Governor Rick Perry of Texas recently made waves when he was asked whether he thought homosexuality is a disorder. He replied that he was not professionally qualified to pronounce on a medical or mental health question, and then added, “Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that . . . I may have the genetic coding that I'm inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way.” As you might expect, this answer—which many millions of Americans might honestly have given—caused a bit of a ruckus.
If you wonder whether you would feel confident giving Perry’s answer, or have doubts whether it is even a defensible answer to give, you should read Robert R. Reilly’s latest book, Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything. This is a very important book, and Ignatius Press should be commended for publishing it.
Among the “LGBT” activists and their allies who have lately been so successful in transforming our culture’s understanding of love, marriage, and sexual integrity, Reilly’s book will be hated and denounced. It is likely that many of those who denounce the book most strongly will not actually read it. They will certainly not squarely confront or refute its arguments.
By contrast, among those who feel beleaguered by the culture war over same-sex marriage, who have shrugged and decided to live with the fraud of “marriage equality” in hopes of obtaining some civil peace, Reilly’s book will probably just be ignored. That is unfortunate, because Making Gay Okay is a very powerful account of how LGBT activists have so successfully conquered—or at least subdued—the hearts and minds of such people. It is also unfortunate because LGBT activists will not allow for a civil peace on any terms that friends of a free society can accept.
From Tolerance to Cultural Conquest
This must have been a hard book to write. Sometimes, it is a hard book to read. Reilly tries to keep the descriptive material to a minimum, but some degree of rather unsettling description is unavoidable, given his thesis. That thesis is that the overturning of longstanding laws against morally proscribed sexual acts, the push to change the psychiatric profession’s view of sexual “orientation,” the drive for acceptance of open homosexuality in the military, in the Boy Scouts, and in our educational system, and the campaign for same-sex marriage are all about one thing: transforming our society’s attitude toward sodomy. As he puts it in one concise formulation:
The homosexual cause moved naturally from a plea for tolerance to cultural conquest because the rationalization upon which it is based requires the assent of the community to the normative nature of the act of sodomy.
Reilly’s insistence on the centrality of the act of sodomy to our culture war over marriage and sexuality is bound to be off-putting even to some readers inclined to his overall view. He has multiple chapter titles beginning “Sodomy and . . . ,” and he refers throughout the book to “sodomitical relationships.” But this blunt and fearless way of arguing only illustrates the Nietzschean “transvaluation of values” our society has undergone. It is now widely considered a violation of the norms of decency in civil discourse to remind people publicly of what were only a generation ago the norms of decency in private behavior as well as public life.
Reilly is right, however, to be tough and unyielding on this point. His touchstone is nature, and his argument is that nature has equipped men and women to enter into one-flesh unions that are both unitive and procreative (here he might have usefully referred to a book powerfully supporting his view, What Is Marriage?). We human beings have a nature both sexual and rational, and our flourishing and happiness cannot be achieved except in accord with our nature.
What distinguishes some persons from others where “sexuality” is concerned is not a different nature, as though “heterosexual” and “homosexual” were distinct human types or “identities,” but different desires, propensities, and, finally, behaviors. The choice to engage in particular sexual behavior is a matter of free will about which moral judgments can be made. Reilly relentlessly stresses the question of behavior, asking whether we are willing to consider sexual behavior, like other behaviors, as properly governed by the ends of human nature and human flourishing. Thus also his insistence on naming the behavior that one side in the “sexuality” wars wants approval for, and that the other side would rather not think about or talk about.
This is not a book that relies on revelation or scripture in any way. As Reilly notes, it was the ancient Greek philosophers who first came to the insights about nature on which he relies. By contrast, the idea that our nature is malleable, that we can remake ourselves to suit our desires, was ushered in by Rousseau. Only with the dominance of this distinctly modern notion did it become possible for age-old moral strictures on sexual behavior to be burned to the ground and replaced by new strictures of our own making. Only a Rousseauian view that nothing about human nature is fixed could give rise to a culture in which it is possible to redefine marriage to include relationships once considered to be intrinsically immoral.
Privacy Jurisprudence, Sex, and Diapers
Ours is a famously tolerant age. One may search high and low, without success, for advocates of reinstating the harsh legal consequences that once attended the discovery of sexual relations between man and man, or woman and woman. In most American jurisdictions, the criminal laws on sodomy were repealed, modified, or simply unenforced long before the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas struck them down in 2003. Therefore, that ruling did not change much about the practical dangers of running afoul of the law for committing sodomy; they were practically nonexistent already.
But it is one thing for a culture to become increasingly relaxed about such things, as some people reject old moral norms and others are persuaded to think no great harm will come from decriminalization. Such a change is a matter for social negotiation to work out and for prudence to decide. It is quite another thing for the highest court in the land to declare that criminal laws reflecting age-old moral sensibilities about the harm that comes from disordered sexual behavior—sensibilities that are still as defensible as ever—violate a constitutional “right” that can only be derived from fraudulent premises in constitutional law.
Such a ruling embeds new norms of right and wrong in law. Standards of right that were once expressed in the law are now condemned as wrongful discrimination, while conduct once considered degrading and shameful is now considered fitting and proper. The road from the Lawrence ruling to the judicial pronouncement of same-sex marriage as a constitutional right is a short one (as events quickly proved), especially when it is paved with platitudes about the “dignity” of an alleged “class” of persons who can only be identified by reference to their avowed interest in “intimate” conduct with others. This is question-begging with a vengeance.
Reilly rightly notes that “it would be wrong to assign the major share of blame” for the legal somersaults of recent years “to the homosexual apologists.” The blame largely belongs to the partisans who gave us the “privacy” jurisprudence of the Supreme Court, which began in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) by breaking “the first link in the chain connecting sex and diapers” and declaring a right of married couples to use contraception. The progression continued in Eisenstadt v. Baird (1971) and Carey v. Population Services (1977), which declared single adults and minors had the same right. Most horrifyingly, Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) declared and reaffirmed a right to kill the unborn child in the womb. “Abortion,” Reilly remarks, “brings to completion the denial of procreative sex by nullifying its effects, which are seen as accidental.”
In this legal regime—pioneered by people with no particular interest in homosexuality—the constitutional “rights” to commit sodomy and to obtain recognition of same-sex relationships as “marriages” are not very surprising. The “freedom” to do what the law hitherto condemned seems easy to justify once human sexuality’s unitive and procreative nature is denied, and the “equality” claim soon follows for the relationships most deeply characterized by this denial.
Casualties of the Assault on Nature
What are the casualties of this assault on nature? The first one is truth. We must believe, contrary to the evidence of our own experience and observations, that sexual “orientation” is somehow immutable, fixed from birth. (Yet we must also believe that “gender identity” is a “social construct.”) We must believe that no one with same-sex attractions can or should do anything to resist them, though we may know people who have done so and believe it has been good for them.
A second casualty is our institutions. We must believe that institutions from the military to the Boy Scouts will suffer no ill effects from the introduction of open homosexual relations in their midst. We must believe that it is good for students from kindergarten to college to be marinated in a sexual ideology that runs contrary to the moral and religious beliefs of the adults who brought them into the world and desire a morally healthy future for them. Our medical and mental health professions must have their notions of healthy and normal behavior sacrificed on the altar of political pressure.
Our faith communities must be turned inside out by revolutions in received doctrine that have been their patrimony for centuries. Our diplomacy must be compromised by the espousal of an ideology that offends the governments and populations of other nations whose friendship is important to the United States. Our Constitution, the rule of law, and republican self-government must be traduced in order to manufacture a specious “marriage equality.”
A third casualty is the next generation. We must believe that the institution of marriage itself will not be wounded further by a fundamental redefinition, after the injuries already inflicted by the sexual revolution’s message of “liberation” through contraception, “population control” through abortion, and no-fault unilateral divorce. We must believe, on the basis of shoddy “social science” backed by ruthless ideologues, that children are no better off being raised by their own biological parents, married to one another in a lifelong union, than in a household headed by people who are in and out of sexual relationships with other adults, whether of the same or the opposite sex. We must believe that dads and moms are optional, interchangeable parental units. Better social science about children’s welfare, as well as the accumulated wisdom of human history, must be suppressed or discredited, by fair means or foul.
The final casualty is freedom itself. We must believe. No public deviation from the new orthodoxy can be permitted, and even private deviations are suspect. No baker, photographer, or florist can be permitted to dissent from the redefinition of marriage, even or especially on explicitly religious grounds. No employer—public, commercial, nonprofit, or religious—can be permitted to demur from the redefinition of marriage in its conditions of employment or the benefits it attaches to marital status. No social service agency or religious charity can be allowed to act on the conviction that children should be placed with a married man and woman as adoptive or foster parents. No couples seeking to adopt or foster children can be allowed to do so if they hold retrograde opinions on sin, sex, and marriage. No one who holds such opinions may be permitted to teach young people, from pre-school to graduate school. No one must be allowed to counsel confused youngsters who have questions about where their sexual desires are leading them, if the counseling offered does not affirm the new ideological normal.
We must believe. As Robert Reilly underscores in this searingly effective book, what we face today is a movement to accomplish, on a collective and society-wide basis, what those who embrace morally condemned behavior have always sought to accomplish for themselves as individuals: rationalization that what's wrong is right. If we are to remain true to the cumulative wisdom of our civilization about human nature and the conditions of human flourishing, we must respond as fearlessly as the author of Making Gay Okay and say—it’s not.
Matthew J. Franck is Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute.