Are moral judgments against homosexual behavior anything more than the expressions of emotional bias or narrow religious beliefs? Two recent and highly divisive political decisions, one in the U.S. and the other in the U.K., would have us believe they are not. The first, of course, is the Obama administration’s recent announcement that it thinks that the federal law known as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional and consequently that it will no longer defend the law in court. DOMA was passed in 1996 in response to early political initiatives to legalize same-sex marriage. The law defines the term “marriage” for use throughout the entire body of federal law as a “legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” and the term “spouse” as “only a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” The law also protects states from being legally forced to recognize as a marriage a same-sex relationship given legal recognition as a marriage in another state. DOMA passed both houses of Congress by huge majorities and was signed by President Bill Clinton. Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking on behalf of the Obama administration, harshly criticized the “moral disapproval” of homosexual lifestyles expressed by those who passed the law saying it reflected “stereotype-based thinking and animus.” Holder also said he doubted whether “reasonable arguments” could be made in defense of DOMA.
The second was a recent court decision in the U.K. ruling that a Christian couple could not be foster parents because of their view that homosexuality is wrong. The Telegraph reported on March 1 that the two High Court justices who announced the ruling last week expressed the opinion that Britain’s equality laws required, at least in relation to foster care placement, “the right of homosexuals” to “take precedence over the right of Christians to manifest their beliefs and moral values.” Britain, the judges said, is a “largely secular” country and its laws “do not include Christianity.”
Both decisions doubt that one can reasonably conclude that homosexual behavior and the lifestyle that exalts it are morally disordered. Disapproval, then, must arise from a non-rationally grounded aversion to homosexuals, an aversion that usually stems from Christian belief. The galling antichristian bias expressed by the U.K. justices is all too familiar. But more pernicious is the anti-rational bias underlying the Obama administration’s proclamation. All talk of DOMA’s logic lacking “rational basis” is rubbish. The Obama administration expressed almost complete disregard for the rational basis of the statute. As Gerald Bradley writes at The Public Discourse : “Do not believe a word of it. It is all blather. It is all transparent pabulum which utterly fails to conceal the political ukase which Eric Holder was sent to publish” (Merriam Webster, by the way, defines ukase as “a proclamation by a Russian emperor having the force of law; an edict”).
It is true that the Old and New Testaments teach unambiguously that homosexual behavior is immoral. And so those who hold the scriptures to be sources of divine revelation affirm that judgment as pertaining to the duties of their religion. But this hardly means that the conclusion has no independent rational basis as well. Could it be that the bible’s teaching is underwriting a universal moral truth? Is it relevant that marriage has been understood and defended as an institution whose definition derives from its procreative—and thus opposite sex—character since the beginning of recorded history, and probably a lot longer? The bible also asserts that murder is immoral and so too is the exploitation of the poor. Are these in doubt because they agree with Christian faith? The fact that a religion explicitly supports some moral conclusion provides no argument whatsoever against the rational defensibility of that conclusion. And if the religion is Catholic Christianity, then it has a persistent habit, annoying to some, of arguing that its own moral conclusions also pertain to the natural law and are rationally grounded in an integral conception of human good.
As difficult as reasoned argument is, it’s all that separates liberal political discourse from beast-like behavior. We can’t let Darwin’s principle guide the settling of questions this important. Rhetoric about ‘gay rights’ being civil rights, about ‘overcoming discrimination’ and ‘progress in equality’ has been shaken about in the faces of defenders of marriage like a drunkard’s fist for two decades. Rhetoric without argument will not do. We can’t let it. We should hold the administration’s feet to the fire and make it set forth arguments for the rational plausibility of its decision.
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