Are those who oppose gay marriage “anti-gay”? (cont.)

11.25.2012, 7:05 PM

At First Things, R. R. Reno writes:

A few days ago I wrote a sharply worded attack on Ken Mehlman’s argument that supporting gay marriage is the properly “conservative” position. David Blankenhorn offered some thoughtful reflections about what’s at stake for me (and others).  He raises a key question. Can those of us who resist gay rights or gay-marriage turn around and claim not to be “anti-gay”? I think he’s right to conclude that we can’t, at least not in the way a term like “anti-gay” is used.

As they say, read the whole thing.  Reno’s argument here is painstakingly honest and logical, and I can’t find anything in it with which to disagree – except for one point he makes.    He writes:

All the talk about “bias” and “animus” and “prejudice” is misguided. It trades on the Selma Analogy, which can’t be sustained. It’s very strange to make moral judgments about someone on the basis of the color of their skin. It’s entirely normal to do so on the basis of what they do, which is why from time immemorial human beings have judged some sexual acts immoral (most, actually). If I say that sodomy or masturbation is immoral, I’m not expressing an “animus,” I’m doing the same thing as when I say that lying is wrong or that gossiping is harmful, which is to say I’m making a moral judgment.

Not so fast, please.  In my view it’s not a good idea, when advancing an argument, simply to assume or ignore the very issue that is in fact so divisive and controversial.  I’m sure that Rusty Reno knows as well as anyone that almost no gay people (certainly no openly gay people, or at least none that I can think of) would accept the premise that being black-skinned is fixed whereas being gay is not — i.e., that being gay can be properly understood, as Reno suggests, as simply the choice to commit certain acts.  Reno can defend this position, of course, if that’s his position (and of course it’s a position that many have argued), but in my view in 2012 he can’t simply (with legitimacy) assume it, as if it were an uncontested fact, rather than what the whole fuss is all about. 

But that’s a side point, really.  In general, I think Reno and I agree, conceptually, on the fundamental relationships between the “gay” parts of the arguments on the table (or what Reno, I think with some justification, wants to call the “sex” parts) and the “marriage” parts.   It’s been a helpful exchange.  

50 Responses to “Are those who oppose gay marriage “anti-gay”? (cont.)”

  1. La Lubu says:

    If I say that sodomy or masturbation is immoral, I’m not expressing an “animus,” I’m doing the same thing as when I say that lying is wrong or that gossiping is harmful, which is to say I’m making a moral judgment.

    Except that lying and gossiping cause measurable, concrete harms. Masturbation and consensual sex acts do not. Also, very few homophobic people have ever actually witnessed any of the sex acts that squick them out, which doesn’t exactly lend credence to the “what they do”….more like, “what I imagine they do”, which means all the “action” is taking place in their minds—they’re squicking themselves out.

  2. annajcook says:

    I agree with you, David, that many (if not most?) people today would agree that sexual attractions are in some measure innate and distinct from acts (who you desire to have sex with vs. what you do with that person once you’ve entered into a relationship of whatever kind). So, like you, I find Reno’s dismissal of the “Selma Analogy” misses the mark.

    However, I’d even go further than that and argue that even if we’re talking about judging acts that are individual and non-harmful (like, as La Lubu says above, masturbation and consensual relationships), it’s okay to judge them as an individual — and even articulate that judgement as an individual — but that doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t prejudice? I mean, I’ve been, at points, super judgy about people who enter into gender-inequal “headship” marriages, where the wife submits to their husband. It’s an arrangement that is contrary to my moral principles. I’m prejudiced against it.

    But I’m not out there trying to legislate against it. Yes, I want to make sure those marriages are consensual (and if they are not, the non-consenting partner has avenues through which to escape), but I’m not trying to pass legislation that says people who are committed to complementarian visions of gender can’t get married.

    Same with adultery. Like Reno, I judge people who contravene the promises they made to their spouse upon marrying. I’m prejudiced against people who are unfaithful.

    So I really think if Reno is going to judge same-sex sexual activity and masturbation and so forth as immoral activities, he shouldn’t be upset when people point out he’s biased or prejudiced … isn’t that exactly what he is, and shouldn’t he be willing to stand by his beliefs even if they are unpopular or make people unhappy with him … if he believes they’re right? It’s not like I walk out into the world expecting all of my ideas to be embraced with open arms … I expect to be afforded equality under the law and basic freedom to practice my own morality as long as I am not bringing harm to others.

  3. David:

    This well is so poisoned at this point that, regardless of whether or not they are anti-gay, they are going to be perceived as being anti-gay. Opponents to marriage equality won two ballot initiatives by suggesting that gay people are a threat to children. In effect, it is opponents who have made marriage equality a proxy for gay rights. As I said, the well is poisoned.

    At the risk of changing the subject, the question that I suggest you ask might be more instructive (or illustrative): Presume that two gay men have been in a committed relationship for 15 years. They have a couple of kids. Is society better off if those two men are married?

  4. By the way, last Wednesday I also wrote a sharp criticism of Mehlman. Obviously mine is from another perspective.

  5. Diane M says:

    @annajcook – Actually, I think our society has already legislated against the idea of “headship” marriages. We don’t actively intervene, but our laws about marriage and divorce are solidly based on the idea that the two partners are equal. You can’t divorce your wife if she disobeys you or hit her to make her behave. She is responsible for her actions, not you. (That wasn’t always the way it worked!)

    I don’t think it’s being prejudiced to make a moral judgment. A prejudice is judging something or someone ahead of time, without knowing the facts. So if you’ve never met a “submissive” wife and assume she is a miserable, downtrodden, wimp, that would be prejudice. A moral judgment would be thinking through the issues and deciding that you believe it is generally healthier in marriage to not have one partner who gives in whenever there is an impasse.

    Adultery is not a nobody-gets-hurt issue. We do legislate against it somewhat since in some states and some of the time it can affect divorce settlements. We could legislate against it more, but the reason we don’t seems to be that nobody wants the government to get too involved in people’s sex lives.

    A small point – a complementarian vision of gender is not the same thing as wanting wives to submit to their husbands!

    In terms of legislation, I don’t really get the idea that we should separate our views of morality from politics. As individuals at least, I think we have to try to create a world that fits the things we believe are right. For example, if you believe that war is wrong, you’re going to vote for candidates who don’t promote war. If your religious beliefs get you out there fighting against segregation, you’re going to vote out segregationists and vote for new laws.

    From the point of view of the law and government, the Supreme Court can’t use the Bible in an argument against segregation. Lawmakers can’t say they’re against it because it is a sin. But religious belief could easily drive someone to oppose it legally.

  6. annajcook says:


    I take your point about headship vs. gender complementarity. In my experience, the two views (one of marriage, the other of gender roles) often go hand in hand, but it was lazy articulation on my part to conflate one with the other.

    I think I see what you’re saying, in terms of moral judgment based on observed outcomes vs. prejudice based on pre-conceptions. I’m not sure where “I judge you because my scripture says X is wrong” fits in that schema, though? It’s a pre-defined notion of wrongness that isn’t based in an observable harm, just a belief that something is contrary to your religious belief and practice. It’s one thing to hold one’s self accountable to one’s religious traditions, but another to expect everyone else to fit your vision of the good or righteous life.

    In terms of legislation, I don’t really get the idea that we should separate our views of morality from politics.

    I agree with you in that as individuals we bring our own notions of right and wrong to the table, and may passionately argue and campaign for laws which reflect our notions of a just society. However, I do think that this activity — at least in American tradition — should properly stop when it comes to intervening on someone else’s beliefs and practices (religious or non-) which are their own and not bringing harm to others, nor infringing on others’ right to religious freedom.

    So I would see it as an abuse of the political process, for example, to push for legislation that outlaws masturbation based on one’s religious or philosophical belief that masturbation was an icky or immoral practice … since other people believe it is moral and pleasurable and life-affirming. And it is a sexual expression (at least when done in private) which is by definition consensual since only one person is involved! Such invasion of privacy and curtailing of self-determination is qualitatively different from, for example, legislating against the death penalty or pushing for legislation against unsafe or unjust workplace practices, since in those cases measurable harm can be identified — not just a belief that such things are immoral.

  7. annajcook says:

    A further point … I’d argue there’s a difference between prejudice and being anti-gay, or homophobic and anti-gay. If you’re viscerally squicked out by the idea of same-sex sex and have a defensive or angry or hateful reaction to queer people because of that visceral reaction, that’s homophobia. If you think queer people are all disease-carrying promiscuous libertines, that’s prejudice un-moored from evidence. If you believe that same-sex sexual activities are sinful, that may not be prejudice or homophobia … but it can still be anti-gay. It’s anti-gay because you believe gay sex is sinful, and it’s going to be materially anti-gay if you then turn around and campaign for laws to enforce your view of homosexuality as morally wrong.

    If you’re anti-X, then I don’t think you should evade the fact you’re anti-X. I, for example, am anti-fat-hatred, anti-sexual-harassment, and anti-animal-cruelty. I believe these things are morally wrong. So why would I be angry when someone says to me, “you’re such a killjoy when it comes to hating on fat people.” Well, yes. Yes I am. Because I believe it’s wrong.

  8. Diane M says:

    I think, actually, that what Reno is saying isn’t just about marriage laws.

    “The major premise of the gay rights movement is that justice requires us to treat people equally unless there are good reasons not to do so. The minor premise is that same-sex behavior (and often many other kinds as well) can never provide a good reason (short of the minimal limits of non-coercion, etc.). Deny the minor premise, and you will be described as a bigot.”

    I think he’s saying is that adultery is against his religion and legal, but he can go on thinking badly of people who can commit adultery. He can refuse to hire or vote for an adulterer. Nobody will call him biased if he does that or criticize him for it (he would probably be much milder than the attacks other people make).

    However, he is afraid that equality for LBGT people is going to mean that if says having a same sex relationship is a sin/against his religion, he will be called a bigot and the law may even force him to accept the behavior in some way.

    In the end, though, Reno says what he’s most concerned with is the sexual revolution in general, which he says is mostly something heterosexuals did.

  9. Kevin says:

    I don’t think you can, with honesty and integrity, separate “being gay” from “participating in gay sex acts.” This is a case where you can’t really “hate the sin but love the sinner,” because they are too interconnected, since romantic companionships and sexual expression are a normal and compelling part of a healthy person’s existence. Being gay is like being left-handed: it’s a fundamental part of who you are, during an activity (sexual expression, signing your name) that is highly personal and not reasonably put up for discussion by perfect strangers. It’s simply absurd to say you have nothing against left-handed people, but that using one’s left hand to sign one’s name, or using left-handed golf clubs, or high-fiving with your left hand, should be reviled by all decent people!

    That’s wanting to eat your cake and have it, too. If you oppose equal legal treatment for gay and lesbian people, own it, and the baggage that comes with it, namely, sometimes stinging comments from people who think all citizens should be granted equal rights.

    There’s a disconnect for me when religious people worry that they won’t be allowed to marginalize gay people without consequences anymore if same-sex marriage is legal. It seems to me that the ship sailed once the US Supreme Court said gay sex can’t be criminalized, and when the federal government added sexual orientation to its list of prosecutable hate crimes, and when states enacted sexual orientation anti-discrimination laws. Together, it is these things, which address the status and place in society of homosexuality and homosexual people, that are the real impediment to religious people saying and doing things that harm or marginalize gay people, not same-sex marriage. If your goal is to cultivate and/or practice disdain and disapproval of Jews, what difference does it make if those Jews can marry or not? It seems like a minor and peripheral issue. Where was the outrage when gay sex was officially de-criminalized?

    I read an interesting comment someplace that said, to the effect, “it’s ironic that the Catholic Church has an official policy calling homosexuality/gay sex “disordered,” while it also expects its priests and nuns to abstain from sex; what could be more disordered than to expect healthy adults to categorically refrain from sex their entire adult lives?!” I rather agree with that sentiment.

  10. Matthew Kaal says:


    “I don’t think you can, with honesty and integrity, separate “being gay” from “participating in gay sex acts.””

    Really? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that “being gay” means “having same sex attractions”? There are plenty of LGBT individuals who have never had sex (for whatever private reasons) who would argue that they aren’t defined by the sex acts they participate in, but are still LGBT because they are attracted to members of the same sex at some level. Reducing sexual identity to “who you are having sex with” oversimplifies the issue in a way that dismisses the experiences of many LGBT individuals.

    Similarly, it is a little of a stretch to say that for every individual “romantic companionships and sexual expression are a normal and compelling part of a healthy person’s existence.” What about asexual individuals? While companionship and sex are great, and are important to the happiness of most people, I don’t think we can or should say that these are universal needs for every individual.

    Turning to the actual article above:

    The distinction Catholics (and frankly, everyone else) make between sexuality and sexual acts isn’t absurd – it is a recognition that sexual/romantic attractions exists separate from sexual acts.

    Where the Catholics become controversial is their belief that while individuals cannot control (and are thus not morally responsible for) their attractions, they do control whether they act on those attractions (and bear the moral responsibility for their free acts of the will).

    For LGBT individuals they argue that their attractions (while naturally occurring) are disordered (in the same way any genetic mutation is a disordering of the norm). LGBT individuals have no control over this, but they do have control on how they act out their sexuality. When it comes to sexual activity, the Catholics only abide it within the strict confines of marriage, and hold everyone (gay and straight) to the same standards of purity. They define it as such because that is what their scriptures and tradition teach, and they believe they have the authority to interpret those scriptures and tradition. For obvious reasons Catholic sexual ethics place a very real burden of chaste celibacy on anyone who isn’t married, and in the case of LGBT individuals who can’t get married in the church, this burden is life long.

    This understandably seems like a cruel burden, but a full understanding of the Catholic teaching recognizes that Catholic’s define healthy sexuality very differently for secular opponents, and that for LGBT individuals celibacy is viewed as a healthy form of sexual expression, even while recognizing that it is a struggle and sacrifice. Their argument is that ultimately the sacrifice is worth it if it allows someone to grow closer to God, the ultimate good of Catholicism.

    This is the argument that Reno is making, and it all hinges on whether you buy into the Christian (or other conservative traditions) definition of what the ultimate good is. If you do, then you probably agree that traditional marriage advocates aren’t coming from a place of animus when they advocate against gay marriage (or gay sexual activity). If you don’t agree, then you’ll think my last few paragraphs are wrong, tragic and destructive to LGBT individuals. If Reno and the Catholics are wrong, then you’re certainly right in thinking it.

    Now none of this addresses your more substantive critique that accepting all of the above, Catholics still don’t have the right to tell their neighbors how to live and what life goods to pursue. I think that is a valid argument and one that highlights the difficulties of living in a pluralistic society where we all disagree about ultimate goods but are still trying to build a moral society together. We are simply going to disagree on how to shape it, and that is what we are working out in this debate. We all bring our own conceptions of morality to the table, as I believe Diane has already noted…

  11. Mont D. Law says:

    [the Catholics only abide it within the strict confines of marriage, and hold everyone (gay and straight) to the same standards of purity.]

    But they don’t. No Catholic, including Reno, is advocating excluding straight people who don’t meet this purity standard from civil marriage. They are not suggesting Catholics have a legal right to refuse them services. They don’t throw their children out of Catholic schools or them out of the congregation or freak out if they take communion while persisting in sin.

  12. Kevin says:

    Matthew Kaal says “Reducing sexual identity to “who you are having sex with” oversimplifies the issue in a way that dismisses the experiences of many LGBT individuals.”

    I’m talking about sexual orientation and sexual expression in the crafting public policy, or for deciding whether one is anti-gay or not. It is an artificial distinction to separate “being gay” from “having gay sex,” as if one can be gay but when it comes to having gay sex, that’s a whole ‘nother ball game. I didn’t say all gay people have sex, but if a gay person has sex, it shouldn’t trigger some different set of issues or considerations. Any individual, gay or straight, may choose not to have sex (maybe they have a communicable disease, and don’t want to infect someone else). That they choose to abstain is private decision, as much to be respected as when they choose to engage.

    “it is a little of a stretch to say that for every individual “romantic companionships and sexual expression are a normal and compelling part of a healthy person’s existence.” What about asexual individuals? While companionship and sex are great, and are important to the happiness of most people, I don’t think we can or should say that these are universal needs for every individual.”

    And that’s why I didn’t say it. I did not say sexual expression is compulsory, but compelling. Just like being married: you don’t have to do it to lead a happy successful life but it seems to be a big part of most peoples’ lives at some point. If the asexual person has no desire for romance and sex, then there isn’t something to compel them, is there? I doubt there are too many people in that category, and I don’t know the medical field’s official position, if there is one, on the pathological status of someone who experiences no sexual desire. It may be perfectly normal.

    That some Catholics distinguish between sexual longings and sexual acts doesn’t mean that they have a useful viewpoint for shaping public policy or determining whether legal discrimination against gay people is anti-gay or not. And no, not everyone distinguishes between being gay and engaging in gay sex. I don’t; I just wrote a post stating so. I think I’m in good company, too.

    The Catholic Church is controversial not just for its teachings, because obviously, even Catholics ignore Catholic teachings as they wish. The controversy arises because the Catholic Church evidently believes it has a role in shaping public policy that affects ALL citizens, not just Catholic ones. More controversy arises when one compares the acquiescence of the church on legal pre-marital sex, legal adultery and legal divorce, yet the lack of acquiescence on legal same-sex marriage.

    While it is not only a cruel burden to require gay people to abstain from romantic companionship and sex, it is also an unhealthy one and a socially stigmatizing one. But ultimately, it is a VOLUNTARY one, just as abstaining from pre-marital sex, adultery and divorce are VOLUNTARY burdens for straight people. It is appallingly hypocritical for the Catholic Church to want to impose, by law, such an enormous burden on gay people, while giving straight people a pass. My take away is that the Catholic Church’s policy must be that straight sins are really just minor, but gay sins are grave. The Catholic Church has a very specific and, to me, peculiar set of rules and regulations regarding what one may or may not do with his private parts.

    “We are simply going to disagree on how to shape it”

    But there is no disagreement; we’ve already reached agreement. we don’t make laws in this country based on religious beliefs. Did that change? When? When it comes to secular affairs, the Catholic Church and its principles are irrelevant. That’s a settled issue in America: no religion-inspired laws. There’s no room for discussion.

  13. annajcook says:

    But Matthew, the point that asexual-identified people make is that asexuality is a fundamental part of who they are, it’s in effect their sexual identity or orientation. Some asexual people are not aromantic, and for them romantic companionship is important even if sexual intimacy is not.

    It follows, if you’re going to conceptualize the world as one where asexuality is a valid identity, that sexual identities are equally valid and fundamental to our self-concepts.

    Obviously, we do make choices about how and with whom to act on our sexual attractions and desires. But to categorically condemn same-sex sexual expression as sinful while simultaneously claiming people who exclusively desire those of the same sex as themselves is technically do-able but not practically workable in a way that will give the “sinner” the ability to live a life of well-being … if they are a person for whom sexual relationships are integral to a life well lived.

  14. JHW says:

    The importance of the conduct/status distinction is massively overstated. There are several dimensions to this. But the most important one here is that the sort of inference R. R. Reno wants to make, that because his opposition to homosexuality is conduct-based (“‘sodomy’ is immoral”) it therefore is free of “bias” and “prejudice” and “animus,” is just wrong. Many moral judgments of conduct are prejudiced. The view that it’s improper for women to be involved in politics is a moral judgment of conduct, but it’s still sexist.

    What Reno, like many other opponents of gay rights, wants to do is obscure the equality argument by invoking the whole scheme of traditional sexual morality; this is why he couples his condemnation of “sodomy” with a condemnation of masturbation. The problem is that homosexuality, actually existing homosexuality rather than homosexuality imagined as the lifestyle choice of cultural rebels, tears apart the whole logic of this picture. As applied to committed same-sex relationships, the prohibition on “sodomy” neither restricts sexuality to committed monogamous relationships (because that is what we are considering here) nor directs sexuality toward procreation (because it is not being chosen as a substitute for sexual acts between the couple that have procreative potential.) In fact, gay sexuality in the context of a committed same-sex relationship does the same things and plays the same role as straight sexuality in the context of a committed different-sex relationship—at least, a naturally infertile committed different-sex relationship, which the moral view Reno is promoting has never condemned. But that brings us back to the equality argument: if we are fine with the “straight” form, why condemn the “gay” form? It looks arbitrary. And there is just nothing opponents have been able to provide that is remotely plausible as a response to this challenge.

  15. JHW says:

    Putting the point differently: as Reno says, he sees the gay rights movement as an aspect of the sexual revolution, as essentially asking the question whether “there are no moral limits on our sexual lives other than refraining from coercion and abuse.” But the only reason he sees it this way is because he has a false understanding of actual gay lives and gay relationships, such that every kind of gay sexuality (gay sex within the context of a committed monogamous relationship, just as much as gay sex between strangers) is understood as just another instance of non-marital sexuality that the sexual revolution has unleashed. The problem for opponents of the gay rights movement is not (or at least not primarily) their sexual conservatism; it’s that they don’t see, or aren’t willing to see, that the natural analogue to a committed same-sex relationship is a committed different-sex relationship, not an anonymous different-sex hook-up.

  16. Diane M says:

    The Catholic Church does, in fact, forbid straight people from taking Communion if they are going against church teachings. I have known people who were divorced and remarried who couldn’t take communion.

    The distinction between behavior and feelings is a normal one in talking about morality and it is definitely applied to straight people, too. Cheating is worse than lusting in your heart, for example.

    The difficulty I have with the teachings of the Catholic church and some Protestant churches is this:

    As a straight woman, I can get married. This allows me to have a sex life and be good. I am supposed to wait and I can’t have everything I want, but I can eventually have a full and satisfying romantic relationship.

    Priests and nuns are called to a life of celibacy so they can devote themselves to God.

    It’s not fair or reasonable to expect most people to live without sex forever and never act on their desires.

    So while I can see the distinction between behavior and desires, I think you have to allow LBGT people a healthy way to express their desires.

  17. Kevin says:

    Diane, why can’t the Catholic Church be satisfied to impose its rules and regulations, whatever they are, on only its members? Why must the rest of us get ensnared in Catholic doctrine, involuntarily? That’s what happens when the church works to get stuff banned or outlawed. Not only are they highly inconsistent in this, it’s wrong in the first place. I refuse to be forced into a religious practice against my will. I will move to Iran or Saudi Arabia if and when I have a change of heart on that.

    There is no biblical directive that requires a church or a believer to get biblical rules and regulations put into the law. Plus, we live in a country that specifically forbids implementing faith-based rules and regulations.

    Ergo, what difference does it make what the catholic church says you can and can’t do with your own body? It’s irrelevant to any discussion of public policy and laws.

  18. Maggie Gallagher says:

    One of the things that becomes clearer and clear for me–the background against which this debate is taking place–is two profound, deep, and broad cultural shifts:

    The first, which preoccupies me, is the relative devaluation of the place of procreation as a social good. This is not an absolute devaluation–people still value children of course–but it is seem as relatively unimportant, compared to say 100 years ago.

    Been reading about Lincoln, after seeing the movie. The movie focuses among other thing on the traumatic loss of their son “Willie” during their years in the White HOuse. But the Lincoln’s had already lost another son, and Mary Lincoln would lose Tad to tuberculosis at age 16. Their son Robert had three children, only one of whom had children. The line died out with one great grandchild who died in the 1960s.

    (The 19th century was hard on the Lincoln family, but the 20th century was harder?)

    (I have been struck by, when I raise this issue (outside of the gay marriage context I mean) liberals hear it as racist, or potentially racist, to care about generatively of one “people” however defined).

    The second shift, which has only recently become clear to me (oddly), is the dramatic shift in the social value of sexual repression–which is probably related.

    The repression of desire was once the common human lot, and the consequences of failing to cultivate sexual repression was obviously a lot of harm.

    We (including me) now find the repression of desire to be a uniquely intolerable psychic experience of unjust suffering.

    We find it intolerable in the context of marriage too. If you read the testimonies of men and women who leave their marriages because they fall in love with another partner, it sounds a lot like: give me love or give me death.


    I just walked out of a new Hindi movie on Sunday, at the moment a 21 year old Indian woman reconnects with the mother who left her family for another man, tells her mom “You did the right thing. A 12 year old girl cannot understand this but a 21 year old girl (sic) can.”

    Bollywood follows Hollywood.

  19. David Blankenhorn says:


    I think you and I were in the same room, many years ago now, when David Gutmann, quoting Erik Erikson, said, “Deprivation per se is not psychologically damaging. It is only deprivation without meaning that is damaging.” I think of that quote often these days, especially in the context of the sex debates.

    If you recommend the repression of desire with respect to adultery, I’m with you, because I can clearly see the meaning.

    If it were 3,000 years ago, and we were living in a tribe in the desert, and for some reason we were writing what would later become holy scripture, and you recommended the repression of desire with respect to homosexual conduct, I suspect I’d be with you, because I suspect (though I can’t be positive of course) that I’d see the meaning — I’d know the answer to “why.”

    But if you make the same recommendation today, in the U.S., I’m not with you, because no matter how hard I look, I can’t see the meaning, apart from appeals to tradition (God said it, it’s always been that way).

    Probably sounds trite, I know. But for me, that’s it. I can’t accept the repression of homosexual desire absent genuine, palpable meaning that can be made visible to me, above and beyond appeals to tradition.

  20. Maggie Gallagher says:

    Well, David, I appreciate that but not trying to debate everything all at once.

    I’ve never actually publicly debate homosexual sex and am unsure if that’s what I’m called to do.

    Seems to be a great push to make us all do that as if this were the key issue. Maybe it is and maybe we are.

    Right now all I’m noting is some background variables. Even people who are generally opposed to adultery, see in fact divorce as the proper way to end a marriage that requires too much deprivation. How much is too much?

    Even people who see children as a good, are no longer clear that norms that serve procreation are a good, if they require “too much” deprivation.

    I’m not judging right now I’m only looking.

  21. Sky says:


    Why ancient you able to accept Maggies ideas while modern you holds out for something more genuine? What about ancient Maggie wasnt genuine or palpable?

    Why did you once have faith and now your skeptical?

  22. Diane M says:

    I’m not sure what David meant, but for me, a tribe living on the edge of disaster 2000+ years ago would need to have everyone help make babies. Your personal wishes wouldn’t matter as much as the community’s survival (and yours).

    There are a lot of religious codes that seem to me to be good rules in a world without birth control or antibiotics. Now things are different and I think we have to use our reason to figure out what still applies.

  23. Maggie uttered:

    I’ve never actually publicly debate homosexual sex and am unsure if that’s what I’m called to do.

    That depends upon your definition of “publicly debate[d].” If NOM expresses your point of view then, by extension, you are indeed debating the propriety of same-sex sex in a very public venue. Now, if you want to distance yourself from the machinations of Mr. Schubert then please do so.

  24. David:

    A very good measurement of anti-gay attitudes in contrast to opposition to equal marriage is whether or not the individual fully accepts that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice. Rather, sexual orientation is organic and formed at a very early age, if not at birth. Moreover, children are unable to acquire homosexuality through contact with gay people. It’s not contagious.

  25. Matthew Kaal says:

    David C. Hart,

    I agree with you that this is a good way of gauging how seriously someone has engaged with this issue – but thankfully you rarely hear a serious person alleging that homosexuality is contagious these days.

  26. Matthew Kall uttered:

    … thankfully you rarely hear a serious person alleging that homosexuality is contagious these days.

    “Homosexual marriage will be taught in schools” is most definitely that allegation. That is why I asked Maggie if she might distance herself from some of the Frank Schubert rhetoric.

  27. Matthew Kaal says:

    David C. Hart,

    While I disagree with Schubert’s rhetoric, I don’t think he’s pulling an Anita Bryant. I think it would be more accurate to say he’s more concerned about introducing moral confusion into young Children’s lives if they are hearing one thing from their school and another from their conservative parents, something that has been discussed ad nauseum here…

    Also, it is Kaal, not Kall, but that is likely karma as I’m sure I’ve misspelled LaLubu plenty of times.

  28. annajcook says:

    I think it would be more accurate to say he’s more concerned about introducing moral confusion into young Children’s lives

    The problem with seeing discussion of same-sex marriage as “moral confusion”, Matthew, is that it DOES perpetuate the notion that children are all “straight until proven queer: that unless they’re introduced to the notion of same-sex sexuality and the possibility of same-sex marriage by an external authority (in this case, school) they won’t know about it. The result of that is that queer children are isolated and shamed about their bodies and their desires, and are on distinctly unequal footing with straight children who ARE exposed to the possibility of other-sex marriage throughout their school careers (let alone in the popular culture).

    So while it might not be the precise rhetoric of contagion, it does gesture to a framework of homosexuality-as-disease or homosexuality-as-disorder, and seeks to protect children from knowledge of it in a way that children are NOT protected from knowledge of straight sexuality. It’s not like we’re protected from knowledge of our parents’ marriage, non-marriage, or divorce, out of fear we would infer from that they were having straight sex!

  29. Matthew Kaal says:


    I see your point, note I disagree with Schubert’s rhetoric on this, but if the conversation is going to be derailed into a discussion of Schubert’s rhetoric, I’d rather we discuss it with as much accuracy as possible. That was my point.

  30. David Blankenhorn says:


    Please don’t use the fact that Maggie posted a comment here to taunt or challenge her about NOM, Shubert, etc. That’s out of line and off-topic. Please. I would insist on the same respect being shown to you, if the shoe were on the other foot, or to anyone else.


    I’m not really sure I can answer your question (which is a good one). My general sense (and it’s only vague and intuitive; I can’t document anything) is that prohibitions against homosexuality operating within Jewish tribes served functions that were directly visible and recognized as important as regards the survival of the tribe (at least as compared to today, when the prohibitions are to me anachronistic). But again, I’m just speculating; I really don’t know much about this at all. (Does anybody? Any books to read for someone who’d like to learn?)

  31. Kevin says:

    “The first, which preoccupies me, is the relative devaluation of the place of procreation as a social good. This is not an absolute devaluation–people still value children of course–but it is seem as relatively unimportant, compared to say 100 years ago.”

    That’s highly speculative. How would you measure such a notion, that procreation or children were more valued 100 years ago, compared to today? I’d wager parents are far more accommodating of their (fewer) children today than of the (many) children they had 100 years ago.

    A hundred years ago, before reliable birth control, kids were far more often an accident of adult passion, rather than a considered and planned event. I can envision a lot more unwanted children 100 years ago, than now. They were also the thing that stood between a woman realizing her entire human potential.

    I also think male babies were more desired a hundred years ago, than female babies were.

    I also seem to remember an axiom from my youth that I never hear now that I think sums up the value of children years ago: “children should be seen and not heard.”

    I think sex is better today than a hundred years ago, especially for women, because pregnancy can be controlled. And I’d rather be a baby in 2012 than 1912, because babies today are more likely to be wanted, not unwanted accidents of passion.

  32. annajcook says:

    David, one scholar who comes to mind is Mark D. Jordan of the John C. Danforth Center for Religion and Politics. His most recent work is on 20th century Christian rhetoric about homosexuality (positive and negative), Recruiting Young Love, but his training as an historian and theologian looked at Medieval Christian thought. Not quite what you’re asking for, but a move in the right direction?

  33. mythago says:

    @David, 3000 years ago in the desert, you would have been trying to preserve your own ways from merging or being diluted by the ways and religious practices of your neighbors. When those religious practices include ritualized cross-dressing and same-sex sexual activity, then you ban them.

    @Maggie, I genuinely have no idea where you get the idea that children are less valued now than 100 years ago.

  34. David Blankenhorn says:

    annajcook: Thanks. I’ll take a look at Mr. Jordon’s books.

    mythago: yes, what you say sounds about right to me, based on the very little I’ve read (e.g., about the long Jewish struggle against temple prostitutes); do you think that same anthropological dynamic is present today in the struggles over normalization of same-sex bonding?

  35. admin says:


    Your comment was taken down for violating our civility policy – the last paragraph in particular. Please refrain from speculating about others.

    This is your warning.

  36. William says:

    admin: I don’t really remember exact I said in the last paragraph of my comment.

    But I am confused. It is well documented in psychological literature that the most homophobic men (I am not sure that homophobia has been studied in women) have deep-seated homosexual desires and that homophobia is a defense mechanism against homosexual desires. It is also well known that this defense mechanism often fails and consequently many well-known public homophobes–priests, pastors, politicians, etc.–are revealed, often through arrests for soliciting sexual favors from undercover policemen, to have acted on these homosexual desires.

    I did not introduce the question of homophobia to this discussion. Nor did I introduce the question of repression. My comment is on-topic.

    Insofar as it is speculative, it is no more speculative than the apparently perfectly acceptable belief harbored by many posters here that homosexuals are “disordered” and have a proclivity toward evil. My point is the much less controversial observation, repeatedly documented in psychological studies and in the newspapers, that often the most homophobic people harbor deepseated homosexual desires.

  37. admin says:


    Comments or complaints about the moderation policy are not allowed, this is a violation of the policy. Your new here, so we’ll give you a second warning, but further protests will be taken down.

    Thanks, the moderator.

  38. Myca says:

    Sooo …. it seems like the primary complaint of many opponents of SSM is that, if SSM is made legal, they will be perceived as lesser (bigoted, etc) because of their opinions on SSM.

    I have several responses.

    1) So what? There’s nothing in a pluralistic democracy that guarantees that others won’t think less of you for your cherished beliefs. There’s nothing in a pluralistic democracy that guarantees that people won’t be jerky to you because of your cherished beliefs! I get that it sucks for you, but people are allowed to think poorly of you because of your opinions and political advocacy. And you’re allowed to think less of them.

    2) Does this have anything to do with legal SSM? It seems to me that this cultural shift has already occurred, and that the people who think that you’re bigots and homophobes because of your stance are going to think that whether same sex marriage is legal or not. In fact, continuing to oppose equality seems to make it more likely, not less, that you’ll be tarred as a homophobic bigot.

    3) It’s not just you. People who opposed legal interracial marriages are thought of as racists, even if their reasons were 100% concern for the potential kids. People who advocate for and engage in homosexual relationships are called sinners, even if they don’t share the religion of their accusers. I’m polyamorous … watch what happens if I discuss that loudly in public. Thus far, your opinions have been somewhat privileged in the marketplace of ideas, but it’s because mostly people agreed with you. Now, mostly, they don’t. This is something lots and lots of other people have had to deal with. Somehow we survived. You will too.


  39. Kevin says:

    I think it’s safe to call 2012, “The Year of Gays and Lesbians.” Lots of political and social successes. I read today that sexual orientation change therapists are getting sued for fraud. It won’t surprise me if Time magazine salutes gays and lesbians with a “Man of the Year” cover!

    It will be interesting to see what comes next. I’m especially interested to watch how the Catholic Church responds to the sea-changes going on, and if they’ll adopt a new outlook toward gay and lesbian humans.

  40. [...] a useful exchange. In his last posting he questioned my argument that judging homosexual acts wrong isn’t akin to the racist view that skin color makes someone inferior: I’m sure that Rusty Reno knows as well as anyone that almost no gay people (certainly no openly [...]

  41. R.K. says:

    Kevin: But there is no disagreement; we’ve already reached agreement. we don’t make laws in this country based on religious beliefs. Did that change? When? When it comes to secular affairs, the Catholic Church and its principles are irrelevant. That’s a settled issue in America: no religion-inspired laws. There’s no room for discussion.

    The first problem with that analysis is that the cultural definition of marriage as between men and women did not start withe the Catholic Church, or the Mormon Church, or Evangelical churches, or any other churches, any more than it started with the Christian religion, or the Muslim religion, or any other religion. So the idea that it’s just based on religion does not hold water.

    A major question is involved in the debate over same-sex marriage: when you are dealing with something which has been virtually universal across cultures, regardless of religion, through recorded history, is it a good enough argument to say that it should be discarded because you can’t think of a good reason for it?

    Let alone to say that because you can’t think of a good argument for it, it is therefore undebatable that it must be discarded?

    My problem with people saying that they know absolutely, with 100 percent certainty, that some idea is right or wrong (and thus undebatable), is the question of just where such 100 percent certainty can come from.

    Many will say it comes from God. Now I will accept for argument’s sake that one omnipotent perfect God will know what’s right or wrong with 100 percent certainty. But throughout history many many people have believed in all sincerity that they knew what God was and what God said was right or wrong. But for every one of them, another believed just as certainly and sincerely in a God that was totally different or said totally different things about right and wrong. So how can we really ascertain 100 percent certainty from any mortal human who tells us what God says is right and wrong? (On this probably most SSM supporters agree with me).

    So, if 100 percent certainty can’t come from any person telling us what God says, where can absolute certainty come from?

    I suppose many would argue that certainty about right and wrong can come from observation of cause and effect. But is anybody going to claim that they can have absolute certainty about what the effect of something will be down the road? Or how long it will be before the effects are known? When people claim 100 percent certitude about the effects of something that is just beginning, are they not claiming in effect absolute precognitive abilities? Not to mention, of course, that even after many years of observation the relation between a cause and a possible effect will still be hotly debated even among experts, and rarely settled with 100 percent certainty.

    So, if it’s not from certainty about God, or certainty about the effect, on what does a person base it when they say that they are “100 percent certain” that an idea is right or wrong?

    It’s hard to escape the conclusion that what we’re mainly left with is the idea that that person has infinite, perfect knowledge, requiring neither contact with God nor precognition of future effect. And if another person disagrees with that person, well, they just don’t have this perfect knowledge.

    Just to be clear, I’m not saying someone can not forcibly and strongly argue for a point they believe. It just crosses a line when they start saying that their belief is undebatably true.

    I know, there’s some things which I think everyone here believe can’t be seriously debated, like whether the Nazi genocide was right or wrong. I and I think almost all others can’t think of a single possible argument in defense of such things. I think it’s about as close to being 100 percent undebatable as anything can get. If there’s an argument for the morality of such things, it’s certainly one that I’ve never thought of. And I would say the same about many other things, particularly things involving the deliberate taking of human lives.

    Indeed, I’d like to say that the immorality of anything involving the deliberate taking of human life is beyond debate and 100 percent morally wrong.

    Problem is, we do have contentuous debates even over issues which involve the question of the deliberate ending of human life, capital punishment and abortion being the two most obvious examples. So even if I were to say that anything involving deliberate taking of a human life was 100 percent undebatable, obviously that would not be the case, and I would not really believe it myself.

    What does seem to me though (and of course this can be debated) is that issues involving the question of deliberate taking of human life have a better claim on “undebatability” than issues involving the question of mere equality claims. That we don’t treat all of the issues involving the former as undebatable means we have a lot less reason to treat all issues involving the latter as such.

    Just think about what you’re really saying when you say something is “undebatable” or “100 percent” certain. You’re saying it’s so because you believe it to be so. No more, no less.

  42. Diane M says:

    “Sooo …. it seems like the primary complaint of many opponents of SSM is that, if SSM is made legal, they will be perceived as lesser (bigoted, etc) because of their opinions on SSM.”

    @Myca – It seems to me that telling people they don’t need to worry because we already think you are bigots and SSM won’t make a difference is not going to reassure them.

    Also, in this piece, Reno seems to be saying that he is afraid he will be sued because of his opinions. I am not clear on this, but I think he is saying he thinks he might be sued for his opinions on homosexuality in general, not just SSM. I think he is worried that he and all people whose religious beliefs lead them to oppose SSM and same sex sex will face the possibility of lawsuits.

  43. Diane M says:

    Kevin, I think when it comes to procreation, you and Maggie Gallagher may both be right.

    We as a society value our children highly and invest more of our time and money in them than our ancestors could. We love our children and most of us want to have children. Even when people loudly proclaim that women don’t have to be mothers, they sound a little defensive.

    What I think is different is that we don’t see having kids as a social good and promote in the same way we did in the past. I think that’s what Maggie Gallagher was referring to.

    For example, in many parts of Asia people ask you if you’re married, if you have kids, and why not already? In some countries, infertility is legal grounds for divorce or taking a second wife. I think in many parts of the world, everyone is expected to marry and produce children. Having children is part of prosperity. It’s seen as okay to have children to support you in your old age. It’s more than just loving kids, it’s promoting having them.

  44. William says:

    Today is the 34th anniversary of the assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone by Dan White. There is something surreal about discussing with such calm whether those who oppose same-sex marriage are anti-gay. Harvey Milk knew that he would probably be assassinated. He tape recorded several versions of his “political will,” which he labeled “to be read in the event of my assassination.” One of the tapes included the following statement: “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”

    In this context, Reno’s worry that he might be sued because of his beliefs about homosexuality is not only far-fetched, but very petty.

  45. David in Houston says:

    I’m not sure why Mr. Reno is conflating sexual acts with marriage. Regardless if he personally believes that what gay couples do in the privacy of their own bedroom is immoral, it has no bearing on whether or not they should be able to create a legal kinship (marriage) with each other. For the record, immoral straight people have never been banned from getting married. The state doesn’t screen couples to find out how moral they are before they give them a marriage license. My “morality go-to guy” Newt Gingrich has had two adulterous affairs, which resulted in two divorces and two additional marriages. Not surprisingly, he still has the right to divorce his third “till death do us part” wife, and get married yet again if he wishes. In other words, straight people have the right to define their relationships however they see fit, regardless of their perceived morality. What I perceive from Mr. Reno is clearly animus directed at gay Americans. What other conclusion should I come to when he conveniently dismisses so-called “immoral sexual behavior” from 95% of the populous, and only wants to legally enforce his chosen religious beliefs on the remaining 5%.

    This is the same type of convoluted argument that Maggie Gallagher peddles. She argues that marriage is solely about procreation. That (hypothetical) children have a right to a mother and father. Of course that special rule only applies to gay couples. Straight couples needn’t follow Maggie’s ideology. Because preventing non-procreative straight couples from getting married would be too much of a hassle for the government. Apparently, telling non-procreative senior citizens that they’re too old to get married would be too intrusive. But telling non-procreative gay citizens that they don’t have the correct sexual orientation wouldn’t be too intrusive. Infertile straight couples and those couples that don’t want to raise children needn’t worry either. Even though marriage is solely about procreation, they get a “free pass” because they happen to be straight. As long as you have the correct sex organs, you’re good to go. I’m still waiting to find out why Rush Limbaugh’s FOURTH non-procreative marriage is a-okay with Maggie. How exactly does Rush’s childless marriage benefit society? …and how exactly does his childless marriage differ from a same-sex marriage?

  46. I asked the same question today at Slowly Boiled Frog. As you might imagine, I was a tad less delicate than David Blankenhorn. Reno is making the familiar “behavior” argument; “I love gay people. I oppose their having sex.” This functions as a subset of gay-as-choice. ‘Is intellectual dishonesty anti-gay per se?”

  47. Myca says:

    It seems to me that telling people they don’t need to worry because we already think you are bigots and SSM won’t make a difference is not going to reassure them.

    Why? They think we’re sinners. They call us immoral. Wouldn’t it seem weird if we threw giant fits about how they need to stop calling us sinners and immoral, and how we have to pass laws against religion so nobody gets called an immoral sinner?

    NEWS FLASH: They’re allowed to think we’re sinners. It’s okay. They’re allowed to think we’re acting immorally. That’s okay too. They’re allowed to think both of those, and say both of those, and we’re allowed to think and say that they’re homophobes and bigots.

    Why on earth would one be okay and the other somehow verboten?

    This whole debate is so freaking surreal to me.

    Also, in this piece, Reno seems to be saying that he is afraid he will be sued because of his opinions. I am not clear on this, but I think he is saying he thinks he might be sued for his opinions on homosexuality in general, not just SSM. I think he is worried that he and all people whose religious beliefs lead them to oppose SSM and same sex sex will face the possibility of lawsuits.

    I don’t see that, at least in the two linked posts. I’ve read through them a couple of times. Maybe I missed it. Can you paste in the bit you’re thinking of?

    In any case, anyone can sue you for anything. I can sue you for wearing ugly shoes … it’ll just get thrown out of court.

    What in particular, he fears being sued for matters a lot here. If he’s worried about being sued for refusing emergency medical care to a gay couple who have been in a car accident … good. He should be scared of that. If he’s worried about being sued for posting, “gay sex is immoral,” on his blog, that’s delusional.


  48. Diane M says:

    @Myca – sorry about that, I got the idea from his earlier blog, not this one.

    “The notion of civil rights that fuels the push for “marriage equality” requires pumping up the power of the state to bulldoze older traditions and attitudes that stand in the way of the full acceptance and affirmation of homosexuality. It’s going to lead to litigation, regulation, mandated school programs and “inclusivity” seminars, and lots of other legislation. For good and for ill, the civil rights revolution of the 1960s created entire government bureaucracies, which in turn led to corporate diversity consultants and many other positions, all keyed to compliance.”


    “the gay rights movement can’t succeed unless and until the apparatus of the state is brought to bear on traditional institutions that don’t treat homosexuality and heterosexuality equally.”

    He goes on to worry about sharing bathrooms which is a little far-fetched.

    Maybe I’m reading too much in to it, but I think he’s suggesting that people or groups who oppose homosexuality will be sued for doing so.

  49. Myca says:

    I think he’s suggesting that people or groups who oppose homosexuality will be sued for doing so.

    No doubt they will be sued (just like any other organization advocating anything else controversial), but that’s not the issue. Unless they’re stepping outside the normal bounds of political advocacy in their opposition to SSM, the suits won’t go anywhere.

    I mean, the Klan marched in Skokie, you know? Political advocacy for causes that the mainstream finds repellent has a lot of leeway in the US.


  50. William says:

    Diane M., Reno is simply using the familiar scare tactics of the anti-gay industry. Their argument is that if gay people are given equal rights they they are being persecuted.