Rick Santorum is coming under fire for some rather strong comments on homosexuality:

In an interview with The Associated Press, Santorum criticized homosexuality while discussing a pending Supreme Court case over a Texas sodomy law.

“If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything,” Santorum, R-Pa., said in the interview, published Monday.

First off, this was a very stupid thing for Santorum to say in today’s climate. Further, consensual adult sodomy is different from most of the acts on the list, given that most of the others are generally done without consent of effected third parties.

That said, I don’t think this statement rises to the level of idiocy of those that got Trent Lott fired as Majority Leader. The views expressed by Lott’s comments have been considered objectionable for decades. On the other hand, Santorum’s statement reflects a commonplace viewpoint among many if not most Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals. Indeed, less than 10 years ago, it was almost certainly the majority opinion in the United States.

Thinking homosexuality is evil wasn’t even considered bigoted as recently as when I was an undergrad. Prominent black comedians such as Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, both of whom were obviously sensitive to issues of prejudice, routinely ridiculed homosexuals in their acts well into the 1980s. Hell, the leftist folk singer Arlo Guthrie used the word “faggots” in the Thanksgiving standard Alice’s Restaurant without any trace of irony. (Granted, that was 30-odd years ago, although the song still gets airplay.)

Morever, I think Santorum is probably right that, if states can’t outlaw sodomy, they can’t logically outlaw any type of consensual adult sex acts. From a theoretical standpoint, I’m not sure why sodomy is more objectionable than bigamy, adultery, or incest if all the parties are all consenting adults. This gets tricky in the cases of bigamy and adultery, as children, who can’t give informed consent, could conceivably be negatively impacted. But, if childless adults desire to engage in these practices with full consent and knowledge of the other parties involved, the objections are largely religious/philosophical rather than societal. Incest is obviously further beyond the pale, but only because of social conditioning. Certainly, different societies define the concept differently. But, aside from the possibility of pregnancy and the passing on of recessive genes, the objections to consensual adult incest is mainly along the lines of “Eeeeeeeeew.” (To which I add my wholehearted concurrence.)

Now, maybe the state shouldn’t be able to outlaw those acts either. My general libertarian bent on these matters leads me to think they shouldn’t. Further, I don’t think it’s wise public policy to enforce these laws, given that doing so diverts resources from more serious crimes. That said, it strikes me as within the constitutional purview of the state to impose moral constraints on its citizens so long as no rights specifically enumerated in the Constitution are trampled. Indeed, a major feature of our Federalist system is that it allows different localities to define those moral parameters differently.

(Hat tip to Bill Quick via Atrios)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Caleb says:

    What a can of worms this is going to open. I believe personally that pedophilia will eventually become as acceptable as homosexuality is today. This is the belief of many rationally minded intelligent women whose columns I’ve read and whose beliefs have reaffirmed my fears. It will eventually be argued that if the kid likes it then it’s ok. Consensuality will not be based on age but as to whether it can be argued that the child’s well-being suffered as a result. The moral line that separates us from the animals will continue to blur until there is nothing left. Today it was homosexuality. Tomorrow it will be pedophilia.

  2. Rich A says:

    If you think being against homosexuality is bigoted then you will have to admit that the majority of Americans are bigots. But does a majority vote decide what is right or wrong? I hope not because most of us can rationalize our behavior in favor of whatever it is we are doing or want to do. Maybe you are someone who would argue there is no right or wrong since there is no agreement on who gets to set the standards. There may not be agreement but there is Someone who does and has set the standard. You can reject God now and reject the forgiveness He offers thru his Son but your rejection won’t change what is true and you will stand before Him someday and face His righteous judgement. What if I am wrong? Then I am a superstitious fool. What if you are wrong and I am right? Then you will have an eternity to regret it.

  3. James Joyner says:


    I’m not sure consequentialism is the best way to approach religion.

    We live in a secular society, so right and wrong is determined by the political system. The political system often gets it wrong; slavery being the most obvious example. I find homosexual sodomy unsettling but I realize that is a visceral reaction rather than a logical one. My argument is that 1) Santorum is essentially right, even if his argument is poorly stated, since any rationale that would outlaw sodomy laws would also call all the others into question but that 2) maybe these laws aren’t the best use of the coercive power of the state. I’d never use drugs, but think we should probably legalize their use. Ditto prostitution, gambling, and most other “consensual” conduct that is now often criminalized.

  4. Caleb says:

    “I’d never use drugs, but think we should probably legalize their use. Ditto prostitution, gambling, and most other “consensual” conduct that is now often criminalized.”

    I fail to see how legalization will solve anything. Look at cigarette smoking, which IS legal (sort of, unless you’re in NYC) and what a bangup job we’re doing there.

    My issue is, consensual activity can indeed an in fact cause tremendous destruction in the public arena. Smoking is but one example. Though it’s hypocritical for leftists to crack down on smoking and at the same time promote the legalization of drugs, the reality is smoking is not a “what you do is your own business and that’s that” issue. It has an abhorrent effect on society, especially if the secondhand smoke effects are as destructive as some researches show (though I’m still skeptical). Promiscuous sexual activity is also an issue that affects the public arena, in many different ways (the acceleration of a break down of nuclear families, the propagation of sexually transmitted diseases of epidemic proportions) Just because an activity is consensual does not make it ok. There are larger issues to be considered here.

    With that said, I believe the federal government really needs to stop this continual usurpation of state powers. Issues like sodomy and its legal status should really be left up to the states to decide. This is the funny thing about Roe v Wade. Many people think overturning that decision will criminalize abortion. In fact, that is not the case, as such an overturn would grant the powrs back to the states to decide on whether they want to criminalize abortion or keep it legal.

  5. James Joyner says:


    I agree that those actions have consequences that may be bad for society and even agree thatit is permissible to regulate them. I still think it’s a bad idea, on balance. For example, I have little doubt that we’d be better off as a society if women who could afford it went back to staying home and raising their children. I wouldn’t want to mandate that, though.

  6. Romulus says:

    The omission of bestiality in these comments, by Santorum,and in other discussions is an act of covert bigotry that I find offensive. Who will speak and protect the rights of animal lovers who are forced to cower in their closets while literally throwing the bone to Fido?
    Santorum has a good point, maybe two.
    Where do you draw the line?
    Should any line be drawn at all by the government?
    And beyond those two points, What is the government doing in the bedrooms of citizens in the first place?
    Judicious Asininity

  7. James Joyner says:

    But can animals give consent?

  8. Slippery slope arguments confuse me.

    I mean, shouldn’t we be outlawing straight sex, if we’re worried about things like bigamy?

    Surely it follows logically that if heterosexuality is legal, then we can’t outlaw the rape of children? I mean, using some of the logic Santorum and others advance.

    Oh, and one note to Rich: Don’t paint things in black and white. It’s perfectly possible to be a believing and loving Christian and be fully supportive of homosexuality. I know, because that describes my beliefs.


  9. James Joyner says:


    While Santorum’s argument looks like a slippery slope, I don’t really see it that way. It’s not clear to me that bigamy and adultery, aside from the caveats I mentioned in the post, are further down the slope. They’re all one and the same: consensual private conduct.

    I’m not sure how Christianity and homosexuality are compatible, granting that I’m neither Christian nor homosexual. The whole history of Judeo-Christian teaching goes against all sex outside of hetereosexual marriage and, arguably, outside of the motivation of procreation. Christians can certainly hate the sin and love the sinner, but it strikes me that you can’t simulataneously be a Christian and love the sin.

  10. Caleb says:

    “It’s perfectly possible to be a believing and loving Christian and be fully supportive of homosexuality. I know, because that describes my beliefs.”


    Let me get this straight, (uh, pardon the pun)…you call yourself a Christian, yet you enthusiastically support what God has explicitly condemned in Scripture? Is it only me who finds something just a tad remotely hypocritical about that statement?

    I can get atheists who support homosexuality. I can get pagans who support homosexuality. I can get just about any non-Christian who supports homosexuality. I can understand their rationale, and get along just fine with them.

    However, you have to hold me back from the assinine sentiments of those who have the mitigating gall to tag themselves “CHRISTIANS” while ignoring and disregarding the very thing that defines Christianity, the word of God.

    I suppose it’s just as well in this day and age. Even satanists call themselves Christians nowadays. Hell I might as well tag myself a liberal Democrat. It will keep the leftists off my back and off guards while I continue to vote straight up Republican. 😀