Attack Mansfield's Speech, Not Him
Professor Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr. '53 has once again exercised his first amendment rights in a way that infuriates certain groups of students on campus. He claims that gay sex is "shameful," that gay love is "imperfect and stunted and frustrated," and that "gays eventually undermine civilization" because men and women civilize each other by living together. As in the past Mansfield makes sweeping generalization based not on any sort of systematic study or research, but on his personal opinion.
The debate sparked by what he said initially devolved into one over Mansfield's status as a professor at Harvard. The first response of BGLSA Co-Chair Dennis K. Lin to Mansfield's testimony in Colorado is a good example. "That remark is absolutely offensive and repulsive and we're ashamed he's a professor here."
This sort of remark only serves Mansfield's interests. It allows him to wrap himself in the First Amendment and forces people who disagree with Mansfield to defend him on the grounds of freedom of speech.
It is far more effective to counter Mansfield's ignorant arguments than to question his position at the University. Lin's initial response, "I think the University should look into this and react to this," was totally unproductive. It was disappointing that a potential voice of reason did not attack Mansfield's arguments on their own merits. Fortunately, the BGLSA has since defended Mansfield's freedom of speech and begun to focus on protesting the content of what he said.
As Professor Warren D. Goldfarb said, "It's not the University's concern. A professor is free to have whatever opinions he has and say them wherever he wants." Rather than ask for action from the University, it will prove more powerful for those who opposed Mansfield to home in on the inconsistencies of his position.
The idea that the social value of a family is measured by its number of children should be seriously questioned, especially considering the exponential nature of human population growth. Soon it may actually be considered socially irresponsible to have large families.
Even if we accept the principle that social worth is measured by the number of children couples have, it is false to assume gay couples don't have children. Mansfield's comments lead me to wonder what he thinks of the recent case where a judge took away a woman's child simply because she was a lesbian. In order to be consistent, Mansfield should advocate that the child should be returned to the lesbian couple. I'm sure the couple in question will not have to wait long for him to testify in their favor.
Although it may come as a shock to Mansfield, most of us are living in the late 20th century where heterosexual sex is not necessary for procreation. Mansfield said that homosexual couples do not have social value because they do not have children. I'm sure he'll be relieved to know that lesbians and gay couples can and do have children through artificial insemination and adoption. Would Mansfield consider heterosexual couples who can not or choose not to have children devoid of social value?
The issue of children aside, Mansfield says that gays undermine civilization by depriving men and women of the chance to civilize each other by living with each other. Even if he were right, homosexuals will always be a small minority of the population; Mansfield need not worry that there won't be any heterosexuals to 'civilize' each other. Furthermore, sexual orientation has little bearing on how aware the opposite sex is "of what a woman especially knows and what a man especially knows." There are plenty of heterosexual relationships which are far from 'civilizing.' Partners who abuse their spouses are not very civilized and probably do not understand the opposite sex very well. Homosexuals are quite capable of being 'civilized' and learning about those things that only the opposite sex "especially knows."
Mansfield claims that "kinky sexual practices" of homosexuals are "shameful" and that their love is "imperfect and stunted and frustrated." Some gays do speak of shame and frustration in trying to come to terms with their sexual orientation. This, however, is due to standards of behavior forced upon them arbitrarily by society; not by any inherent moral flaws. There may even be a genetic explanation for the occurrence of homosexuality in populations. Professor E.O. Wilson in his book, On Human Nature, says that there is, "a strong possibility that homosexuality is normal in a biological sense, that it is a distinctive beneficent behavior that evolved as an important element of early human social organization."
These are just a few rebuttals to Professor Mansfield's statements. There are many more to be made and they should be made in the course of healthy public discourse. Far from being banned in any way from speaking, Mansfield should feel free to elaborate on his views. It is limiting to respond to selected, short quotes pulled from a news article. People who disagree with him should use their best arguments to refute his assertions. If those that disagree with Mansfield are sure of their convictions they should fear nothing Mansfield will say. His comments will only seem more hollow in the face of strong, articulate responses.
It is essential, especially on a college campus, to have vigorous, in-depth debate. Charles L. Outcalt, member of the University-wide bisexual, gay and lesbian Leadership Council, seemed not to recognize that when he said that "I'm amazed that Harvard chooses to spend its money to support such bigotry." Outcalt shouldn't be amazed. The purpose of the University is to allow all forms of debate to flourish.