Santorum and Sex

Just when you thought it was safe for a Republican to go off the cuff again–after the whole Trent Lott debacle had subsided into distant memory–along comes Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) to stir the pot once more.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Santorum said, “I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts. As I would with acts of other, what I would consider to be, acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships.” When asked, “[I]f somebody is homosexual, you would argue that they should not have sex?” Santorum responded, “[I]f the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does.” Further, he argued, “[S]ociety is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that’s what? Children. Monogamous relationships,” meaning a “healthy, stable, traditional family.”

The logic there, typically embraced by conservatism, is that the health of our society depends on children being born and then raised in a way that maximizes their ability to contribute to society as adults and make more children to continue society. This is, on its face, reasonable. However, criminalizing homosexual behavior for not fitting into that mold (since it’s not “traditional” despite its long history and doesn’t result in more children being born) is worse for the fabric of society as a whole than if it were left legal.

The real problem stems from the apparent notion that homosexuality is not valid. Let’s say the facts were changed, with homosexual conduct being necessary for procreation and human history backing it as the “right” sexuality. Would Santorum, in such a world, then consider it beneficial to criminalize heterosexual sex, seeing as how he is heterosexual? Would he be willing to forgo his sexuality in the same way he is asking others to do? Anyone who considers such a stifling environment and the unhappiness it would engender should say no, but if you believe that the “right” sexuality is inherent to you already, you only need to choose it, then the prospect of forcing people away from a “deviant” sexuality is plausible. So instead of thinking that he’s asking homosexuals to just go without sex, perhaps Santorum thinks every homosexual is a closet heterosexual who might embrace heterosexuality once homosexuality is illegal.

But this is a false hope, as differences between heterosexuals illustrate. For example, one of my friends is a real “leg man.” There is nothing he likes better than long, graceful legs on a woman. Me, I hardly look at legs at all. As Jerry Seinfeld pointed out, “I’ve got legs,” so why not look at things you don’t already have? Did our individual tastes come about because my friend chose to like legs while I didn’t? Of course not. He sees a nice pair of legs and it attracts him without his having to think about it, while I see the same legs but don’t have the same reaction. Would Santorum propose it’s possible to force me to become interested in legs or for my friend to lose his interest? I doubt it. Why should homosexuality be any different? Just as my friend might disagree with me as to whether a given woman is attractive or not, a lesbian might do the same. Or we might agree, and for exactly the same reasons! Is her appraisal of what “does it” for her any less honest than mine or my friend’s?

The opposite of this is the unfounded fear that the presence of homosexuals will encourage heterosexuals to become homosexual, thereby denying society the children and traditional families it needs to continue. Beyond some chance experimentation in college, at most, there’s just not much to this. One would think that, with the predominance of heterosexuals in society, it would be the homosexuals who feel the most pressure to change. And indeed they do feel that pressure, yet they don’t stop being homosexuals. Instead, at most, they hide in the proverbial closet. Why assume that heterosexuals would be more susceptible to being “turned” than homosexuals?

Or what about monogamous heterosexual couples that refuse to have children? Aren’t they, on balance, injuring society by not having children, just like homosexuals? What if other future couples decide to follow their example because they decide that having kids is just a hassle and it gets in the way of career and vacations and cocktail parties? Criminalize that as well?

If Santorum can imagine the anguish and pain he would feel if his right to be intimate with his wife were removed, why not apply that same reaction to homosexuals who he would deny the opportunity to find and experience the same intimacy? Banning homosexual sex won’t make homosexuals marry and have heterosexual sex as much as it will only cause a significant part of the population to feel estranged from society, with no corresponding benefit to anyone else. At least with punishing those who impose their sexuality upon nonconsenting partners you can measure the benefit in the protection afforded to the victims. But banning consenting homosexual sex doesn’t help society much at all.

Santorum is free to dislike the prospect of homosexual sex, or even try to persuade people to not engage in it, but the bigger threat to society is having the government enforce one kind of sexual expression rather than letting people engage in the mutual pursuit of happiness.

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