Marrying Your Porn-laden Computer?

Catholics are accused of blind prejudice, even of being guilty of a hate crime, if they espouse the traditional Christian teaching on marriage, specifically that by its very nature it can only be between a man and a woman.

How can you deprive a man of his freedom in this most intimate area of expressing his love? How dare you make judgments about his behavior when what he wants to do is make a life-long marital commitment. Doesn’t he have the right to define marriage the way he sees fit? Isn’t all this talk about the nature of things, in this case the “supposed” nature of marriage, just a smoke-screen to justify blindness and prejudicial revulsion?

In the face of such crowd-pleasing appeals to subjectivity and the unfettered pursuit of happiness, how can Catholics explain themselves without appearing mindless and Neanderthal? A recent extreme case in Florida gives us a chance to explain ourselves, perhaps even to the most closed-minded gay-rights activist.

A Florida man, Mr. Chris Sevier, is now suing in both Florida and Utah for the right to marry his porn-laden computer. As reported by David Milward at the London Telegraph, he wants to officially marry is Macbook:

 

His arguments are the familiar ones for the subjectivist definition of marriage, i.e., that marriage has no other nature than the one I as private individual assign to it. He argues that if gays should be allowed to marry, then so should other sexual minorities. Otherwise, they are an oppressed and insulted sub-group whose rights are being violated. Compared to gays who are treated as second-class citizens, “those of us in the real minority, who want to marry machines and animals, certainly feel like third-class citizens.” Thus to allow gays to marry but to deny him the same right is discriminatory.

He argues that if gays have the right “to marry their object of sexual desire, even if they lack corresponding sexual parts, then I should have the right to marry my preferred sexual object.” He goes on to argue that “the exclusion from marriage to a machine denies myself a dignity and status of immense import” and “if there is a risk that is posed to traditional marriage and children, both man-man couples and man-machine couples pose it equally.” Therefore, “in considering the equal protection clause, there are no fewer policy reasons for preventing man-machine couples from marrying than there are for same sex couples.”

Unfortunately, from the perspective of total subjectivism in the definition of marriage he has a point. But does anyone really think that the judges who ruled against him in Florida and Utah are simply operating out of hatred and prejudice? Or are they operating from the tattered remnants of a genuine insight into the true nature of marriage—that it at least has to do with persons, even if someone claims to fall in love with a pornography laden computer.

“Over time,” he says, “I began preferring sex with my computer over sex with real women”—and now he wants to make a life-long commitment.

If someone objects to this attempt to define marriage to include machines (and animals), is it tantamount to a hate crime? No, of course not. In fact it’s nothing personal at all. It’s a question of fact, not an ugly imposition of one’s private values out of prejudice. It’s not in the nature of marriage, it’s not in the nature of vows (quite evidently mutual vows in the case of “marriage”), that it can be accomplished between a person and a non-person.

Now the traditional advocates of marriage simply use a parallel argument, that marriage by its nature involves incarnate persons ordained to one another in a special way on all levels including the bodily. The sexual organs on the bodily level are ordained toward and complete one another—each is incomplete without the other. The marital act itself is intrinsically both unitive and procreative, even if specific acts may not live up to either or both of these essential traits.

And yet Justice Anthony Kennedy in his recent majority opinion striking down the Defense of Marriage Act accuses all who disagree with him of disparaging, degrading, and demeaning others. Here is part of Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent:

In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of a reasoned disagreement. To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to “disparage,” “injure,” “degrade,” “demean,” and “humiliate” our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homosexual. All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence—indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history.

But is any resistance to marrying animals and machines also “beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement” and motivated only be the desire to “injure” and “humiliate”? Or is it just a question of acknowledging the facts and defending reality?

Can even Justice Kennedy admit that there might be an actual “nature” to marriage that would not allow such extremes—extremes that would stretch so far as to destroy? As legal precedents from around the world, Mr. Sevier cites a case where a woman married a dolphin and a Chinese man wed a cardboard cutout of himself. Would Justice Kennedy go along? Or would he admit to some limits that are not motivated by hate but by real concern for the nature of the relationship and real concern for the person(s) involved—for their contact with reality and for their happiness?

Michael J. Healy

By

Michael J. Healy is Professor of Philosophy and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.

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