At the risk of turning my colloquy with my colleague John Derbyshire into a Wimbledon preview, I thought I might try to return some of his recent volleys right through his knees.
John and I have several balls in play. We have been knocking back and forth a few questions regarding homosexuality: whether gays can become straight (and vice versa), how a society requiring reproduction for its survival should respond to those who rarely procreate and what form, if any, cultural disapproval should take.
In a thoughtful, elegant, and well-researched NRO piece last Friday, John argued, broadly, that “there are strong social reasons” to counsel against homosexuality and its wider acceptance in society via the media, academy, popular culture, and this country’s other key institutions. John includes heterosexuality among “the ordinary pleasures that most people have found fulfilling and satisfying, and the proper pursuit of which helps hold society together.”
As vital as social cohesion is, John’s meditation overlooks something key to the American experiment. It is wise in these matters to return to first things. On the day America was born, the Continental Congress adopted Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words in declaring this nation’s independence from Great Britain.
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Nowhere in this pivotal passage of America’s birth certificate does it say that Americans should sublimate their most intimate emotional interests to the higher calling of what society expects or desires. The Framers might applaud the civic mindedness of anyone so inclined, but, I believe, leave alone anyone who disagreed.
On the issue of sexuality, be it fixed for some and fluid for others, most Americans will remain firmly committed to whatever sort of attraction they begin to feel at the outset of puberty. Most little boys who chase little girls will keep doing so until they get married (and sometimes even after that) while little boys who chase little boys (and survive the typical hostility that engenders in most lads) will continue doing so into adulthood. Of course, there are those who run both ways on the schoolyard, or later in life, eventually settling in somewhere that leaves them content.
This situation should not lead social conservatives, or anyone else, to fret that the survival of the American people is in jeopardy. John mentions a 1999 Gallup survey that found that 43 percent of adults polled believed that homosexuality should be against the law.
“By 1999, the American public had been marinated in pro-homosexual propaganda for thirty years,” John writes. “If thirty years of relentless propaganda by the massed forces of the U.S. media, education, and entertainment industries have left 43 percent of us wanting homosexuality not legal, when exactly will homosexuality be taken as normal?”
No time soon, I reckon, in the sense that the average American single man, for instance, might date a young woman for several months, then see a young man during the summer and switch back to heterosexuality by Halloween.
Indeed, the fact that 43 percent of Americans two years ago wished to criminalize homosexuality strongly suggests that procreation is in no danger and that American society will endure. More than enough Americans wind up marrying opposite-sex partners and rearing children to keep this republic alive and well, beyond even the destructive capacities of the U.S. Tax Code.
At one point, John mentions that I want “every American” to enjoy the right of sexual self-determination. Perhaps I was not clear about what the meaning of the word “every” is. I strictly refer to every adult. I agree with columnist Lawrence Henry, whom John cites, when he writes: “To exploit that adolescent complex of desires is about the most despicable thing I can think of.”
Grown-ups who prey on the sexual curiosity of adolescents should be prosecuted. Indeed, gay-rights groups badly weaken their credibility by giving a pass to pro-pedophilia organizations such as the North American Man-Boy Love Association. If any group made the case for thought-crime laws, it would be NAMBLA. Adults who sleep with those under 18 — gay, straight, or serpentine — deserve their day in court and many more days behind bars if convicted.
Adolescents themselves, as John writes, can be counted to explore their sexual tendencies with fellow adolescents. Even among those who engage in youthful same-sex experimentation, those who end up being gay, I think, will remain within a minority lacking the size to threaten the well being of the broader society. As such, America’s gay minority deserves the majority’s respect or at least an absence of open hostility, provided laws are left unbroken and happiness is pursued peacefully.
Rather than make this argument, gay-rights activists actually harm their appeals for social tolerance (or even highly questionable legal protections) by predicating them on the idea that homosexuality begins at conception and is, above all else, not a choice.
It may shock the Human Rights Campaign, but that formulation gives aid and comfort to those who oppose equality and fair treatment for gay people. At its core, the “it’s-no-choice” creed concedes the belief of anti-gay detractors that homosexuality is wrong. In essence, as this argument goes: I know being gay is terrible, nasty and a sin against God. But I can’t help it. I was born this way, so please be nice to me.
A much firmer argument — now impossible for gay-rights groups to make, having tip-toed to the outer limits of the gay-since-birth limb — simply would be to say: “Being romantically involved with consenting adults of my own sex adds pleasure, value, and meaning to my life. You got a problem with that?”
“Straight activists” also exhibit a certain lack of self-confidence by stating that normalizing homosexuality will drain away potential heterosexual adults, as if lured by the Pied Piper straight to Provincetown. But heterosexuality, socio-cons say, is natural, the human default orientation and exactly what God expects of His children. Which is it?
John also writes that gay people are a minority that is “despised and sneered at, mostly but not entirely behind your back.” However, that is not the problem of gay people, but of those who are hostile to homosexuals.
Imagine for a moment that it’s 1960 and MIT scientists have devised a technique for white people to become black and vice versa. It would be appalling to argue that blacks should receive “melanin therapy” to become white or that thus-inclined whites ought not become black because of the prejudice that then beset Negroes. Even in this purely theoretical scenario, the right thing to do is what actually was done: not to advise against negritude but to change the hearts and minds of white bigots and, eventually, eradicate state support for their prejudice.
A Civil Rights Act of 2001 for homosexuals would constitute federal overkill. But if any change in attitudes is required, it should happen among those who would not let gay people be.
What is at issue here is individual freedom and the need for citizens broadly to accept their fellow Americans’ attributes, tastes, and peacefully made choices. Of course, everyone also has the right to speak softly and carry a big stigma. People should remain free to preach whatever they wish about the potential drawbacks of behavior that others find beneficial, be it homosexuality, eating steaks, smoking marijuana, betting on blackjack, racing stock cars, or skydiving out of Cessnas. Ultimately, though, adults should be able to live as they wish, free from laws and unreasonable social pressures to the contrary, so long as they don’t scare the horses.
To paraphrase Mao Tse Tung, let 280 million flowers bloom. It’s the American way.