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By Harry V. Jaffa, Claremont Institute

President William Jefferson Clinton made history in November by addressing a convention of homosexuals. In his speech, he placed a presidential seal of approval on a form of behavior that has for centuries, or millennia, been regarded as beyond the pale of morality and decency. The President's predecessor, and namesake, Thomas Jefferson, in his revised criminal code for Virginia, classified sodomy with rape, as a felony to be punished by castration. In fact, Jefferson moderated the punishment for sodomy which, under the common law, had been capital. Sodomy had been condemned as a grave moral offense, both in the Old and New Testaments. It had been condemned by reason no less than by revelation, by the Laws of Plato no less than by the Laws of Moses. Clinton compared himself to President Truman, in desegregating the armed services, and launching the campaign for civil rights. He placed discrimination against sodomites, who engage in a particularly loathsome form of behavior, on a level with racial discrimination, an irrational discrimination against the innocent.

Let us first dispose of a troublesome matter of words. Until very recently, no dictionary had any definition of "gay" other than "lighthearted, cheerful, sportive, merry." It was never connected in any way with homosexuality. Only in very recent years has it become the euphemistic substitute for sodomy and sodomite. Consider the verse in the traditional Christmas Carol, "Don we now our gay apparel..." Today an unsophisticated teenager might think this refers to transvestitism! This perversion of language has gone a long way to perverting the moral sense of the public. Sodomy is the very antithesis of gay, and we should not have allowed ourselves, by this verbal deceit, to become unwitting co-conspirators in a plot against morality and the English language.

Bill Bennett, on ABC television’s This Week, recently denounced sodomy as a serious public health problem. The life expectancy of sodomites, he said (as I recall it), was 43, compared with 76 for the general public, and 66 for smokers. We are committed to a public policy to discourage teen age smoking, and to a war on drugs. If President Clinton wants young people to say no to cigarettes, and to say no to drugs, why does he not tell them to say no to sodomy? Conversely, why do we not spend billions to find a cure for cigarette smoking that would let the smokers go on smoking? Or a cure for drug addiction that would let addicts go on shooting drugs ? Sodomy is far more unhealthy than either cigarettes or drugs (or alcohol). Why is sodomy a privileged addiction? Why do we do not tell sodomites to stop sodomizing?

Patronizing sodomy, and a sodomite life style, is however destructive of something more profoundly important even than public health. It is a manifestation of that moral relativism that has infected our universities, and has been transmitted to our elites, in public education, in government, politics, the media, and the world of the great foundations. It says that all moral choices are "value judgments," and that there is no rational basis for saying that one moral judgment is better than another. Whatever two consenting adults do together, no third adult has a right to condemn. But if there is no rational basis for "value judgments," there is no rational basis for the aforesaid limitation to adults, or to consent. Relativism can validate Hitler's genocide as well as any of his other moral preferences. It can validate rape as well as consensual sex. The reigning moral relativism scuttles the wisdom of the Judeo-Christian tradition and of that tradition embodied in "the laws of nature and of nature's God" upon which this nation, and its Constitution, are founded. It implies that "sexual preference" is as much a matter of moral indifference as the choice of a flavor of ice cream, or a brand of soap. It removes sexual behavior from the sphere of morality, as if it had nothing to do with right and wrong. This relativism extends the whole length of morality. Logically, it does not admit of exceptions. It means that we cannot condemn slavery or genocide, except as something we happen not to like. But our preferences have no more standing in the court of reason than their opposites. We cannot say that slavery and genocide are intrinsically wrong.

But those of us who will not concede that slavery is justified, no matter what others may think, or that genocide is justified no matter what Nazis may think, must say why slavery and genocide are wrong, everywhere and always. Why then do we say that it is acceptable to "enslave" a horse or an ox or a mule, but not another human being ? Why is it acceptable to slaughter cattle but not Jews? Is it not because those who share a common human nature ought not to be degraded below the level of their humanity? Do we not have an obligation, arising from nature itself, apart from all law and custom, not to harm other human beings, except in self-defense? Or to treat them as mere conveniences for our disposal? "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you," is a rule both self-interested and altruistic at the same time. Applying it, Abraham Lincoln wrote, "As I would not be slave, so I would not be a master."

The same nature that tells us it is immoral to enslave (or eat) our fellow humans tells us that sexual differentiation is the most fundamental distinction within all living species, and that within the human species it is the original and originating source of all moral distinctions. Nature means that which has within itself the principle of its existence from birth to death, which principle is also the cause of the perpetuation of each species. There is a superhuman wisdom in nature that unerringly produces puppies from dogs, kittens from cats, piglets from pigs, and human babies from human parents. Not only does it produce them, but it guides their path of growth and decline from birth to death. This great chain of being encompasses all life, including human life.

When we think of human freedom, we should bear in mind that our humanity is not something we invented or chose for ourselves. Because we are neither beasts nor gods, we have no right to act as gods to other human beings, or treat them as if they belonged to a lower order of creation than ourselves. Of the laws we make in our common interest, none are of greater moment than those having to do with marriage and the family. Reproduction is motivated and regulated in other species by impulses and instincts implanted by nature itself. In the human species there are also instincts and impulses, but they are not regulated by nature, except as nature has provided us with the power of reason, by which we may know the moral rules by which we ought to govern our own conduct. Human freedom does not consist in being at liberty to decide what is right and what is wrong. Human freedom enables us to discover the meaning of right and wrong. But it is not the source of that meaning. Slavery and genocide are intrinsically wrong, they represent the abuse of human freedom. So does sexual promiscuity in all its forms. It belongs to human nature that we may obey or disobey the rules of morality, but nature does not permit us to be the source from which these rules emanate. There is no more evil opinion than that man is bound by no other rules of conduct than those emanating from his own will. Consider Hitler's great propaganda film, "Triumph of the Will."

Morality has its origin in the union of man and woman, and in the children that spring from that union. Whatever their intention in coming together, they have an unqualified obligation to provide for those children. Consequently they have duties to each other as well as to the children, and the children have duties to their parents. This moral network arises from nature. What constitutes the good order of the family, what contributes to the well being of both parents and children, is not arbitrary. The details may vary according to time, place, and circumstances, but such variation is one of means, not of ends. More than anything else, the happiness of each of us depends upon the happiness of the family in we which we are nurtured, and the family in which our children are nurtured. And such happiness dictates that our behavior outside the family ought to conform to the requirements dictated by the wellbeing of our families. The family is the basic unit of the political community, and more than anything else the health of the family decides the health of society as a whole. Today the American family is at risk as never before.

Now it happens also to be part of the order of nature, that the sexual passion is a jealous passion. The integrity of the family depends upon female chastity, because the sense of obligation of the husband depends upon his conviction that his wife's children are his own! And the husband's fidelity is necessary to convince the wife that she and her children are the undivided objects of his devotion. It is accordingly of the essence of the good order of the family, that sexual friendship be confined to husband and wife. Nothing strikes at the well-being of the family more than adultery or incest. The prohibitions against rape, adultery, and incest are no mere "value judgments." Neither is the option in favor of the monogamous heterosexual family. A homosexual family is a contradiction in terms. Polygamy is unnatural first of all because—given the approximate equality in the numbers of males and females that is provided by nature—if some men have many wives, other men will have none. The characteristic presence of eunuchs in polygamous societies is not accidental. And the political order that supports polygamy not only degrades women, but is almost invariably despotic.

It is said that intense friendships arise often and naturally between persons of the same sex. And so they do. The love of fathers and sons, or mothers and daughters, or brothers and sisters, are entirely natural and proper. And there are and ought to be friendships beyond the family, of those who share common interests and vocations. But they must not be sexual friendships. Such friendships would not be perfected, they would be destroyed by sex. What wife would welcome her husband's male—or he her female friends—if they might be actual or potential sex partners?

Young people, encouraged by our purblind President, are invited to think of homosexuality as something that they should be "free to choose." In the great debate of the 1850's, Lincoln's opponent, Stephen A. Douglas, believed the people of the territories should be free to choose slavery. He called this "popular sovereignty." But Lincoln said that no one, and no community, had the right to choose what is morally wrong. And slavery was theft—stealing the fruit of another man's labor. Nature, Lincoln said, gave each of us one mouth and two hands, and nature clearly intended that the bread those hands had earned might go into the mouth belonging to them. But nature also has indicated unmistakably that sexual passion can be properly gratified only between a man and a woman. The incidence of disease and death that befalls the sexually promiscuous, both heterosexual and homosexual, shows unmistakably nature's preference for monogamous marriage.

It is often said that some individuals are "wired" genetically, and therefore naturally, to be homosexual. That this may be true in some instances is certainly possible. It is doubtful however that this applies to more than 2% or 3% of the population. The vast majority of those actively engaged in homosexual behavior do so for cultural, not natural causes. Aristotle observed long ago, that although nature implants form upon matter, the matter often resists the form. There is a wide variety of genetic defects, especially of birth defects, many of which impose undeserved hardships upon the innocent. It is also true that there are dispositions native to our passions, such that it is harder for some than for others to be brave, and harder for some than for others to be self-controlled. Yet "natural cowards" win medals of honor. George Washington was a man given to towering rage. But he never let it govern his conduct. That someone may be said to have a genetic disposition to sodomy no more justifies sodomy than a disposition to kleptomania justifies shoplifting, or a disposition to arson justifies setting fires. What constitutes right conduct is not decided by our original propensities, but by the character formed by moral education, by right reason, in the discipline of our passions. Clinton would have us teach children that a homosexual life style is as justifiable as a heterosexual life style. He would even have us teach them that it is intolerant, or immoral, to condemn homosexual acts. This is to tear at the very roots of the process of character formation. This is to deny the ground "in the laws of nature and of nature's God" of our happiness as individuals, as well as of our identity as a free people.

Harry V. Jaffa is a Claremont Institute Distinguished Fellow and Professor Emeritus of Claremont-McKenna College and the Claremont Graduate School. Return to top.

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