Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
April 28, 2003
POLITICS: Santorum and the Church
OK, one more post on Santorum to wrap up. To recap, there are three things that are controversial about the substance of Santorum's remarks:
1. His legal argument that the Constitution does not provide a "right of privacy" that prevents the government from regulating sex between consenting adults in a private place.
2. His political argument that sodomy laws are good public policy.
3. His moral argument that homosexual acts are immoral.
There are two additional controversies about his remarks:
4. Questions about whether Santorum acted offensively even by raising the subject.
5. Questions about whether Santorum expressed his opinions in a way that was offensive.
I've covered a few of these already (I'm with Santorum on the legal argument but against him on the political argument); I'd like to focus mainly on the moral argument.
A number of people have argued that, by making a moral argument against homosexual acts, Santorum has shown himself to be 'hateful' or a 'bigot'. John Scalzi's argument (linked by Instapundit) is perhaps the clearest distillation of this. Andrew Sullivan makes a similar argument, although Sullivan leans more heavily on the political argument and the nature of Santorum's remarks about the Church scandals.
Matthew Yglesias makes the argument (to be fair, he does seem to grasp the important distinction here) that Santorum's sincerity of belief is not a defense. Well, if you are arguing that his views are bad policy or that they are hateful and dangerous in and of themselves, that's true enough. We don't let radical Islamists off the hook for their sincerity.
But Santorum went quite out of his way to explain that he had no problem with people being gay as a matter of orientation; he simply argued that gay sexual activity is immoral. But saying that you disapprove of people's activities of a particular type merely makes you a person with a conscience; it has nothing to do with 'hatred' or 'bigotry.' Like I said in a prior post, I deal with people all the time (gay and straight) whose sex lives I either disapprove of or likely would disapprove of if I knew more about them. I don't have a problem with that; it's a big world.
Sullivan makes a comparison to religious animus . . . but let's say for the sake of argument that I believed that all Jews and Muslims are going to Hell for rejecting Jesus - indeed, let's say for the sake of the analogy that I believed the same of all Protestants as well. (I don't think this is the Catholic Church's position anymore, but I think it effectively was at one time). That might be a view associated with intolerance, as in the real world it often was, but it can just as easily be associated simply with the idea that I, as a Catholic, am right and you are not. The fact that you disagree profoundly with someone else's moral or religious choices does not mean you hate them.
To make 'hatred' of people out of the moral argument alone, you have to essentially argue that the moral argument is just a cover for some deeper bias, and if you are going to do that, as Scalzi does, it then becomes extremely relevant that Santorum's position is precisely the same as the teachings of the Catholic Church.
One final moral point: Sullivan, in particular, argues that gay sex must be moral because it is so essential to his identity as a gay man; that the Catholic Church's position ultimately leaves him with no recourse to express his deepest desires. I'm sympathetic to this position, but by itself it is not a moral argument; it's the precise mirror image of the argument that gay sex is immoral because it's 'unnatural.' In either case, one is arguing morality from biology, and that's not enough. While I can understand why the analogy of consensual adult sex to pedohilia offends people, the illustration in this instance (like Yglesias' Hitler analogy) is a useful one: the pedophile's acts are not moral simply because they are the result of deeply held desires. Moral argumentation demands more.