Over the weekend, in a Washington Times op-ed, Robert Knight accused me of thinking I’m “smarter than God” because of my belief that gays should be allowed to openly serve in the U.S. military. When I was alerted to the column by this Robert Stacy McCain blog post, my initial reaction was: Gee, I didn’t realize God had taken a position on the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” debate. Yet Knight also made a broader argument about sexual morality.
Before responding to Knight in more detail, let me say at the outset that despite what Stacy suggests in his blog post, I never accused people who disagree with me on DADT of being bigots, because I don’t think that’s an effective way to argue (any more effective than Knight’s attempt to speak for God). The main point I was trying to make was that it’s hard to debate DADT because one’s opinion is so closely tied toward one’s perception of homosexuality. As somebody who doesn’t view gayness as a big deal one way or the other, I honestly have trouble seeing the problem with allowing gays to openly serve in the military. At the same time, those who oppose lifting the ban start off with the assumption that homosexuality needs to be actively discouraged by society. So this brings me back to Knight, and his broader arguments about sexual morality.
In response to George Will, Knight writes:
Ah, that’s it. Those of us who believe that God created male and female and that sex outside marriage – adultery, fornication and homosexuality – is wrong and harmful, are just not being intelligent. It’s apparently not enough to love friends and family who are into homosexuality; we have to love the behavior that threatens their bodies and souls.
But the debate is not about whether people should “love” homosexual behavior. It’s about the much narrower question of whether gays and lesbians who want to be in the military, and who meet all the requirements, should be allowed to serve openly. Knight tries to say that opposition to homosexuality is about an opposition to sex outside of marriage. He later adds, “And what about the Creator of the Universe? It is God’s moral code that has undergirded Western society for more than 3,500 years. God’s intelligent design – marriage – is the glue that holds it together.” Yet if the aim of the current ban on gays openly serving is to discourage sex outside marriage, would Knight favor kicking anybody out of the U.S. military who has admitted to having pre-marital sex? Talk about hurting recruitment!
Later, Knight poses this question to those of us conservatives who have supported gays openly serving: “[G]iven that you’ve warned us repeatedly about many dangers of the left, why are you embracing the centerpiece of their war on American values?”
As it turns out, my political philosophy isn’t based around reflexively opposing anything just because liberals support it. I’ve long believed in a limited government with the narrow focus of protecting the rights of individuals to do whatever they want as long as they don’t harm others in the process. Liberals’ plans to provide health insurance to all goes far beyond my vision for government, imposes tremendous costs on society, and is an affront to individual liberty. So I oppose these policies passionately. Yet my political philosophy also leads me to believe that issues of sexual morality aren’t the concern of government, which means that on some issues I reach the same conclusions as liberals, though I may arrive at that conclusion from a different point of view. (I’m reacting to Knight’s more general question here about why conservative pundits like me don’t oppose the left on gay issues. I recognize that the military is a government institution, and thus raises a different set of questions).
The response that I often get to this point is that the breakdown of the traditional family causes real harm to society. It leads to more crime, for instance, and more dependency on social welfare programs, which in turn expands the role of government. I actually don’t disagree with this assessment. But I also don’t see what government is supposed to do about it. Views of marriage and sexuality have evolved for decades. Some can be attributed to changes in law — such as making it easier for people to get divorces – but even such changes were made as a result of broader cultural shifts. And we now live in an age where sex outside of marriage is considered the norm and even pre-marital co-habitation is quite common. I’m not saying that conservatives should just abandon all attempts to argue that society should take love, marriage and sexuality more seriously. My point is that amid all of these and many other cultural changes, the inordinate focus on homosexuality from Knight and others seems like grasping at straws to me. Put another way, I don’t see how allowing gays to openly serve in the military – which Knight portrays as condoning sex outside of marriage — would make heterosexuals more likely to engage in pre-marital sex, commit adultery, or get divorced. And I don’t see how by pointing this out, I’m trying to pick a fight with God.