Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

At , David Blankenhorn is not willing to grant R. R. Reno’s dismissal of the “Selma Analogy.” I’m sure, he says,

that Rusty Reno knows as well as anyone that almost no gay people (certainly no openly gay people, or at least none that I can think of) would accept the premise that being black-skinned is fixed whereas being gay is not — i.e., that being gay can be properly understood, as Reno suggests, as simply the choice to commit certain acts. Reno can defend this position, of course, if that’s his position (and of course it’s a position that many have argued), but in my view in 2012 he can’t simply (with legitimacy) assume it, as if it were an uncontested fact, rather than what the whole fuss is all about.

I very much doubt that Reno thinks that “being gay” is simply the choice to commit certain acts. He just doesn’t think that it is like “being black.” One can be black and do nothing at all (though of course one wouldn’t live long); indeed, one who is black cannot be other than black no matter what he does. But what is “being gay”? Whatever it is, it is not quite like that.

As for Blankenhorn, I would like to hear him further on three questions.

First: What does he mean by “gay people”? Does he mean “people with deep-rooted same-sex attractions” or does he mean “people with same-sex attractions who engage in same-sex activities” (to employ a deliberately broad term)?

If he means only the former, he is (a) begging the question about the moral propriety of same-sex activities, while (b) implying a knowledge of the biological factors in same-sex attraction, and their weighting over against other factors, that science does not yet have.

If he means the latter, he is either adopting a determinist view of human beings, one that makes moral considerations no more than intellectual mirages, or (more likely) making a number of assumptions about the way in which inclinations and choices and behaviours are related in human beings. Which is to say, he is positing all sorts of moral and anthropological claims which he has not yet articulated clearly enough. This again is question begging, as Reno has pointed out.

Second:  Why does Blankenhorn insist that “almost no gay people” would allow that their sexual inclinations and/or habits are not fixed by nature? Surely he knows that the history of the homosexualist movement, both early and late, includes major arguments about this. Surely he knows that “gay” and “queer” denote differences on this. Surely he knows that the “transgender” advocates are disinclined to biological determinism. Surely he knows that the Yogyakarta fathers abandoned the idea of fixity and sketched out a much bolder, constructionist path towards the social and legal acceptance of what used to be regarded as deviant behaviour.

What work is this statement meant to do anyway? Does it really help build an analogy to skin pigmentation – the Selma analogy that allows the charge of implicit or explicit racism that Blankenhorn seems willing now to endorse? No one thinks “being black” something fixed because he has talked with many blacks who, almost to a man, assure him that this indeed is the case!

Third:  Why does Blankenhorn suppose that the logic of the institution he cherishes, marriage, is going to survive the change in anthropology and moral theory that he himself has now embraced? Marriage may, for the moment, be the key strategic prize, but marriage is nowhere near the heart of the new moral majority (to use that label in a rather Bolshevik fashion) that Blankenhorn has joined.

How could it be? There is not even a clear logic of sex, much less of marriage, in this movement. And when it comes to polling its supporters – I am thinking not only of those who congregate under ugly acronyms such as LGBTTIQQ2SA, but also of those who cheer them on – a good many will say quite openly that marriage is just not their line; not a few will say that it is inimical to their line.

It is this fact, rather than any admirable candour he found in Reno, that should have made clear to Blankenhorn that of course we are arguing about human sexuality and about human nature, and not merely about marriage as such – as if one could argue about either separately! Or rather that we ought to be arguing about human sexuality and human nature; but that is the very thing the Selma analogy is meant to prevent.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles