At the end of March, Professor Hadley Arkes wrote an article for The Catholic Thing titled “The Supreme Court Hears the Cases on Marriage,” discussing his views on gay marriage. This is by no means his only article professing his views on same-sex marriage, but it is the most recent and also the one I will respond to. Professor Arkes is a tenured Amherst professor in the Political Science department. His opinions continue to be valued in politics amidst the growing debate about same-sex marriage. He testified before Congress in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Whether we like it or not, though Arkes is writing only on behalf of himself, Amherst College is associated in some manner with the articles he writes.
While I strongly disagree with Professor Arkes’s ideas, I do not think that they should be labeled as hate speech. The way to change the tides of public opinion is not to silence the opposing side but to listen and to respond to an argument, as everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. The ironic part of this article, coming from a scholar, are these words: “that the matter [gay marriage] should even be arguable, or treated as plausible, is already the measure of a culture that has lost its moral coordinates, or even its clarity of mind.” I find it antithetical to the very mindset of scholarly thinkers, who understand the necessity to debate “long-established institutions,” for Arkes to suggest that this topic is not worthy of debate. If human beings had never critically evaluated their pre-existing moral codes, we would still have slavery and other abhorrent social institutions. Surely, as a political science professor, he is aware of the dangers of claiming that some ideas are out of the realm of critical debate. That being said, I wish to respond to the main points of his article.
First, the title implies/suggests that Arkes is going to engage in a debate about marriage. However, he does not discuss marriage at all. Rather, he talks about sex and procreation, stating, “as long as there are human beings there will be men and women. That is the meaning of sex. And one doesn’t have to read the Bible to come up with that one.” Yes, this is the meaning of sex. But sex is not the meaning of marriage. If marriage were solely for reproduction, why are men and women who cannot procreate allowed to get married? Why is it legal to use birth control? Why do we have sex for recreation? In fact, if the whole point of civilization is just to produce as many offspring as possible, why even get married?
Marriage isn’t just about sex. It is about love, respect, intimacy and the ability to spend a lifetime with the person that you love, free from unjust discrimination. Proponents of same sex marriage are not arguing that everyone is entitled to have sex with whomever without bound, reason or consent. They are making the argument that a consenting relationship between two loving adults should be recognized equally as a legitimate marriage.
In addition, the most outlandish, nonsensical and radical standpoint Arkes makes is regarding the connection between sexual orientation and bestiality, pedophilia, incest and necrophilia. His article reads: “Many people shift back and forth across a spectrum that may now include the bisexual, fetishistic, transvestic, zoophiliac (sex with animals). The term has become so elastic that, as one commentator remarked, ‘there is real doubt whether sexual orientation is a valid concept at all.’” Arkes continues to write that “sexual orientation…is broad enough to encompass sex with animals, pedophilia, even necrophilia.”
“Sexual orientation” as a phrase can have many connotations if applied broadly, but same-sex marriage clearly encompasses a certain, much narrower spectrum. The fact that bisexuality and necrophilia can even be mentioned in the same sentence is both ridiculous and dangerous to the way some people think about gay rights. According to Arkes, a person may be straight one day, gay the next day and having sex with animals the day after that. That is a sickening argument. Tracing a correlation specifically between the perverse actions he lists with people on the LGBT spectrum makes no sense. There are straight people who engage in such behaviors; these are not acts specific to certain sexual orientations. Arkes completely ignores the topic of consent; there is never consent in pedophilia or in zoophilia. This is a huge distinguishing factor about sex between two people, regardless of gender, in comparison to his other examples. In my opinion, these connections Arkes makes are the most dangerous ideas that he is putting forward. They are illogical, radical and can lead to extreme and hateful sentiments towards people in support of gay rights.
Though not everyone at Amherst is in favor of gay rights or supports same-sex marriage, I believe that our college as a whole is a very accepting atmosphere for LGBT students. Just look at all the students on any given day wearing the “I Support Love” T-shirts. It is a testament to our community that thoughtful conversations (on both sides) can, and should, occur. We are at a crucial moment in our nation’s history; it is now the time for us as students to stand up for what we believe in, whatever we believe in. Change happens by examining old ideas and replacing them with new and better ones. I sincerely hope with all of my heart that the ideas Arkes puts forward will one day be mere remnants of an extreme and archaic point of view, replaced by a more rational and tolerant one. Until that day comes though, there is still a fight to be won, a fight that shouldn’t be ignored.
To read Arkes article, go to www.thecatholicthing.org/columns/2013/the-supreme-court-hears-the-cases-…