Religious Liberty Cannot Stand Without Liberty

In the first two parts of this essay, I identified two important ways in which Ryan T. Anderson, in his book Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, makes fundamental concessions to the postmodern Left in his defense of marriage. Here I identify yet another such fundamental concession. In arguing for religious freedom, Anderson argues against freedom as a more general principle.

Anderson’s book contains an entire chapter, “Antidiscrimination Law: Why Sexual Orientation Is Not Like Race,” arguing that although it is right for government to prohibit discrimination by private individuals on the basis of race, it is wrong for government to prohibit discrimination by private individuals on the basis of sexual orientation. Anderson writes (p. 135),

Running a business in accordance with the view that marriage is a union of husband and wife is reasonable and should be lawful. Running it based on racist views is unreasonable and thus unlawful.

That is, Anderson concedes to the Left that the government should prohibit private action if the government decides that such private action is unreasonable. On that premise, majority-backed government could decide to forbid speech that denies the danger of man-made climate change, or any kind of non-conforming speech for that matter. Government could forbid the production of any product, even if many individuals want to buy it. Indeed, this one concession could make way for any action by authoritarian government, with the sanctity of each individual reasoning mind supplanted by an all-knowing Obama or Trump or Big Brother.

Within this concession to authoritarianism, Anderson carves out one oasis of freedom: religious freedom. He writes (p. 109),

In fact, the intrinsic value of religion explains the behavior of agnostics and atheists just as much as that of Muslims, Jews, and Christians. While they come to different conclusions, they are all motivated by a basic (if only implicit) awareness that human beings are better off when they sincerely seek the truth about ultimate questions and then live accordingly. In other words, people realize the good of religion even if they make mistakes about religious truth. Assuming that one’s religious act is sincere (and not, say, merely an attempt to satisfy social expectations), even imperfect expressions of religion are valuable.

Religious liberty is important because the search for truth about ultimate things and the effort to live according to that truth are valuable only if they are freely undertaken. The state, therefore, should protect religious freedom. The quest for religious truth, adherence to religious faith and morals, and the pursuit of a relationship with the divine must be free from coercion.

That is, for Anderson, it is okay to make mistakes about religion and even to act on them, but it is not okay to make mistakes regarding other subjects and to act on those mistakes, because religious issues are fundamental. That is, it is okay to act—“free from coercion”—on fundamental mistakes, but not on less fundamental mistakes.

This position is fundamentally mistaken, but Anderson’s argument gets worse. There are obvious problem cases for Anderson’s position. For example, what if a religion is against interracial marriage? Should the government force an adherent to such a religion to bake a cake for an interracial wedding? Perhaps in anticipation of such cases, Anderson argues for a gaping loophole even in the protection of religious freedom (p. 105):

Government shouldn’t impose substantial burdens on sincere religious beliefs unless it can prove that it must—or, as the law puts it, that the burden imposed on those beliefs is the least restrictive means of advancing a compelling government interest.

What qualifies as “a compelling government interest”? Anderson offers this example (p. 112):

The provision of essential medical care to all citizens is obviously a compelling interest.

That is, universal health care—presumably to include abortions—is enough of a reason to override religious freedom. That is, the goals of socialism are enough to override religious freedom. Anderson does it again: he argues for traditional marriage on the premises of radical Leftism.

Observe all the false razors that Anderson uses. He argues against liberty—for example, the liberty of an individual to discriminate on the basis of race—but argues for the exception of religious liberty. But because religion cannot be used as an excuse for any possible outrageous action, he argues for another exception: “a compelling government interest,” which is a blank check to outlaw religious freedom—along with all freedom—entirely.

Anderson relies on Leftist razors because he eschews the proper razor regarding liberty: coercion. An individual has the right to take any action he chooses—even an action that is unreasonable and harmful to himself—so long as he does not coerce anyone else. Therefore, an individual does have the right to discriminate against race in the use of his own property and his own time. An individual does have the right to refuse to bake a cake for an interracial marriage.

As Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. … Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error.”

Likewise, refusing to bake a cake for a black man neither picks his pocket nor breaks his leg. Forcing private individuals to support and serve homosexual marriages is a reductio ad absurdum of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent federal “laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age in hiring, promoting, firing, setting wages, testing, training, apprenticeship, and all other terms and conditions of employment.” The marriage debate could be an opportunity to advocate the repeal of these Leftist laws, instead of reaffirming them.

Perhaps many conservatives believe that opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a lost cause. But even such a belief would not justify endorsing that act.

Two Mothers or Two Fathers Are What Harm Children

Anderson makes one more argument against same-sex marriage, in his chapter entitled “The Victims.” The victims are the children raised by same-sex couples. Anderson argues that the married natural mother and father of a child make better parents than a same-sex couple does. He writes (p. 152) that

the three great advantages of intact married families are biology, sexual complementarity, and stability.

But adoptive parents can be excellent parents too; moreover, when an adoption agency must decide who should be the adoptive parents, none of the candidates—whether heterosexual and married, or homosexual—will be the natural parents. Also, although stability—rightly construed as entailing monogamy, exclusivity, and permanence—is much rarer for homosexual couples than for heterosexual couples, some homosexual couples are indeed stable. To criticize homosexual unions on the basis of statistics—as Anderson does—is to invoke another Leftist argument, as I mentioned earlier in this essay.

The one absolute difference between heterosexual couples and homosexual couples is complementarity of the sexes. Anderson makes the point succinctly (p. 158):

No same-sex household will provide a child with both a mother and a father.

Anderson quotes Rutgers sociologist David Popenoe as follows (p. 151):

We should disavow the notion that “mommies can make good daddies,” just as we should disavow the popular notion … that “daddies can make good mommies.” … The two sexes are different to the core, and each is necessary— culturally and biologically— for the optimal development of a human being. [Life without Father: Compelling New Evidence That Fatherhood and Marriage Are Indispensable for the Good of Children and Society (New York: The Free Press, 1996), 197.]

Anderson is right about this point, along with another important point (p. 158):

[T]he social science on same-sex parenting is the subject of lively debate. It must be allowed to continue without political preemption.

But there is a much more damning point to be made about homosexual couples. It is not merely that a child benefits from having both a mother and father, but that a child should not have two mothers or two fathers. Here is why.

A basic, inescapable physical fact is that the primary sexually aroused anatomical parts of two men or two women do not fit together. Two men or two women are unable to experience coitus. Apart from the procreative function—which many conservatives such as Anderson emphasize—coitus is the most intimate, visible (in the sense of each partner being physically and spiritually visible to the other), and intense expression of romantic love. If anyone doubts this fact, consider what it would be like for a heterosexual couple to have to forego this form of sexual bonding; that would be nothing short of a tragedy. The nonpareil value of coitus—even in the absence of a desire to have children—is the reason why contraception is so highly valued.

Yes, there are forms of sexual contact other than coitus, but they are all secondary to coitus in intimacy, visibility, and intensity; to healthy heterosexuals—former President Bill Clinton did not fall in this category—such other forms are mere foreplay if engaged in at all.

In our advanced society, most heterosexuals develop their sexual orientation before experiencing or contemplating various forms of sexual contact; only later do they learn of and come to value most highly the one form of sexual contact that turns out to be unavailable to homosexuals. That is, individuals become heterosexual not because they value coitus. Similarly, individuals become homosexual not because they value other forms of sexual contact more than coitus. Therefore, there is every reason to think that the inability to experience coitus diminishes the sexual fulfillment of homosexuals as much as such an inability would diminish the sexual fulfillment of heterosexuals. On the physical level, the form of sexual contact available to homosexuals is so severely impoverished that it could aptly be called crippled. Yes, various kinds of cripples can still have some kind of sex life, as people without hands can learn to grasp with their toes, but it is not the kind of sex life to wish on stepchildren or to foster in stepchildren.

As I have argued elsewhere, and contrary to widespread belief, available evidence indicates that an individual’s sexual orientation is based primarily on the individual’s choices. Often, such choices—which include early yet elaborate conceptions and evaluations of boys, girls, men, and women—are made at a young age, and the resultant emotional patterns are difficult to reverse. Therefore, misleading a child to make choices leading to homosexuality is tantamount to misleading an innocent and ignorant child to become a sexual cripple for life. Therefore, at least one prerequisite for a homosexual to be a responsible parent would be for such a parent to avoid suggesting or implying in any way that homosexuality is as auspicious to human life and happiness as is heterosexuality. Unfortunately, few homosexuals would even attempt to avoid such a suggestion or implication, because the vast majority of homosexuals—if statements by homosexuals in the media are representative of the wider population—assert flatly that homosexuality is just as good as heterosexuality. But even if a homosexual parent did want to avoid suggesting or implying to a young child that homosexuality is just fine, could the parent do so when the parent’s own actions implicitly endorse homosexuality? I think not. A man with no hands who eats with his feet does not imply to a child that the child should do likewise, because the child sees the man’s handicap; but a child does not know about the handicap of incompatible sex organs.

The problem with homosexual parenting, however, is much deeper than the physical handicap intrinsic to homosexuality. Being an expression of values, sexuality is spiritual as well as physical. It is on the spiritual level that homosexuality is most problematic, for homosexuals themselves and also for any children in their household who witness homosexual affectation or affection. As I explained in the previous parts of this essay, the physical difference between men and women is an essential element upon which heterosexual romantic love is built, integrating all aspects of man and woman. (As Anderson quotes Popenoe, “The two sexes are different to the core.”) A boy developing his masculinity needs to experience his sexuality as an expression of indomitable power and leadership offered to another individual—a woman—who is organized to receive that power, judge that leadership, and thrive on both. For such a boy to witness a relationship in which one man receives power and leadership from another man—or in which neither man is leader—is to witness a perversion of masculinity and what would be a betrayal of masculinity if the boy were to follow in the men’s footsteps. To be immersed in witnessing such an emasculating relationship for an entire childhood is a living nightmare. The situation is similar for a girl developing her femininity, witnessing a relationship of two women who will never feel their lover inside them, and never feel a man’s physical power and efficacy—a physical power and efficacy that women lack but that is needed to command nature.

I do agree with Anderson that the children of homosexual couples—whom some laws now decree are married and cannot be discriminated against by adoption agencies—are victims. For the same reason that a child needs a mother and father, a man needs a woman and a woman needs a man. Worse than being without a father is being with a mother who has—for whatever reason—renounced her need for a husband.

Much has been written over the ages in celebration of the differences between men and women as a basis for the enjoyment of romance between them. If there is a basis for valuing the same sex over the opposite sex in romance, then the onus is on the advocates of same-sex relationships to identify it. In the absence of such an identification, it is unreasonable to subject a child to being an ongoing witness to sexual affection between homosexuals.

If an individual’s sexual orientation is based on the individual’s choices, as I think it is, the individual nevertheless is often unaware that such choices will lead him to become heterosexual or homosexual. (Similarly, an individual often is unaware that certain choices will lead to emotions such as fear and excitement.) Therefore, even if sexual orientation is based on choices, it does not follow that sexual orientation is a moral issue. But deciding on who should adopt a child is indeed a moral issue; and the moral decision should be made by the natural parents or the natural parents’ designated agent, not government. Anderson is absolutely right in standing against government’s attempt to usurp the rights of parents and their designated agents—adoption agencies—to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Violation by government of this parental right is unconscionable.

In summary, Anderson’s heart is in the right place in opposing the notion of homosexual marriage. But Anderson often—presumably unwittingly—accepts fundamental Leftist premises of emotionalism and collectivism. Indeed, a more apt title for his book would be “A Leftist Defense of Traditional Marriage.” Perhaps his purpose in the book is to demonstrate that, even by premises of the radical Left, marriage is a union of man and woman. If so, he has succeeded in that dubious task. It is not surprising that the arguments in this book have changed some Leftist minds—about marriage, not Leftism. But anything can be proved from false premises. A Leftist persuaded to support marriage on Monday can easily have his mind changed back again on Tuesday. Those on the political Right—the ideology of reason and individual rights—can do much better than to argue from Leftism. We can argue from the principle that the individual reasoning mind is capable of guiding an individual in his pursuit of happiness, which is his right to pursue free from force by other individuals or by government, and that he can enjoy an emotional life—including a romantic life—that is fully in harmony with his reason.


For much more on the subjects of masculinity, femininity, sexual orientation, and marriage, see my book, Masculine Power, Feminine Beauty: The Volitional, Objective Basis for Heterosexuality in Romantic Love and Marriage.