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April 26, 2003

The intra-conservative debate (don't you

Daniel Radosh

The intra-conservative debate (don't you love those?) over Rick Santorum ("Santorum? Isn't that Latin for asshole?" -- Bob Kerrey) is hinging in part on whether Rick equated homosexuality with child abuse and beastiality, or whether he specifically distinguished among them. Andrew Sullivan takes the former position for granted. Not so Stanley Kurtz and many others, who read Santorum's remarks in the exact opposite way. Here's Chris Caldwell:

"The Supreme Court has consistently used the privacy doctrine to shield sexual rights from moral criticism; all that matters under the privacy doctrine is consent. Mr Santorum took exquisite care to respect this distinction. "Not to pick on homosexuality," he explained. "It's not, you know, man-on-child, man-on-dog, or whatever the case may be." What a nifty rhetorical trick! Homosexuality is indeed in a different category from sex with children and animals. But, as Mr Santorum implied, it falls in the same category as many disreputable forms of sex such as prostitution, incest between adults, and polygamy - all of which are consensual."

Sounds pretty definitive. But go to the actual transcript:

"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. In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing."

It's hard to tell without hearing Santorum's voice, but here's how I read it: In the very last sentence, the word "it" clearly refers to "the definition of marriage" from three sentences previous. In which case, the word "it's" in the sentence before that must also refer to "the definition of marriage." What Santorum is saying is not "homosexuality is not man on child, etc." He's saying. "I'm not singling out homosexuality here. There are a lot of relationships that do not fit the definition of marriage. Among them, man on child, etc." Advantage Sullivan.

Meanwhile, the supposed debate over whether (consensual adult) incest should perhaps also be legal is such a non-starter. There is virtually no such thing (if there was, the movement would have better web designers), thanks to taboos stronger than any law. Sure, in an abstract philosophical way, invoking the right to privacy would lead one to supporting a repeal of laws against incest. But in the real world, where there is no such repeal movement, the connection is only made by those seeking to invoke a slippery slope from homosexuality to utter pandemonium. As such, it's not worth talking about, at least until gay rights are firmly entrenched in American society.

On a similar note, I can't get worked up over the whole dilemma pro-choicers are supposedly facing over Laci Peterson and fetal murder laws. Sure, in a perfect world where abortion rights are firmly entrenched, there's no philosophical reason that pro-choicers shouldn't support laws that punish the murder of a wanted fetus. But we're not in that world, and the laws are being proposed specifically in order to chisel away at abortion rights. I have no problem objecting to that at all.

Update: It's like he's reading my mind.

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