First Things is one of my absolute favorite magazines, largely because its writers make such an admirable effort to come up with fresh, fun ways to justify their religious-based prejudices. Remember when they took over 4,000 words to say that gay people don’t exist at all? If that didn’t convince you, try this bit o’ logic: Because anuses aren’t vaginas, gay marriage is not a civil right.
That’s the thrust of a new piece out by Stephen H. Webb, best known for his work on “Mormons obsessed with Christ” and intelligent design. Webb’s article begins with an attempt to illustrate why the gay rights movement is distinct from the black civil rights movement. “Gay marriage advocates,” Webb argues, “have convinced millions of Americans that gay marriage is just the same as straight marriage.” But “[i]f the argument of sameness works for gay rights, could it have worked for Civil Rights?”
To answer this fundamentally misconceived question, Webb embarks on a strange thought experiment, imagining how the black civil rights movement would’ve gone had it “followed the gay rights strategy.” Here’s Webb weaving his counter-history:
It is the early sixties, and … white political leaders most sympathetic to the plight of African Americans decide to make the case for this moral sameness by arguing that black people are really white. “Look past their skin,” they say, “and you will find that they are just as white as we are.”
At the risk of stating the exceedingly obvious, this is not “the argument of sameness [that] works for gay rights.” That argument is that gay people’s marriages are essentially the same as the straight sort—based on the same notions of love and commitment, support and affection. Gay rights advocates are not trying to convince America that gay people are really straight, as Webb implies. Yet this is the absurd analogy upon which the bulk of Webb’s argument hangs.
It only gets worse from there. Perhaps realizing that his central analogy is pretty bizarre, Webb switches course in his final paragraph, allowing the façade of his flawed comparison to drop away completely. He isn’t, it turns out, really talking about civil rights, or gay rights, or even marriage. He’s talking about that favorite obsession of the Catholic Church, sex—gay sex in particular. “Gay sex should not be treated as if it were really straight sex,” Webb exclaims rather randomly. Yet “the entire gay marriage appeal rests upon” the single, faulty argument that:
The anus is the same as the vagina. The most intimate act of self-giving, of penetration, in homosexuality is just as sacred, just as physically and psychologically healthy, just as fecund, just as spiritually uplifting, just as mutually pleasurable, and just as tenderly beautiful as the sexual intercourse of a heterosexual couple.
So there we have it. To Webb, marriage isn’t really about compassion and commitment and affection. It’s about a penis “tenderly” entering a “sacred,” “fecund” vagina. And without that act of “uplifting” penile-vaginal intercourse, Webb suggests, a loving union between two people cannot be a real marriage.
We’ve heard this primitivist, coitus-fixated argument before, of course; anti-gay crusader Robert P. George memorably deployed it to a similarly disturbing effect. The problem with this logic, aside from reducing the marriage bond to an act of genital penetration, is that it surely finds no support outside of orthodox Catholic circles. Very few married couples view penile-vaginal intercourse as the core of their relationship, the physical, spiritual, emotional connection without which their entire marriage would be a sham. Marriage is, and has always been, about so much more than just sex. Yet Webb and his ilk continue to insist that vaginal intercourse is the true basis of any marriage, the font from which all other forms of affection and commitment must spring.
In 2014, this argument finds few takers. Those who seek marriage are fully actualized human adults hoping to create an enduring, lifelong bond of love—not a pair of smitten genitals with bodies attached. I understand that Webb’s sex-obsessed theory is based on an anti-gay interpretation of Catholic theology, and he has every right to promulgate it. But his creepy, graphic rant has likely done little more than reveal his cause as the intellectual fraud that it is.