First off, in light of the recent events at Penn State, I’d like to say I’m glad the punishments were as severe as they were. I’m also glad that Jerry Sandusky was convicted swiftly and it appears that justice was served. I think what he did was not just wrong, but was damaging to the victims in ways that those of us without a similar past will never understand. I don’t want to make light of their suffering or the gravity of the situation.
That being said, I feel like there is a tension in the general attitude of our culture toward pedophilia on the one hand, and gay marriage on the other hand. I look at gay marriage as more or less a step beyond “normalizing” homosexual relationships and moving toward rewarding them. It’s not about rights, it’s about privileges that had been reserved for heterosexual married couples now being given to homosexual couples. I think the basis on which the arguments are advanced for privileging homosexual relationships is problematic, and I think that shows itself when you compare a “normal” homosexual relationship to a taboo one.
This is 2012. Turn the historical clock back 2000 years, and find yourself in the pagan Roman Empire before Christianity arose, i.e., before the Christianization of the West. In Rome, as in ancient Greece, homosexuality was completely acceptable. To be more exact, homosexual activity was frowned on (but not very diligently) when it occurred between two free-born men, but it was cheerfully affirmed between a master and his slave, and even more, a man and a boy between the ripe ages of about 12 to 17—just the target age of Sandusky. The man generally presented himself as a kindly benefactor to the boy, taking him under his wing, so to speak, and (in return for sexual favors) helping him up the social ladder. Just like Sandusky.
If Sandusky would have lived 2000 years ago, he would not have been found guilty of anything. He would not even have been noticed. His actions would have been entirely unremarkable. There would have been no disgust, no anger. The verdict would have been innocent, and in fact, the notion that he was guilty of anything would have been unintelligible.
Certainly things have changed a lot in 2000 years. Now, we not only frown diligently on men having sex with boys, we punished it swiftly and severely if we find out about. What used to receive the half-hearted diligent frown now gets the cheerful affirmation (among many people at least). What progress right?
I guess it depends on how you look at it. From the vantage point of the tolerance police, we’ve definitely progressed and now free born men can do with each other as they please without fear of frown (except from you know, those fundamentalist moral watchdog Christian types). We’ve created a cultural climate where supposedly, no one should be able to tell you who you can or can’t love.
Unless of course you’re under 18.
So for instance, had Jerry Sandusky chosen a boy who consented and was over 18, there all of a sudden he’s not a victim, he’s a lover. And many people in our society wouldn’t have the slightest problem with that.This means that in some sense, it’s not the sex that people are outraged about. Or at least if they support homosexual relationships in general, it’s not the gay sex that’s the problem. If Jerry Sandusky had been hiring male escorts, it might be a bit creepy for most people, but he definitely wouldn’t be facing jail time or public outrage.
To draw out this tension further, let’s think tripsepcctivally. We need to consider sexual relationships from the normative, situational, and existential perspectives.
Our society places the accent mark on context, and for the most part this situational perspective is what contributes to a sex act being considered taboo. Certainly there is some wisdom here, since if Jerry had preferred little girls, we would be just as outraged. Christians would be outraged at a grown man having sex with little girls even if once one of them is older he could legally marry her in any state. Since the relational context is one of abuse (despite the adult’s protests), by and large there is little regard for these types of sexual relationships.
While our society still gives weight to this perspective, it seems to want to dispense with the normative perspective. In a society that does not have a norm for sex, there isn’t really a criteria for determining a right sex act from a wrong one. Generally speaking, it seems like the only “wrong” sex acts left are those where one of the people is participating unwillingly (which makes it abusive). This is why gay marriage is being mainstreamed while pedophilia is scorned (as is rape in general). In Jerry Sandusky’s case, all he was doing was having some gay sex. He just picked the wrong partners. And picking the wrong partners highlights the existential (or personal) perspective on sexual relations. By forcing (situational) children (existential) to have sex, Sandusky violated the only two criteria people seem to value.
Eventually though, someone will try to normalize their pedophilia through marriage, and then things will get really interesting. If a hypothetical older man found a willing and eager 12 year old boy that he wanted to take as his lover, what then? From a situational perspective they are “into it,” and so the only barrier is the existential one. Legalities aside, how does tolerating everyone’s choice of a lover square with a situation like this? Who is to stand in the way of their love? The tolerance agenda basically begs to be inserted in this situation to defend everyone’s existential choice of a lover.
A society that celebrates a person’s right to choose who to love in general, cannot then discriminate against particular cases it doesn’t like. In the absence of norms for the actual sex itself, you would have a hard time pinning down what exactly is morally wrong if the boy in a Sanduskian relationship enjoyed it. Sure, you could claim that he is deceived and that he is confused, but if I try that same argument with a gay man, it’s considered insulting. Or even worse, what if the boy in question considers it a loving relationship? You can’t really tell him he doesn’t know what love is in a society that considers it intolerant to question anybody’s love interest.
The absence of tolerance police at Jerry Sandusky’s trial is just another way showing the tolerance agenda is inconsistent. I think most people who are willing to lend it a critical eye can see that. You can’t simultaneously argue that it is intolerant to impose norms that “discriminate” against homosexual relationships in general and then arbitrarily discriminate against particular homosexual relationships yourself. Even the ancient Romans knew that. They sets norms aside concerning the act itself, but just had different tastes than we do when it came to context and the type of people involved.
And that’s what our society is working towards when it comes to sexual relationships. It’s just a matter of taste, and you can’t criticize anyone else’s taste. Unless of course that person is boycotting Chick-fil-a, and then clearly they have no discernible sense of taste.