To what extent do John Corvino's arguments regarding homosexuality count against those of John Finnis?
John Corvino has attempted to counter the arguments of his opponents – mainly, those who condemn homosexuality as an abomination and for whom the concept of “gay marriage” is anathema -- by arguing that the gay and lesbian communities should not cede the argument over morality to the Right. Among his most vocal opponents is John Finnis, considered an influential proponent of natural law, defined as “the unwritten body of universal moral principles that underlie the ethical and legal norms by which human conduct is sometimes evaluated and governed.” Because “natural law” seeks to codify patterns of conduct as permissible or impermissible according to commonly-accepted notions of right and wrong, and because homosexuality is prohibited by the Bible, has been historically restricted by society, and does not serve the basic function of reproduction vital to survival of the species, it is, by definition, wrong. As Finnis wrote, quoting the Catechism:
“The reason why even the most deep-seated homosexual tendency must be called disordered is straightforward. Every such tendency, inclination or orientation ‘is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.’ Of course ‘the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin’ – for the sin is committed only in a choice. But the inclination is precisely an inclination to choose a homosexual act – a sex act with a person of the same sex. And, like every other kind of non-marital sex act, any and every homosexual act is a seriously disordered kind of activity which, if freely and deliberately chosen, is a serious sin.” [www.catholicsocialscientists.org/CSSR/Archival/2001/Finnis_61-70.pdf]
Corvino argues gays should rebut assertions that homosexuality is an intrinsically immoral existence: “We shouldn’t confuse the rejection of bad moralizing with the rejection of moralizing altogether.” He further challenges the notion of what constitutes “natural” by suggesting that much of what people take for granted in life, for example, clothing, is not “natural,” and that much what is bad, for example, disease, is natural. Furthermore, he rebuts Finnis on the issue functionality by pointing out that sterile heterosexual couples are permitted under natural law to engage in sexual intercourse despite the impossibility of reproduction occurring:
“Suppose . . . that we grant Finnis’s problematic notion of the marital good—a two-in-one ﬂesh biological union that is somehow possible even for heterosexual partners known to be permanently sterile but not for homosexual partners. Why should we worry about sex that fails to pursue this good? Part of Finnis’s answer is that nonmarital sex damages the marital good. Finnis views this damage as intrinsic, claiming that any willingness to engage in nonmarital sex renders one unable to achieve the marital good. This is true even if the willingness is merely conditional . . . The problem is that such willingness indicates that one treats the marital good as a merely optional feature of sexual acts”
By placing the concept of “natural” law in a broader framework than the scholars he philosophically opposes, he undermines the arguments of Finnis with regard to definitions of what is natural and what is not, at the same time illuminating the morality inherent in a loving relationship between consenting adults irrespective of whether each couple consists of a man and a woman.