The homosexual movement and its allies constantly use the phrase “sexual identity.” The phrase seems to be taken for granted, and is rarely explained and justified. It seems, though, to refer to the notion that our sexual habits and inclinations are fundamental to what we are, more so than religion or even sex in the natural sense of whether one is male or female. It’s religious “affiliation” or “preference,” and “biological gender” (apparently nearly irrelevant to specifically human concerns), but sexual “identity”—straight, gay, bi, transgendered or whatnot.
But why treat sexual inclinations as authoritative and untouchable? One possible reason is that active sexuality is thought to be an essential aspect of our most intimate and intense personal relationships. Since such relationships are what link us most effectively to others and thus constitute us as social beings, sexual acts with persons of the same sex might be thought essential to full realization of the humanity of those inclined to them. An attack on such acts would then be an attack on the humanity of such persons.
A problem with that line of reasoning is that it isn’t adequate to the homosexual cause, which is a defense not primarily of “long-term committed relationships” but of a homosexual culture that includes an essential promiscuous and sensation-seeking element. The point of the homosexual movement is sexual liberation, the free expression of human sexuality, which is understood to be a fundamental aspect of human liberation. The legitimation of gay relationships is not intended to denigrate gay adventurousness. Otherwise there would be boycotts of bathhouses and NAMBLA would have been excommunicated by other homosexuals long ago. In the end, the homosexual movement stands or falls on the destruction of the given in human life in favor of the chosen, and perhaps on the value of transcendence through intense experience.
More moderate, sentimental and moralistic arguments, like the argument from intimate personal ties, nonetheless appeal to some people. The latter argument is an odd one. It implies that the connections that constitute us as social beings are simply a matter of the subjective attitudes of those involved, and thus that the essence of the social is the private and idiosyncratic. In order to claim that homosexual relationships have a moral status like that of marriage, the argument must turn marriage into “a relationship”—a complex of feelings and commitments between two parties—rather than an institution constituted in part by things as objective as the functioning of the human body and the reproduction of the species. It must turn the public aspects of marriage into mere recognition of the subjective dispositions of the parties.
Such a view deprives marriage of its point. The point of marriage is that it is not simply what is now called “a relationship” but an objective and enduring institution that is basic to human society, and therefore carries with it rights and obligations that the parties and others must respect regardless of how they feel. The attitudes and feelings proper to marriage spring from the relationship at least as much as the other way around. To the extent marriage becomes simply a “relationship,” defined by the parties as they wish, it becomes unclear why other people should give it any special recognition or even know what it is in any particular case. The notion of “homosexual marriage,” as well as the related notion of “sexual identity,” thus suffers from an internal conflict. It tries to combine the modernist view that the essence of man is that he has no essence, that he creates what he is through his desires and choices, with a claim of authority that can be justified only by reference to objective standards like the dignity of mariage that precede and condition all choice.