Recently I have been reading John Corvino’s book, “What’s wrong with Homosexuality?” Corvino describes himself as a religious sceptic and is one of the leading defenders of the moral permissibly of homosexual conduct, and also an articulate defender of what is commonly called “gay rights”. In terms of the conclusions we each have, Corvino and I are on very different pages. Yet despite our significant differences, I was pleasantly surprised at how much of his book I agreed with, particularly, his attempt to bring a degree of clear thought to the issue as opposed to the emotionalistic sloganising and rhetorical bullying that so often accompanies this issue.
I want to share with my readers this gem, which comes from the first chapter:
“Some people claim that morality is a “private matter” and that, in any case, people’s rights shouldn’t hinge on others’ moral opinions. I think this view is badly mistaken. Morality is about how we treat one another, and thus it is quintessentially a matter for public concern. It’s about the ideals we hold up for ourselves and others. It’s about the kind of society we want to be: what we will embrace, what we will tolerate, and what we will forbid. And while it’s true that a free society grants a good deal of personal latitude here, avoiding legal force except where transgressions infringe upon others’ liberty, it doesn’t follow that morality is irrelevant to the law. People’s moral views strongly influence how they vote, and thus, ultimately, what laws get passed. There’s a philosophical connection as well. Laws depend on moral foundations, broadly speaking, for their legitimacy, and the commitment to “liberty and justice for all” is a moral commitment. So it irks me when my fellow liberals insist that “we ought not judge one another.” I understand where they’re coming from: Moralistic finger-wagging is tiresome, not to mention counterproductive, and nobody likes a know-it-all. One might also point to Biblical support for the directive, though presumably in that context it means that humans have no business making “Final Judgments,” not that we can’t make judgments at all. But as a general rule, the claim that we ought not judge one another is misguided—logically, rhetorically, and morally. It’s misguided logically because it’s self-refuting. (If we ought not judge one another, then why are you telling me what to do?) It’s misguided rhetorically because it makes liberals seem as if they have conceded “moral values” to the other side, leaving them in the untenable position of being “opposed” to moral values. And it’s misguided morally, because people have a moral responsibility not only to behave well themselves but also to promote standards of right conduct. The moral tone of society is everyone’s responsibility, liberals included. This is not to say that we ought to become moral busybodies. Humility is a moral virtue, as is kindness, and those who wield morality as a weapon are at least as confused as those who insist that it’s a “private matter.” But we shouldn’t confuse the rejection of bad moralizing with the rejection of moralizing altogether. Morality is too important for that.”
Excluding the phrase “my fellow liberals”, I could not agree more with Corvino’s sentiments.