No conference in the Claremont Institute's 20-year history has drawn the malicious response of "Making Sense of Homosexuality," held October 24th in conjunction with the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). This conference elicited bomb and death threats, to the extent that the Beverly Hilton breached a contract to get out of hosting it. When the Biltmore Hotel agreed to fill in, and held to its agreement despite tremendous pressure, protesters blocked its entrances, and its customers had their cars hammered with fists. Conference attendees were yelled at and spit on. And the Los Angeles City Council passed a unanimous letter of condemnation — not against these forces of brute intimidation, but against the conference itself and its sponsor organizations.
As head of one of the latter, this condemnation letter put me in the mind of a man Abraham Lincoln used to tell about, who, after being tarred and feathered and ridden out of a town on a rail, remarked, "Were it not for the honor, I would rather walk." On the other hand, it demands an honest explanation of what our conference was about.
First, contrary to the City Council's stupid ravings, it was in no way about hate.
The Claremont Institute is made up of long-time students and supporters of America's Founding principles. These principles are derived from an understanding of human nature, or what the Declaration of Independence calls the "laws of nature and of nature's God." They begin with the idea that all humans are created equal — specifically in their possession of what our Founders called natural rights, meaning rights inherent in human nature. The Declaration mentions three of these: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Bill of Rights mentions others, including religious freedom, free speech, and property rights. These rights precede and limit government, which is formed solely to protect them. To the extent government fails to protect these rights, it is unworthy. To the extent government violates these rights, it is tyrannical.
This is the Institute's creed. Insofar as the City Council suggests we would deny any American equal rights — or that we would tolerate a government that violates any American's rights — they are sorely misinformed, or worse.
So why this controversial conference?
The roots of today's debate over the social status of homosexuality go back to a century-old critique of America's principles. This critique began with a rejection of the idea of human nature: as a leading historian put this critique in the 1940s, "no man who is as well abreast of modern science as the Founders were of 18th century science, believes any longer in unchanging human nature." And since the Founders' view of unchanging nature provided the basis for their understanding of unchanging natural rights, the latter was rejected as well.
To make a long story short, this rejection of natural rights gave way to an understanding of evolving rights. Simultaneously, the role of government became revolutionized. It ceased to perform the limited role of protecting the fixed, natural rights enumerated by the Founders, and assumed instead the activist role of inventing and enforcing ever-newer rights — often against the will of the majority.
Until the 1960s, the debate over natural versus evolving rights centered around the issue of property rights. Since the '60s, the issue of sexual rights has moved front and center. This includes the idea of homosexual rights — promoted most prominently today in terms of the rights of homosexuals to marry and adopt children. Support for these rights stem from a thoroughgoing rejection of objective moral norms in favor of a radically subjective understanding of sexual liberty. Supporters insist that the behavior choices of homosexuals be endorsed publicly as being on an ethical par with the family as it is known in common sense and custom, by reason as well as by faith.
The natural-rights view of the Founders would preclude this. According to it, the very same "laws of nature and of nature's God" that allow us to recognize that all human beings are born equal with regard to natural rights, also allow us to see that human beings are born male and female for the purpose of procreation and child-rearing. Therefore, although laws that would deny homosexuals the natural rights to acquire property, vote, speak freely, etc., would be irrational and wrong, laws that prohibit homosexuals from marrying and adopting children are rational and just.
Lending weight to this point, even modern social science is increasingly of the view that children's happiness and successful development are best served by the complementary examples and influences of mothers and fathers. In this light, there is perhaps no more serious test facing American civilization, than whether we will sacrifice our children on the altar of radical ideology.
As a practical matter, the Claremont Institute holds to the native American idea of "live and let live." We have no interest in bothering the private lives of any of our fellow citizens. But we think it is right for us to ask to be left alone ourselves, not only in private, but in public, where we and the vast majority of Americans — indeed, of humankind — wish to live and raise our children in accordance with our deepest-held beliefs.
In conclusion: By accusing our conference of "hate-mongering," the Los Angeles City Council displayed malicious ignorance. By suggesting that the topic of our conference should be out-of-bounds, they revealed a moral astigmatism, not to mention a tyrannical bent. By condemning us, but failing to condemn the thugs who threatened our lives and tried to hound us into silence, they disgraced themselves and our great city.