Some pretty bizarre behavior is produced by the decidedly schizophrenic, but all too human way people deal with love. Isn’t that why being preoccupied with love so often seems to be a kind of madness? Answer yes or no, it’s clear either way that when speaking of love, madness is not out of the question. This ought to warn us against taking it for granted that an experience as erratically subjective as the experience of love can be the basis for laws and legal judgments intended to apply to society in general, and serve the common good of all.
This train of thought occurred to me after I read a news report headlined “Limbaugh: What About Freedom to Love If ‘I love Jesus’?” Speaking of the opprobrium being heaped on Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act the famous talk-show host made a telling observation:
Limbaugh noted that gay-rights advocates argue against the law saying, “‘Why are you so upset just because of who people love? … It’s discriminatory to care about who people love. … Why are you objecting to it?’ … “I can tell you right now, I could mention I love somebody and it wouldn’t be accepted,” he told his audience. “I would be called a bigot and any number of other bad names. All I would have to do is say, ‘I love Jesus Christ.'”
Limbaugh’s opponents will probably reply that they aren’t upset with Christians because they love Jesus; they’re upset with them because what they profess to do as a result is wrong. But if this reply is valid, isn’t it also valid for those who reject what homosexuals do out of love they profess for one another? What’s wrong is not who they love, but what they profess to do for love’s sake.
Limbaugh’s comment is brilliant, because it illuminates the true nature of the issue in dispute. It is not about who one loves. It’s about whether what people do as a result of love is right or wrong. A spouse may ignore or connive at their mate’s sexual abuse of children in their household because they love their spouse so desperately nothing else matters. But who condemns the law that punishes such a spouse’s complicity in the wrongdoing?
Should it make any difference that the conniving spouse acted out of love? If so, what if the abusing spouse sincerely and deeply feels that introducing children to sexual lovemaking is a natural expression of total love for them? Would this mean that laws criminalizing sexual relations between parents and children involve hurtfully condemning people simply because of who they choose to love?
“But Alan,” you might ask, “are children living under the authority of their parents actually making a deliberate choice? The natural bond between parents their children is usually so strong that compounding it with sexual passion would test the fully mature deliberative will of an adult, much less a child’s less developed capacity for reasonable deliberation.”
This valid point may be an important reason why sexual relations between adults and children are regarded as exploitative, rather than mutually loving, relationships. The difference turns on the capacity to make choices based on reasonable deliberation, rather than ineluctable passion. But this implies that, among adults, human sexual relations should not be treated as the inevitable result of some pre-existing disposition. They must, as a rule, be treated as matters of deliberative choice, particularly for purposes of legislation.
So it’s wrong for parents or other adult individuals to have relations with children inconsistent with their immature capacity for deliberate choice. To do so prematurely burdens a child’s deliberative will in a way likely to damage his or her ability to deal, without harmful confusion, with conflicting sexual and other passions. Since the capacity for deliberative choice is one of the defining attributes of human nature, this premature experience with sexual passion is also likely to impair their liberty, i.e., their ability to recognize and implement unalienable right. It thus degrades their ability to act in the conscientious way their status as responsible human beings requires.
Some people argue that homosexual behavior is the ineluctable result of the physical predisposition of sexual passion in certain individuals. They make this the reason why they do should not be subject to moral judgment. But doesn’t this supposed excuse deny their capacity for deliberative choice when it comes to sexual behavior? If this denial stands, aren’t homosexuals, in this respect, like children, who cannot be held responsible for what they do?
But children are not left free to do as they please. They are kept under parental or other such authority until such time as it is reasonable to assume that their passions do not simply outrun control by their deliberative will. This discipline is imposed in order to prevent children from harming themselves, or engaging in activities that harm others or the society as a whole. It is also necessary to guide and preserve them so that liberty, when it is fully matured, is also fully informed as necessary to preserve and perpetuate humanity as such, in themselves and on the whole.
In this respect, the special purpose of human sexual relations has to be taken into account. If the imperative to respect homosexual passion is imposed by law for all human beings, then the disposition to treat sexual passion as an irresistible impulse, rather than a choice, becomes the norm. What will become of the human species if this new imperative encourages homosexuality, tantalizing people with the prospect of sexual pleasure entirely unalloyed with any responsibility for procreation and child rearing?
As I observed in a recent article, the result could be precipitously declining natural birthrates and the concrete extinction of the human species. Is it wrong to act by law to forestall such consequences? Is it wrong for the people of Indiana or any other state to show their special regard for the exercise of unalienable right involved in procreation, employing for that purpose the power the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment reserves to them?
For the unalienable right to marry is not simply a matter of individual coupling and gratification. In principle it involves deliberately choosing, as a lifelong vocation, to be the bond servant of the institution by which humanity as such is concretely preserved. Those who make this choice take on the responsibility simultaneous to preserve individual offspring and the natural aspect of the species they represent. The same regard for unalienable right that defines and preserves true liberty requires that governments fortify this parental commitment. Far from being wrong, laws and policies that do so are among the first duties for which such governments exist.
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