that really a process in whose outcome you can have such unquestioning and absolute faith?

      It seems to me that the view we have today, while it may be equally open to ideological distortion as view formed in the nineteenth century, but they are at least informed by a much greater depth of experience and reflection. You may or may not like the process of sexual openness generally, and gay liberation in particular, which has been going on for the last fifty years or so, but it is undeniable that it has enable the voices of gay people to be heard, and their experiences and insights communicated and discussed, in a way that simply wasn’t true in the past. It would be startling if this did not lead to a reevaluation of ideas about, and understandings of, homosexuality.

      In short, I don’t claim your certainty about which of two competing views about whether homosexual orientation is a mental disorder is correct. I merely observe that one view accords with my own experience and observations, and the other does not, and that the view which accords with my experiences is very much more widely accepted by those with professional credibility than the contrary view.

      • Gareth says:

        Pere,

        I thank you for your response but beg to differ slightly.

        – Despite what you claim about victimisation (which arguably is somewhat exaggerated) during the nineteenth century and this having some sort of influence, I honestly don’t believe the previously unchallenged scientific status of homosexuality as a paraphilia was in any way untoward.

        – Even a strong proponent of change in the above would readily admit that politics (eg changes in social norms and strong political pressures), rather than science, was the chief reason for removal of its classification as such.

        -I have met personally to justify the claim and heard from speakers on the topic stating that it is a absolute myth that there are not some people still distressed by unwanted homosexual attraction in our community. Not forgetting also that just because an individual does not directly feel distress over a something does not make this normal

        – I honestly would add to this that looking at the average news scenes from Mardi Gras that abnormality of behavior within those that identify as homosexual is quite obvious, given the strong correlates with counterculture and various drug/alcohol excesses. Not forgetting also that just because an individual does not directly feel distress over a something does not make this normal

        I conclude my own personal observations and experience that just that using the term ‘mental disorder’ in this case is not unfair, in fact I would go so far as to claim that a denial ignores problems with the actual original decision made – it is always wise on the topic to remember that just because something has mainstream acceptance or is politically correct/growing in popularity does not automatically make what is presented at face value as accurate or true.

  9. Stephen K says:

    Peregrinus, I am putting my post here so I do not interfere with any response by Mary H to your own. I just want to say that I think your exposition of both the original discussion issue and the distinct considerations involved with any uses one makes of the word “disorder” – particularly the distinction between the concept of a “mental” disorder and what we might think a moral one – has been quite simply brilliant. In fact, it has been nothing less than “mind candy”.

    On a quirky, personal note, many years ago I took great delight in singing the Sunday Vesper psalm 113/114 “In exitu Israel de Aegypto”. I never knew what pleasure tonus peregrinus was to bring me in later years!

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