Same-sex marriage: Anthony Esolen’s ten arguments for sanity

Originally published in Touchstone, an essay by Prof. Anthony Esolen opposing same-sex marriage based on secular considerations:

Most people believe that the principal objections, or even the only objections, to the drive to legalize homosexual “marriage” spring from religious faith. But that is simply not true.  Beginning with this post I’ll offer ten objections that have nothing to do with any religion at all, except insofar as the great religions of the world happen to reflect the nature of mankind.  These objections spring from three sourcesThe first is a commonsense observation of man — his needs, his shortcomings, and his aspirations.  The second is a consideration of history: our own recent history, and the history of those who once committed the mistakes we are committing now. The last is logic, that relentlessly honest instrument of thought. The objections are such as should make everyone in our world uncomfortable, both those who call themselves conservative and are busy destroying the heritage of western civilization, and those who call themselves liberal and are busy curtailing and denying every freedom but that of the zipper.

1.  The legalization of homosexual “marriages” would enshrine the sexual revolution in law.

Forty years ago, we were advised by popular singers that we needed to open our hearts to love, meaning a free and easy practice of sexual intercourse, without what were called “hangups”.  Modesty was decried as prudishness, and chastity ridiculed as either impossible or hypocritical.  Experimentation abounded: the so-called “open marriages,” public intercourse, intercourse under the influence of psychedelic drugs.  A few of the experiments fizzled out for a time, though they are now resurging, as witness the sewer of websites devoted to “swingers.” The #### explosion shows no sign of abating, having been given its second life by the internet….

Is there any honest observer of our situation, or any political partisan so intransigent, who dares to argue that the results have not been disastrous?  We were told that the legalization of abortion would lead, paradoxically, to fewer abortions, and fewer instances of child abuse.  Instead it led to far more abortions than even the opponents ever imagined, and it so cheapened infant life that child abuse spiked sharply upward….

We were told that the legalization of contraceptive drugs would lead to fewer unwanted children — certainly to fewer children born out of wedlock.  Anyone with a passing familiarity with the human race should have known otherwise.  Whatever one may believe about contraception, one must admit the historical fact: by reducing the perceived risk of pregnancy almost to zero, contraception removed from the young woman the most powerful natural weapon in her arsenal against male sexual aggression.  She no longer had any pressing reason not to concede to the boyfriend’s wishes….

2.  It would, in particular, enshrine in law the principle that sexual intercourse is a matter of personal fulfillment, with which the society has nothing to do.

It is hard for us to imagine, in a world of mass entertainment and its consequent homogenization of peoples, how central an event the marriage is in every culture.  It marks the most joyful celebration of a people, who see their own renewal in the vows made by the young man and the young woman.  For although marriage focuses upon the couple (and it is interesting to remember that even our word focus is a marriage word, denoting in Latin the hearth), it does so because the couple embody a rejuvenation in which everyone, young and old, male and female, take part….

Of course [marriage] is personal and private: and it is public, and universal, even cosmic.  It bridges two chasms that must be bridged, lest the culture, that is the cultivation of all that a people most dearly cherish, wither away, and the people separate one from another, into a suspicious world of privacy.  One chasm is that which divides the generations.  At the true wedding, the elders know that the future belongs to the couple, who in their love that night, or on a night soon to come, will in turn raise up yet another generation.  Sexual intercourse is, as a brute biological fact, the act by which we renew mankind.  We celebrate the wedding because it betokens our survival, our hope for those to come after us.

But we could not have children without the bridge thrown over the more dangerous divide, that which separates two groups of human beings who seldom understand one another, whose bodies and psyches are so markedly different; who try to love one another, and so often fail, yet who try again for all that.  I mean men and women.  The wedding is a symbol of the union of differences: the generations, certainly, and separate families, but most strikingly, man and woman.  The very word sex derives from Latin sexus, denoting that which separates; it is cognate with a whole host of words for severance, such as (in English) schism, scissors, sect, shed.

What man and woman do in the marriage bed is not “have” sex; the sex, that is the separation, they are provided with already.  What they do is to unite, across the separation.  And unless man and woman unite — and, given their differences, it always amazes me that they can — the culture cannot survive.  The women will split away to protect their persons and their relatively few children; the unattached males will pass the dull hours in destruction.

3. It will drive a deeper wedge between man and woman.

The unhappy parting of man and woman that I have described in argument 2 is already a common feature of our day….

Perhaps the reader will ask what homosexuality has to do with this problem. It is simple: the acceptance of homosexuality is predicated upon the tacit assumption that male and female are not made for one another. It defines male apart from female, female apart from male; or it leaves those terms free-floating, without definition. Young men and young women already are growing up without understanding what they are to be for one another. Again, the results are predictable. Fewer young people marry.  When they do marry, their emphasis on personal fulfillment, rather than on interpersonal and complementary gifts, bodes ill for the survival of the marriage; for a spouse will destroy many a foolish daydream of youth. They will have fewer children. In no western country does the birth rate now assure even a replacement of one generation by the next; in many countries, the birth rate is so low as to constitute a slow and numb despair, a resignation to cultural suicide….

5. It will curtail opportunities for deep and emotionally fulfilling friendships between members of the same sex, opportunities that are already few and strained. This is particularly true of men….

Let me give you an analogy. Our sexual customs constitute a language, one that we must all use, whether we like it or not. If, all at once, clothing becomes optional on a certain beach, then that beach is a nude beach. If you wear your suit to that beach, your action has a meaning it did not have before. At the very least it means that you do not approve of public nudity. It may mean that you are ashamed of your body. It may mean that your religion forbids it. It may mean you are a prude. But it does signify something; and it must. You cannot say, “It means nothing to me,” simply because language is by its nature public and communal.  Suppose the incest taboo were removed. You may say, “I will hug and kiss my niece in any case,” but your actions will now have a significance they did not have before. The shadow of the thought must cross any beholder’s mind; it might cross the niece’s mind. If you were at all considerate of her feelings, you would hesitate before you did it.

The incest taboo is surely not irrational: it allows members of a family the freedom to share each other’s company, in what might otherwise be often embarrassing circumstances, and to touch, in ways that would mean something, were it not a brother or an aunt giving the kiss. On pain of expulsion from the group, that taboo must be upheld, so that the deep feelings and intimacy of a family may develop freely and sanely….

Not so long ago, it was conceivable to suppose that two men might share an apartment merely as close friends; if Oscar and Felix of The Odd Couple did the same thing now, homosexuality would be the first thing to cross your mind, whether you support the homosexual agenda or reject it. One of my students related to me an incident that happened to him in a bar. His closest buddy had been abandoned by his girlfriend, and was weeping freely as the young man cradled his head in his arms. A young lady walked up to them and chirpily asked them if they were gay.

The effect upon boys is devastating; it is hard for women to understand it. Their own friendships come easily, and in general are not based upon shared conquest, physical or intellectual. It is simply an anthropological fact that male friendship is essential for the full development of the boy’s intellect: the history of every society reveals it. But now the boys suffer under a terrible pincers attack. The sexual revolution causes them to rouse themselves to interest, or to pretend to interest, in girls long before they or the girls are emotionally or intellectually ready for it; and now the condonement of homosexuality prevents them from publicly preferring the company of their own sex. This is simply inarguable….

6. It leaves us with no logical grounds for opposing any form of consensual intercourse among adults.

No culture in history has accepted (even celebrated!) homosexual acts between adult men or adult women. (I will deal with the case of Athens in a later post; it is lethal to the homosexual cause.) But plenty of cultures have accepted polygamy, or, more appropriately, polygyny, the marriage of one man to several wives. Certain religions allow it or encourage it: Islam allows a man to have up to four wives, and radical Mormonism is, as I understand it, even more generous….

What grounds could we possibly have to deny people the opportunity to marry more than one person? If we establish as a matter of law that marital relations are free to any two people who consent, why limit the number to two? Polygyny, after all, is much easier to justify than are homosexual relations: it does not violate the biology of the people involved; it brings forth many children; it preserves the ideal of the union of male and female. But what would happen if the door were opened to polygyny? Would we not find ourselves, almost overnight, in a world utterly different from the one into which we were born? Nor would it be enough to say to oneself, “I do not believe in it; I will never marry another.” What about one’s spouse? What about the members the opposite sex whom you may happen to meet? In every culture that allows polygyny, the pressure of the possibility of dalliance and marriage, no matter who you are (for it turns married men instantly into eligible bachelors), compels the severest separation of roles for men and women. Is that what we want?

On what grounds could we deny any combination of people who wish to “marry”?…

Read the whole essay.

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