The Body and Human Dignity

Liberal Androgyny: “Gay Marriage” and the Meaning of Sexuality in Our Time

David S. Crawford

"The person as such has been rendered androgynous."

Why can’t people just be tolerant of those with different sexual orientations? This basic question must be pondered by anyone who considers the issues swirling around the current “gay rights” movement. Indeed, the gist of this question was raised last year by the Deputy Prime Minister of Spain, when she wondered aloud why protesters of the new law allowing gay marriage and adoption rights should be so concerned. She observed that the new law “does not oblige anyone to do anything they do not want to do.” The new law does nothing more than open up existing rights to a new minority, she suggested. It does not detract from the rights already enjoyed by the majority.1

For many, perhaps most people, the argument latent in our opening question has an almost compelling force to it. What is this argument? It begins in the presupposition that any objection to “gay rights” generally—and to “gay marriage” in particular—must be based on a morality grounded in private opinion. Because each of us must determine for himself what sort of life would be best, the goal of society and of its juridical structures is to maximize the freedom of individuals to make this determination. Of course, limits on individual freedom would be necessary where the use of that freedom begins to harm someone else or society as a whole. But judgment about any harm to society cannot be grounded in “private morality.

Once moral objections are shown to be grounded in a conflation of the public and private domains, the rest of the analysis falls into place along the lines of standard liberal analysis. “Homosexuals” constitute a particular group in society, whether by choice, immutable predisposition, or a combination of these. This group—again, once private morality is taken out of the equation—is not in any essential way different from other analogous minorities, such as racial or ethnic groups,2 as far as legal and political considerations are concerned. If these minority groups are entitled to protections and the benefits of the majority, why shouldn’t “sexual minorities” also be so entitled?

Because this basic line of argument—by far the most influential in the current debate—clearly flows out of the liberal tradition of “rights,” I will refer to it as the “liberal model.”

Now it is my contention in this article that this liberal model, however much it has dominated the legal movement toward gay rights, both in America and elsewhere,3 is finally incoherent. In order to see this incoherency, the first part of this article will examine a couple of variations on the model, as well as the strong criticism leveled at it by more radical thinkers, such as Michel Foucault. The second part of the article will argue that the push for gay marriage presupposes the subordination of the masculine and the feminine to the polarity of alternate “orientations.” In doing so, it fragments the integrity and interior relation of basic elements of the human being: the sexualized body, desire, freedom, and love. Finally, it will be concluded that the liberal push for gay marriage amounts to a re-grounding of society on an essentially gay (and therefore fragmentary) anthropology.


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