The Post comes out

Mark Judge Journalist and filmmaker
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The male body is different from the female body.

That is a sentence you will never find in the Washington Post’s euphoric coverage of the recent legalization of gay marriage in the District of Columbia. As Colleen Raezler of Newsbusters itemized, in one week after the ruling the Post ran 11 articles about gay marriage, printed 14 pictures related to gay marriage—including a picture of two men kissing—quoted supporters 11 times more than opponents, and devoted 543 column inches to the ruling. That has been followed up with even more coverage: profiles of politicians who support gay marriage (like Maryland‘s Attorney General Doug Gansler, who announced that his state will now accept out of state gay marriages as valis), of the wedding planners who will make serious buck with the new surge in gay weddings, and, of course, of the new newlyweds. Think of the New Orleans Times-Picayune coverage of the Saints in the Super Bowl and you’re getting the idea.

And yet, the male body is different from the female body—especially during sex. I write these words to make a simple point: the Post’s celebration of gay marriage may seem like a liberal cause similar to the civil rights movement, opposition to the Vietnam War, and the fight for health care. But unlike those causes, it represents a challenge to human reason itself—for both liberals and conservatives. I write this as a conservative who simultaneously believes that homosexuality is biological and not a choice and that it is not and never will be the same as a heterosexual relationships. Sadly the Post has been to cowardly to fully address this debate. From the editorial page to the columnists, the paper has carefully avoided core questions about the nature of homosexuality.

Journalist like to claim that their job is simply to present facts, and to do so with “objectivity.” But people are increasingly realizing that this has never been the case. While conservatives argue that the media has always been liberal, slanting the news to the left, the truth may be more powerful and important: the media have shaped the news according to their conscience. In many cases this has not been a bad thing. They supported the civil rights movement because the sight of black people, including women and children, being hosed down and attacked with dogs sparked a terrible, ruthless, and necessary attack of conscience. Those who may have been liberal but not on the far left turned on the Vietnam War because they thought that it was unsinkable, an staying in there would cause the unnecessary deaths of young Americans. And many liberals today support health care out of a genuine concern for people whose lives a ruined because they can’t afford it. St. Ambrose called the conscience “God’s herald and messenger,” and in many cases liberal journalists, even if none of them are religious, are following a kind of natural law. There are certain things that everyone knows are wrong.

However, the conscience works best if aided by human reason. Your conscience may dictate that you help the poor, but your reason will help you discern the best way of doing that—say, by giving to a charity rather than handing change to a beggar who may use the money for drugs. Our fellow citizens should have health care, but not in a way that socializes medicine or breaks the bank. People of different races should be able to marry because love is love—and there is no cause based in reason to oppose that. Human chemistry is human chemistry.

The problem with gay marriage is that the calling of the conscience gets tangles up in the hard reality of reason and the facts in front of your face. Gay people have always been in the world, and always will be. They should be treated with respect and love. Reason would even led one to conclude that homosexuality is innate, genetic, not a choice. And yet, reasons offers another side as well: the male anatomy is different from the female. In promoting gay marriage, society, whose job is to encourage, if gently, healthy behavior by its citizens, is promoting something that to many people defies reason, if not basic carpentry. This fact causes some people what gay activists call “the ick factor.” But it is more than that. It is an irreducible fact about human physiology. One theme of the Post coverage, echoed from the editorial page to the Metro section to the ombudsman, was that this was no different than letting interracial couples marry. But suppose that a key part of interracial marriage was spouses sticking their index fingers in each other’s eye. Society may well have still let it go forwards, but they may not have celebrated it an advancement for humanity.

What is disappointing about this is how reluctant liberals have become in even arguing fairly about these things. They may try and connect their support of gay marriage to the social battles of the past, but there is a difference: in the older cases, liberals appealed to human reason and even transcendent truth. I am currently reading “Personal History,” the autobiography of Katherine Graham, the late publisher and matriarch of the Washington Post. Graham recounts the bruising debates that went on at the paper—civil rights, the Pentagon Papers, Vietnam. In each case, the decision to publish a story or take a certain editorial position was with an eye on the good. She decided to publish the Pentagon Papers, which would potentially harm the defense department of United States, because she felt it would ultimately benefit the country as a whole. Unlike today’s anti-war crusaders, Graham’s decision to oppose Vietnam was the result of free-floating antipathy—with a few dollops of narcissism—to her country. She felt it was a lost cause and wanted to save lives. Graham recalls how in 1949, her husband Phil, then the publisher, threatened, in a meeting with government officials behind closed doors, to publish a front-page story about racial tensions in Washington unless the Truman administration desegregated the public pools. “It worked,” Katherine Graham wrote, “but at the same time it hurt the paper. It isn’t—and it probably wasn’t even then—the way to run a newspaper. To keep a story out of the paper to achieve a political purpose, even a fine one, is neither appropriate nor in the spirit of my father’s definition of the duty of a newspaper: ‘To try and tell the truth. To find it out and tell it. To have a competent editorial department to interpret that truth.’”

What is the truth about homosexuality? Well, it’s been here forever and always will be. It’s also reasonable to think, as I do, that it is biological. What a public service it would have been had the Post opened it’s pages to both sides in a genuine debate, one conducted with respect and love and with the aim of discovering the truth. They could have gotten conservatives Robert George and Hadley Arkes to debate Andrew Sullivan and Jonathan Carehart. Instead, we got, and will continue to get, the insipid cheerleading of those who simply know better than us. Great newspapers do not run from difficult debates.

The Catholic writer and theologian George Weigel once remarked on the irony that in the modern age the most compelling and convincing voice of reason was John Paul II, the former pope. In his masterpiece encyclical “The Splendor of Truth,” John Paul II examines the role of the conscience in determining the truth. I often think of one particular passage when the day’s Post arrives in the morning:

“Certain currents of modern thought have gone so far as to exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values. This is the direction taken by doctrines which have lost the sense of the transcendent or which are explicitly atheistic. The individual conscience is accorded the status of a supreme tribunal or moral judgment which hands down categorical and infallible decisions about good and evil. To the affirmation that one has a duty to follow one’s conscience is unduly added the affirmation that one’s moral judgment is true merely by the fact that it has its origins in the conscience. But in this way the inescapable claims of truth disappear, yielding their place to a criterion of sincerity, authenticity, and ‘being at peace with oneself,’ so much so that some have come to adopt a radically subjectivist conception of moral judgment.”

Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism and Rock and Roll, forthcoming from Doubleday. His YouTube page can be found here –http://www.youtube.com/user/MarkGauvreau.