Wednesday, 27 June 2012

At the Door of the Temple: Religious Freedom and the New Orthodoxy
June 27, 2012

The new orthodoxy of secularism fails to understand that the virtues generated by religious freedom underpin and encourage a healthy democracy.

When I was consecrated a bishop in 2005, I was not fretting about religious freedom in Scotland or in the United Kingdom. Yet just six and a half years later, I can say with a concerned and fearful realism that the loss of religious freedom is now arguably the most serious threat that the Catholic Church and all people of faith in this country are facing. The way this issue unfolds will determine how the Church will present itself to society for the foreseeable future. Will the Catholic Church—and other religious bodies and groups—have the space to adhere to, express, and teach their beliefs in the public square? Or will these basic elements of religious freedom be denied, driving the Church and other religious bodies to the margins of society, if not actually underground?

How has the question of religious freedom arisen in this country?

The question of religious freedom has arisen stealthily and rapidly in the United Kingdom. In 2007 I warned the people of my diocese in a pastoral letter that religious liberty was under attack. The introduction of new regulations that aimed to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods and services prompted my letter. These regulations were based on the Equality Act of 2006. It was evident that Catholic adoption agencies would be forced to go against the teaching of the Church by placing children with same-sex couples, or else fall afoul of the law. Some agencies complied with this legislation and renounced their Catholic character. Others closed down. Only a few have done neither, skilfully arguing their case,
continuing to operate as Catholic agencies facilitating adoption by suitable husbands and wives.

Subsequently, in two landmark cases, the courts in England ruled against the owners of a bed and breakfast facility who did not wish to accommodate homosexual couples under their roof, and then disallowed a Christian couple from fostering children because they could not guarantee that they would treat homosexuality as a positive life choice for children in their care. It was clear by then that, with the connivance of courts and the political establishment, religious freedom and freedom of conscience could be sacrificed on the altar of the homosexual agenda.

With this history, the Scottish bishops are in no doubt that if the government recognizes same-sex relationships as marriages, we will have to fight to preach and teach the true nature of marriage both from the pulpit and in Catholic schools, and we fear that Catholic men and women will be discriminated against in the workplace and in society. The danger is that the Catholic community will be forced into pariah status by aggressive secularism.

The issues at stake are at least two: the notion of religious freedom, and the notion of the state.

The Notion of Religious Freedom

In October 2011, I wrote to Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, about government policies that impinged on religious freedom. One of the issues I raised was the question of same-sex marriage. In a subsequent conversation, Salmond assured me that a law introducing same-sex marriage would not restrict the freedom of Catholics to practice their faith. I am not sure if he understood the difference between freedom of worship and freedom of religion, or if he understood it only too well, and was hedging his bets, knowing full well that once legislation permitting same-sex marriage was on the statute books, zealots would call for sanctions against people who publicly expressed dissent from the new orthodoxy.

I was worried especially for Catholic teachers who had to deliver a religious education program in Catholic primary and secondary schools in which marriage is defined explicitly as a union between a man and a woman. If same-sex relationships are recognized as marriages, we will need to campaign for legislation to guarantee the religious freedom to dissent from the new orthodoxy in public and in private, in religious worship and preaching, in teaching, and in the upbringing of children. Given the way things are in the UK presently, I have no confidence that any such guarantees will be forthcoming.

In December 2011, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, gave an address in Oxford commemorating the King James Bible. He confirmed the place of Christianity in British history and life. I wrote to the PM to praise his Oxford comments on the essential place of Christianity in British life and culture. In that letter, I said this:

I was pleased to read news reports of a speech you gave recently in Oxford marking the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible in which you acknowledged the fundamental contribution of Christianity to British society, called for a revival of Christian values, and acknowledged the importance of the Christian faith and of other religious faiths to the majority of people in Britain today. I welcome your words at a time when many of us are concerned that freedom of religion, understood not simply as freedom to worship, but also as freedom to express and teach our faith, is in danger of being eroded in the United Kingdom by illiberal limitations being placed on what Christians can say and do. I hope that your wise words will be reflected in the decisions reached by Parliaments and Assemblies, by the courts and by regulatory bodies up and down the land.

I received no reply to my letter either from the Prime Minister or from any of his departments or aides. But my recent experience of dealing with government on both sides of the border tells me that, while freedom of worship may not be in question, freedom of religion in its full sense is something they are not prepared to explicitly underwrite.

The Notion of the State

In February of this year, the Baroness Warsi, the Conservative Party Vice Chairman, as a follow-up to Pope Benedict XVI’s 2010 visit to Britain, led a UK ministerial delegation to the Vatican for talks on matters of mutual concern. The Baroness, herself a Muslim, was quoted in the media expressing concerns that religion in Britain was being marginalized. One prominent response came from the Equality and Human Rights Commission Chief, Trevor Phillips, who said that religious beliefs end “at the door of the temple.”

This was a far cry from the Prime Minister’s praise of the positive and essential role of Christianity in public life. But how can Christianity have a positive role in public life, one wonders, if it begins and ends at the door of the temple? And if religious freedom is limited to the interior of the temple, how different will Britain be from places like Saudi Arabia where there is freedom of worship behind closed doors?

The modern theory of religious freedom forged in the Second Vatican Council advocates the compatibility of the Judeo-Christian tradition with democracy. This doctrine, while asserting the supremacy of God, advocates rendering unto Caesar what is rightfully Caesar’s, and has no ambition to replace the law of the land with a religious code that collapses the secular into the sacred. The secular autonomy of the state is safe with this Christian and Catholic view of the legitimate separation of church and state, in which the virtues generated by religious freedom will underpin and encourage democracy, while the democratic system will support and protect religious freedom.

So the view expressed by Trevor Phillips that religious faith should not be allowed to enter the public square raises huge questions about the nature of the state. Phillips appears to endorse the notion of a state that fills all civic space and reaches out to control other institutions present within the state. It is a notion of the state with a rather limited understanding of subsidiarity. It is Big Government at its worst. It appears to have no respect for institutions, such as the family and the Church, which pre-exist the state, which straddle the private-public domain, and which have their own internal constitution. This is a state moving toward a kind of soft totalitarianism.

As Cardinal George Pell of Sydney observed in a lecture at Oxford in 2009, modern liberalism has strong totalitarian tendencies. It tends to imply that institutions such as the family, the Church, and other agencies exist only with the permission of the state, and, to exist lawfully, must abide by the dictates or norms of the state. This totalitarian liberalism is quite different from traditional liberalism, which sees the individual, the family, and the association as prior to the state, with the state existing only to fulfill functions that are beyond the capabilities of individuals and families.
A state with a healthy understanding of subsidiarity will recognize and encourage free associations and institutions, especially the family, churches, and religious groups. These groups are goods in themselves, and encourage the development of the virtues that sustain a healthy democracy. A state that recognizes human associations that exist prior to the state, not just chronologically but in terms of the truths of the human condition, and recognizes the legitimate prerogatives of such associations within the civic space, recognizes the limits of its own competence and the boundaries of its authority. According to this proper understanding, the state would have no business changing the nature of marriage to accommodate same-sex relationships and no business imposing on the conscience of Catholic adoption agencies.

Pope Benedict XVI expressed this fundamental understanding in speaking to a group of American bishops in January of this year:

The Church’s witness, then, is of its nature public: she seeks to convince by proposing rational arguments in the public square. The legitimate separation of Church and State cannot be taken to mean that the Church must be silent on certain issues, nor that the State may choose not to engage, or be engaged by, the voices of committed believers in determining the values 
which will shape the future of the nation.

How can this vision of church-state relations be accommodated or respected if the dominant ideology decrees that the Church’s faith and principles must be left at the door of the temple? This looming question will not be resolved by the quintessentially saving British virtues of decency, fairness, and bumbling along. I sense that the Christian roots of these national “virtues” have been eradicated. The anti-religious agenda has a hard edge and is in no mood to compromise.

Human Autonomy Rightly Understood

Religious freedom is more than freedom to worship, but is also the freedom to express and teach religious truth. It must include the freedom to evangelize, catechize, and serve the needy according to a religious community’s own precepts. Religious freedom is thus intertwined with freedom of expression, thought, and conscience. Believers should not be treated by the government and the courts as a tolerated and divisive minority whose rights must always yield to the secular agenda.

As we have seen in the genesis of the threat to religious freedom in the UK, the great question that exercises modern culture is the meaning of human autonomy and especially sexual freedom. Cardinal Pell wisely remarks that this struggle is fundamentally over a religious question that revolves around the reality of a transcendent order. One way of putting it is: “Did God create us or did we create God?” The limited scope that secularism is prepared to concede to religious beliefs is based on the assumption that we created God. As long as the supremacy remains with man, then faith is understood as a private therapeutic pursuit and is permitted. But when people insist that faith is more than this, and that the supremacy is not ours, religion must be resisted, increasingly through the law.

The question of autonomy, of freedom and supremacy, plays itself out, among other places, in the contest between religious and sexual freedom. Absolute sexual freedom lies at the heart of the modern autonomy project. Beyond preferences about sexual practices or forms of relationship, it extends now to preferences about the method and manner of procreation, family formation, and the uses of human reproduction in medical research. Cardinal Pell hit the nail on the head when he observed that the message from the earliest days of the sexual revolution, always barely concealed behind the talk of “free love,” “live and let live,” and creating space for “different forms of loving,” was that limits on sexual autonomy will not be tolerated. This is generating the pressures against religion in public life.

It is difficult for Christians to know how to respond in this situation. We are in the midst of a cultural revolution that can be uncompromising and brutal. Christians have the more promising vision and more convincing arguments than secularists about the nature of human beings in their need of God, about the nature of the family, about the place of faith in public life, and about the relationship of faith to science and progress. However, the cultural mood is to dismiss these arguments and insights in summary fashion. Christians today are riding the tiger, and, if the present cultural trajectory goes unchecked, I fully expect to be prosecuted in the courts in the coming years. But Christians need to be patient and steadfast and always ready to engage. Evil may well have its time but eventually it consumes itself, and it will not have the last word. We may need to pick up the pieces of a shattered civilization, broken and exhausted by its extreme adventure with radical godlessness.

Whatever happens in the next few years, the Catholic Church has only one choice: to be herself by being true to Jesus Christ, whatever the cost. What kind of nation and what kind of democracy will we be? That is another question.

Philip Tartaglia is the Roman Catholic Bishop of Paisley, Scotland. This essay is adapted from a keynote address he delivered on April 11, 2012, at Magdalen College, University of Oxford, to a conference sponsored by the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Bride Who Was Groomed for a Career

Recently, a possibly tragic event took place: a highly educated young woman I know got married. Radiant in her delicate lace dress, full of joy and optimism about the future, this blushing bride was not yet aware of the reality of her situation: that she has been groomed through her many years of education to be, well, the groom – and this fact is very likely to cause friction for her and her family as she tries to achieve the deepest hopes and dreams of her heart.
On the heels of International Women’s Day, which celebrated all that feminism has achieved for women’s progress in society and the workplace, it seems that this young woman’s educational path is the modern girl’s dream. Whip-smart, she holds two degrees from Ivy League universities. She has had scholarships and fellowships in the best places and with the most renowned scholars. Just before her wedding she graduated from the most exclusive educational program in her chosen professional field and passed the state exams for her profession. Her career glistens ahead of her with sky-high potential. She could be the next big name in her field, even a Nobel laureate one day.

Only now, she has a husband, and should children come along…what happens then?

The story of this young woman is far from unique. Many women experience aspects of this story upon graduation from university and while beginning their careers, as I did eight years ago. Having graduated from Harvard Law School, passed the New York Bar and headed out to a major law firm to begin my career, I asked myself at 26 where my life was headed. I was not yet married, but I was beginning to realize that with my six-digit salary and two-digit workday hours, I was in a great position to be my future family’s financial provider, but not so much the actual wife and mother.

I wanted to get married and have children, and I deeply believed that children needed their mommies. On the other hand, I also had a great burden on my shoulders – the weight of my as-yet unfulfilled career “potential”. I wanted to put my expensive, extensive and exclusive education to “good use” and to make something of myself in the world, not just at home. In some ways I felt like Frodo carrying the Ring of Power – what will I do with this career potential of mine? Any high school dropout can stay at home with children – but a successful career is not easily achieved or thrown away.

This is a very difficult dilemma for many young women today. The higher women climb on the education ladder, the harder it is for many of them to get off the track. There are several reasons for this, including the years of invested sweat and money, as well as the deeply-held career goals that have been created over years of academic success, but which clash in reality with the role of a wife and mother.

These are not popular words, and many will surely take vehement issue with what I am writing here. There are so many examples of women who seem to “have it all” – substantial career success as well as seemingly functional and happy children and families. And so many women – and men – want to believe that women can be superheroes: CEOs and moms of five kids at the same time.

But now as a stay-at-home mom, I have come to a different conclusion. Caring for children, at least while they are small, is a full-time job, and creating and maintaining a family’s home, including the cooking, is no easy task either. Women have only two choices when it comes to these matters – do it themselves or get someone else to do it for them. There is a price to pay for getting others to do the work for you, and it’s not just financial. Much of the emotional price for outsourced childcare is paid by the children. As my husband remarked the other day, it’s funny how much they need us, since we don’t really need them (at least in the same way). When I hear my children crying “Mama”, I am glad that it is me – and not someone else -  who is there for them.

As I think about how I want to raise my little girl, there are things I want to do differently. When I was growing up, academic success and my future occupation were the focus of my world. I spent high school and university pondering what kind of job I wanted to get after university. Somehow, it was assumed that the role of wife and mother would eventually just coexist alongside my career ambitions. It was never clarified how this would work in practice.
I wish that as I was growing up, the role of wife and mother had been more fully present as a respectable and important option that also needs time and training, not just an afterthought that automatically tacks on to a career. Much of the skill set I acquired in university is not very useful in the home. Although I know how to write legal briefs, I wish I knew how to sew, play family songs on the piano and cook without a cookbook, and even that I was more familiar with caring for little ones and for a busy household. All the chores I was protected from in order to enable me to study as I was growing up – maybe I should have done them after all, including some babysitting. I want to give these experiences to my daughter, so that she will be better equipped not just for a career, but also for motherhood.

I even wish – and this is sure to get some hair frizzed – that it had been explained to me that a high-flying career does not go well with family life. Men and women really are different. When the man gets married, it is just a sweet step in the direction of all his life dreams. He can climb up the career ladder and still be a good father to his nine kids. He will get a deep sense of meaning and fulfillment from providing for his family.

But where feminism has confused women, it has made us dream that we are the same as men. Men are not mothers, and children don’t need them in the same way as they will inevitably need us. So if we want to have children, we can’t pretend to be men in our career plans and aspirations. Do we really want to have someone else caring for our homes and our children? It does not have to be that way. We need to embrace a model of life success that is less career-oriented and more family-centered. Giving of oneself to others, while it comes without diplomas, year-end bonuses and frequent-flyer miles, is just as worthy and important as building up one’s own career.

Lea Singh writes from Canada. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

UT professor faces opposition to controversial gay parenting study

When Austin resident Dawn Bayer looks at her three adult children, she considers her parenting journey a success. Although she began raising her children within a married heterosexual relationship, Bayer has been in lesbian relationships for 14 years. She is one of the people who disagrees with a new UT study finding children raised by gay parents are at a significant disadvantage.
Published in the July issue of Social Science Research, the study was led by UT associate sociology professor Mark Regnerus and encountered a swirl of media scrutiny last week. Regnerus said his study hoped to answer the question, “Is there no difference between growing up with a gay parent as opposed to other forms of family structures?” Critics have said Regnerus’ study is flawed because he did not include enough stable gay couples in his analysis. He has also received backlash from LGBT advocates because he received funding from the Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation, two organizations known to support conservative ideals.
In an interview with The Daily Texan, Regnerus said he stands by everything he wrote.
“I stand by everything I did, said and wrote,” Regnerus said. “I don’t have a political axe to grind. I know the funders are conservative. I don’t know what they make of this. I will always follow where the data leads.”
Bayer said her success in raising her children while maintaining same-sex relationships made the results of the study particularly upsetting.
“I was disappointed,” Bayer said. “That might be an understatement. I have three thriving adult children who have been raised in a lesbian household since the ages of seven, nine and 11.”
Bayer has been with her current partner for three years. After divorcing her children’s father, Bayer was told that revealing her sexuality could cost her the custody of her kids.
“The attorney told me, ‘You cannot tell anyone in the state of Texas that you are gay. It is absolutely possible that you could lose your children because of your sexuality,’” Bayer said. “At the time, it was a different world.”
Regnerus compared adult children raised in family structures such as “intact bio families,” which include married heterosexual couples, with children raised by gay or lesbian parents. Regnerus began the study in the fall of 2010 and used a nationally representative population-based sampling method, the same method used in the U.S. census, which differs from other studies that seek out individual people to survey.
The study compared children using 40 different categories, observing aspects of their adult life: income, voting status, current sexual orientation, depression level and current self-reported level of happiness.
“We found that there are differences between kids who grew up with a mom in a lesbian relationship and kids who grew up with mom and dad who were married and who are still married today,” Regnerus said. “It’s challenging because family structure is not a static thing, so deciding who is going to be analyzed and what the categories are calls for a lot of subjective decisions.”
In one instance, Regnerus reported significant statistical differences in categories such as education, employment status, depression and marijuana use between children raised by heterosexual couples and those raised by women who had lesbian relationships.
Regnerus said the study has been widely criticized for not including stable lesbian households. Only two of the children from the study spent their entire lives raised by a lesbian couple, he said.
“There’s not enough statistical power to tell if there are differences between those small handful of stable lesbian couple families,” he said. “I would assume that they would be doing better. Stability is good. That was one clear message of the study.”
Travis Knoll, a Latin American studies senior, was adopted when he was six years-old by a single gay man after spending much of his childhood in foster care. Knoll said the sacrifices made by his father and those who helped raise him were invaluable parts of his upbringing.
“My father’s orientation did indeed influence how I was raised,” Knoll said. “It influenced my character positively. I felt I was being raised in a community. I wouldn’t trade my life for anything.”
Knoll said the results of the study were presented without an articulated point, which made the ultimate intention of the study unclear.
“A public intellectual has a responsibility not to just publish numbers, but to also be very clear about what they mean. I think he has yet to clarify that,” Knoll said. “It almost seems kind of na├»ve to think that someone who is funding his project with such a [conservative] history doesn’t have an agenda.”
Knoll also said he hopes Regnerus’ “numbers won’t be used to justify issues” against homosexuals.
He said the larger issue revolves around what is best for children who are currently in need of stable homes.
“There are thousands of children waiting for adoption by competent gay couples, and they can’t be adopted through certain agencies because it’s against their principles, or because the state still prefers to keep them in the foster systems, which are very temporary and don’t provide stability for the child,” Knoll said. “So regardless of the study, the real question is how can we assure society that gay couples will raise children in a similar fashion to straight couples?”
Ryan Haecker, recent information studies graduate and founder of UT’s Anscombe Society chapter, which aims to protect the ideals of heterosexual marriage on campus, said he found Regnerus’ criticism of the “no differences” paradigm to be the most significant aspect of the study. According to the study, the “no differences” paradigm suggests children of same-sex couples display “no notable disadvantages” to those raised by heterosexual married couples.
“Often, defenders of alternative sexual lifestyles and familial forms will use such research, either overtly or covertly, to silence and dismiss with, rather than to engage with moral criticisms,” Haecker said, referring to those who use the paradigm to suggest that children raised by same-sex couples are the same as all other children. “The policy of not discussing the moral criticisms of same-sex erotic relationships is presently observed among proponents of same-sex lifestyles.”
Haecker said proponents of a more traditional family structure, particularly in a religious context, are often overlooked as recent research continues to support the “no differences” paradigm.
“We have observed how the scholarly discourse regarding same-sex parenting and ‘marriage’ has shifted dramatically in the past decade,” Haecker said. “If this secularizing trend should continue, we may expect sociological and legal discourse to more and more exclude, dismiss and silence moral criticisms of alternative familial forms.”
Despite the study, Bayer said it’s up to parents to realize the importance of bringing up children in stable and loving families regardless of structure or orientation.
“It’s important to remember that love is love, and when we do things with intention and purpose, kids aren’t left out,” Bayer said. “Gay or straight, it doesn’t matter.”

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Kids Aren’t All Right: New Family Structures and the “No Differences” Claim
by  and 
June 14, 2012
Two new peer-reviewed studies show that family structure matters and children do best when reared by their married biological mother and father.

The widely circulated claim that parents engaged in same-sex relationships do just as well as other parents at raising children—a claim widely known today as the “no differences” thesis—is not settled science. Two new peer-reviewed studies released this week by the academic journal Social Science Research challenge the claim that there are no differences in outcomes between children raised by parents who have same-sex relationships and those raised by their biological mother and father in intact, stable marriages.

In the first article, family studies scholar Loren Marks of Louisiana State University reviews the 59 studies that are referenced in the 2005 American Psychological Association brief that came to the conclusion that there are “no differences.” Marks concludes that “not one of the 59 studies referenced … compares a large, random, representative sample of lesbian or gay parents and their children with a large, random, representative sample of married parents and their children. The available data, which are drawn primarily from small convenience samples, are insufficient to support a strong generalizable claim either way.”[1] Marks’s study casts significant doubt upon the older evidence on which the APA brief, and thus the “no differences” paradigm, rests.

The second article, by sociologist Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin, presents new and extensive empirical evidence that shows there are differences in outcomes between the children of a parent who has same-sex relationships and children raised by their married, biological mother and father. This new evidence was gathered by Dr. Regnerus, the lead investigator of the New Family Structures Study (NFSS) of the University of Texas, which in 2011 surveyed 2,988 young adults for the specific purpose of collecting more reliable, nationally representative data about children from various family origins. (The Witherspoon Institute provided funding for this study.) Already, the NFSS has been acknowledged by critics to be “better situated than virtually all previous studies to detect differences between these groups in the population.”[2]

As Regnerus explains, the NFSS is unique among gay parenting research in three ways:
First, it compares the outcomes of children who reported having a mother who had a same-sex relationship with another woman (LM for short) or a father who had a same-sex relationship with another man (GF for short) with the outcomes of children who reported coming from an intact biological family (IBF for short). Most gay parenting research compares gay and lesbian parenting to single, divorced, and step-parent parenting, or conversely compares a select, and often socio-economically privileged, population of gay parents to a broad, representative sample of the general population.

Second, the NFSS gathered responses from young adult children. Other gay parenting studies focus on the responses of parents for their views about what it is like to be parenting as a gay man or lesbian woman. The NFSS interviewed the sons and daughters of GFs and LMs after they had grown up and matured into young adults (ages 18-39). This allowed the children to speak for themselves about their past experiences and to report on how they are doing at present.

Finally, the NFSS drew from a large, random sample of the U.S. population. To date, there is only one other gay parenting study that draws from a large, random sample, that of Michael Rosenfeld of Stanford University, who relies upon 2010 U.S. Census data. Every other gay parenting study thus far relies upon small or non-probability samples, which are inadequate for drawing conclusions about the population at large. Additionally, the NFSS gathered more data of interest to gay parenting researchers than did the U.S. Census, soliciting answers on a wide range of outcomes, including social, emotional, and relational well-being.

Qualifications of the Results
Before detailing the results of the NFSS, two important points must be made: First, the results do not claim to establish causality between parenting and child outcomes. In other words, the results are not a “report card” on gay parenting, but a report on the average condition of grown children from households of gay and lesbian parents versus those from IBFs. So, for instance, when the study finds that children who have had a parent in a same-sex romantic relationship are much more likely to suffer from depression as young adults than the children who come from IBFs, this does notclaim that the gay parent was the cause of the depression in his or her child; simply that such children on average have more depression, for reasons unidentified by the study. That said, however, the study controlled for variables like age, gender, race, level of mother’s education, perceived household income while growing up, the degree of legislative gay-friendliness of the respondent’s home state, and experience of being bullied as a youth. Controls help eliminate alternative explanations for a given outcome, making the causal link between parenting structure and children’s outcomes more likely when the results are statistically significant after controls.

Second, the kind of gay parenting identified was rarely planned by two gay parents. The study found that the children who were raised by a gay or lesbian parent as little as 15 years ago were usually conceived within a heterosexual marriage, which then underwent divorce or separation, leaving the child with a single parent. That parent then had at least one same-sex romantic relationship, sometimes outside of the child’s home, sometimes within it. To be more specific, among the respondents who said their mother had a same-sex romantic relationship, a minority, 23%, said they had spent at least three years living in the same household with both their mother and her romantic partner. Only 2 out of the 15,000 screened spent a span of 18 years with the same two mothers. Among those who said their father had had a same-sex relationship, 1.1% of children reported spending at least three years together with both men.

This strongly suggests that the parents’ same-sex relationships were often short-lived, a finding consistent with the broader research on elevated levels of instability among same-sex romantic partners. For example, a recent 2012 study of same-sex couples in Great Britain finds that gay and lesbian cohabiting couples are more likely to separate than heterosexual couples.[3] A 2006 study of same sex marriages in Norway and Sweden found that “divorce risk levels are considerably higher in same-sex marriages”[4] such that Swedish lesbian couples are more than three times as likely to divorce as heterosexual couples, and Swedish gay couples are 1.35 times more likely to divorce (net of controls). Timothy Biblarz and Judith Stacey, two of the most outspoken advocates for same-sex marriage in the U.S. academy, acknowledge that there is more instability among lesbian parents.[5]

Therefore, while critics of the NFSS have faulted it for lacking comparisons between children of IBFs and the children of committed and intact gay or lesbian couples, this was attempted, but was not feasible. Despite drawing from a large, representative sample of the U.S. population, and despite using screening tactics designed to boost the number of respondents who reported having had a parent in a same-sex relationship, a very small segment reported having been parented by the same two women or two men for a minimum of three years. Although there is much speculation that today there are large numbers of same-sex couples in the U.S. who are providing a stable, long-term parenting relationship for their children, no studies based upon large, random samples of the U.S. population have been published that show this to be true, and the above-cited studies of different nations show that on average, same-sex couple relationships are more short-lived than those of opposite-sex couples.

Despite the lack of empirical evidence for the claim that today there are large numbers of stable, two-parent gay households, for the last ten years, contemporary gay parenting research has nevertheless claimed that there are “no significant differences” (and some benefits) to being raised by same-sex parents. Therefore, Regnerus analyzed the new NFSS data to verify this claim. In the end, he found the claim to be more plausible when comparing the grown children of parents who had a same-sex relationship to the grown children of divorced, adopted, single-parented, or step-parented arrangements. The claim is false if one compares the grown children of a parent who had a same-sex relationship to those from IBFs. While the study has been criticized for “comparing apples to oranges,” Regnerus’s work studies the reality of the population of children who were raised by parents who had same-sex relationships. As the next sections show, there are clear and, in most cases, very unfortunate differences between the children of parents who had a same-sex relationship and those from biological families of still-married parents.

The following selection of NFSS outcomes can be found animated, graphed, and numerically compared at:

Social Outcomes
Public perceptions and stereotypes of children of gays and lesbians usually assume them to be white, upper-middle-class members of society. However, in response to questions about race, 48% of the respondents with a GF, and 43% of the respondents with an LM indicated that they were either black or Hispanic, a number much higher than previously found by studies based on convenience samples.[6] On economic outcomes, grown children of an LM were almost four times more likely to be currently on public assistance than the grown children of IBFs. As young adults, they were also 3.5 times more likely to be unemployed than the grown children of IBFs.

On criminal outcomes, the children of GFs showed the greatest propensity to be involved in crime. They were, on average, more frequently arrested and pled guilty to more non-minor offenses than the young-adult children in any other category. The children of LMs reported the second highest frequency of involvement in crimes and arrests, and in both categories the young-adult children of intact biological families reported the lowest frequency of involvement in crimes or arrests.

Contrary to recent and widely circulated reports that there is no sexual victimization in lesbian households, the NFSS found that, when asked if they were ever touched sexually by a parent or other adult, the children of LMs were eleven times more likely to say “yes” than the children from an IBF, and the children of GFs were three times more likely to say “yes.” The children of IBFs were the least likely of all family types to have ever been touched sexually: only 2% reported affirmatively (compared to 23% of LMs who replied “yes”). When asked if they were ever forced to have sex against their will, the children of LMs were the worst off again—four times more likely to say “yes” than the children of IBFs. The children of GFs were three times more likely to have been forced to have sex than the children of IBFs. In percentages, 31% of LMs said they had been forced to have sex, compared with 25% of GFs and 8% of IBFs. These results are generally consistent with research on heterosexual families. For instance, a recent federal report showed that children in heterosexual families are least likely to be sexually, physically, or emotionally abused in an intact, biological, married family.[7]

Regarding physical health, when asked if they had ever had a sexually transmitted infection (STI), the young-adult children of GFs were three times more likely to say “yes” than those of IBFs. Children of LMs were two and a half times more likely to say “yes,” followed by the children of stepfamilies, who were twice as likely to have had an STI as children of IBFs. Children of IBFs and children from “other” family types were the least likely of all to have had an STI. When asked to report upon frequency of marijuana use, the young-adult children of divorced parents were the worst off, reporting that they had used marijuana on average one and a half times more frequently than children of IBFs; next came the children of LMs, followed by the children of single parents, and the children of GFs. The children adopted prior to age 2 by strangers (people unrelated to them) and the children of IBFs reported least frequent marijuana use as young adults.

Emotional and Mental Health Outcomes
Respondents were asked to report their sentiment about their family experiences while growing up. The children of LMs reported the lowest levels of perceived safety in their childhood home, followed by children of GFs, with the children of IBFs reporting the highest levels of perceived safety. When asked if they were recently or currently in therapy “for a problem connected with anxiety, depression, relationships, etc.,” children adopted by strangers reported receiving such therapy the mostfollowed by the children of LMs. The children from IBFs were least likely to report receiving therapy.

On the CES-D depression index, an eight-measure survey of respondents’ happy-to-depressed thoughts over the previous seven days, the young-adult children of LMs and GFs reported statistically significantly higher levels of depression than young-adult children from IBFs. The young-adult children of GFs were twice as more likely to have thought about suicide in the previous 12 months as the children of LMs, and almost five times more likely than the children of IBFs to have thought about the same.

Relational Outcomes
The study asked questions about the history and current status of the young adults’ relationships. When asked to rate the quality of their current relationship, the children of GFs reported the lowest, followed by children adopted by strangers, the children of stepfamilies, and then the children of LMs.

When asked about the number of times they thought that their current relationship was in trouble, the children of GFs reported the highest numbers again, followed by the children of divorced parents. The children of IBFs reported both the highest levels of relationship quality and the lowest frequency of thinking their relationship to be in trouble of all of the family arrangements.

When asked about infidelity, children of LMs were three times more likely to report having had had an affair while married/cohabiting than children of IBFs, followed by children from stepfamilies (who were two and a half times more likely than IBFs) and children of GFs (who were twice as likely).

The NFSS asked respondents to identify their sexual orientation and found that children of LMs were more open to same-sex romantic relationships, bisexuality, and asexuality than any other group. Daughters of LMs reported an average of just over one female sex partner and four male sex partners in their lifetimes, in contrast to daughters of IBFs who reported an average of only 0.22 female sex partners and 2.79 male sex partners in their lifetimes. Daughters of LMs were also most likely to self-report asexuality, “not sexually attracted to either males or females” (4.1% of females from lesbian mothers compared to 0.5% of females from IBFs). Children of GFs were the next least likely to identify as fully heterosexual. Children from IBFs were most likely of all family types to identify as entirely heterosexual.

Taken together, the findings of the NFSS disprove the claim that there are no differences between children raised by parents who have same-sex relationships and children raised in intact, biological, married families when it comes to the social, emotional, and relational outcomes of their children. On 25 out of 40 outcomes evaluated by Regnerus, there were statistically significant differences between children from IBFs and those of LMs in many areas that are unambiguously suboptimal. On 11 out of 40 outcomes, there were statistically significant differences between children from IBFs and those who reported having a GF in many areas that are suboptimal. The “no differences” claim is therefore unsound and ought to be replaced by an acknowledgement of difference.

Acknowledging the differences between the children of IBFs and those from LMs and GFs better accords with the established body of social science over the last 25 years, which finds that children do best when they are raised by their married, biological mother and father. At the turn of the millennium, social scientists widely agreed that children raised by unmarried mothers, divorced parents, cohabiting parents, and step-parents fared worse than children raised by their still-married, biological parents.[8] Although data on gay and lesbian parenting were not yet available at that time, it was difficult to imagine that gay and lesbian parents would be able to accomplish what parents in step-parenting, adoptive, single-parenting, and cohabiting contexts had not been able to do, namely, replicate the optimal child-rearing environment of married, biological-parent homes.

However, as early as 2001, social scientists working on sexual orientation and parenting began to claim just that, that there were not as many differences as sociologists would expect between outcomes for children in same-sex versus heterosexual unions, and that the differences were not negative, but favorable.[9] Since then, an increase in gay parenting research over the last decade has made similar claims, such that the emergent message from social scientists working in gay parenting has gone in a different direction, alleging that there are no differences in outcomes—and some advantages—for children raised by parents with same-sex behavior.[10]

By challenging these claims, the Regnerus and Marks papers are consistent with the social science consensus that existed at the turn of the millennium: to be raised in an intact biological family presents clear advantages for children over other forms of parenting. In particular, the NFSS provides evidence that previous generations of social scientists were unable to gather: that children from intact, biological families also out-perform peers who were raised in homes of a parent who had same-sex relationships. Therefore, these two new studies reaffirm—and strengthen—the conviction that the gold standard for raising children is still the intact, biological family.[11]

Ana Samuel is a Research Scholar of the Witherspoon Institute. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Notre Dame. For a more in-depth examination of the results and methods of the NFSS please see Dr. Regnerus’s article, “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study,” and visit the website

Saturday, 9 June 2012

What’s Behind the HHS Mandate?
June 5, 2012
The HHS mandate illustrates three liberal ideological commitments that treat religious freedom as an afterthought.

What do the University of Notre Dame, EWTN, and the Archdiocese of New York have in common?

More than you probably think. Each is a Catholic institution, of course. Each is also suing the Obama Administration over the HHS “contraception” mandate. Each is going to be spared the Hobson’s choice between complying with the mandate and betraying its mission if any one of four possible scenarios comes to pass. Each nonetheless continues to stand in grave peril of institutional martyrdom.

The first scenario will play out by June 29, the last day of the current Supreme Court term. If the Court throws out the whole Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the mandate will go with it. The reason is not that the pending decision is about contraception or religious liberty. It is that the mandate depends entirely for its force upon the survival of PPACA.
The second scenario will go down on November 6. If Mitt Romney is then elected our next president, you can be sure that he will soon thereafter announce his intention to rescind the mandate.

The chances that one of these two scenarios will occur are pretty high. The chances that the Obama administration will fare poorly in the pending lawsuits (by Cardinal Dolan, et al.) are pretty high, too. When those dim prospects become apparent to the administration, it is likely—and this is the third scenario—to invite the complaining Catholic institutions to the bargaining table, to significantly expand the current wafer-thin exemption from the mandate. But if the administration imprudently digs in its heels, some time in 2014 the Supreme Court is likely to rule that the exemption mustbe expanded in order to comply with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That would be scenario number four.

Because it is almost certain that at least one of these possibilities will come to be, the day of reckoning for Notre Dame, Mother Angelica, and Cardinal Dolan will be postponed.
I say “postponed,” and not “canceled,” advisedly. The ideological commitments that have emboldened the Obama administration about contraception are deeply held. They are held to be very important. They are resilient. They are not limited to the reproductive rights supposedly protected by access to contraception, even when contraception is broadly defined to include abortifacient drugs. These deep convictions about liberty and equality and religion entail trouble for religious liberty, no matter which exit route the present mandate takes.

I say “entail” advisedly, too. Religious liberty in the new dispensation is derivative of these deeper moral and (as we shall see) epistemological commitments. Religious liberty is, from this point of view, an afterthought, a residue which is unfortunately too vaporous to protect Catholic institutions from existential crises.

What are these ideological commitments? There are three of special note.
The first is dedication to advancing the ideology of “equal sexual liberty.” This powerful complex of ideas comes in both straight and “gay” versions.

When President Obama announced his phony “compromise” about the mandate on February 10, he plainly stated what the mandate was for: “Every woman should be in control of the decisions which affect her health. Period.” Given the context of these remarks, Obama meant, specifically, what is usually called “reproductive health.” His overriding commitment to this reproductive health—evidenced by, for example, the “contraception” mandate—presupposes that women will and should have lots more sexual intercourse than they have interest in conceiving children.

According to this widespread view, sexual license should never impede a woman’s lifestyle, at least no more than it does a man’s. Marking the most recent anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the President said that “our daughters must have the same opportunities as our sons.” Obama’s notion of equal opportunity extends to the bedroom as well as to the boardroom.

Catholic Charities in Boston and Washington, D.C., already have been martyred by the “gay” version of “equal sexual liberty.” They were obliged to abandon their adoption charities when public authority refused to accommodate their objections to same-sex “marriage.” Right now, Catholic schools in Ontario are being bullied by an “anti-bullying” law that compels parochial schools to set up “Gay-Straight Alliances.” These clubs would contradict the sexual morality that every Catholic institution is obliged before God and the Church to teach, by word and by deed.

Were they to comply with this “bullying” law, Ontario’s Catholic schools could not give the perspicuous witness to the faith that is their raison d’etre, just as America’s Catholic schools could not, were they to comply with the Obama Administration’s “contraception” mandate.

This far into the Age of Aquarius, no more needs to be said about the meaning and seductive appeal of “equal sexual liberty.” It is the emerging public orthodoxy about where sexual satisfaction, expression, and identity fit into the good life, and about the government’s responsibilities to establish conditions that make this life achievable for all with ease. This orthodoxy commands the cultural heights and has achieved ascendancy in the academy. We are in the midst of a high-stakes fight over its grip on our law. The outcome of this battle is in doubt.

It is easy to see already that “equal sexual liberty” is a natural predator of Catholic institutions, which are standing contradictions of almost all that the new orthodoxy proposes. What is not so apparent, however, is why the new orthodoxy has so totally eclipsed considerations of conscience, tolerance, and liberty in the thinking of self-identifying liberals such as Barack Obama. It is scarcely surprising that he and other like-minded officials are beguiled by “equal sexual liberty.” It is nonetheless curious that they should so remorselessly subordinate religious liberty to the new ideological colossus. One would think that our cherished “first freedom” would have a bit more staying power.

Looking at what Obama and like-minded folks think about religion dispels the curiosity. I do not mean here to consider their opinion about the value of religion, which value Obama (for example) affirms to be very high. I refer instead to their understanding of religion’s relationship to certain strategic moral propositions, and to the truth-value of religious claims as such.

Hence, the second ideological commitment is to treat the moral propositions that undergird the conservative alternative to “equal sexual liberty” assubjective religious beliefs incapable of rational defense. These include the propositions that people begin at fertilization; that marriage is strictly limited to the union of man and woman; and that the norms of sexual morality are many and that they are rooted in the marital relation. These propositions combine to refute the emerging orthodoxy of “equal sexual liberty.” Being propositions about morality, moreover, they are asserted by their adherents as truths of reason, albeit truths that are confirmed by religious authorities and by revelation.

Promoters of the new orthodoxy nonetheless boldly declare these claims to be “religious beliefs,” tout court. They just as boldly declare that, because they are “religious beliefs,” these claims are rationally indefensible. They may be held by the faithful as if they are genuine truths. But in reality these putative truths are subjective projections, verbal formulae which may function as the ligaments of a community, as so many fallible and revisable expressions of the ineffable depths of spiritual experience. They are badges of individual or religious communal identity. Because they are rationally indefensible, they are to be perceived and to be treated by outsiders as prejudice. Religious “doctrine” is thus a species of bias. So, the Church’s moral condemnation of sodomy and opposition to same-sex “marriage” amount to hallowed homophobia.

The third commitment is to identify the public value of institutional ministries, such as Catholic Charities and Saint-Somebody Hospital, entirely with the “secular” services they offer. Adherents of the new orthodoxy can and often do recognize the value of these organizations’ religious identity—to the religious people who staff them. Anyone can see that religion supplies added motivation, enthusiasm, and meaning to many of those working in these ministries. But these peculiar satisfactions are construed by the new orthodox to be private; they are personal delights that do not register as any sort of public good. The public value of these ministries is comprised of just so many hot lunches prepared, heart bypasses performed, and reading competency tests passed. Viewed from the public square, then, these organizations’ religious character is invisible.

Being invisible, it cannot have measurable value. Having no detectable value, it cannot serve to justify any allowance that would impair the government’s provision of conditions conducive to “equal sexual liberty.” So, exempting Catholic Charities from placing kids with a “gay” couple is a concession to private bias that is productive only of public mischief, insult, net loss.

An English Law Lord recently expressed this sum of the three orthodox commitments, in a case where he denied relief to a relationship counselor who could not in good conscience endorse the sexual activities of same-sex couples. Lord Justice Laws declared that any exemption would be “unprincipled,” for it would not “advance the general good on objective grounds, but … give effect to the force of subjective opinion.” How so? Laws asserted that it “must be so, since in the eye of everyone save the believer religious faith is necessarily subjective, being incommunicable by any kind of proof or evidence. It may of course be true; but the ascertainment of such a truth lies beyond the means by which laws are made in a reasonable society.” Against the demands of “equal sexual liberty” for homosexuals and lesbians, solicitude for the opaque commitments of the religious subject count for nothing.

It is natural, and right, to say that the HHS mandate undermines religious liberty. But it is important to add that this argument about religious liberty is more about the adjective than it is the noun. It is chiefly an argument about whether religion is about reality, truth, the way the cosmos is really structured, or whether it is about the byways of an individual’s psyche.

Gerard Bradley is Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School and a senior fellow of the Witherspoon Institute.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Blurring Sexual Boundaries
The definition of gender-related discrimination and of “hate crimes” is becoming ever more imaginative on both sides of the forty-ninth parallel. Witness, for example, Bill H1728 in the state of Massachusetts, An Act Relative to Gender-Based Discrimination and Hate Crimes, or its Canadian counterpart, Bill C-389. The ostensible purpose of this legislation is to extend legal protection to “sexual minorities.” The strategic intention, however, is something more ambitious.

Both the United States and Canada already provide extensive protection of human rights. The American Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” “Disability” and “age” were soon added to this list, and later (by judicial interpolation) “sexual orientation.” Hate-crimes legislation is spottier but guided by the same list. Canadian law, likewise, takes aim at actions “motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, color, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor.”

The aforementioned bills propose now to add to the list of protected categories “gender identity and expression”; or, more expansively, “a gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual.”

This has caused some consternation. Awkward questions are being asked about everything from cross-dressing males enjoying access to the ladies’ room to insurance companies being forced to pay for sex reassignment therapy (SRT)—not to mention qualified surgeons being forced to perform it. Wags on the right have dubbed both initiatives “bathroom bills” to highlight their impractical nature, and in Massachusetts the opposition has been stiff.

That such an addition to civil rights and criminal codes would create a great deal of social discomfort and a good bit of expense is not to be denied. But the same can be said, historically, of rights codes in general and certainly of “race” and “sex” in particular. To understand what’s wrong with these bills we need to look deeper than that.

First, observe that “gender identity” and “gender expression” are not, as proponents claim, like most other terms in these lists. That is, they do not represent objective conditions determined either by biology (like sex or race) or by sociopolitical institutions (like nationality, marital status, or religion). Rather, they represent subjectively determined conditions—mere attitudes toward oneself, or attitudes combined with behaviors (cross-dressing, say) intended to express or alleviate those attitudes. Gender identity, as one rights-commission statement puts it approvingly, “is linked to an individual’s intrinsic sense of self.”

Now this subjective realm of the self is humanly of vast importance, but it is not one into which the law should readily venture. Once venturing, it finds itself in a juridical Lebanon or Iraq—a territory from which it is very difficult to withdraw. Additions to the list of prohibited grounds or protected categories in this sphere can only grow longer and longer, until the whole idea of such laws becomes meaningless. Good law and sound public policy cannot be built on the shifting sands of the subjective.

We started down this road, of course, when we added sexual orientation, an identity marker that is not anchored in the biological or the institutional. But until now we have stopped shy of markers that explicitly combine the subjective with the behavioral. We have not asked, for legal purposes, whether a Canadian behaves like a Canadian or a Catholic like a Catholic or a man like a man. Those are extra-legal questions belonging to civil society, and it is important that they remain such, lest law (as Solzhenitsyn worried) absorb us altogether.

Observe, further, that these categories—gender identity and gender expression—are not actually positive or constructive additions to the prohibited grounds of discrimination. Rather, they constitute a deliberate attack on one of the existing grounds: sex. Let me explain.

The word “sex” in our codes specifies the natural division of the species into male and female, with a view to protecting the latter especially. The addition of “sexual orientation,” however, has effected a transformation in our thinking about human sexuality. Male and female have begun to give way to heterosexual and homosexual in the basic binary logic of sex. Hence the idea of same-sex marriage, with its air of legal inevitability.

The proposed addition of “gender identity and expression” carries that transformation even further by suppressing the binary logic itself. Backers of these bills often make no attempt to disguise this. “One of the great myths of our culture,” insists the Canadian Labor Congress, “is that at birth each infant can be identified as distinctly ‘male’ or ‘female’ (biological sex), will grow up to have correspondingly ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ behavior (public gender), live as a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ (social gender role), and marry a woman or a man (heterosexual affective orientation). This is not so.”

The standard notion of sex, then, must be replaced by the more malleable concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity. And I do mean must. Here in Quebec a recent government white paper promises to wipe society clean of both homophobia and heterosexism—that is, of any “affirmation of heterosexuality as a social norm or the highest form of sexual orientation [and of any] social practice that conceals the diversity of sexual orientations and identities.”

What this will mean in the long run for the legal protection of women remains to be seen, of course, but we can’t have it both ways. Sex cannot serve as an effective legal marker for discrimination if its binary nature dissolves into fluid sexual subjectivities. In that sense, these bills constitute unfriendly amendments to the civil and criminal codes they purport to refine or perfect.

Observe, as well, that these bills thinly veil another very telling contradiction. “Trans” people, we are told—the people the bills are supposed to protect—are those who are uncomfortable with and to some extent reject the gender identities assigned to them at birth. Some are transsexual—namely, those who have a strong sense that they are “living in the wrong sex”—and some are transgender, identifying with neither sex but placing themselves here or there on a gender spectrum. The former seek a transition between the two sexes; the latter deny that there aremerely two sexes. The former may regard their problem as “a medical concern, pure and simple,” to quote Corporal Natalie Murray of the Canadian Air Force, who made the transition. The latter often regard their problem as purely social, that is, as someone else’s problem, the problem of bigotry.

Here again we cannot easily have it both ways. Corporal Murray’s “hard-won identity as a woman” seems to make her a good poster girl for the Canadian bill, if one ignores the male chromosomes; but neither of these bills is about medical concerns, pure and simple. Medical concerns are covered by the term “disability,” which is already in the list of prohibited grounds. In the final analysis, these bills are about the alleged bigotry. Which is to say, they are more interested in taking the transgressive out of “transgender” than in guaranteeing the right to therapy for the transsexual.

Both goals are problematic, of course. Some years ago in these pages, Dr. Paul McHugh (“Surgical Sex,” November 2004) described the process by which his psychiatric team at Johns Hopkins eventually put a stop to sex-reassignment therapy, having come to the conclusion that SRT was based on a faulty premise and did more harm than good; indeed, that it was “to collaborate with a mental disorder rather than to treat it.” Proponents of the present bills, setting aside the medical evidence, choke and fume at such a claim. Ironically, however, they would agree with McHugh that “without any fixed position on what is given in human nature,any manipulation of it can be defended as legitimate.” And that is exactly what they want to achieve with this legislation. Gender fluidity is what they are after—meaning no fixed borders for sexual identity and no fixed rules for sexual self-expression.

Naturally this means all sorts of new rules for the general public, for businesses and schools, and for government. That is why interpretive institutions are springing up everywhere, like the GenderKompetenzCentrum at the University of Berlin. But when all is said and done, the proponents of these bills are not interested in the difficulties of implementation. Nor are they troubled by the logical or juridical or social contradictions the bills generate. For these bills are Trojan horses, which on closer inspection are designed not to protect a threatened minority but to entrench in law the notion that gender is essentially a social construct, based not in the natural order but in more or less arbitrary acts of human self-interpretation.

To endorse such bills one must think as the neo-gnostic Hegelians taught us to think—that nature is there only to be sublated or overcome—and to go, boldly or obediently, where the Gender Mainstreaming (GM) strategists want us to go. “To adopt a gender perspective,” says one obedient United Nations publication, “is to distinguish between what is natural and biological and what is socially and culturally constructed, and in the process to renegotiate the boundaries between the natural—and hence relatively inflexible—and the social—and hence relatively transformable.”

The fate of these ambitious bills will tell us quite a lot about how these negotiations are going, and reveal just how transformable our society actually is.

Douglas Farrow is professor of Christian thought at McGill University in Montreal. He has written on related themes in Divorcing Marriage and Nation of Bastards.
Why Sexual Integrity Isn’t Out-of-Date
June 1, 2012

A book about sex by J. Budziszewski uses natural law arguments to persuade young adults of the moral benefits of purity.

How should we respond to the hookup culture? A number of concerned parents, pastors, and professors from all sides of the religious and political spectrum have expressed concern about the sexual culture that today’s young people inhabit. Some scholars, such as sociologists Mark Regnerus, Jeremy Uecker, and Kathleen Bogle, have published value-neutral analyses that aim to assess current trends and save us from common misperceptions. In empirical terms, they tell us how and why the sexual economy hurts its actors. Others, such as Laura Sessions Stepp and Donna Freitas, have offered more personal—and, for Freitas, spiritual—analyses of problems and possible solutions in modern sexual culture. Interestingly enough, these authors don’t write as traditionalists or social conservatives. They aren’t advocating purity rings or “modest is hottest.” Instead, they seek to help young people make more responsible sexual decisions. Not surprisingly, though, their counsel often aligns with a traditional conception of sexuality and monogamy, even if not perfectly. The science shows that more commitment and fewer sexual partners tend to make people happier.

But what about those who think that morality requires a bit more of us? How can they persuade young people that reserving sexual intimacy for marriage is the right thing to do? In his book On the Meaning of Sex, popular author and political philosopher J. Budziszewski attempts to make such an argument on the basis of human nature and natural law. He begins with an anecdote from teaching. During a classroom discussion of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, one of his students, Harris, said he found the characters disgusting. When pressed, Harris clarified that he had no problem with their sexual habits: “Sex doesn’t always have to mean something,” he insisted. What he found disgusting was their factory production of human beings.
But, Budziszewski argues, holding those two positions is not logically consistent:

It shouldn’t have bothered Harris unless procreation is something that ought to take place in the loving embrace of the parents. . . . Moreover, since Harris was revolted that the aspiration to children could ever be separated from the aspiration to union, it would seem that he recognized that these two meanings aren’t merely sometimes joined together, but that they are joined whenever we have sex. . . . Apparently sex means something to us even if we don’t admit to ourselves that it does.

That last sentence conveys Budziszewski’s goal and style of argumentation: He wants to draw attention to the reader’s gut feelings and instincts that may have been trained away by education or social conditioning. He wants to help them see what they know, even if they don’t know that they know it.

After some well-laid-out arguments about function, purpose, and natural law, Budziszewski argues that our bodies and actions have natural purposes. This means that some actions, such as those necessary for sexual union, mean something, whether we want them to or not. To put it another way, they say something, even if that is not what we want them to say: “A bodily action is like a word; we mean things to each other no less by what we do than by what we say. . . . To crush your windpipe with my thumbs is to say to you, ‘Now die,’ even if I tell you with my mouth, ‘Be alive.’ To join in one flesh is to say, ‘I give myself to you in all that this act means,’ even if I tell you with my mouth, ‘This means nothing.’” What sex means is total gift, a union of selves instantiated through bodily union, and it cannot but help mean that. By acting against this nature, which we cannot change, we do damage to ourselves and others.

Budziszewski further argues that human nature entails complementary differences between men and women. He notes that these differences are similar across cultures, both in terms of what people think they are and what they think about them. “Mark it up as another victory of quantitative social science,” he writes: “We can now confirm by counting that what everyone used to know without counting really is true.” He then explores how the particular characteristics of men and women make them attractive—in short, what we mean when we say that someone is sexy. Budziszewski thinks we mean that we find their manliness or womanliness desirable. 

Womanliness, for instance, “isn’t something she contrives, but something that glows from her. . . . The most compelling and believable signs of being a nice person to marry, make love with, and have children with are the ones that arise spontaneously. They are an outward glory given by an inward and invisible reality. A beautiful woman cannot help giving off such radiance, because it is an effect of what she really is.” Beauty conveys something deeper and more holistic than raw sexual appeal.

Similarly, spousal love is not a matter of feelings but an act of the will. Enchantment is a feeling of emotional infatuation, the moment of “wow” when she enters the room. Love, by contrast, is really about charity, which Budziszewski defines as “a permanent commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” Erotic charity is a mode of charity bound to one person, and sexual intercourse is a particular act of this charity that fuses two selves together in the union of their flesh. Because love is not about enchantment, but charity, it is an act of the will, not a feeling. Therefore, Budziszewski argues, “it is something that one decides to do, and it can be promised.” To the many young people who claim that permanent, exclusive marriage is impossible because you can’t promise feelings, he would say yes—but marriage is not a promise of feelings.

Not surprisingly, Budziszewski calls for embracing sexual purity, which, he makes clear, is a matter of pursuing goods—goods that will be useful and helpful for marriage—not fleeing from them. Its temporary “no’s” enable one to give a full “yes” at the right time. He sees sexual purity as coming in both masculine and feminine flavors: “One awakens the feminine intuition of something that must be guarded; the other, the masculine sense of something that must be mastered.” And he extols the virtues of purity: decorum, “the conduct befitting the dignity of man as a rational being”; modesty, which “expresses respect for the fragility of this dignity . . . [and avoids] provoking appetites that people should be trying to moderate”; and temperance, finding order and the mean in one’s actions.

Throughout the book, Budziszewski resists invoking God or anything beyond rationally accessible premises. More accurately, he hints at such ideas without developing his hints, nor has he explained why every chapter begins with a quotation from John of the Cross. In the conclusion, though, he argues that sex points to and is ultimately about God: “Nature points beyond herself. She has a face, and it looks up. . . . ultimately, human love makes sense only in the light of divine love. The point is not that divine love means something and that human love doesn’t. Human love means so much, because divine love means still more.” In a variation on C.S. Lewis’s argument for the existence of God based on desire, he notes that even when we love well, mortal love is not enough. Since no human longing is made in vain, this unfulfilled natural desire must point toward a supernatural lover.

But taking this argument into religious waters poses the question of which audience Budziszewski hopes to reach. And that poses the larger question of how effective his efforts—not to mention the broader efforts of like-minded religious believers—actually are. If he wants to strengthen the faithful as they navigate young adulthood, he might well succeed. To be sure, far too many young religious men and women have followed the cultural lead and abandoned chastity. If On the Meaning of Sex gave them better reasons for it, that alone would be a great feat. But how is he to persuade students who press with further questions or actively oppose his views on principle? 

Budziszewski’s occasionally chivalric language might go over well with young Chestertonians, but many young adults would balk at passages like this one:

When we do attempt the journey back to the commonwealth of sense, we will meet trolls and enchanters on the way. They will obstruct passage, demand tribute, and try to lure us into byways and bogs. But why should that discourage us? We are already begrimed and bewitched. The first thing to do is open our eyes, grasp hold of the nearest branches, and pull ourselves out of the ooze. Odd knights we! Having made ourselves muddy and ridiculous, we may as well journey with a smile.

Likewise, the Arthurian metaphor of the Siege Perilous for a woman, her sexuality, or her reproductive organs is not going to fly outside more traditional Christian circles, and even there it might receive tenuous support.

Inquisitive students will desire more proof that sex has to mean what Budziszewski thinks it means—and why it cannot mean what they might want it to mean. His passages about sexual beauty offer an attractive vision of what it means to be human, but can they pierce the carapace of wounded, ironic disdain? He discusses sexual differences with nuance and care, and many young adults would no doubt find resonances of his words in their lives, but, albeit unfairly, a good number will dismiss it as patriarchal and outmoded.

How then can those who agree with Budziszewski try to show young adults a more excellent way? There are few easy answers, but On the Meaning of Sex’s strengths show where to begin: by offering an eloquent, engaging description of the beauty of men, women, and sexuality. 

Moreover, it seeks to show young people the wisdom of their desires and repugnance. It tries to preserve good intuitions and gently check misunderstandings, to show them what their hearts know, even if unwittingly. It also hands on the wisdom of our forebears with care and winsomeness. Of course, those who believe that chastity leads to flourishing must also demonstrate it with their lives. But arguments are necessary as well, and both the style and the content of On the Nature of Sex offer a good place to find them.

Nathaniel Peters is a Ph.D. student of theology at Boston College.