Your March 2004 issue (“Straight Eye for the Queer Guy”) was valuable in many ways, not least because the cascading phenomenon of enthusiasm for “gay marriage” or “civil unions” both reveals and contributes mightily to our society’s increasingly rapid slide into what Pitirim Sorokin called the “social sewer.”  Stephen B. Presser puts his finger on the root of the problem (“Marriage and the Law,” News) when he cites language from Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992): “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”  This is reminiscent of Satan’s boast in Milton’s Paradise Lost: “The mind is its own place, and of itself / Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.”  Satan couldn’t do it, and neither can Casey’s imaginary autonomous individualUnfortunately, Professor Presser concedes too much when he suggests that “marriage needs to return to the Church.”  In the first place, that is impossible; no one would notice if the Church tried to claim marriage for Herself, leaving only “unions” to the state.  If the state called it marriage, that is what it would be.  In the second place, he neglects the tremendous educational impact of law.  When abortion became legal nationwide in Roe v. Wade, the practice spread like wildfire among groups that, until then, had thought it a crime.  Deliberately acquiescing in developments that “normalize” homosexual conduct will inevitably spread it and the social damage it brings.

Virginia Deane Abernethy wants to make homosexuality a secondary problem compared to being, as she puts it, depressed and demoralized (“Homosexuality, In the Cards,” News).  She argues strongly for the preservation of European-American civilization, which she correctly perceives to be threatened, but she is mistaken in seeing the danger in almost everything but the spread of sexual perversion.  She seems to assume that homosexual conduct is largely genetic in origin, in which case the implication is that we should not resist it.  We actually do know that alcoholism is genetic in a large percentage of cases.  Does that mean that we should simply say to alcoholics, “Bottoms up”?  In an early text on homosexuality, psychiatrist Richard Berger expressed his distress at the fact that, in his judgment, almost all—nearly 90 percent—of male homosexuals were not genetically predisposed but were seduced into it.  If we recognize homosexuality, especially of the male variety, as a major vector of serious diseases, of which AIDS is only the best known, then we cannot dismiss the spread of homosexuality as a minor matter in the general decline of culture.  The late Dr. Hans Millendorfer spoke of “societal AIDS,” the situation in which society’s “T-4 cells”—i.e., the bodies that should identify dangers—are immobilized and fail to warn the body of encroaching threats.  If Dr. Millendorfer were still alive, I think that he would see the danger of “societal AIDS” in the manner in which Professors Presser and Abernethy write of homosexuality, marriage, and the defense of Western civilization.

        —Harold O.J. Brown
Charlotte, NC

Dr. Abernethy Replies:

I do not see much in Dr. Brown’s letter with which I disagree, except his assumption that I lean toward seeing homosexuality as genetically determined.  I just do not know.

However, I have had enough exposure to biologists to prefer the term genetic predisposition.  This means that, under particular circumstances, a predisposed individual will manifest the behavior in question.

With respect to homosexuality, I do not rule out seduction as one of the circumstances that could turn a predisposition into actual conduct.  This is why, in my article, I make such a large point of economic circumstances that promote singles lifestyles.  The singles lifestyle often includes living arrangements within which seductions could—among predisposed individuals—flourish.

I think that many men and women could never be seduced into same-sex unions.  But accounts of shipboard and prison behavior—excluding, of course, coerced sex—suggest that some can be seduced.  Under other circumstances, these same individuals would be wholly heterosexual.  I cannot be dragged into a nature/nurture controversy, because the two factors usually act together.  Nurture, including the social environment, sometimes acts on a genetically (“naturally”) predisposed individual to bring out a particular sexual orientation.  Under different circumstances, that same individual would adopt a different orientation.

Dr. Presser Replies:

I have enormous respect and admiration for my Chronicles fellow editor and colleague Harold O.J. Brown, and, like Dr. Abernethy, I am not in major disagreement with much of what he says.  For instance, I agree with the way that he nicely implies that the character of the “mystery passage” of Planned Parenthood v. Casey is satanic.  We will have to disagree, however, about the impossibility of returning marriage to the Church and the unfavorable implications of such a move.  While I would prefer to live in a country that still embraced the Framers’ dictum that one cannot have law without morality and that one cannot have morality without religion, the increasing divorce of religion from the public square by our nation’s courts seems, actually, to have strengthened religion in the hearts of many Americans.  It seems perfectly possible that allowing churches to become the true custodians of marriage will also strengthen that institution.  I am also not convinced that “homosexual marriage” or homosexual behavior in general is likely to “spread like wildfire,” as happened with abortion.  Whether that will happen does turn on whether homosexuality is genetically or culturally determined, and I think that the evidence indicates that the former is more likely than the latter.  Law does have an educational function, but there are times when the law does get it wrong, and other institutions in society are needed once again to put things right.