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Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics

Volume 30, Issue 2, Fall/Winter 2010

Jean Porter
Pages 79-97

The Natural Law and Innovative Forms of Marriage
A Reconsideration

THIS ESSAY EXPLORES THE IMPLICATIONS OF A NATURAL LAW ACCOUNT of marriage for the gay marriage controversy, starting from the concept of the natural law developed by scholastic jurists and theologians in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Certainly, the scholastics themselves unanimously condemned homosexual acts, and probably never entertained the possibility of same-sex marital unions. Yet this fact taken by itself does not mean that their overall concept of the natural law and the approach to marriage developed out of that concept must necessarily rule out gay marriages. We are the heirs of several centuries of further experiences with and reflection on marriage, and through this process our own conceptions of both marriage and sex itself have changed—leading to perspectives very different from the scholastics yet recognizably products of a trajectory of thought that they initiated. In this essay I argue that the scholastic concept of the natural law, when developed and applied within a contemporary context, does not rule out gay marriage but on the contrary gives us reasons to support the legal recognition of such unions.

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