Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Making Gay Okay: Robert Reilly Explains How and Why

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | May 14, 2014 | In Reviews

Ignatius Press has recently published an excellent book by Robert R. Reilly, entitled Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything. The focus is on the extraordinary rapidity of the change from social rejection to social affirmation of homosexuality. The author very effectively details both the rationale and the tactics used to successfully advance “gay rights”.

A Tight Focus with Real Value

Robert Reilly is no mere conservative; he doesn’t make the mistake of seeing everything in terms of some sort of surprising betrayal of American Constitutional law. He understands that there was necessarily an immense value-shift in the West before gay marriage could become normative, and so he devotes the first part of the book to what he calls “The Rationalization and How it Works”.

A refreshingly clear writer, Reilly enables the reader to grasp the classic understanding of nature as a source of knowledge about ends, meaning and, therefore, morality. And he just as clearly portrays the vastly different and highly influential conception of nature popularized in the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He explains also how the triumph of physical science—in itself utterly dependent on a uniform, predictable nature ordered to rational ends—has paradoxically been twisted into an excuse for rejecting nature as a “given” and elevating the autonomous individual as the architect of both nature and meaning.

The second part of the book, entitled “Marching through the Institutions”, carefully traces the methods and tactics used in the successful efforts to canonize “gay” as “normal” in six specific contemporary institutional spheres: science, same-sex parenting, education, the Boy Scouts, the American military and US foreign policy. Here his task shifts from philosophical analysis to brief and cohesive histories of the relatively short period of time it took to dramatically alter the official response to sodomy in each of these socio-cultural sectors.

The shortness of time was indeed dramatic. For example, as late as 1986, the US Supreme Court stated unequivocally that the US Constitution does not confer “a fundamental right to engage in homosexual sodomy”. In doing so, the Court cited the universal history of the proscription of homosexual conduct from ancient Roman Law through the entire Judeo-Christian tradition, noting that “to hold that the act of homosexual sodomy is somehow protected as a fundamental right would be to cast aside millennia of moral teaching.”

And yet it was just 17 years later, in 2003, that the Court reversed itself, declaring a Texas law prohibiting same-sex relations to be unconstitutional and providing the basis for a legal challenge to the restriction of marriage to unions of a man and a woman. The Court argued, among other things, that “liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct.” This would lead within another ten years, in the case of the United States v. Windsor, to a finding that the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman was discriminatory and unconstitutional, since there could be no possible reason for it.

A Deeper Perspective?

Reilly’s unrelenting focus on how the rationalizations have come together to forge new policies over the past generation is extraordinarily useful, but as is so often the case, the great strength of this book conceals a weakness. The author simply does not pay much attention to the much larger history of how such a massive intellectual, moral and spiritual shift could have possibly occurred that would enable such a rapid transvaluation of sodomy to occur in our time. For example, while contraception is included as one stage in the “rationalization”, you will not even find divorce in the index. Yet widespread divorce is a huge step down this path. And Rousseau is hardly capable of bearing the full burden of our gigantic philosophical shift.

In other words, given the long-prevailing cultural beliefs and attitudes, one might argue that the most remarkable feature of the campaign for gay rights is not that its success came so quickly, but that it took so long.

Still, deepening one’s perspective has its own dangers. Certainly I could write a historical monograph demonstrating how gay marriage was the inevitable outcome of principles largely embraced by Western culture in the early 20th century, or how it was the likely outcome given the dominant trends in favor of these same principles in 1850 or 1789 or 1776, or how it was at least a very grave danger based on too many developments in the 16th and 17th centuries, or how it became a real philosophical possibility beginning with the rise of Nominalism in the 1400s.

Actually, Reilly is easily enough of a scholar to recognize all this. After all, nobody would argue, as has been argued with abortion, that the courts have single-handedly ushered in same-sex normativity, including same-sex marriage. Rather, even those opposed to these decisions before the fact thought them likely because of the prevailing cultural values. This cultural transvaluation is a much larger story, and it is clearly the transvaluation that has driven the practical results. With the possible exception of the Boy Scouts, the leadership of the relevant institutions hardly needed to be “taken”.

But trying to cram all that into this particular book would have distracted the reader from what he really needs to know, first and foremost, right now. And, in fact, what Robert Reilly does in Making Gay Okay, he does extraordinarily well. Anyone even partially concerned or confused about how we came, in the course of a generation, from using reason and rights to forbid homosexual behavior to using reason and rights to teach and enforce it as normal, should read this important book.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: jjen009 - Jul. 12, 2014 6:55 PM ET USA

    I found the book useful - but frustratingly badly written - too much rhetoric amidst the reasoning.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - May. 17, 2014 10:04 PM ET USA

    Sins of the flesh that express themselves socially, if only in the Catholic priesthood, even between priest and priest, require a brutal and rapid response in order to protect the laity and also to arrest the self-inflicted damage that the religious would be certainly doing to himself. This clearly has not been done over the past several decades. It is a gross failure in ecclesiastical governance and I strongly believe that this moral cancer has come from INSIDE OF OUR CHURCH.

  • Posted by: spledant7672 - May. 16, 2014 10:35 AM ET USA

    I'm not sure if you meant the ending of this piece - "using reason and rights to forbid homosexual behavior to using reason and rights to teach and enforce it as normal" - to be descriptive or proscriptive.

  • Posted by: koinonia - May. 15, 2014 12:27 PM ET USA

    "In other words, given the long-prevailing cultural beliefs and attitudes, one might argue that the most remarkable feature of the campaign for gay rights is not that its success came so quickly, but that it took so long." Bingo! It seems that slowly and methodically we are realizing detente with the spirit of the world is "hurtful." The Church in her charity must hold fast or souls suffer. It's the tough love of charity ever committed to truth that fosters enduruing human freedom and happiness.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - May. 14, 2014 11:12 PM ET USA

    I would argue that with the fall of Catholicism in Europe and the Western Hemisphere that took place from 1970-2014 (with precedent beginning somewhat earlier), the decadence and voting patterns championed by Catholics and Catholic educational institutions (especially seminaries, universities, and schools of education) made the enshrining of sin inevitable. The seminarians of the 1960s became the boy molesters of the 1970s-2000s. For what reason did they believe they had license to do this?