Jacob Levy, writing on The Volokh Conspiracy, takes Rich Santorum to task for comparing buggery to child molestation and bestiality. The thing is, Santorum doesn’t make that comparison:

“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.

He’s comparing apples to apples–consensual adult sex to consensual adult sex. No mention of sex with children or animals here.

Update (12:24): I e-mailed Jacob with my concerns simultaneously to posting them here and he responds thusly:

Read the whole interview at [link]. See also [this post] as well as Andrew Sullivan’s extensive blogging about it.

The relevant debate is highlighted in the second link, Levy’s earlier Volokh post on that topic. He interprets Santorum’s saying homosexuality isn’t the same thing as bestiality and pedophilia as inviting comparison and thus linking them. I interpret it the opposite way.

Levy’s interpretation of the “it” referring to marriage rather than buggery is not unreasonable, although I don’t think that’s what Santorum is saying/meant. If it is, then I still find Santorum’s statement defensible as being consistent with his religious view of marriage and sexuality, although I would disagree with the lumping of these issues, as I noted in my original post on this issue. I don’t believe in “sin,” only right and wrong, which I define in humanist terms. I agree with Protagoras that, “Man is the measure of all things.” In all issues of morality and public policy, the question Who does this hurt? must be asked. With respect to child molestation, the answer is rather obvious. There is no such thing as “consensual” child molestation, since children lack the maturity to formulate consent. Frankly, I haven’t given much thought to bestiality and would prefer not to start now.

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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 and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. David says:

    If one re-reads the paragraph and replaces the pronoun “it” with the noun one supposes that “it” is subbing for, I think the matter becomes clearer. Based upon the phrasing in the paragraph it makes little sense to speak of marriage as not akin to “man on dog.” Therefore we must assume that Santorum was speaking of homosexuality, in which case Prof. Levy is incorrect.

  2. James Joyner says:

    David: I agree with your interpretation, which is OPPOSITE Levy’s. The quote:

    In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing.

    Levy’s interpretation:

    But “it” doesn’t refer to homosexuality; it refers to marriage, as is confirmed by the final sentence. “It”– marriage– “is one thing”– an adult man and an adult woman (not that the restriction as to age has been true in “every society”– “man on little girl” has been all too common.) “It’s not” anything else– two men or a man and a child or a man and a dog. The exclusion of homosexuality from marriage isn’t (allegedly) any particular aspersion on homosexuality, since pedophelia and bestiality are excluded, too.

    Santorum says that MARRIAGE is one thing–a man with a woman–not a man with a man, a man with a dog, etc., etc.

  3. James Joyner says:


    I disagree with Santorum on the question of regulation of these things; I just take him at his word as to what he was saying. My views on this topic overall are covered in these posts.

    I think “sin” is a religious concept–the violation of God’s law. Since most people view it in that light, I find it a useless term since not everyone believes. So I just talk in terms of harm to the public.