Jeff’s brief post on Friday linking to a piece in The Onion has generated one of the longer discussion threads here in recent months at GayPatriot. At the risk of mischaracterizing or oversimplifying it, much of the discussion has centered around the policy goals of gay activists of various stripes, as well as whether or not, criticizing or finding fault with some of those goals means one sympathizes with the aims of various anti-gay activists.
I think it is well-known to most regular readers that several of the contributors at GayPatriot, for instance, are either ambivalent or agnostic about the policy questions regarding same-sex marriage. I, for one, feel that the courts are the wrong place for the argument over so-called “marriage equality” to proceed and that it is better taken up through the legislative process. Likewise, I don’t feel that one needs to call it marriage if doing so antagonizes a significant portion of the populace who feel that marriage has a traditional meaning which they would rather not modify. I’ve said before and I’ll say again that what we’re really talking about when we talk about same-sex marriage is a matter of 1). how the state recognizes a contractual relationship between two individuals, and 2). whether or not it has any business granting special privileges to those in a “traditional marriage” which it does not grant to others. I’d argue that a debate that focused on the desirability of certain policy choices would be much more productive and much more worthwhile than one centered on emotional claims about “rights” and “equality.” I’d also say that a more dispassionate debate about the implications of policy is more in keeping with both conservative and libertarian principles.
My aim today, though, is not to revisit that debate or to consider the implications of the recent Supreme Court decisions on those issues (though I’m still planning to do so in a future post), but to bring up some of the questions raised by the fact that today New Jersey became the second state (after California) to ban “conversion therapy” for gay youths. My personal view on the issue is that “conversion therapy” doesn’t work in most cases and, to the extent that it is practiced, it should really only be viewed as an option for adults who choose to willingly commit to it. In other words, New Jersey’s ban is in accord with my personal view on the matter, and yet, for philosophical reasons, I’m still bothered by some aspects of the legislation.
It is no use pretending that therapy—and the licensing of therapists by the state—is not at least partly a political endeavor subject to political fashion rather than a science. Nor should therapists be completely unrestricted. For example, therapists are already prohibited from sexual contact with patients—even willing patients, even adult patients—because it is considered inherently exploitative. But the most harmful practices that could be used by conversion therapists (for example, electric shock) could be banned without banning the entire enterprise. And as the articles point out, mainstream therapy organizations have already condemned conversion therapy and do not advocate it.
But apparently none of that would be enough for the advocates of this bill; the therapy itself must be defined by the government as inherently and unfailingly abusive (what’s next, taking children away from parents who don’t applaud and celebrate their gayness?) As the nanny state grows, so will these essentially political moves by the government. This bill opens the door for a host of governmental abuses in which the state dictates the enforcement of politically correct thought through the mechanism of so-called therapy, and therapists become the instruments by which the public is indoctrinated in what is currently politically acceptable and what is verboten.
At the risk of invoking the “slippery-slope” argument, I can’t see a way around the concerns that Neo-neocon expresses. I’d have preferred to let the market regulate itself without getting the state involved in this way. Once the state has weighed in on this question, though, where can we expect it to weigh in next, and will it ever stop trying to regulate the way parents raise their children? I can’t see that it ever will.
It’s an unfortunate reality that many gay kids grow up in homes that are not especially loving, nurturing or supportive. The state, though, is none of those things, either, no matter what the expressed intentions of lawmakers might be. Increasing the reach of the state into individual lives should not be a comfort to any of us.