Those advocating the radical social innovation, which they label “same-sex” or “gay” marriage, typically claim that they are fighting for freedom, championing a basic liberty. “Freedom to Marry” is indeed the name of a national organization devoted to the advocacy of same-sex marriage. Established in 2003 by civil-rights advocate Evan Wolfson and headquartered in New York City, this group takes “We All Deserve the Freedom to Marry” as its slogan. So effective has it promulgated this perspective that even former First Lady Laura Bush endorsed homosexuals’ right to marry as a matter of basic freedom when she appeared on the Larry King Show in May 2010.
But those who advocate homosexual marriage as a way of enlarging the American sphere of liberty are profoundly—and deceptively—misrepresenting their aims. Their real aim came to light in the public controversy over remarks attributed to Queen Sophia of Spain in criticizing her country’s invention in 2005 of a homosexual right to “marry.” “If those people [homosexuals] want to live together,” commented the Spanish monarch, “dress up as bride and groom and get married they can do so, but that should not be called marriage because it is not.” Widely reported by the media, the furor over these remarks forced representatives of the Queen to issue a statement claiming that the published remarks “do not exactly match the opinions expressed by Her Majesty the Queen” and apologizing for the “ill-feeling and upset” her comments had caused. The pressures compelling this semi-retraction and apology prompted one media commentator to ponder the “interesting question” of whether on the issue of homosexual marriage, the Queen still had “the right … to express her opinion like any other citizen.”
This commentator had glimpsed the fundamental aim of those advocating homosexual marriage: it is not at all about giving homosexuals a new freedom to participate in ceremonies that they regard as weddings. It is entirely about denying freedom of public speech to anyone who would criticize such ceremonies or the sexual behaviors such ceremonies legitimize. The muzzle that homosexual activists tried (largely successfully) to put on an outspoken monarch represents only the beginning. Homosexual activists in this country deeply desire to place first thousands, and then millions, of even tighter muzzles on all who disagree with them about the nature of homosexual behavior. They well understand that enactment of laws authorizing homosexual marriage will give them sweeping powers to bind those muzzles very tightly on their fellow citizens.
In this environment, attempts to legalize same-sex marriage are not chiefly about enlarging homosexual couples’ freedom: they are free now in every state of the union to say that they are married. They can claim anything they want about their “unions”: they can affirm that those relationships are life affirming and emancipatory; they can even assert that their partnerships are actually superior to natural sexual unions traditionally called marriages. In almost all states, Americans are also still perfectly free to reject such claims and to voice their rejection as forcefully as Queen Sofia did—before being cowed by activists and media commentators wielding Spain’s homosexual-marriage law as a cudgel.
Homosexual activists may plausibly assert that they were advancing the cause of freedom when opposing anti-sodomy laws, even if many Americans view the freedom advanced as morally and even medically problematic. However, when these same activists claim that they are still advancing the cause of freedom in advocating laws that grant same-sex unions the status of marriage, their arguments quickly lose all plausibility. For those trying to enshrine the notion of same-sex “marriage” in law are not primarily trying to enlarge the freedom of homosexuals; they are primarily striving to diminish the freedom of skeptics who would deny that the union of homosexuals is—or can ever be—a legitimate marriage. The aim of those trying to inscribe the novelty of homosexual marriage in law is actually that of making an outlaw out of anyone who would question the moral substance of this new social construct and the sexual behaviors it legitimates.
Americans with little invested in the issue may suppose that their freedom to oppose homosexuality is secure in the wake of the 2011 Supreme Court ruling in Snyder v. Phelps that opponents of homosexuality can legally express their views through funeral protests. But the freedom the Court upheld in the Snyder case is actually very marginal. It is the freedom of a self-discrediting sideshow, a freedom that matters only to a radical fringe.
More important, but now deeply imperiled, is precisely the kind of freedom that Queen Sophia briefly tried to exercise in publicly resisting the notion of homosexual marriage and the behaviors it represents. This is the freedom of individuals in positions of public trust to voice their opposition to homosexual behavior. It is this freedom that homosexual advocates hope to make disappear through enactment of homosexual marriage. Enshrining this radically innovative construct in law will not so much enlarge the sphere of freedom for homosexuals as it will shrink the sphere of freedom—in the workplace, legislative chamber, classroom, mainstream media, civic and student club, and marketplace—for those who in any way find homosexual behavior wanting.
The ex-nihilo creation of homosexual marriage as a legal notion serves, above all, to give coercive power to those Justice Antonin Scalia has identified as “homosexual activists … [intent on] eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct.” The success of these activists, as Scalia notes, has helped foster an “anti-anti-homosexual culture.”(1) Some Americans may wonder how a private sexual behavior became the basis for an unassailable public identity guaranteeing coercive state protection from critics. However, those who have created the “anti-anti-homosexual culture” understand well how they can use the notion of homosexual marriage to silence their opponents and to drive them from the public square. With good reason, syndicated columnist John Leo has complained that in recent homosexual activism, “a line is being crossed”: “The traditional civic virtue of tolerance (if gays want to live together, it’s their own business) has been replaced with a new ethic requiring approval and endorsement” (emphasis added).
Homosexual activists know that if they enshrine same-sex relationships in the legal category of marriage, they will find it far easier to impose this new requirement for approval and endorsement on other Americans. As homosexual activists and their allies press this new requirement, Americans who resist the normalizing of homosexuality are seeing their freedom shrink. Indeed, when homosexual activists claim the “freedom” of same-sex couples to marry, we see yet another instance of what cultural historian Robert Nisbet has labeled “the ingenious camouflaging of power with the rhetoric of freedom.”(2)
Americans have seen more than a few instances in which anti-anti-homosexual power has flexed its muscles in suppressing the freedom of those who dare resist their agenda for normalizing homosexual behavior. That power was manifest in March 2011 when homosexual activists successfully pressured Apple to withdraw from its iTunes store an app developed by an evangelical Christian group that works with individuals trying to overcome homosexual impulses. That power was manifest again a month later when the prominent law firm King & Spalding announced that, despite its previous commitment to doing so, it would not defend the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which acknowledges marriage as the union of a man and a woman. But Americans have perhaps seen homosexuals’ power most often and most nakedly in the one institution that is supposed to provide a free and open forum for all points of view: the university.
A prime case of how the university suppresses any resistance to homosexual behavior is that of University of Illinois professor Ken Howell. Howell was dismissed for informing students enrolled in a class on Modern Catholic Thought that “the Catholic Church holds that homosexual acts are immoral” and further suggesting that homosexual acts violate the natural moral law, though he freely allowed that there are other viewpoints. Though the outcry at the dismissal of this very popular professor ultimately proved sufficient to force the university to reverse itself, the university administration capitulated only reluctantly and without any public acknowledgment that it had violated Howells’ academic freedom.(3)
In other episodes of anti-anti-homosexual zealotry, university officials show no signs of backing off. In 2008, a biology professor at San Jose City College was dismissed for indicating—in answer to a student’s question about how heredity affects sexual orientation—that environment might be a cause of homosexuality. In 2010, Hasting College of Law denied official recognition and funding to the Christian Legal Society as a student organization (the first time it had ever denied a student organization recognition) because the group required officers (not its members) to affirm Christian sexual ethics, including the scriptural proscription against homosexuality. In 2009, a student was expelled from a counseling program at Eastern Michigan State University for refusing to affirm that homosexual behavior is normal and acceptable. In 2005, a student in a counseling program at Missouri State University found that the university had filed a grievance against her for refusing to fulfill a class assignment requiring her to write a letter to the state legislature advocating the legalization of homosexual adoption. And in 2011, a counseling student who dared to voice her opinion in class that homosexual acts are immoral learned that Augusta State University would not let her continue her academic program unless she successfully completed diversity-sensitivity training. The list goes on, with reports of similar anti-anti-homosexual bullying at Washington State University, Georgia Tech University, and the Ohio State University.
The Academy as Surrogate State Church
Perhaps no one should be surprised that university administrators and professors have increasingly become thought police on the issue of homosexuality. In a 2007 survey of professors at 927 American institutions of higher education, sociologists Neil Gross and Solon Simmons from Harvard and George Mason Universities, respectively, found that liberals dominate the campus world: 44.1 percent of survey respondents characterized themselves as either “liberal” or “very liberal,” compared to only 9.2 percent who described themselves as “conservative” or “very conservative.” Even these numbers fail to fully reflect the “very liberal attitudes toward sex” which pervade the university: the Harvard and George Mason scholars report that about 70 percent [68.7 percent of the professors surveyed] think that homosexuality “is not wrong at all.”(4)
The freedom of students and professors who oppose homosexuality can survive in such an environment only if professors are deeply committed to maintaining a campus neutrality that fosters free exchange of all viewpoints. Unfortunately, when Harvard scholar Louis Menand analyzes the Gross and Solon data, he sees evidence that “neutrality, or disinterestedness,” is declining as a university standard because there is now apparently “less aversion to weighing political views in evaluating merit than would have been the case thirty or forty years ago.” In fact, though not a conservative, Menand concedes that the Gross and Solon study provides “data … useful to anyone claiming that colleges and universities discriminate against people with conservative views.” Menand goes so far as to raise the question of whether “holding liberal views has become a tacit requirement for entry and promotion in the academic profession.”(5) In an academic world such as this, it is entirely predictable that top university professors of law openly argue—in direct riposte to Scalia’s complaint against judicial endorsement of the homosexual agenda—in favor of measures aimed at “eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct.”(6)
Only the complete hegemony of anti-anti-homosexual dogma within the university renders comprehensible the blog comment recently posted by Stanford student Gregory Hirshman. Hirshman asserts that in an academic world governed by a “strict, if informal, rule against speaking negatively of homosexuality,” it now requires “more strength and conviction on the Stanford campus to come out as an outspoken conservative than as a homosexual.” The strict enforcement of the academic orthodoxy on homosexuality also harmonizes with critic and former University of Maryland professor George A. Panichas, who reports that in the university world “opponents of liberal ideas are increasingly treated as outlaws.”(7)
Just how much the outlaw status of those who oppose homosexuality on the university campus should matter to the broader American community is clarified by the prominent philosopher Richard Rorty’s assertion, “The university has replaced the church as the center of morality.” This assertion, of course, would strike millions of church-going Americans as patently untrue, even bizarre. However, for the cultural, political, and judicial elite who shape much of national life, it is all too true: the university has become the new surrogate church, laying down the moral imperatives guiding judges, policymakers, executives, and media moguls. The outlaws who oppose homosexuality will find no right of sanctuary in this church. Far otherwise. They will find that that new church regards them not only as outlaws but also as dangerous heretics.
Outlaw-heretics have reason to fear inquisitorial persecution from the priests in the surrogate church, one of whom has candidly admitted that he and his anti-anti-homosexual colleagues are “sometimes self-righteous … and sometimes too dismissive or snotty toward those who disagree with us.”(8) At a minimum, outlaw-heretics have reason to fear that the new priests—for all their professed commitment to freedom for all—will actually lock them out of the democratic process. It is this real abridgment of political liberties that legal scholar Ronald J. Krotoszynski Jr. has in view in his analysis of how “religious minorities” face discrimination:
To the extent that religious minorities position themselves in opposition to progressive understandings on issues of race, gender and sexual orientation, they increasingly face the prospect of being silenced by government officials who have come to embrace the progressives’ value structure. (9)
Many of America’s religiously devout citizens would strenuously object to Krotoszynski’s characterization of them as “minorities,” pointing to survey data showing that most Americans profess a belief in Christianity (and the Bible, which condemns homosexual acts as incompatible with a knowledge of God [cf. Rom. 1:18-28]). According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 78.4 percent of all adult Americans are Christian, with more than half of adult Americans affiliated with a Protestant denomination and almost one quarter of adult Americans belonging to the Roman Catholic Church.(10) Those Americans can also point to election results on ballot initiatives in thirty-one states across the country defining marriage in ways consonant with religious belief, but not in alignment with the progressive homosexual-affirming agenda.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of The Family in America and is reprinted with permission of the author. The second half of this essay will appear Wednesday, January 2.
1. Antonin Scalia, with William Rehnquist and Clarence Thomas, dissenting, John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner v. Texas, June 26, 2003.
2. Robert Nisbet, The Quest for Community: A Study in the Ethics of Order & Freedom (1953; rpt. San Francisco: ICS Press, 1990), p. 141.
3. Cf. Meghan Duke, “Fired, In a Crowded Theater,” First Things, October 2010, pp. 24–29.
4. Neil Gross and Solon Simmons, “The Social and Political Views of American Professors,” Working Paper, September 24, 2007, http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~ngross/lounsbery_9-25.pdf.
5. Louis Menand, The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University (New York: W. W. Norton, 2009), pp. 139–40.
6. Naomi Cahn and June Carbone, Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 164.
7. George A. Panichas, Growing Wings to Overcome Gravity: Criticism as the Pursuit of Virtue (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1999), p. 37.
8. Michael Bérubé, What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? Classroom Politics and ‘Bias’ in Higher Education (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006), p. 287.
9. Ronald J. Krotoszynski Jr., “Dissent, Free Speech, and the Continuing Search for the ‘Central Meaning’ of the First Amendment,” review of The Dissent of the Governed: A Meditation on Law, Religion, and Loyalty, by Stephen L. Carter, and Dissent, Injustice, and the Meanings of America by Steven H. Shiffrin, Michigan Law Review 98.6 (2000): 1673.
10. “Religious Affiliation: Summary of Key Findings,” U.S. Religious Landscape Survey (Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2010), http://religions.pewforum.org/reports.