It’s Pride Month. Former George W. Bush speechwriter and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson sees no downsides to gay liberation. “The advance of same-sex marriage, it seems, has generally ended in cake and dancing.” He’s ready to celebrate the triumph of the Rainbow Reich.
Not me. I’ll pass on the champagne and free condoms. By my reckoning, the normalization of homosexuality has done a great deal of harm. It’s the leading edge of the cultural deregulation disorienting young people, exposing the weakest and most vulnerable to damaging pathologies.
The evidence is there for those willing to open their eyes. An unprecedented number of people are medicated for psychological distress. Data indicate that more than a quarter of college students are taking anti-depressants or anti-anxiety and mood stabilizing drugs. A remarkably high percentage of young people express pessimism about the future.
The distress is manifest not only in recourse to prescription drugs. More than 100,000 people died of drug overdose in 2021. This awful toll contributed to an overall decline in life expectancy in the United States, continuing a downward trend that has characterized the last decade. Whether it’s obesity, alcoholism, or drug abuse, people are not taking care of themselves. A pattern of disordered and often self-destructive behavior has become commonplace.
The factors leading to such widespread distress and dysfunction are undoubtedly many. But the Rainbow Reich contributes to these problems. This regime of liberation does not just say that marginal behavior is permissible. In order to get rid of traditional mores, the Rainbow agenda advances by denouncing normal sentiments and sensibilities as “homophobic” or in some other way pathological and hateful. The old patterns of life—courtship, gender roles, sexual discipline, marriage, child-rearing, and family life—are “problematized.” As a consequence, the rising generations are deprived of what Matthew Crawford calls “cultural jigs,” the well-traveled grooves that guide people toward the choices that make for a decent life, one that is most likely to provide happiness and satisfaction.
Second-wave feminism played an important role in destroying the cultural jigs. But the Rainbow agenda did so to an even greater degree. Puberty is a time of hormonal change that awakens sexual desire. This can be disorienting. And quite frankly, normalizing men kissing men or women fondling women, to say nothing of cheerleading for such behavior, exacerbates this disorientation.
Of course the men and women who enter into same-sex marriage wish nobody harm. They are seeking something of the happiness that comes from entering into the discipline of traditional forms of life, the mental peace that comes from being normal. But the “cake and dancing” after a same-sex wedding that Michael Gerson finds so heart-warming is not innocent. It comes at a high price. To deprive a young person of clear and firm guidance toward responsible manhood and womanhood that is based on evident physical reality, namely the sexual complementarity of men and women, is careless.
This abuse is leading to more than dramatic increases in mental illness. It fuels our society’s turn toward sterility. Birth rates are collapsing. Is this surprising? Pride Month valorizes homosexuality, which our age regards as exemplary in large part because it fulfills the ideal of the sexual revolution: sex freed from nature, which is to say freed from fertility.
Gay couples have children, sometimes by adoption, or by way of “special arrangements,” or from previous heterosexual relations. But in its main thrust, the Rainbow Reich puts adult desires and satisfactions at the center. It’s about “me” and my identity, however I choose to express it. The children of most gay couples, especially homosexual men (who are the dominant figures in the Rainbow Reich), are chosen. I’ve come to see that the central role of “choice” is a key reason why the richest and most powerful Americans have embraced Pride Month. The couple engaging in infertile sex perfectly realizes the ideal of “family planning,” the complete control of our bodily potency for life.
In my years as an Episcopalian, I had a front-row seat during that church’s rush to embrace gay rights. I came to see that well-to-do heterosexual Americans envied homosexuals. They were true to their desires. They had shed the burdens of guilt and shame, giving themselves absolution in activism and campaigns against “backward” and “medieval” notions. Eager to take off the starched collar of respectability and lay down the burdens of maintaining standards for the rest of society, the remnant of WASP elites in the Episcopal Church unsurprisingly rushed to embrace the rainbow flag.
I wish for everyone a path toward a decent and honorable life. I certainly know homosexual persons who have worked hard to make their ways toward that goal. But we must be honest about the Rainbow Reich. It has deregulated society to serve the interests of the abnormal. In doing so, it has demolished the norms, disciplines, and institutions that are the best hope for the vast majority of people.
In the run-up to Obergefell, I often noted that gay marriage would be a luxury good for the rich paid for by the poor. The Rainbow Reich and its agenda of cultural deregulation is the natural partner to the most ambitious programs of economic deregulation, which is why corporate American embraces it. Both promise greater freedom for everyone. Both degrade and destroy protections of the weakest and most vulnerable.
Nobody’s gay marriage caused a young man in southern Indiana to die of a heroin overdose. His bad choices paved the way. But the fact that so many spiral downward today ought to give us pause. What happened to the old guardrails, the norms and expectations that nudged young people in a better direction in previous decades? They were demolished by the gauleiters of the Rainbow Reich, the people who brought us Pride Month.
R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.
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