Making Gay Okay: A Review (8)

Chapter Six, titled “Inventing Morality,” traces a series of legal cases which Reilly seems to think shows the straight line from contraception to homosexuality in American law. As a Roman Catholic, of course, Reilly must believe that any form of contraception is wrong, despite the fact that this comes from church dogma and logical syllogisms rather than any clear teaching in Scripture on the subject. This, by the way, is another reason the NNL theorists are really just the same as the old NL theorists. For all their talk of unitive nature and “one flesh,” their argument at base is that all sex must be procreative.

Reilly’s true position is revealed in this chapter. For all his assurances that the book is not a personal attack upon homosexuals, he abandons this shallow pretext and gets down to business. “Yet the proponents of homosexuality are supporting a cause that can succeed only by obliterating that very understanding of Nature upon which our existence as a free people depends” and “ultimately makes impossible the very conception of rights” (66). “Sodomy reflects a disorder in the soul that can strike at the heart of public order” (71). It “threatens the whole community” and because the “teaching itself is pernicious” (67). In fact, the government should implement laws which promote the heteronormative family and “discourage violations of it, including sodomy” (69). He leaves it to our imaginations on how the government might discourage “sodomy,” though his meaning isn’t difficult to discover. The government is the agent of coercion, and his statements comes at the end of a section of the chapter celebrating William Blackstone’s antiquated commentaries on common law published in the latter half of the 1700s, whose opinion it was that sodomy was “an offense so dark in nature, the very mention of which is a disgrace to human nature, a crime not fit to be named,” and who would go on to declare was worse than rape (71). Following this section, Reilly leads us through a list of nations and states in the USA in prior centuries which made same-sex behavior a criminal offense. This leaves us with no doubt that Reilly would like us to return to the good ol’ days when loving, consensual same-sex relationships were the subject of criminal prosecution. He quotes positively Thomas Jefferson’s 1778 bill that punished the homosexual, “if a man, with castration” (71). Such is the “millennia of moral teaching” and “vision or a virtuous citizenry” (70) we ought to have, apparently.

It is also here that Reilly’s doublemindedness and confusion comes to the forefront. He assures us that, despite all this, it is not meant to suggest that “homosexuals should have anything but the full exercise of their civil rights” (67). Except the right to be seen, spoken of, treated like, and dealt with under the law as human beings who just want to love the person they love. No, Reilly is deluding himself, as his magical distinction between civil rights and gay rights makes clear: you see, it is only the “espousal of fictitious and self-contradictory gay rights that must be opposed” (67). These things cannot be cleanly separated, as gay rights are simply the push to be recognized as equal under the law, just like real civil rights fight for equality under the law for racial minorities, and women’s rights fight for equality under the law for women. One’s sexual orientation is just as intrinsically a part of a person’s life as their ethnicity and biology. He can make this distinction, he thinks, because reason is employed neutrally – “One undertakes this effort as a human being endowed with reason, not specifically as a man or as a woman, or as a heterosexual or as a homosexual” (89). Of course, anyone who has studied epistemology (or taken a freshmen college course in philosophy) know this is absurd. One’s race, gender, biology, and experiences cannot help but inform our limited perspectives, and what is concealed beneath Reilly’s claim of neutrality is simply cis-heteronormative white male privilege. That is, as a straight, white male, he simply assumes his position is neutral ground and sees everything and everyone else who comes to different views as ideologically driven while missing his own bias.

The middling portions of the chapter are mostly about contraception and abortion as necessary preconditions to the approval of homosexuality, and while the argument is strained at times, it is certainly true that separating sexuality from procreation does collapse the whole Natural Law house of cards. But this is no big loss. Just the loss of premodern Greek Philosophy given a brief coating of pseudo-Christian pietism. The rest follows from his premises, which once collapsed, can be seen to be built on very little. He blithely assumes that it ought to be criminalized when he compares it  (in the space of three paragraphs) through analogy to murder, rape, kidnapping, prostitution, alcoholism, and kleptomania (88).

Reilly works hard to establish his case but in the end can only prove that the courts have abandoned Natural Law, not that they have abandoned morality or anything else. His fearmongering not withstanding, there is no legitimate reason offered in the chapter to disagree with the courts as they strike down same-sex marriage bans around the country.

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