Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

NPR’s Talk of the Nation

I’m supposed to speak to some folks from this show, responding to this Jonathan Rauch piece. My response to another Rauch piece is here, with further discussion here and here. The program should be online this evening; you can check to see whether and when it will be broadcast in your area here.

Update: You can listen to the portion of the program, which I shared with Jonathan Rauch, here.

Discussions - 17 Comments

Two points on observations of the radio broadcast I’d like to comment on:

1. Rauch commented that the California legislature passed a gay marriage bill, vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. While this is true, what Rauch did not say, and may not have known, is that the legislation came immediately on the heels of a referendum on gay marriage. The overwhelmingly liberal, overwhelmingly democrat, voters of this state overwhelmingly voted AGAINST GAY MARRIAGE! The legislature tried to force gay marriage down our throats (no pun intended) despite the referendum. Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill stating (paraphrasing) the people have already spoken on this issue. If Gray Davis had not been recalled and had still been governor, the people of this state would have been forced to endure an institution we clearly stated we do not want. More on this at the conclusion of point 2.

2. Both of you expressed a preference to have each state decide for itself. Both of you expressed concern over having the U.S. Supreme Court decide the issue. If you’re afraid of one U.S. Supreme Court, be very afraid of 50 state supreme courts, each and every one of which can, and probably will, go liberal at some point. Now here’s the rest of my point: While you’re being very afraid of 50 state supreme courts, be very afraid of 50 state legislatures too which, as did California’s, may try to force gay marriage legislation on a voting public which has clearly and unequivocally indicated its desire not to have.

The GAYS are coming! The GAYS are coming!

Here they come in their snappy little red coats and marching towards Boston!

The GAYS are coming! The war is on. Either we will win or we will all be speaking GAY soon!

What can Knippy the Hun possibly add besides his usual ignorance and bigotry dressed up in the spiffy new clothes of "scholarship."

Ah, yes, anyone that disagrees with you is a bigot. I guess everyone who disagrees with affirmative action hates minorities right? How about a real debate on the constitutional and moral issues involved?

Thanks, Tony.

I have a grip on the political and constitutional issues here, even the issues for some Christians. Tony Williams and Paul Seaton, what are the moral issues?

Steve, you claim to "have a grip" on the political and constitutional and "some" Christian issues, so you should surely know the moral issues as well. I agree with Tony and Paul, and I won’t get sucked into a useless discussion with you on moral issues. Keep your inflexible views and I’ll keep mine.
Alternatively, be free to state your views on the moral issues.

Well, Tom, speak for yourself. Do keep your inflexible views, whatever they are, and feel free therefore to avoid useless discussion; I’d like to test my views against good arguments. I haven’t been able to think of non-religious moral objections to homosexual acts as such. Nor can I identify purely moral objections to same-sex unions, call them what you will. I’m sure good arguments exist and I was hoping to learn what they are.

P.S. I recognize that many people believe that morals are inextricably bound to religious faith and will therefore reject my assumption that there can be non-religious moral arguments or principles. I do not know whether this is true of Tom or not. Something that Jim Knippenberg said makes me think that for him moral arguments do not always require religious backing.

Steve Thomas:

Steve, back when I used to read a lot of philosophy I thought I had a pretty good argument against homosexual acts that was not based on religious views. It was just applying Kant’s categorical imperative to the facts. I’ll lay out the argument as I remember it.

1. All people have the same moral nature, what is wrong for Person A is wrong for Person B. 2. It is wrong to do actions that defeat themselves (insert Kant’s categorical imperative). 3. The extinction of the human race would result if everyone were only homosexual. 4. Therefore, it is wrong for people to be homosexual.

The argument has a pretty broad and narrow swipe however. It would make priests, etc. immoral, but would not make bisexuality immoral. I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

P.P.S. I meant Joe K. Please forgive me.

Steve T.,

I’m not sure how you’re deploying your categories, so I’m not sure what you mean by "political," as opposed to "moral." Does a policy argument about what’s best for children count as a political or moral argument, or neither? Note that any argument I would provide in this context is in favor of a view about what’s best for child-rearing, not about about homsexual acts as such. I think that you can argue against providing legal recognition for homosexual marriage without necessarily having to argue against homosexual acts.

Steve S. I think you have just argued that it is immoral to be a celibate priest.

Steve Sparks- how does your argument hold up when you take into consideration the fact that sexual intercourse is no longer a requirement for reproduction?

Joe K.- how does homosexual marriage pose a risk to children? If the risk is that children raised by a homosexual couple will turn out to be homosexuals themselves (a dubious claim anyway), I would ask how that is a problem. And if your argument is that children need both a mother and father to become well-rounded individuals, then I’m curious as to whether or not you think being raised by a single parent is worse for the child than being raised by two parents of the same gender.

I guess I think Steve Sparks’ "Kantian" argument is too blunt. The choice not to have children would be wrong, for example. What would stand in the way of enforcing procreation on adults? Dunno. Joe Knippenberg argues that legal recognition of same-sex unions would remove any reason not to allow them to rear children, to the detriment of children and the Republic, and that this is really a policy question having to do with what is good for the country and its future. I know some people maintain that such child-rearing is harmful. There are studies, I gather, whose findings are in dispute. I do not feel qualified to have an opinion on them, but I doubt that they will ever settle the disagreement (since feelings run so high, regardless of facts about child development). Joe implies that one could -- in addition -- object to same-sex unions as such, even if child-rearing were not at issue, and that that objection would not be on policy grounds. But since such unions would, he thinks, necessarily be in a position to claim the right to raise children, the policy reason is neutral about same-sex unions per se and is enough for him to object to giving any legal recognition. Likewise, he agrees, if I understand him, that there are no non-religious reasons for opposing homosexual acts. He just wants above all to keep children clear of gay couples.
Is this a fair interpretation?

New question: do religious people who believe both homosexual acts and homosexual unions fall under a Biblical prohibition not feel that their religion is being disrespected by current law? that virtually any legal protection of homosexuality is an abomination and a sign of disastrous secularization?

Steve T.,

I can think of non-religious arguments, but regard them as fraught with difficulties that I’m probably not clever enough to work out to my satisfaction, let alone anyone else’s.

My argument about the "traditional family" is that it is optimal for boys and girls to be raised by mothers and fathers. That plenty of kids are in fact raised in sub-optimal conditions doesn’t require that we deny the difference between the two by legally affirming that having two fathers or two mothers is the legal equivalent of having one of each. I’ve dealt with some of these matters here and don’t want to repeat myself.

I’m not sure I have much to add to what Joe has said. . . There seem to be too issues: (1) what models of human flourishing are fit for children, and (2) public "recognition" for gays. Both are contested ground. Joe Knippenberg has suggested that we might agree the optimal arrangements for the neediest children waiting for foster homes or adoption don’t exist in sufficient numbers, and make do -- qualifying single men and women, gay men and women. (Historically, the same was true of religious qualifications in adoption, and of racial matching.) Of course, second-best does not satisfy gays or gay couples and (though I’m not an expert in the current law) surely raises equal-protection issues, however one thinks they should be decided. This is the nub of the matter. Gays want recognition: legitimacy and dignity, and in America for better or worse that means legal rights. Hence the question of various benefits for "partners." They believe their lives as committed couples are indeed models of human flourishing, resting upon their natural sexual identities. (Obviously some people think this is not nature but perversity.) That claim includes the denial that sexual expression is somehow contagious and that they aim to raise gay children. It includes, moreover, the important claim that their commitment to one another can nurture responsible citizenship. We are far from the original public face of gay liberation, that freedom means whoopie.

We see that the disputes run deep, because feelings run deep. Someone probably has polling data, but my intuition is that very many ordinary people, having gay friends or family members, find themselves more flexible and prudent on these matters than they expected.


You are right. My argument would make it immoral to be a celibate priest. I told you my argument would manage to offend everyone.

Phil Thompson:

You are correct, that is one weakness in the argument. It is odd that Kant’s categorical imperative, something supposed to be completely abstract and nonsituational, is beat by technology (a very situational sort of thing that has just occured in the past few decades or so). I guess I would argue that sexual intercourse is the best way to ensure survival of the human species due to factors that favor chance thereby favoring evolution. Also, if sexual intercourse were not the "moral" way to reproduce then it seems that women could do away with men, which seems immoral to me, although I suppose random methods to pick which sperm to use to impregnate could be used.

I think the following is the entire "problem" concerning the morality of homosexual acts. Suppose only two people on Earth survived, both who were homosexual. Would they have a duty to have sex and reproduce, or could they indulge their preferences (or nature, whatever you wish, nature is probably not important since humans could transcend the "natural" for one act) and let the species die? Either answer is problematic for the liberal position. If one answers their is a duty to procreate, then there is no absolute right to sexual expression, etc. and such expression can be limited as prudence and the needs of the species requires. A liberal could argue there is no necessity right now to force hetrosexual acts, but his positioned is weakened by the admission that the good of the species trumps the desires of the individual. If one answers they have no duty to save the species, then liberals’ social and environmental preferences are not justified from a moral basis. If the species is not worth saving, then individuals are not important (no social welfare programs), and species are not important (look how hard people fight to save whales, flies, etc., yet humans are worth no supreme effort).

I think my argument is interesting but weak. I was just trying to offer a nonreligious moral argument.

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