Santorum’s Confused Conservatism

Sen. Rick Santorum is taking heat for
his comments on homosexuality
in a recent AP interview. Santorum was quoted as saying:

And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does.

This statement has resulted in a firestorm of controversery. Conservative gay-rights advocate Andrew Sullivan
had this to say about Santorum’s comments

His (Santorum’s) subsequent comments also strongly imply that he would allow the cops to come into private homes to police heterosexual adultery as well. Or, in Santorum’s world, the cops could enter someone’s house to see whether a man was having sex with two women or more than two women on a continuous basis (that would be private "bigamy" or "polygamy"). In fact, any activity that could be construed by Santorum as "antithetical to strong, healthy families" could theoretically be outlawed. I don’t know about you, but this vision of what should constitute government power in a free society worries the bejeezus out of me. In fact, it’s one of the most extremist, big-government comments I’ve ever heard from a sitting U.S. Senator. And he’s not even a liberal.

The question at hand is "does allowing consensual sex between homosexuals undermine the family structure?" The short answer to this question is clearly no, and Santorum’s position stands against the most basic tenets of the family and conservatism.

The reasoning for Santorum’s statement is contained within the interview:

Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Why? Because society is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that’s what? Children. Monogamous relationships.

If we accept the idea that the purpose of society is to produce children, then does it follow that homosexuality undermines this institution?

Clearly it does not. In order to accept that claim as true one would have to argue that homosexual behavior is something other than a hardwired behavior in certain individuals brains. However, there’s little evidence to support that contention. There have been studies that have indicated that there are neurological differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals. Something as basic and innate as sexual behavior isn’t something that can be easily altered at such a fundamental level. The theory that gays are actively "recruiting" others into the homosexual lifestyle seems based on only the flimsiest of evidence.

Furthermore, where is the societal interest in banning such behavior? If we accept that marriages that produce children are what is good for society, are we to force homosexuals to have children "for the good of the state?" Such an action would be morally reprehensible, not only for the people involved, but for the children as well. What difference does it make to the structure of family relationships if homosexuals engage in acts of consensual sex behind closed doors or if they remain celebate? There is absolutely no rational basis for suggesting that the mere presence of homosexuals interferes with the rights of the family. Nor does an acceptance of homosexuality as another’s lifestyle choice necessarily mean that someone is going to abandon traditional families.

If Santorum truly wishes to suggest that consensual acts of homosexual sex are punishable under the law, the results would be chilling. Basic conservative political philosophy is based upon the notion that the state has no right to interfere in the affairs of families unless there is a concrete harm being done. There is no state interest in banning consensual homosexual sex. To do so would be to place the interests of the state above the interests of the family. Such an act is antithetical to the very core of conservatism. If one is to value the sanctity of the family one cannot advocate that the state may play a role as sexual policeman in the bedroom.

One may argue that homosexuality is a sin and innately wrong. However, that does not justify state action to ban such practices. By using state power to stop homosexual activity it means that the family is now subservient to the state, a position which undermines the family far more than homosexual activity itself. It would be like cutting off one’s hand to cure a blister. Yes, homosexuality may be immoral to some, but in no way does that justify state action. It is an issue of personal conviction. If one disagrees with homosexuality, that is their perogative. However, making it specifically against the law transforms this issue into one of religious conviction and makes it an issue of law. Just because something is immoral does not provide a prima facie justification for making such an act illegal.

Sen. Santorum’s comments may resonate with many cultural conservatives, but it is philosophically and politically inconsistant. While I consider myself a conservative in the Burkean tradition, it is clear that the vast majority of the nation does not believe that consensual homosexual sex is worthy of being a crime. It may be immoral, but it should not be illegal. The GOP cannot stand as a party on a position that runs counter to the idea of personal and family autonomy. If conservatives value the family, they must realize that it is not an agency so flimsy that it needs the hand of government to shelter it from every storm – instead the family should be treated as sacred, and the government must not interfere with acts that produce no true harm to society or the family.

One thought on “Santorum’s Confused Conservatism

  1. I don’t agree with Santorum’s comments, but am far more frightened of this latest example of free speech assassination than the content of Santorum’s juvenile tirade. From the Wellstone memorial to the Trent Lott witch hunt, it’s become clear that a politician can do almost anything he or she wants to with a closed mouth, but let them make a single politically-incorrect soundbyte and their career’s over.

    Santorum and Lott are both willing participants in the child-abusive Bush tax cut plan and are apparently okaying House-proposed cuts in veterans benefits. It’s highly likely their also in support of outsourcing 800,000 government jobs to the lowest bidders and undoing our nation’s overtime compensation policy along with their society-destroying right-wing brethren. All that falls underneath the radar screens of the populace in the “soccer mom culture” of today however. It’s only when they say something politically incorrect and it cycles through the nightly news for a couple weeks does the public become too offended to allow the politician’s career to continue.

    If only the public could be half as worried about politicians shamelessly and quietly destroying their livelihood as they are about silly comments they make at funerals and birthdays, perhaps our hard-earned quality-of-life wouldn’t be under such direct assault.

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