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From the September/October, 2010
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Sanity & Matrimony by Anthony Esolen

Sanity & Matrimony

Ten Arguments in Defense of Marriage (Part 2 of 2)

by Anthony Esolen

In Part 1 of this essay, published in the previous (July/August) issue of Touchstone, I argued that, while many believe that all principled arguments against the legalization of same-sex “marriage” (or, more accurately, pseudogamy) must stem from religious precepts, I could present ten such arguments based solely on common sense, history, and logic. In that essay, I enumerated the first six of those ten objections; here, I present the other four.

Trust Undermined

7. The legalization of homosexual pseudogamy seals us in a culture of divorce. In the United States, it is estimated that nearly half of all marriages will end in divorce. It is hard to see how any community can survive the resulting break-up of homes, the smashing of friendships, the jumble and shuffle of neighborhoods, and the underlying assumption that human beings are not to be trusted.

Social science has finally come round to showing just a bit of what we all ought to have known anyway: Divorce is deeply damaging to the family and to the community. Boys who grow up apart from their fathers are many times more likely to fall prey to drugs and crime; girls are more likely to seek male affirmation elsewhere and bear children out of wedlock. Spend a little time getting to know the destroyed lives of a few of the millions of young men in prison, and then try to defend divorce—or the habit in some communities of never forming a marriage in the first place.

Prior to the age of no-fault divorce, we were told by the social reformers that the current divorce laws were outdated and cruel, often compelling people to manufacture ugly accusations against one another just to procure the divorce. We were told that the reform of the laws would not increase the incidence of divorce—since those who wanted to divorce would do so eventually in any case. But it would save a great deal of human misery.

Yet that is exactly what the no-fault divorce laws have failed to do. Divorce swept the land like a plague, and brought misery in its wake. And the no-fault system is patently unjust: It often subjects the wronged party to the whim of the guilty one; it rules out the most commonsense considerations of child custody; and it reduces marriage to a status below that of a business contract.

If one business partner in a gas station embezzled funds and used them to buy stock in the competition, would that partner, upon dissolution of the contract, get to claim half of the original station? If the embezzling partner were a woman, would she get to compel her former business partner to provide her financial support as she bought even more of the competitor’s stock? Would not such malfeasance land people like this in jail? Why do we take the ownership of corporations more seriously than the establishment of families?

Any statesman must see that we cannot continue this way. At the basis of all civilization lies trust: I must be able to believe that the people driving down the road will stay on their own side of the yellow line. Divorce begins by undermining trust in marriage (and that is bad enough, given our plummeting birthrates) and ends by undermining trust altogether. We must retrace our steps; we must bring some semblance of justice back to divorce law.

But how can we do so while legalizing homosexual pseudogamy? Again, the principle for the legalization is that people have a right to “fulfill” themselves sexually. But some marriages are unhappy—or some people who are married come to think that it would be more “fulfilling” to leap the fence. How can we deny them this? Or how can we blame them? How can we penalize the breaker of a family, when his or her motives are those we have blessed in the case of the homosexual?

And what about homosexual adultery? We have been informed by homosexual activists themselves that people’s expectations in this regard will have to change. Homosexual men do not consistently remain “faithful” to their “spouses,” in the sense that they do not so severely restrict their sexual activity. But if a certain looseness is granted to the male homosexual, when his jealous lover chooses to “divorce” him, why should the same benefit not be accorded the male heterosexual?

Homosexual pseudogamy thus threatens the already embattled institution of marriage with a new barrage of divorces, custody litigation, and all their attendant misery.

The bases for marriage and homosexual union are, moreover, incompatible. The former is based upon the very structure of our bodies, upon biological and anthropological fact. The latter is based, as is the sexual revolution, upon the will alone. In practice, it must accelerate the destruction of marriage; its principle, or rather the false principle that made pseudogamy conceivable in the first place, is all the poison that is needed.

The Corruption of Friendship

8. It normalizes an abnormal behavior. That it is an abnormal behavior is clear to any disinterested observer. It hardly needs mentioning that the male and female bodies are made for one another, in obvious ways, and in more subtle ways which medical science is only beginning to discover. Before the current wave of political advocacy, many psychologists who studied homosexual men did come to some plausible conclusions about same-sex attraction. From their studies and from what I know about the nature of boys, I offer the following alternative theory to explain male homosexuality.

I accept the word of male homosexuals who say that they have always felt attracted to other males. There is no reason to doubt them on this. They believe that this attraction makes them different from their brothers—and this is where they go wrong. The plain fact is that all boys have a deep need (again, this is something hard to explain to women) for male acceptance and affirmation. All boys are attracted to the athletic, the popular, the gregarious, the cheerful, the clever boy, or man, as the case may be.

This need is expressed in various ways: sometimes by shutting girls out of the club; sometimes by horseplay; sometimes by the violent high spirits of a gang; sometimes by initiation rites involving blood; sometimes by sworn devotion to a higher cause. In every boy there is a strain of the Tom Sawyer who organizes the other boys around him, or of the boys who look to a Tom Sawyer. The art of every culture testifies to these powerful (and difficult) friendships: Gilgamesh, Huckleberry Finn, David Copperfield, Kidnapped, The Iliad, Star Wars.

From this single assumption, all else follows. For suppose the boy has a cruel father, who makes fun of him for being slow or fat or clumsy. Or suppose he is naturally shy, and is rejected by the local boys—as he watches their rough games resentfully yet longingly from the kitchen window. Or suppose the boy’s older brothers ignore him, and he watches in envy as they catch the football or flirt with the pretty girl. Suppose a boy is rejected by the most important males in his life. The longing for male companionship does not go away; and remember, boyish friendship is expressed with an active and frank physicality.

What happens now may depend on other factors: the presence of some one friend in whom he can trust, or a loving father who will make rejection by the other boys pale in importance. Failing that, the boy must struggle on his own to define himself as a boy, or he must accept that he “deserves” to be rejected by the others, because he is not a real boy. This struggle is for the central fact of the boy’s existence—and that, too, is unwittingly supported by homosexuals, who alone among people of all kinds of sexual habits associate their very identities with their longings.

When the boy reaches puberty, the longing assumes a new character, influenced by the boy’s new capacity for sexual arousal and his developing, and often chaotic, feelings of sexual desire. The same kind of bodily fooleries that help form the identity of other boys—for instance, nude bathing or semi-public urination or the common shower after an athletic contest—become for him moments of great dread, or desire, or both at once. Hence the compulsiveness of the homosexual’s behavior: Like other compulsives, he scratches at a wound that will not heal; he visits again and again the painful memory; he aches to fulfill a longing whose source he can no longer rightly recognize.

Most boys grow out of this silly stage; the homosexual, who was denied the chance to undergo it in the normal way, returns to it, as if compelled. Hence the exhibitionism and other forms of public behavior that one might expect in a prepubescent boy—if the boy were deeply disturbed.

What the male homosexual longs for, sexually, is what every male needs: affirmation by other men. It is to know that you belong, you are a man, you can be relied on in a fight, you have what it takes. If a boy is given this affirmation, then, barring a rape or something else unspeakably bizarre, he will not become a homosexual.

This, too, is a plain fact: It is a sufficient condition for the nonappearance of the syndrome. If a father affirms his son physically (for the rough touch of a good father’s love is never forgotten by the son), then the son will identify with the father. He will know he is a boy, to follow his father in marrying a woman and having children by her.

Thus, male homosexuality is a corruption not of the relations between men and women, but of the relations between men and men: It is an aberrant eroticization of male friendship. And that explains the unimaginable promiscuity. What a man seeks in a woman is not what he seeks in a man. Husband and wife may be “friends,” but they are also less and more than that. My wife is not an alter ego; we do not stand side by side to conquer the world. But I find in her what I lack in myself. She is the mysterious one who is not like me, and my love for her is quite unlike my love for my friend, who is like me.

There is nothing casual about marriage, but friendship descends from the summit all the way down to pleasant and passing acquaintances. If it is friendship that male homosexuals seek, then we might predict many of their otherwise inexplicable behaviors. Friendship is not exclusive; one can never have too many friends; friendship is often celebrated best in boisterous groups; to live even a week or two without the feeling that one has a friend is agonizingly lonely.

The homosexual knows better than anyone that something has gone awry with him. Hence his own vacillation between insisting that he is normal and his flaunting of behavior that, if performed by anyone else in any other situation, he himself would despise. “Queer Theory”—the name speaks volumes.

No Curb on Transgressiveness

9. In one crucial respect the social acceptance of homosexuality makes matters worse, not better, for the homosexual himself. If my body needs protein, it will not do to try to fool it with starches. If the male homosexual needs a true male friendship, and affirmation as a man, he will not attain it by adopting the pose of a woman. That stands to reason.

But there are additional reasons why the best society for a homosexual is one that does not condone his behavior. I am not talking about cruel severity. If people understand that some folks are unfortunately attracted to members of their own sex, and if, while they neither seek to reveal it nor feel compelled to punish it, they make it known by custom that they do not approve of it, then the homosexual is provided with a merciful curb on his behavior.

That explains why homosexuals seem to plunge further into bizarre and self-destructive behaviors precisely in those places where bigotry against them is slightest. For homosexuals themselves admit that they delight in being “transgressive,” that is, in crossing the boundaries of what is decent or even speakable.

It follows that the nature of the transgressing behavior will depend upon where the society draws the line. Even if it draws the line rather close, the homosexual will likely stay content with merely crossing that line. If, to be specific, it is unspeakable to suggest that a man will engage in a particular form of sexual release with another man, then the transgressor can do that, and let there be an end of it.

But if the line is drawn farther off, or not drawn at all, then the homosexual must go ever farther for the same thrill of transgression; he must, as we have seen in such cities as San Francisco and Seattle, invent methods and combinations that are too saddening to enumerate. That such things are common in the homosexual community should be revealing; and it is a poor charity that shrugs and pretends that all is well. AIDS is only one disease in a panoply of ailments that the male homosexual suffers, through abuse of his body. Perhaps the reader should pause to consider why hepatitis is so common a killer of homosexual men.

No Wise Deferral

10. It spells disaster for children. Our society has been corrupting childhood for a long time, all under the pretense of good hygiene.

Why have we forgotten that it is crucial to our emotional and intellectual development that sexual feelings be latent during childhood? It frees the time for what is then more important: learning. In the first instance, the boy learns to be a boy and then a man, so that afterwards he can marry; and the girl learns to be a girl and then a woman. But also the boys and girls are learning about the world around them—a world of duties and responsibilities. This social learning is short-circuited by a forced precocity in matters of sex.

Other forms of learning are short-circuited too. The boy who at age fifteen is not interested in girls may well be forging his way through calculus, or learning to take cars apart and rebuild them from scratch. The girl who at fifteen is not interested in boys may be devouring the novels of Dickens. Since—given the many years we expect our children to be in school and then college—most will not marry until long after puberty, why on earth would we want to hurry the onset of the troubles? Would we of all people not want instead that our children should not even think seriously about the opposite sex until well into their teenage years, at the earliest?

But if homosexual “marriage” is accepted, there can be no such wise deferral. We will be visiting a crisis of identity upon every child in our society. That, in fact, is the intention of many homosexual activists, whose revenge upon the children who were once cruel or indifferent to them is to afflict other children with doubts, to make them endure the questions that they themselves endured.

All this is done under the guise of charity for the homosexual teenager, but true charity would refrain from plunging children into the trouble in the first place, and would instead offer an unambiguous expectation of heterosexuality. That would give many pubescent teens the wherewithal to shrug off the random doubt, rather than causing it to grow into a dreadful prognosis. But given the latency of sexual feelings during childhood, no child will be able to say, with confidence, “I am a heterosexual”—how could the child really even know what that means?

In the meantime, what for boys and girls is a wholly natural attraction to members of the same sex, in the years when they are forging their identities as boys and girls, will now be shaded with the suspicion of homosexuality—as if the boys and girls could really know what that meant, either!

There is no gainsaying it. If homosexual “marriage” is condoned, then of course kissing, holding hands, celebrating anniversaries, talking about your first date, and all the rest must be condoned. If a teacher can casually mention where he met his wife, then the homosexual teacher can casually mention where he met his husband. Need I mention that logic compels us to travel to the end of this mistaken road? Why should not the bisexual mention to his third-graders where he met his wife and husband?

Not surprisingly, those who will suffer worst from the confusion will be those who run the gravest risks in the formation of their sexual identity: boys. How many of them will now “know,” to their dismay, that they are homosexual, when all they are is lonely or just at the stupid dizzy age of thirteen, when every naked body draws their attention? How many will now avoid the very friendships they long for, in the mistaken fear that their longing for friendship marks them out as homosexual? What guidelines can we provide for children who are trying to establish themselves as boys and girls, when we have effectively told them that there are no guidelines at all?

And what about children as objects of sexual desire? In the few societies wherein homosexuality has enjoyed some measure of acceptance, it has not been homosexual relations between adults, but homosexual relations between a man and a boy, or, more rarely, between adolescent girls. This marked preference for girlish-looking youths is seen in ancient Greece, afterwards adopted in Rome; it is also to be found in the decadent years of the Ottoman Empire and in samurai Japan.

Again, it is not a corruption of the relations between husband and wife, but of the relation between teacher and disciple, mentor and protégé. From Plato’s Symposium we can gather that relations between adult men, such as Pausanias and Agathon, were considered unseemly, effeminate, even ridiculous. Pausanias himself does not try to justify those, but he does complain that ignorant fathers will try to protect their sons from the advances of their lovers (the older men). Evidently not everybody in Athens was pleased by the vice—and, evidently, Plato himself had his doubts about it, as he casts Socrates as the great frustrator of the desires of the debauched Alcibiades.

If male homosexuality has its source in painful events in childhood, then many male homosexuals will be attracted to boys, as they were when they were boys and the natural attraction was frustrated or cruelly rejected. If being homosexual were absolutely no indicator of an inclination towards viewing children as sexual objects, then homosexuals would be only as likely as heterosexuals to abuse children. Then 98 percent of abused children outside the home (for we are not talking about incest) would be girls—but this is certainly not the case. In fact, more than half of the children who are sexually abused outside the home are boys.

A Long Road

The reader will have noticed that I have spoken mainly about male homosexuality, and have only lightly touched upon lesbianism. Indeed, I think lesbianism is the more dangerous of the two, involving a far more radical rejection of the opposite sex, though it would take a long essay to delve into its etiology and the prognosis for a society that accepts it.

I will only say again that any wise statesman must look at us and see that we have gone badly astray; if nothing else, demographics will prove it. Crucial to our regaining our health will be a restored love between man and woman. That will require the rejection of the sexual libertinism we take for granted. And that means that the very last thing we ought to do is to give that libertinism a constitutional imprimatur. We have a long road to travel; we ought not, at the outset, cut off our own feet.

I have until now not spoken from a religious point of view; the truths I have cited can be seen by anyone, regardless of faith. But I wonder whether a wise ruler would sever his culture from the religion that gave birth to it and nurtured it to maturity, and alienate those for whom the religion is still the polestar of human existence. For it is foolish and shortsighted to believe that all the moral and cultural victories won by the religion will remain after that religion has been rejected.

It is one particular victory of Christianity to have preached to the world the dignity of all those whom the world had scorned: women, children, the poor, the weak, and the suffering. The first written tribute of a man to the virtue and intelligence of a woman—not to her physical beauty—was St. Gregory of Nyssa’s account of the life of his sister, the mystic and theologian Macrina. No higher esteem was ever paid the child than when Christ said, “Except ye become as one of these little ones, ye shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

We take for granted that we will keep a few of the moral precepts of Christ even after we have marked his followers out for derision. No true statesman would assume so. He would know that no culture that denied its roots has survived for long. We won’t, either. •

Part 1: Sanity & Matrimony--Ten Arguments in Defense of Marriage (Part 1 of 2) by Anthony Esolen


Anthony Esolen is Professor of English at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, and the author of The Ironies of Faith (ISI Books), The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery), and Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books). He has also translated Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata (Johns Hopkins Press) and Dante's The Divine Comedy (Random House). He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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