Thoughts on “sexual identity” and “gay marriage”
The gay movement and its allies constantly use the phrase “sexual identity.” The phrase seems to be taken for granted, and is rarely explained and justified. It seems, though, to refer to the notion that our sexual habits and inclinations are fundamental to what we are, more so than (say) religion. That’s why it’s religious “preference” or “affiliation,” but sexual “identity.”
But why treat sexual inclinations as untouchable and authoritative? One possible reason is that active sexuality is thought to be an essential aspect of our most intimate and intense personal relationships. Since such relationships are what link us most effectively to others and thus constitute us as social beings, sexual acts with persons of the same sex might be thought essential to full realization of the humanity of those inclined to them. An attack on such acts would then be an attack on the humanity of such persons.
That line of reasoning isn’t adequate to the gay cause, which is a defense not just of “long-term committed relationships” but of a gay culture that includes an essential promiscuous and sensation-seeking element. The point of the homosexual movement is sexual liberation, the free expression and development of human sexuality, which is understood to be a fundamental aspect of human liberation. If that weren’ so then NAMBLA would have been excommunicated by other gays long ago. In the end, the gay movement stands or falls on the value of transcendence through intense experience, and the destruction of the given in human life and human nature in favor of the chosen.
Still, more moderate, moralistic and sentimental arguments, like the argument from intimate relationships, appeal to some people. The latter argument is an odd one, though. The problem is that it implies that the connections that constitute us as social beings are simply a matter of the subjective attitudes of those involved — that the essence of the social is the private and idiosyncratic. In order to claim that homosexual relationships have a moral status like that of marriage, the argument must turn marriage into “a relationship” — a complex of feelings and commitments between two parties — rather than an institution constituted in part by things as objective as the functioning of the human body and the reproduction of the species. It must turn the public aspects of marriage into a mere recognition of something that in its essence is purely a matter of the subjective inclinations of the parties.
Such a view of marriage does not work. The point of marriage is that
it is not simply what is called “a relationship,” that it is an enduring
and objective institution, basic to human society because of what it is,
and carries with it rights and obligations that the parties and others
must respect regardless of how they feel. To the extent marriage becomes
simply a “relationship,” defined by the parties as they wish, it becomes
unclear why other people should give it any special recognition. The
notion of “gay marriage,” as well as the related notion of “sexual
identity,” thus suffers from an internal conflict. It tries to combine
the modernist view that the essence of man is that he has no essence,
that he creates what he is through his desires and choices, with an
authority that can be justified only by reference to objective standards
that precede and condition all choice.