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Presupposition
Monday, April 26, 2004
  Frankly Misguided Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank recently testified before the Senate Committee on the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA), and in doing so, returned to a familiar line of questioning, one that he employed a few years ago in relation to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The Windy City Times reports the Congressman as saying, “We [gay people] want to express love in the same way that you do…If I choose to associate with another man, how does that hurt you?” Similarly, during the debate over the DOMA on July 12, 1996, he commented

I have asked Member after Member who is an advocate of this bill, how does the fact that two men live together in a loving relationship and commit themselves in Hawaii threaten your marriage in Florida or Georgia or wherever? And the answer is always, well, it does not threaten my marriage, it threatens the institution of marriage. That, of course, baffles me some. Institutions do not marry. They may merge, but they do not marry. People marry, human beings. Men and women who love each other marry. And no one who understands human nature thinks that allowing two other people who love each other interferes.

In what follows, I will argue that Congressman Frank’s line of questioning is seriously misguided, and then I will move on to suggest some reasons that recognition of homosexual relationships (be it through marriage or through civil unions) is a bad idea, even some that fit Frank’s restricted criterion.

When confronted with Congressman Frank’s “How does it hurt you/your marriage?”, it is my suggestion that one respond by flatly rejecting the premise of his question, for the Congressman, perhaps unconsciously, has artificially constricted thoughtful and responsible moral reflection in the way he has framed the issue. According to him, we must evaluate homosexual relationships from a narrowly individualist, isolationist standpoint; it is on these terms that the debate must proceed. According to him, one must withdraw from society as a whole and consider only one’s immediate, personal interests. How will it affect ME?

But is that limiting premise apropos for the thinking of an American citizen – or a human being, for that matter? Is it sufficiently comprehensive to guide us in securing the objective, lasting goods of human life and community, or is it myopic and inadequate to that task? Consider the reasoning of M. P. Hollins, a writer to the Frontline program “Assault on Gay America”, who shared the following remarks:

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian who supports and works with people who are struggling to end Gay and Lesbian religious prejudice and intolerance.

Whatever happened to the Christian ministry of unconditional compassion, mercy and forgiveness? To recognize that the Good Samaritan is the neighbor of the one who fell among the thieves should force us Christians to actively love (and accept) “all” thy neighbors as thyself.
While I may disagree with the conclusions of Mr. Hollins, depending on exactly what they are, his is a clearly communitarian, as opposed to individualist, perspective. I’m guessing that among the gay-rights supporters Congressman Frank has within the heterosexual community, most are likely to think in ways very much opposed to what he is suggesting; they may never even consider the idea How will it affect my marriage? But if the Congressman is asking those who are concerned about homosexuality to allow for gay marriage on the basis of its minimal immediate impact on their lives, is he also asking for heterosexual supporters of the gay rights movement to withdraw their support on the same basis? If not, then perhaps a different line of questioning is in order.

Let’s take another scenario to test the Congressman’s approach toward evaluating moral questions. Suppose a gay man is killed in my town. Should my mind turn to the Frankian mode of contemplation? Should I be asking, “How does the death of a gay man (who was killed because of his sexual orientation, which is different from mine, after all) hurt me? How does it affect my career, my family life, my plans to go back to school, etc.?” Couldn’t I, if I take this sort of thinking to be the paradigm of moral inquiry, just turn my back and go on with life? (Indeed, isn’t this just the sort of callousness that has permitted violence against gays in the past?) Shouldn’t I instead reflect upon the humanity of the victim despite his “lifestyle”, and allow this to move me – propel me, as necessary – out of my comfort zone, toward securing justice for him and his family, and toward preventing it from happening again?

This is the problem: Frank’s line of questioning so isolates us from one another as purely self-interested individuals that it completely neglects larger questions of social justice, not to mention the big three: Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. And it is just such larger questions that those opposing the elevation or normalization of homosexual relationships are alluding to, if not posing directly. What is marriage? Is it important? If so, why? What would a society with a different view of marriage look like? Would changes to our public policy undermine or better secure the ground of its meaning? These are significant questions in themselves. In sum, a communitarian stance seems entirely appropriate, even necessary, over and against an individualist mode of reasoning. Congressman Frank has given us no reason to suppose that his questions are the right ones to be asking.

Let me now transition to offer some reasons for thinking that recognition or normalization of homosexual relationships is a bad idea. Ironically, Congressman Frank’s challenge is useful in this regard, for it is easy to imagine someone making use of very similar language to his to justify a range of other “sexual orientations”; for example,

I have asked Member after Member who is an advocate of this bill, how does the fact that three, four, or five people live together in a loving relationship and commit themselves in Hawaii threaten your marriage in Florida or Georgia or wherever? And the answer is always, well, it does not threaten my marriage, it threatens the institution of marriage. That, of course, baffles me some. Institutions do not marry. They may merge, but they do not marry. People marry, human beings. Men and women who love each other marry. And no one who understands human nature thinks that allowing a group of people who love each other interferes.

[underlining reflects changes to quote]
This is particularly interesting as a number of people have raised concerns about the arguments for gay marriage opening the door to polygamy, and here we have it again, from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Polygamy, of course, is an argument from the implications of a principle: If we put criterion X in place, we also allow for Y – the idea being that even those who can’t apprehend the problem with X might see the difficulty with Y, and reconsider their position. But one could (and should) ask, what is the matter with Y? Even those who have an appreciation for X (homosexuality) but not for Y (polygamy) should be asking this question.

In the end, once all the arguments have been laid on the table (which is beyond my intention here), I think the most reasonable answer is that the immense (and immensely underestimated), objective significance of sexual relationships has to do with the sort of interpersonal identification and completeness that it is possible only for a man and a woman, a single couple, to achieve, due to their bodily differences and complementarity. It is this moral reality that polygamy, homosexuality, adultery (includes “swinging” or “open marriages”), premarital sex, and divorce (at least the no fault variety) denies; that rape, incest, molestation, and sexual harassment leverage to do damage; and that the institution of marriage is meant to recognize, celebrate, and secure. Homosexuality counts the differences between men and women – without which we could hardly characterize the sexual – as morally irrelevant in the arena of relationships and thereby undermines the basis for objective meaning in the sexual realm. This is the core problem to my mind – an absolutely crushing difficulty to have – and the one upon which much of the rest of my critique hangs.

This leads to related argument on the nature of love, the mention of which Congressman Frank is sure to include in his advocacy of homosexual behavior. If the above points are true – if the distinctives of heterosexuality (sexual differences, complementarity, union, etc.) are morally significant and are necessary to explain, say, the magnitude of rape and the meaningfulness of marital intercourse – then that’s a good argument for a shared heterosexual human nature, even among those whose desires are inconsistent with it. With this in play, Congressman Frank’s remarks about love (e.g., “We [gay people] want to express love in the same way that you do…”) put the cart before the horse (i.e. beg the question), for a proper understanding of love can only occur against the backdrop of knowledge about the nature of the object of that love. Our affections and actions must be appropriate to the being in question, or it isn’t love – it is something else. To make this very specific point clearer, consider the following scenario:

The door is pushed open and morning light streams into Jim’s bedroom. He hears the sounds of panting and a light chain being pulled across the floor, and a minute later, Cindy pounces upon the bed, licking his face and whimpering, obviously wanting him to take her for a walk. He embraces her and rubs her tummy; she responds by bounding off the bed and heading towards the front door, full of excitement. Jim dons his robe and slippers, and a minute later he and Cindy head out the door for their morning ritual.
This is a brief snapshot of an apparently genuine, affectionate relationship between a man and his pet. The assessment would change rapidly, however, if Jim were to emerge from his home with an adult woman (Cindy) on a leash, bounding about on all fours, even if the woman consented to this sort of treatment and owner/pet relationship. Jim’s affections for her, “genuine” as they were or seemed to be, fall short of what they ought to be because of the nature of their object: a woman, a human being, rather than a dog. The dignity of the woman is trampled upon because of her treatment/role, despite whatever feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment the participants seem to have. The point of all this is to illustrate that the question of nature is prior to any remark or argument from love – that it is a necessary presupposition of the term, and that corruption in the very notion of love can result from ill-conceived views of human nature.

That is true with regard to human sexuality, too. The body, after all, is the uniquely involved medium for the relationships in question (as opposed to friendship), and those organs specific to men on the one hand, and women on the other, are the currency of its transactions. Genuine love, if I am right, has to respect our embodied nature, including its heterosexual distinctives. Insofar as it fails to do so, it fails to be love, and apologists of homosexual activity degrade the notion of love among human beings. This, again, is a very serious problem for proponents of gay marriage, including the Congressman.

This brings me to consider cases in which the normalization of homosexuality has, for some individuals, meant the abandoning of their love and devotion, and the decline and breakup of their own marriages. Note, as an example, the following account from Salon.com entitled “The other side of the closet”:
You see, after eight years of marriage, two children, one mortgage and a rather hapless attempt at pet ownership, my husband told me he is gay. Immediately thereafter he got a telephone-book-size listing of support groups and an entire community ready to embrace and congratulate him. I got nonspecific greeting cards promising me that the storm will soon pass and the clouds will lift.

I was sure I was alone in my ordeal. I convinced myself, selfishly perhaps, that the circumstances surrounding my marital breakup were unique. Research taught me otherwise: It happens that there are legions of reeling individuals out there, dealing with the emotional ramifications of discovering that the people with whom they planned to live happily ever after were harboring profound secrets and leading double lives.

[Italics added.]
No doubt the gay apologist will respond by saying that a society which welcomes homosexuality would create opportunities for spouses to “discover themselves” earlier in life and avoid the pain and heartache of same-sex affairs and divorce. But the competing analysis, which seems just as reasonable on its face, is that widespread acceptance will only exacerbate the problem as more people are desensitized to homosexuality and become open to considering the option. Indeed, there is significant controversy from within the gay community itself on this question. So Congressman Frank’s implicit argument – that no one’s marriage is affected and no one is hurt by homosexuality – may indeed be challenged on its own prohibitively narrow terms, and it is not at all clear that his conclusion is justified.

There is another direct effect of the rise of homosexuality that has a far wider reach. As legal statutes are changed to legitimize homosexual relationships, homosexuality becomes a live option for everyone under the law, not just those who accept it. When the law is laid down in such controversial areas of life, it cannot help but speak to the kind of beings we are; it dictates a certain view of human nature for every member of society, despite the fact that some will not consent to such an understanding of themselves. Self-understanding in relation to sexuality – “sexual identity” – is known to be vitally important in the conversation of the homosexual community, but at the same time activists are quite willing to employ the law in a way which imposes their view of human nature on everyone within its purview, without regard for those persons with alternative self-concepts – without regard for their consent to the transformation. I don’t think that this can be helped, whatever the conclusion is; however, no one should be under the impression that changes in the law are somehow neutral with regard to human (sexual) nature. Homosexual activism is about the realization of a narrow, sectarian conception of freedom; it is not an equally free enterprise from all vantage points. To survive in the public square, it must push out competing alternatives to make room for itself. From my vantage point, it pushes out crucially important factors of human nature, and with the above in mind, it does so for everyone within the reach of the law. Thus, gay marriage (really, any measure which denies the inalienable meaning of sexuality/marriage) does affect me directly in this way, as the state sees me in a different light – a dimmer light – as a result. Under the dim light, we appear to be something thinner and less substantial than we are. Within this anthropology, we take on a measure of the character of Homeric shades – persons who, in leaving their bodies behind to enter Hades, lost something significant of themselves. Many are already on board with such a view. Who knows what the implications will be?

Initial implications may find the most traction in the lives of those who cannot or who are less able to defend themselves against them: children come to mind. As homosexuality gains acceptance in the public square – especially when supported by law – children are necessarily understood as having the homosexual (and bisexual) disposition as an option. That’s just the kind of beings they are under the law, and the option must be presented to them, in some form, or they will not know it is available to them. Anything less must be seen as limiting, discriminatory, and bigoted. Thus, it will likely be presented in places where the state has some influence on funding (e.g., public schools, libraries, etc.), and where it is supervising care (e.g., orphanages, foster homes, hospitals). The homosexuality-inspired view of human nature is thus imposed on a generation of children who do not have the critical skills to understand the arguments, who cannot possibly comprehend what is at stake, and who may not have an advocate standing in the gap to tell them otherwise.

Particularly unfortunate for these youngsters is when gay psychology – the “My desires dictate how I behave (despite obvious incongruities) and who I am (despite all appearances to the contrary)” phenomena – culminates in radically self-altering “opportunities” for them. A recent story on the television program 48 Hours told of a young girl who was motivated to dress and act as a boy because of great confusion over her sexuality. It was terribly, terribly sad on two counts: first, that the girl was having these psychological struggles, and second, that she was not still in therapy to correct a self-image much in need of repair and healing; to the contrary, it was given respect in incorporating male pronouns (“he”, “him”, etc.) to address and identify her – even by 48 Hours. This sort of thing is the logical precursor to transgenderism, where sex-change drug treatments and/or operations become an option, although the former is probably the dominant practice for children at this point. That such “treatments” are being made available to children due to the influence and zeal of homosexual activists is utterly intolerable.

Transgenderism has been embraced by gay rights organizations, and is an active part of efforts to secure homosexual marriage – thus the emergence of the commonly used LGBT acronym (which itself reflects a logical progression). It is a hideous, freakish form of self-deception, and its premises may have yet further implications. Another older, and less popular, word for unnecessary, function-destroying operations is mutilation. Why cutting off a hand or an arm in medically unnecessary situations invites measurements for a straightjacket, but doing the same to one’s genitals or other sexual organs under similar psychological conditions does not, is beyond me.

There are those who will disagree with me, and claim that this argument goes too far. On the other hand (assuming one is still available), advocates of a viewpoint in disagreement with both of us may suggest that such people are suffering from memberism – the discriminatory view that some of our members (i.e. hands, feet, arms, legs) occupy a higher place than others, that only a few are surgically removable and others are off-limits – and need to reconsider the “wealth of alternatives available.” In a world where teleological human nature has been discarded and branded as irrational, why not create whatever brand of Frankenstein mix we want to? Why not have both male and female genitalia, or a collection of them, if desired, and why not elsewhere on the body? Why be “constrained” to traditionalist male-female anatomical archetypes? How about expressing our inner creativity by inventing new types of genitalia (whatever that means)? Or why not rid the body of any sign of sexuality whatsoever? And why keep all these options from others? How will it affect your sexuality, Congressman Frank, if people opt to go this twisted route?

What ground of principle is going to be available to restrain such a use of medical technology, now that we have come so far? Whatever argument is marshaled against such possibilities, it must be able to overcome a deluge of emotionally painful personal stories and rabid cries of discrimination fed through the media and reinforced by moral subjectivism – in other words, it must be able to overcome the sort of propaganda we are often subjected to by the host of activist organizations. And it must do so without special pleading for homosexuality.

Finally, it seems obvious that the raising of children will be increasingly impacted by any elevation or normalization of homosexuality, particularly if “gay marriage” becomes legal. Children will not grow up with day to day, personal, caring interaction with both sexes, a small-scale representation of all humanity, in their homes. They will grow up thinking that a motherless or fatherless home is equivalent to a home with both mom and dad. They will grow up thinking that their role (as a man or woman) is even less necessary than it is thought to be now, with so many children living in single-parent households. Many commentators have noted that little good can come from designing for something less than the basic mom and dad household for the children from the beginning. Given the above considerations, isn’t it true that homosexual marriage a detriment to the development of children, Congressman Frank?

There may be another point here to consider. If marriage is expanded to allow for homosexual couples, the institution becomes inadequate as a model for children in their adult sexual relationships, unfit to educate them well in that arena of life, whereas now – under the view that monogamous heterosexual marriage is the paradigm for mature adults – it has the capacity to properly instruct all of them. In the expanded institution, accepting the premises of the gay rights movement, children may grow up to be either hetero- or homosexual. Given this, and given that there are significant differences between men and women (of which there is ample evidence, even in contrasting gay and lesbian populations), how will two women or two men adequately model the unique dynamics and nuances of negotiation, respect, and love between a man and a woman? How will a traditional husband and wife model the unique character of a homosexual couple? Neither is adequate. What about the child who may grow up to be bisexual or transsexual or transgendered? Suddenly, with the introduction of gay marriage and the view of sexuality it brings to human nature, all marriages fall short of presenting the host of relationship options, grossly limiting the child’s potential for self-realization. This may, it could be argued, be part of the problem with increased rates of promiscuity in the gay population. Thus, at least all couple-oriented marriages would be unfit in terms of educating the young (some variety of mixed, bisexual group marriage may have the upper hand here). This appears to be a serious difficulty for society, if Congressman Frank’s view of marriage is actualized.

This, I think, is but a small sample of the issues that arise from a consideration of homosexuality and its implications. I am confident that the arguments could be multiplied and this essay could be doubled or perhaps even tripled in length with additional reflection. But I think this will suffice for now. Congressman Frank’s line of questioning, as shown above, is impotent to address many serious moral concerns – concerns that any responsible citizen ought to have. And he is grossly unaware of the magnitude of the issues, of just how deep the fissures go in the homosexual understanding of human nature, and what effects its principles do and may have on the people of our times and the generations to come.

________________________________________
This essay has benefited from the work of Hadley Arkes, Francis J. Beckwith, Michael Sandel, Daniel Avila, Robert P. George, and Greg Koukl. That I have mentioned their names is not an indication of their endorsement of what I have written above. 


STEVEN D. THOMAS
I'm a graduate student studying in the area of philosophy of religion. This site logs my thoughts on various issues.

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"[A] compelling response to Rep. Barney Frank's arguments in favor of same-sex marriage." --Dr. Francis J. Beckwith


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