In January Radio 4’s Best of Today reported that students had asked that John Finnis should no longer be permitted to teach as a professor at Oxford University. The grounds were that Professor Finnis, whose speciality is Natural Law, had publically criticised homosexual activity as inherently evil, indeed comparing it to bestiality. His position is set out at some length in an academic article he published in 1995.
Strictly speaking this was correct, but Finnis was not discriminating against homosexuals per se but against the activity of homosexuality itself. Nor was he attacking those states which did not legally forbid homosexual acts. But he was arguing that the intrinsic evil of homosexuality should prevent states from facilitating it or in any way encouraging it.
The paper starts with his claim that the early Greek philosophers (Aristotle, Socrates/Plato), who had no objection to close relationships between grown men and boys, condemned homosexual acts as such. Clearly there were academic arguments with regard to the exact translation of key words. As a lay person I was not finally convinced by either side.
He moves on to the intrinsic nature of sexual intercourse. We are familiar with the two elements of this: the expression of the relationship between man and wife, described as two in one flesh, and the biological function of potential conception. At first sight we might say that these elements are of a different order. Most obviously it is possible to control conception through several different precautions. Why, we might think, should we not be free to avoid conception, when there are sound reasons to do so, while benefiting from the expression of marital love through intercourse.
This objection becomes clearer if we consider a couple who, for responsible reasons, choose to use the safe period. One might argue that this method of control is actually a greater practical interference to the loving embrace, than modern contraceptives. But Finnis, who does not address this particular point, would have answered that artificial contraception changes the nature of the sexual act: the openness to conception, he claimed, is integral and fundamental. But how would this apply to a couple who happen to be infertile: for example, post menopausal? He argues that for sexual intercourse to be the full biological expression of marital oneness, what is ultimately gifted from husband to wife must retain its integral capacity to fertilise whether that can actually occur or not. A barrier on the male side, such as a condom, or a biological barrier on the female side through the pill, is to give the marital embrace with one hand, and remove it with the other.
Finnis is consistent. He does not only criticise homosexuality, he condemns fornication or masturbation – indeed any expression of genital sexual activity which takes place outside marriage. These are all perversions of our sexual nature. But his purpose here was only to explore the extent to which the state can and should avoid the promotion of disordered sexuality for the benefit of the individual and the state itself. That was 1995. How is it nowadays?
You may want to read his actual words. You will benefit from doing so. He writes clearly but comprehensively, and you will need a good hour to read it at https://scholarship.law.nd.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1208&context=law_faculty_scholarship