The Social Role of Ordinary Life in its Domestic Form: Legitimizing Domestic Life in Modern Society

Social Roles: The Best Plan of Life and the Liberation of the Domestic Sphere


Modern society carried over the centrality of the family in the Medieval, Renaissance, and Reformation periods into its social structure. In fact, the social context of modern society allows the family to fulfill a fundamental purpose: to provide an intimate context for expressing our worth and dignity and receive the worth and dignity of others. The development of our individuality initially occurs within the family. Birth order, the temporal development of the self, and the development of personality, occur first in the context of family. In common with all societies, modern society depends upon the family for the production of new members of society. The family has the responsibility of raising those children to have the abilities, dispositions, and attitudes that they will need to participate in civil and economic society. The family is the place where we gain our primary emotional enrichment.

            I want to give a few examples of the pressure placed upon families in non-modern societies, as well as the contrasting role of the family in a modern society.

            In non-modern societies, father taught son an occupation in which the son would remain throughout his life. When the parents were too old to work, the son took care of the parents. The parents provided a source of wisdom for the younger generation. They also helped keep everyone stable in their faith and jobs. The primary social welfare program was the extended family.

By contrast, in a modern society, the family is a unit of consumption. With the emergence of civil society, the family focused less upon production and became a smaller, closer, and more private unity within which affective relationships were intense. From an economic perspective, the family is a community of purchase and enjoyment of commodities. Civil and economic society depends upon consumption by families. Civil society is far more effective at meeting productive needs than the extended family had been. This separation of the satisfaction of affective and material is something that deserves our affirmation. In terms of companionship, this recognizes the mutual need of husband and wife and the mutual satisfaction that we have come to anticipate. The family itself is not a unit of production. The family is not a social welfare program. People who live in the modern social world cannot nostalgically look upon the extended family as a better family system. However, in a modern society, the creation of a new family involves leaving behind the former family. This fact allows for openness to new forms of family that pre-modern societies do not possess. Although young families may miss the wisdom of previous generations in raising their children, the freedom of civil society and the production of books and other media resources allows for the dissemination of increasing wisdom on relationships in the family. This allows for experimentation and openness to the future that previous societies could not provide. The necessary presupposition is that its members experience the community as meaningful and its claims on the individual as justified. Without this assumption, the claims of family become oppressive.

One area of struggle in modern society is that, from the legal perspective, the family holds property in common. Marriage is a contract that we need to take seriously. Man and woman bear individual rights that they bring into a marriage. Yet, in the marriage, they transcend the legal contract and agree to enter a relationship in which neither relates to the other as a bearer of rights.

            Yet, rights based approaches and politicization of the family unit is not helpful in a philosophical discussion of the role of the nuclear family within liberal democracy. When every relationship becomes a political relationship, we remove morality from the picture. Rather, the nuclear family is the primary place where individuals experience recognition of their worth and dignity, have their need for intimacy and friendship met, and generally transcend the concept of rights and political life. In fact, any family that descends to a consideration of the individual rights of its members has already ceased fulfilling its role of providing an intimate context for experiencing and expressing worth and dignity and has entered the realm of civil society. Individuals surrender isolated individuality in marriage.

The internal life of the family is outside the realm of individual rights. We are not present in the family as individuals but as members of a family. The family is a good in itself and the proper object of our activity. Family roles determine the normative structure of the relations of family members, and not the concept of individual rights. My sister in need does not carry an obligation for me to help because she bears individual rights, but because she is my sister. If I treat a member of the family as a bearer of rights, I treat him or her as a member of civil society rather than as a family member. The businessperson may treat a customer that way, but it is not appropriate to treat a spouse, child, or sibling that way. Further, since no individual within the family has property, but only as families do they have property, we cannot speak of individuals as bearers of rights. Marriage creates a single person as far as civil society is concerned. We cannot even speak of partnership, for we must look for a deeper and more thorough union in which we overcome the separation between the parties. The parties of the marriage surrender to each other. Individual projects have standing only as a part of the larger life they share. Does this communal view of marriage and family go too far for many people today?

            People in a modern society experience affective recognition of the psychological dimension of our particularity. This specialization of the family allows it to meet the need for emotional recognition that we have. With liberal democracy, the family becomes the nuclear family. The domestic sphere is that area of our lives that consists of affective personal relations within which people can express their psychological particularity and provide each other with emotional recognition. The domestic sphere encourages the development of healthy attachments to the people and things in our lives.

            When we have the capacity to enter into an intimate, faithful, and sexual relationship with a member of the opposite sex, we discover dimensions of our humanity that we would not otherwise discover. We can see positive signs of readiness for marriage in a general capacity for retaining friendship, an interest in work, and more interest in the partner than in self. Signs of lack of readiness include the desire to educate or criticize the other, hyper-sensitivity, one who has no friends and does not mix well in society, one pessimistic, or the still looking for the ideal marriage partner.

            The main way in which the domestic life actualizes the individual is the free choice to marry a particular person. The modern social world provides the family as the context within which people can develop and find recognition of the psychological dimension of their emotional needs and traits. It is the setting where personal feelings count. One can reasonably expect that others will understand and care. We can hope to have others love us as the particular person we are. One can expect unconditional love in the family. No other place in the modern social world allows people to realize and find acceptance of the emotional aspects of their particularity. We will find emotional investment possible in other spheres of life. However, the family is the primary place for that emotional life to find satisfaction. The reconciliation the family provides is limited in that people feel themselves as individuals and social members, but it never rises to a reflective level; it cannot deal with individuals as bearers of rights; its scope is that of a specific group rather than the community. The family provides an important dimension of our reconciliation to the modern social world. It is not sufficient on its own to provide that reconciliation. Some tensions human community need in resolution in other spheres of social relationship. The family can provide much of what we need. It cannot provide everything.

            The well-being of individuals and the manner in which human society finds itself linked together has its source in the human community called family and marriage. The family is an intimate community, a school of deeper humanity. It needs a generous communion of minds and hearts and deliberation between spouses and deliberation between parents and children. Children need the kind of education that will help them engage society in a meaningful and responsible way and form families of their own. Various generations often come together in the family. They help each other grow in wisdom. They help harmonize personal rights with responsibilities to a community. Political and economic leaders have an interest in recognizing the dignity of the family, protecting it, and promoting it. The advancement of the well-being of domestic life enhances broader human society.

            The first human community to which most persons relate is their biological family. They learn to relate to authority figures and too often to siblings and the extended family. They learn to relate to neighbors and playmates. In the process, they discover that they cannot do whatever they want. They learn to discipline their desires and discern courses of action and behavior in relationship with others. In fact, they discover their sense of self in relationship with others. Modern society gives valued individuals the impression that only the individual matters. In reality, individuals discover both unity and diversity in the context of human community.

            Human love calls people to move beyond themselves and involve themselves in the lives, hopes, and dreams of others. The experience of such love is a feeling for others and their importance in one’s life. This love is not morality itself, but rather prepares the way for moral discourse. Considerations of morality and ethics have their source in love. Love causes us to de-center self and find our fulfillment in caring for another. Individuals find their fulfillment in relationship with others. Our encounter with persons different from us calls us out of ourselves and into new discovery of the potential person we can become. True love enables us to see. Love permits us to see the spiritual core of the other, the reality of the potential of the other. Becoming openly intimate with another becomes a window toward genuinely loving relationships with others. Genuinely loving another helps us become loving people, loving in a way that shares love with others as well. We grow in our love for humanity and in our love of life. Such love implies care, the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love. Many people have a nagging suspicion that nothing matters; we cannot do anything to make changes. Therefore, we become apathetic, uninvolved, and grasp for external stimulants. Care suggests that something does matter. Care is the opposite of apathy. Care is what we need to heal such sickness. We tend toward another; we have inclination toward another and give attention to another. Such love implies responsibility, our response to the needs of another human being. Such love implies respect; the ability to see the unique individuality of the other, separating the others growth from any purpose in serving us. Such love implies knowledge of the other, transcending simple concern for us. Isolated individuals are little more than fragments, while a meaningful life experiences the profound connection each life has with another. Love is the royal road to genuine knowledge of another and us. It is the way to genuine union, answering our quest to escape the prison of our aloneness. In genuinely discovering another, we find ourselves. The act of love transcends thought and words.

            The integration of sexuality into the life of the family and kinship group show that individual institutions are not simply geared each to a particular need but aid in the social integration of human behavior generally and thereby in the attainment of individual identity as well. Therefore, marriage itself has priority over the family and children. It embraces the entire lives of those who enter it. Women and men are free and equal beings, capable of participating in public life together. They are also free and equal within the family unit. The roles of the sexes are opposite and yet complementary. Individuals seek in a person of the opposite sex a comprehensive complement to their own being and existence. Men and women can concentrate on a relationship with a particular person of the other sex. They can find in this relation to a person of the other sex an exemplary fulfillment of their destination to live in society.

One classical way to speak of sexuality is to speak of Eros. Sex is more than a biological drive. Eros attracts us, whether it has a sexual nature or not. This love is an absolute, unconditional love, since it is simply one’s self that one loves, a self at last restored to its original completeness, unity, and perfection. It is an exclusive love, since each person, having by definition a single other half, can experience but one person, having by definition a single other half, can experience but one love. Finally, Eros is a permanent love, since the original oneness antecedes us and, once restored, will fulfill us to the day we die and even in the hereafter. Our deepest need is to overcome our alienation or separation, to leave the prison of our aloneness. We need to resolve the question of how we can overcome separation and move toward genuine union, transcending ourselves in the lives of others. We need to pay attention to the darkness within us, releasing the positive only as we recognize the self-destructive power within is. Humanity has sought such an experience in orgiastic states, such as self-induced trances and use of drugs. Such unions are intense, occur in the total personality, and are temporary.

Sex is a disappointing answer to the riddle of life; pretending it is adequate is a lie to our children and to us. People who devote their lives to unrestricted sexual satisfaction do not attain happiness. People appear to have so much sex and so little meaning, fun, passion and feeling in having it. We have become more concerned about technique rather than passion, meaning, or pleasure. Our compulsive preoccupation with sex is part of our struggle for identity. We also want to overcome our solitariness. We also have a desperate endeavor to escape feelings of emptiness and the threat of apathy. We become bound to the other, who can become a god or devil in that role; we become dependent on them. We cannot be godlike to and for others. Contrary to the experience of elevating the sexual partner into the position of a god, we cannot offer others redemption, just as others cannot offer us redemption.

The fulfillment of our sexual role and bearing children makes us realize that we are nothing but a link in the chain of being, exchangeable with any other and completely expendable. Our desire for union has a biological basis in the desire for union between man and woman. The polarity of masculine and feminine, the experience of difference, leads to such a fascination that we seek union. However, sexual attraction is only partly motivated by the need for removal of chemical tensions within the body. We primarily need union with the other sexual pole.

Freud’s focus upon the Oedipus complex and fixation of love upon the mother does not coincide with reality. Sexual desire is fickle with regard to its objects. The love of a child says, “I love because I am loved.” Mature love says, “I am loved because I love.” Immature love says, “I love you because I need you.” Mature loves says, “I need you because I love you.”

Mature love leads to a monogamous attitude. Sexual desires focuses upon a single partner, as the exotic tendency dictates. The mature person feels sexual desire only when he or she loves. They consider sexual relationships only where sex is the expression of love. The inner capacity for a monogamous relationship is at once the culmination of sexual development, the goal of sex education, and the ideal of sexual ethics.

Sex has become less than what it can be because of the separation of sex from Eros. People are increasingly intelligent, articulate, efficient, and successful in work, but detached in personal intercourse and afraid of intimate relationships. Our freedom in expressing our sexuality has increased our anxiety regarding sexual union. We repress Eros and passion through the over-availability of sex. We experience alienation here as the loss of the capacity to be intimately personal. Erotic love contains an element of infatuation with physical traits, but includes psychic characteristics as well. Eros is the experiencing of the personal intentions and meaning of the act of sex. It is a state of being, not just stimulus and response. Eros wishes to hold on to the excitement, bask in it, and even to increase it, not a release from the biological tension. Eros desires, longs for, reaches out, and seeks to expand, not just gratification and relaxation. Eros desires tender union with the partner, a tenderness that is not always part of sex. Eros attracts us; it allures us or entices us. Eros draws us ahead, referring to the realms of possibilities, to the reach of human imagination and intentionality. Eros seeks increase of stimulation; it is a desire, not just a need; this mixture of desire complicates love immensely. Loving may deceive us; we may think that love makes us see when in fact infatuation blinds us. Yet, true love enables us to see. Love permits us to see the spiritual core of the other, the reality of the other’s essential nature potential. Love allows us to experience the personality of another as a world in itself and thus extend our own world. A purely sexually disposed person could have just any sexual partner. Erotic love is exclusive (but not possessive) and the most deceptive form of love. I do not mean falling in love. Such love is temporary by its nature; intimacy is primarily sexual contact; the partners exhaust any mystery quickly. Others share hopes and anxieties within the hidden desire overcoming their separation and escaping the prison of their aloneness. Like anger, rage, and craving for power, sex and Eros have the capacity to take over the whole person. Even in our love, lust for power, anger, and revenge too often motivate us. Sexual desire aims at genuine union. Love can inspire the wish for sexual union blended with tenderness as the extension of brotherly love. Erotic love comes from the core of one person to the core of another. Such love is a decision, discernment, and a promise. The true lover seeks the uniqueness and singularity of the partner’s spiritual core.

The more frequent union has its basis in conformity with the group, such as customs, practices, and beliefs. People want to conform to secure their identity, even when they live under the illusion that they follow their own unique inclinations. This yielding to consensus trends toward eliminating difference under the guise of equality, which often reduces to sameness rather than genuine union with another. Men and women become the same, rather than respectfully appreciating their polarity; the result is the disappearance of erotic love. Such union by conformity is routine, and thus does not have the capacity to resolve our core anxiety. Such unity is primarily mental, rather than including the body. Such herd mentality has permanent quality. The work routine becomes part of our conformity.

A third way of attaining union is in creative activity. Creative activity unites the artist with the material; they become one. We need such creative active activity, not in the production of works of art, but in our interpersonal relationships. Our fundamental passion is the desire for interpersonal fusion. The failure to achieve it can mean insanity or other forms of self-destruction, or destruction of others. Our passions can lead us to genuine interpersonal relationship with another or toward destructive and self-destructive behavior. We need to pay attention to the negative force of passion in order give freedom to the positive, creative communal force of passion. We can discern the positive influence of our passion if it leads toward integration and interpersonal meaning.

We do not know how to love. Couples live with this truth continually, painfully, and with difficulty. Erotic love is the strongest from of love, the most violent, and it is the greatest source of suffering, failure, illusion, and disillusionment. Eros is its name, want is its essence, and passionate love is its culmination. Want necessarily means suffering and possessiveness. I love you means I want you. It is jealous, avid, possessive love, and far from always rejoicing over the loved one’s happiness, it suffers dreadfully whenever this happiness threatens its own or draws the loved one away. Love means loving the other person for one’s own benefit. It is egoism’s passionate, relational, transitive form, and egoistical transference or transference of egoism. Such love is actually love of self. Let her leave you and see how you miss her! How you desire her! How you love her! How deeply you suffer! Eros has you in his grip and tears you apart. You love what you do not have, and what you lack; these are the pangs of love. What frenzy in your reunion, what eagerness in your embraces, what savagery in your pleasure! After making love, you have peace, quiet slowing of the passion and energy, and a sudden emptiness. She senses you are less present and less urgent. “Do you still love me?” Naturally, you answer yes. In reality, you want her less. The feeling will return, for that is how our bodies are made. Yet, by the fact of being there every day and every night, you will in time come to want her less and less. Finally, you will want someone else or want your solitude more than you want her. Eros has been calmed. Eros is bored.

Without love, we could not exist for a day. By love, I do not mean symbiotic union in its masochistic (submission) or sadistic (dominant) forms. Such forms of love bring union without respect for individuality. Mature love is union with another while preserving individuality. Genuine love is giving, not a falling or a receiving. Love is union with someone outside oneself, under the condition of retaining the separateness and integrity of one’s own self. To love means to open ourselves to the negative as well as the positive. We open ourselves to grief, sorrow, and disappointment, as well as to joy, fulfillment, and an intensity of consciousness we did not know was possible before we loved. In giving, we do not give up something or sacrifice. Giving is the highest expression of one’s power. We experience our strength in the act of giving, giving us joy, aliveness, and overflowing. We express our aliveness in our giving. The act of intercourse is the supreme example: the man giving the woman his penis, and the woman giving the center of her femininity.

Sex shares in common with death their biological foundation, yet surrounded by the holy mystery related to creation and destruction. When we give ourselves in relationships, we have a certain richness, an overabundance that we share with others. We give ourselves, the most precious thing we have to give. If we give our love as an expression of a loving person, yet do not become a loved person, our love becomes a misfortune. Such love implies care, the active concern or the life and the growth of that which we love.

            The sexual and domestic domains of family are domains of symbolic cultural interpretation, shaped by historical and institutional structures and built upon the foundation provided by biology. Family involves the joining of a man and a woman in affection and commitment, reserving sexual expression for each other and normally involves raising children together. When sex is part of faithful and loving relationship, it becomes beautiful.

            The cultural formations affect not just the theoretical explanation of desire but the very experience of desire, and of oneself as a desiring agent. Such considerable overlap as one does encounter among cultures in these areas we can best explain by the considerable overlap in the problems with which different human societies must grapple as they try to get on the world. The feeling most human beings have that certain ways of doing things sexually are natural and necessary is often best explained not by biology but by the depth of social conditioning in the life of every human being, in giving a sense of what is possible and impossible, what is an available role, and what is not. Therefore, in Canaan between 2000 BC and 500 BC, temple prostitution was common. In this worship setting, men and women could have intercourse, both same gender and opposite gender, without commitment to each other or to children. In the Greek and Roman culture, along with temple prostitution, the bathhouses were common public places for sexual expression. The Hebrew religion and later Christianity domesticated sexuality. This was an important step in the process of elevating women and children to a higher status. The dominant male gender now needed to invest increasing amounts of time and energy toward raising children and loving the spouse. The emphasis in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam upon keeping the expression of our sexuality within the home is not a matter of males exerting power over women and children. Rather, prohibition and censorship provided the context for the moral elevation of family in the attention of the male. Christianity itself had extensive concern for sexual boundaries, especially in the context of the confessional. The elevation of celibacy among saints and priests highlighted the importance of discourse about sex in which the church participated. The prevalence of the Don Juan legend shows the abiding power of raw sexuality in Western society. Modern society has its own confessional in its scientific analysis of birth rates, population trends, and the biological details of sex and pregnancy. Recognizing the depth of interpretation in sexuality does not remove rational debate or force us into a rootless relativism. Rather, it opens up a space for normative argument, political criticism, and reasoned change. No culture is monolithic. Thus, we must make room for plurality, contestation, and individual variety within cultures, as well as for overlap and borrowing among cultures.

            Modern society often has an unhealthy focus upon sex. I grant this view of sexuality in modern culture counters the repressive hypothesis that arises from psychoanalysis. What intrigues me is not so much repression of sexuality, but our apparent inability to stop talking about it and to stop experimenting with it. People in modern society seem to talk more about sex than anything else. Yet, the theory of repression gives people permission to talk incessantly about something socially forbidden. The theory gives people permission to move against perceived power structures, to utter truths, and to promise bliss, enlightenment, liberation, and pleasure to those who participate. Modern society seems on a search for true discourse about sex that will reveal some long hidden truth about us. We are always disappointed. In particular, the theory of repression is useful weapon by those who want liberation from Judaism, Christianity, and liberal democracy. What society considers legitimate and illegitimate discourse concerning sex is a large economic industry. Sexuality is also part of the political discourse of modern society. Far from repression, our discourse concerning sex shows both its importance to the human community and our continuing puzzlement about our sexuality.

            Our sexuality is an important dimension of who we are. Sexual desire affects our view of self as well as the other. Modern people seem to expect so much from sex as well. The more sex one has, with as many partners as one can, seems to lead toward a life of happiness. Sex is a disappointing answer to the riddles of human life. This path has also led to the wreckage of many lives. This grasping at sex for a meaningful and happy life is asking sex to have a place in our lives that it does not deserve. We act as if our talk about sex and our practice of it will reveal truths about society and us. Sexual discourse cannot bear the weight modern society wants to place upon it. People who devote their lives to unrestricted sexual satisfaction do not attain happiness. Sex has become almost too available. Detached from consideration of the best human life, sex loses its potential for human fulfillment. In such a setting, any sexual partner will suffice. People appear to have so much sex and so little meaning, fun, passion and feeling in having it. People have become more concerned about technique rather than passion, meaning, or pleasure. Compulsive preoccupation with sex is part of our struggle for identity. We also want to overcome our solitariness. We desperately endeavor to escape feelings of emptiness and the threat of apathy. Human fascination with sex is also understandable in that the sexually other fascinates us. We long for the completion of our humanity in one sexually other than us. Yet, we can become bound to the other, who can become a god or devil in that role. We cannot be godlike to and for others. Contrary to the experience of elevating the sexual partner into the position of a god, we cannot offer others redemption, just as others cannot offer us redemption.

            Modern society seems to find the expression of sexuality particularly difficult for the establishing of proper boundaries of human behavior. Some of these boundaries seem rather obvious. Parents do not make children the object of their sexual desire. Adults do not make children the object of their sexual desire. Siblings do not make each other the object of sexual desire. Such boundaries seem rather obvious for healthy families even in modern societies. Yet, many other relationships seem up in the air. Where do modern people go to receive wise counsel in the matter of sexuality?

            What has been the effect of the abuse of freedom in the arena of sexual expression? Let us consider a few controversial topics.

            Our society has seen the explosion of abortion as a means of birth control. Regardless of what society does with the legal of abortion, this does not determine the moral and spiritual issue facing the church. The formation of new life for human beings is not only a biological event, but a moral and spiritual event as well. Abortion is a tragic choice at many levels. This suggests restricting expression of sexuality to marriage and birth control. From a moral perspective, we ought to agree that protection of even potential human life is an important value. For those who cannot or do not wish to adequately love their child, a better option is to respect life enough to place the child into the hands and lives of others for adoption.

            Our society has seen an explosion in sexual experimentation, beginning increasingly early and continuing increasingly late. When we treat intercourse in such a casual way, we also treat others and ourselves in casual ways. This emphasis upon sexuality shows itself in sexual harassment as well. Harassment is about the abuse of power as much as it is about the perversion of our sexual desire. We degrade each other along such paths.

            Our society has seen the potential for re-defining what constitutes family. Society has done this in the past. It often experiments with polygamy, with mistresses, and with prostitution. It encourages “free love,” as if sex without commitment and affection is an ideal toward which individuals should strive. Most immediately, this has meant defining marriage and family to include same-gender relationships. We might also wonder if society will also accept as family units polygamous relationships as well. Two questions society must raise is that if there are boundaries in terms of sexual expression, where will society draw them? What context is best for children? The optimum situation for children is to relate intimately to male and female in their home. Of course, this does not mean that single parents cannot be good parents, but highlights the difficulty of the task.

            Modern society constitutes the family from a legal perspective, and therefore political life influences the dynamic of family life. The family is nuclear, bourgeois, and a companionship of male and female. The basic unit is husband, wife, and children. Every constitution of the family is worthwhile, whether as single persons, married without children, single with children, and married with children. However, many persons in modern society recognize the importance of children to develop their identity in relationship to both the same sex parent and the opposite sex parent. These early relationships are important for the development of healthy adults. Although the modern social world accepts the diversity of family units as single, homosexual and others beyond that of male/female/child, it still requires heterosexual unions for obvious reasons. Many scientists will say that our genetic structure drives us to reproduce the genes in another. Yet, most of us recognize that more is at work than genes desiring reproduction. We are not human beings in general, but only as male and female.

            The dissolution of the patriarchal family opens the possibility of reshaping marriage and family in the spirit of the Christian idea of mutual love. The separation that occurred in patriarchic society between male and female provided specialization of roles. Men could focus upon production in civil society, while women provided a peaceful place at home for husband and children through her piety and feeling for others. Although modern society may reject this division of labor, the call for a genderless society by Susan Okin would seem to go too far. Whatever the differences between male and female, we are less than what we can be as human beings if we do not discover relating intimately to each other. In order to make this earth a home, male and female need to find ways of relating intimately to each other. Although obvious biological reasons exist for this experience of reconciliation in the home, the reason is far beyond the production of children. Rather, to experience the best human life, male and female need to find their way together. This reconciliation occurs most significantly in the home.

            Modern society also sees growth in divorce.      The affective unity and love toward which domestic life strives is contingent. Love becomes estranged. Divorce is the legal and public recognition of the dissolution of a marriage that has already occurred in the heart. No one guarantees the permanence of marriage. The affective attraction of marriage is the foundation of the fragile nature of marriage. Family and marriage confront their members with the binding claim of a reality that takes precedence over them. The significance of the public character of marriage and the wedding for their institutional character is also connected with this religious dimension. The commitment of the marriage partners becomes binding only in the context of the values on which the society is based and which in their turn point to the religious authority that stands behind them. The tragedy is not the legal separation of divorce, but the interpersonal estrangement that precedes it. The sadness and disappointment that we experience in divorce, however, does not need to lead us doubt the possibility of the fulfillment of the purpose of marriage.

            Our society has witnessed increasing awareness of the nature of sexual orientation. Matters of genetics and biology do not resolve such matters. The philosophical tradition has determined that in moral discourse, what is naturally does not determine what ought to be. If a particular gene determines an inclination toward same-gender sexual desire, we also know that genes want to be reproduced. We may also discover genes that will tend a person toward violence, although society will still hold such persons accountable for what they do with that tendency. Doctors fight against diseases instilled in the genes. Nature may give every individual a tendency in certain directions. However, family, community, culture, and personal responses to these factors, hold individuals responsible for the form their life takes. The argument from biology rarely gives answers in such matters because they involve the quality of our relationships with other persons. Biology cannot solve moral dilemmas. Human beings will still have to face each other, consider how they treat each other, and offer reasons for their behavior.

            Such discussions help people reflect upon the best human life. Therefore, any discussion of human sexuality must reject legal or casuistic approaches. Our bodies are the only bodies we will have in this life. Scientifically, we know that this is the only time that this set of genes has ever existed or ever will exist. We have a unique gift to offer, and we can offer that gift only with this body. We will only be in these bodies a brief time. The same is true as we come face to face with others. They are unique gifts who will live a relatively brief time. Modern society offers individuals great freedom to find what they believe to be the best human life.