A Liberal Case Against Gay & Lesbian Rights
December 1994By John C. Cahalan
John C. Cahalan is a writer in Massachusetts who specializes in philosophical topics. He is the author of Causal Realism: An Essay on Philosophical Method and the Foundations of Knowledge.
Opposition to gay rights legislation often comes from those who appear to believe that government should be more concerned with order than justice, or who appear to define justice, not in terms of the common good, but in terms of individuals keeping as much of their wealth as possible for their private enjoyment. Nevertheless, most, though not necessarily all, gay rights legislation should be opposed by those of us who believe in a government proactive for the common good, and especially in the obligation of government to secure justice for those unable to secure it for themselves.
Many of those who support gay rights legislation do so for an excellent reason. They want to end the outrageous physical and psychological abuse gays often suffer. Certainly we should all combat gay-bashing and gay-baiting by every acceptable means. For example, hate-crime laws against anti-gay violence may be justified, whether or not laws against other hate crimes are justified. Some people legitimately concerned about the First Amendment believe hate-crime laws entail an unacceptable risk to freedom of speech, because the actions they cover are already adequately prohibited by laws against violent acts in general. But in some, perhaps many, places, existing laws against violence may not be enforced when the victims are gay; if existing laws do not adequately protect gays, the criticism of hate-crime laws is not valid for gay-bashing.
The laudable motive of preventing abuse of gays, however, does not justify laws that would make homosexual behavior socially acceptable, just another "lifestyle." There is no justification for laws that would permit a gay partner to receive the kind of benefits a spouse receives. Several studies indicate that gays' incomes are well above average, and gays do not have to support families. But more importantly, it is socially harmful for gays to come out of the closet, and any law is harmful that encourages them to do so by treating homosexual behavior as socially acceptable. The reason is that open homosexuality violates the rights of those least able to defend their own rights, our children.
In Wisconsin v. Yoder, Justice Douglas's dissent argued that exempting the Amish from sending their children to high school might severely limit the children's career choices. By making homosexual behavior acceptable, gay rights legislation will prevent many adolescents -- eventually millions -- from successfully making a choice even more important, for the large majority of people, than the choice of career: the choice of being a parent. As I will explain, making homosexuality acceptable would encourage many adolescents, who need not become habituated to homosexual behavior, to become so. Consequently, many adolescents who would have been able, later, to choose successfully to be parents will not have that ability. Since the parental relationship is one of the two most important human relationships, depriving adolescents of that choice would be a grave injustice, a violation of a fundamental human right. And since the only relationship of comparable importance to the parental is the spousal, we can even say that we would be preventing them from choosing the most important human relationship, the spousal relationship with the other parent of one's children.
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