Of course, the language of “one-flesh union” derives from the Hebrew Bible and is powerfully reaffirmed by Jesus in the Gospels. For Jews and Christians, revelation reinforces and illuminates a great truth of natural law.
Catholic Church Recognizes the Intrinsic Value of Marriage as More than Just a Means to Procreation
Q: Section 1652 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “By its very nature, the institution of marriage and married love is ordered toward the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory.” The Catechism thus appears to describe marriage in purely instrumental terms. Can you clarify how your position is consistent?
“Because human beings are constituted as they are, thus constituting the human good as it is, it is intrinsically fulfilling for men and women to unite in a form of communion apt for — “ordered toward” — procreation and the upbringing of children even where, in their particular case, they will not be able to conceive or rear children.”
George: Sure. I have already remarked that married love and the institution of marriage are naturally ordered toward procreation and the upbringing of children.
But this is not to say that children are extrinsic ends to which marital union, in its sexual dimension or otherwise, is a mere means. “Ordered toward” does not mean “is merely a means to.”
Perhaps the best evidence that the Church recognizes the intrinsic value of marriage and does not treat it merely as a means to procreation is her clear and unwavering teaching that people can have reason to marry, and may legitimately marry, and can be fully and truly married, even when the infertility of one or both spouses renders procreation impossible for them.
Marriages of infertile spouses are true marriages. They are not pseudo-marriages. They are not second-class marriages.
Because human beings are constituted as they are, thus constituting the human good as it is, it is intrinsically fulfilling for men and women to unite in a form of communion apt for — “ordered toward” — procreation and the upbringing of children even where, in their particular case, they will not be able to conceive or rear children.
Spouses truly become “one flesh” in their marital intercourse even when temporary or permanent infertility means that conception will not take place. It is worth noting that for Jews and Christians marriages are consummated by completed sexual intercourse, not by achieving the conception of a child.
However, nothing in the affirmation of this great truth contradicts the equally great truth that children conceived as the fruit of marital communion are indeed the “crowning glory” of marital love.
Children are not operational objectives of the sexual union of spouses or of the institution of marriage; rather, they, are gifts supervening on marital love to be welcomed and cherished as perfective participants in the community — the family — established by their parents’ marital communion.
One-Flesh Unity as the Defining Principle of Marriage Possible Exclusively Between a Man and a Woman
Q: Does the Church’s recognition of the validity of infertile marriages contradict its teaching that marriage is necessarily the union of a man and a woman, rather than a union of any two persons, including persons of the same sex?
“Any two — or more — people can live together, caring for each other and sharing each other’s lives in many dimensions. But for a marriage to be brought into existence and be completed, a comprehensive, multilevel sharing of life must be founded on the bodily — biological — union of spouses.”
George: No. The key thing to see is that the Church, consistently with what we know by the light of natural reason, understands marriage as fundamentally and irreducibly a sexual relationship.
Any two — or more — people can live together, caring for each other and sharing each other’s lives in many dimensions. But for a marriage to be brought into existence and be completed, a comprehensive, multilevel sharing of life must be founded on the bodily — biological — union of spouses.
A man and woman pledged to permanent fidelity to each other must become “one flesh” by virtue of the consummation of their union by intercourse in which they fulfill the behavioral conditions of procreation — whether or not the non-behavioral conditions necessary for conception to take place happen to exist.
In the absence of true biological union, persons cannot be sharing each other’s lives in the uniquely marital way; their sharing of life cannot be a comprehensive sharing, one in which their communion at other levels is founded on their bodily communion.
It is by performing marital acts — acts that are procreative in type, whether or not they are reproductive in effect; and even if, due to disease, defect or a woman’s age they cannot result in procreation — that a man and woman pledged in permanent fidelity to each other consummate and renew their marriage as a one-flesh union.
This is why marriages cannot be between more than two persons, however fond they are of each other and however committed to the group each may sincerely be; and it is why marriages cannot be between persons of the same sex.
Once we understand marriage as truly a one-flesh union, we see that sexual activity between or among members of polyamorous groups or between partners of the same sex, however much they may desire it or find it satisfying, is inherently non-marital.
Whatever one makes of claims that sexual play can enhance the emotional bonding of participants in polyamorous or same-sex relationships, plainly it cannot unite the sex partners maritally. Whatever its motive, objective or point, it cannot be biological, “one-flesh,” unity — the very foundation and defining principle of marriage.