I guess that is OK, as events of late in my chosen state of residence don’t make me particularly happy.
This past Friday US District Judge Robert J. Shelby declared Amendment 3 to Utah’s constitution to be unconstitutional. The news of the ruling and Shelby’s subsequent refusal to grant a temporary injunction has reverberated around the world; the fact that it occurred in conservative Utah simply served as a catalyst for that reverberation.
Judge Shelby’s decision came as a surprise to many. It didn’t necessarily come as a surprise to me. I’ve been able to see such decisions on the horizon for the better part of the past decade. And I’ve been troubled by them.
I’m reminded of R.E.M.’s 1987 hit, It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine). Except I don’t feel fine. I feel troubled. I am bothered by where we are heading.
I have a friend who, every time an advance in “gay rights” comes about, looks at me, smiling, and says “see, the world didn’t end.” But worlds don’t end in a moment. They morph, over time, to something entirely unrecognizable until, one day, you wake up and wonder how things got to that point. We are all just frogs in a slowly warming bucket of water.
I took time to read through all 53 pages of Judge Shelby’s decision. I found it interesting reading, but it all hinges on what the judge sees as incontrovertible fact, something that is beyond reproach and unassailable in its conclusion. As he states:
The Plaintiff’s testimony supports their assertions that their sexual orientation is an inherent characteristic of their identities. Forty years ago, these assertions would not have been accepted by a court without dispute. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association still defined homosexuality as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III), and leading experts believed that homosexuality was simply a lifestyle choice. With the increased visibility of gay men and lesbians in the past few decades, a wealth of new knowledge about sexuality has upended these previous beliefs (pg. 24).
In other words, Judge Shelby’s decision is only possible in light of a foregone conclusion that same-sex attraction is an “inherent characteristic” of some individuals’ identities.
And this is where the sticking point is for so many people. Is it nurture (choice and/or environment) or nature? The judge throws out the former (nurture) as “upended” “previous beliefs” and his decision asserts that it is the latter (nature).
There are millions of people (yes, including me) who think that this basis is not a foregone conclusion and that making decisions as if it is makes for bad legal decisions.
The Peril of Acceptable Science
Is it an uncontested fact that same-sex attraction is an inherent characteristic of individuals? Perhaps, but we may never know in our lifetimes. Why? Because some science simply isn’t socially acceptable to examine. The effect is that those who would contest such “facts” are almost entirely shut out of the all-necessary funding to conduct research to examine the assumptions.
As just a single example, Nature reported in October 2013 that sexuality was considered a “taboo” research area, particularly if the research involves searching for “environmental influences that might affect the trait” of homosexuality. Genetic researcher Eric Vilain wants to study just that, but his work cannot obtain funding. He feels that if it were funded, “it could upset some gay rights activists who have seen their cause benefit from the ‘hardwiring’ theory.”
And yet Judge Shelby has just decided law based on that very theory of “hardwiring.” That is infuriating to those of us who believe that minds should still be open while there is research to do. The problem is that Judge Shelby’s decision cannot be undone if research is one day done which evidences that the basis underlying his decision is a shaky one.
The Dictum of “Me First”
I am old enough to remember the sexual revolution at the end of the 1960s. The Summer of Love (1969) was touted as evidence of a societal transformation for the better. That revolution promoted the mantra of “if it feels good, do it.” Stephen Stills released a song in 1970 titled Love the One You’re With. This wasn’t an anthem to everyone getting along; it was a license to free love: “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”
Free love. Free from strings, free from shame, free from guilt, free from responsibility. The entire concept flew in the face of millennia of human development, but it was accepted within the course of a decade by people who thought that they knew better than the entirety of human history before them. The individual and his or her desires was elevated, for the first time in history, above the needs of the society in which the individuals functioned. Kennedy’s famous call in 1961 to “ask not” and thereby put your country before yourself was replaced at the end of the decade with a flock of mindless seagulls screaming “mine, mine!” And they have been supported in their desires to make the individual supreme by courts both Supreme and not.
What they wanted, they wanted. And they wanted it now. And they got it. And they got everything that came with it. And it opened the door to many of the societal decisions that have followed, including the ill-founded acceptance of same-sex attraction as normative.
The Law of Unintended Consequences
Unintended consequences always follow any social revolution. Always. By definition they cannot be foreseen or mitigated by prior action. Would the sexual revolution have been as enticing or as gleefully embraced if one had foreseen the advent of Madonna, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, or dozens of act-alikes? Would it have seemed as much a nirvana if we knew that it would lead to increased marital infidelity or higher levels of teen sexuality and rates of pregnancy? Would the reality of sexting or twerking have changed how we felt?
There is an old adage that states that when you make a decision you also accept everything that goes with that decision, regardless of where it leads. “Love the one you’re with” may sound good and “freeing,” but it does nothing for trust and building strong character. It doesn’t build relationships; it destroys them.
In 1969 those crying for what has come to be known as “marriage equality” were few and far between. But they were there, in the background. And they were constantly and vigilantly looking for ways to overturn the public’s sense of abhorrence of homosexuality. They obviously have succeeded, despite the fact that in 1969 the public feeling was that such would never happen. Where we are today is an unintended consequence of the sexual revolution, pure and simple.
While Judge Shelby considered and copiously cited the law in his ruling, he gave no thought to the law of unintended consequences. Such considerations just don’t exist in his prose—I looked for it, but it isn’t to be found. And that worries me. A lot.
Why does it worry me? Because we don’t know where these decisions will lead. The quiet background voices of the 1960s are today enacting laws to normalize what was then considered wrong. Should one, perhaps, pay attention to the quiet background voices one hears today? Should one be concerned about them?
For instance, well-known biologist Richard Dawkins has minimized the effect of “mild pedophilia” on children and believes that, at least in his case, it should not be considered abusive. Other voices are starting to state that perhaps sex between teachers and students should be decriminalized because it should be expected.
Just anecdotes? Perhaps. Remember, though, that we don’t know where the law of unintended consequences leads—we can’t know. But we must accept where it leads, nonetheless.
Wrong is Wrong. Still.
Judge Shelby’s ruling is understandable, but it is bad. It is bad for my grandchildren. It is bad for society. It is based on inconclusive science. It is bad for social trends. It attempts to make the abnormal normal.
And it is wrong. The law of unintended consequences will come into play and, along with the law of the harvest, mold an environment that we would not recognize today. I guarantee—from first-hand knowledge—that the world we live in today is not one that people would have recognized in 1969. Yet here we are. Frogs in a collective bucket.
I would much rather have my grandchildren raised in the uptight-yet-somehow-more-virtuous environment that held sway through the early years of the 1960s than in the anything-goes-as-long-as-I-can-do-what-I-want era in which we now live. Judge Shelby (and others providing similar rulings) are pandering to the desires of the seagulls and contributing to that era with their ill-advised rulings.
What Is One to Do?
First, I believe that anyone in public office who has had a hand in where we find ourselves today should be kicked out of office or, at the least, voted out of office at the next election. (Yes, that includes arch-conservative Orrin Hatch.) They should be replaced with those who hold views compatible with our vision of what society should be.
I think that nothing short of a huge public outcry, sustained over decades, will make a difference. It is what made the difference for gay activists, so why shouldn’t it make a difference for those with different visions of how society should be shaped?
I started out this post by saying that it wouldn’t make some people happy. But it still needed to be said. I have no doubt that my words, although carefully chosen, may cause some people to jump to the wrong conclusions about me. I can’t help that.
I understand that such judgment or (if you prefer) stereotyping is normal, as it is a way to excuse the listener from understanding and, perhaps, accepting what I may have to say.
So be it; there are plenty of other voices crying in the public square. I’m sure that those who reject what I have to say can find a voice more to their liking in any number of echo chambers that line that square. But at the same time, those who assure the crowing crowds that “all is well” still cannot escape the twin laws I mention (unintended consequence and harvest).
In the meantime, if you agree that Judge Shelby and others who base decisions on incomplete science are wrong, say something. Don’t be quiet. Make your voice heard respectfully yet forcefully. Make sure that people cannot misunderstand your position on this important issue.