Debunking Professor Arkes’s Radical Anti-Gay Argument
Issue   |   Wed, 04/10/2013 - 00:21

At the end of March, Professor Hadley Arkes wrote an article for The Catholic Thing titled “The Supreme Court Hears the Cases on Marriage,” discussing his views on gay marriage. This is by no means his only article professing his views on same-sex marriage, but it is the most recent and also the one I will respond to. Professor Arkes is a tenured Amherst professor in the Political Science department. His opinions continue to be valued in politics amidst the growing debate about same-sex marriage. He testified before Congress in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Whether we like it or not, though Arkes is writing only on behalf of himself, Amherst College is associated in some manner with the articles he writes.

While I strongly disagree with Professor Arkes’s ideas, I do not think that they should be labeled as hate speech. The way to change the tides of public opinion is not to silence the opposing side but to listen and to respond to an argument, as everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. The ironic part of this article, coming from a scholar, are these words: “that the matter [gay marriage] should even be arguable, or treated as plausible, is already the measure of a culture that has lost its moral coordinates, or even its clarity of mind.” I find it antithetical to the very mindset of scholarly thinkers, who understand the necessity to debate “long-established institutions,” for Arkes to suggest that this topic is not worthy of debate. If human beings had never critically evaluated their pre-existing moral codes, we would still have slavery and other abhorrent social institutions. Surely, as a political science professor, he is aware of the dangers of claiming that some ideas are out of the realm of critical debate. That being said, I wish to respond to the main points of his article.

First, the title implies/suggests that Arkes is going to engage in a debate about marriage. However, he does not discuss marriage at all. Rather, he talks about sex and procreation, stating, “as long as there are human beings there will be men and women. That is the meaning of sex. And one doesn’t have to read the Bible to come up with that one.” Yes, this is the meaning of sex. But sex is not the meaning of marriage. If marriage were solely for reproduction, why are men and women who cannot procreate allowed to get married? Why is it legal to use birth control? Why do we have sex for recreation? In fact, if the whole point of civilization is just to produce as many offspring as possible, why even get married?

Marriage isn’t just about sex. It is about love, respect, intimacy and the ability to spend a lifetime with the person that you love, free from unjust discrimination. Proponents of same sex marriage are not arguing that everyone is entitled to have sex with whomever without bound, reason or consent. They are making the argument that a consenting relationship between two loving adults should be recognized equally as a legitimate marriage.

In addition, the most outlandish, nonsensical and radical standpoint Arkes makes is regarding the connection between sexual orientation and bestiality, pedophilia, incest and necrophilia. His article reads: “Many people shift back and forth across a spectrum that may now include the bisexual, fetishistic, transvestic, zoophiliac (sex with animals). The term has become so elastic that, as one commentator remarked, ‘there is real doubt whether sexual orientation is a valid concept at all.’” Arkes continues to write that “sexual orientation…is broad enough to encompass sex with animals, pedophilia, even necrophilia.”

“Sexual orientation” as a phrase can have many connotations if applied broadly, but same-sex marriage clearly encompasses a certain, much narrower spectrum. The fact that bisexuality and necrophilia can even be mentioned in the same sentence is both ridiculous and dangerous to the way some people think about gay rights. According to Arkes, a person may be straight one day, gay the next day and having sex with animals the day after that. That is a sickening argument. Tracing a correlation specifically between the perverse actions he lists with people on the LGBT spectrum makes no sense. There are straight people who engage in such behaviors; these are not acts specific to certain sexual orientations. Arkes completely ignores the topic of consent; there is never consent in pedophilia or in zoophilia. This is a huge distinguishing factor about sex between two people, regardless of gender, in comparison to his other examples. In my opinion, these connections Arkes makes are the most dangerous ideas that he is putting forward. They are illogical, radical and can lead to extreme and hateful sentiments towards people in support of gay rights.

Though not everyone at Amherst is in favor of gay rights or supports same-sex marriage, I believe that our college as a whole is a very accepting atmosphere for LGBT students. Just look at all the students on any given day wearing the “I Support Love” T-shirts. It is a testament to our community that thoughtful conversations (on both sides) can, and should, occur. We are at a crucial moment in our nation’s history; it is now the time for us as students to stand up for what we believe in, whatever we believe in. Change happens by examining old ideas and replacing them with new and better ones. I sincerely hope with all of my heart that the ideas Arkes puts forward will one day be mere remnants of an extreme and archaic point of view, replaced by a more rational and tolerant one. Until that day comes though, there is still a fight to be won, a fight that shouldn’t be ignored.

To read Arkes article, go to

Jason Victor Serinus (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/10/2013 - 13:39

As an alum who, in 1971, returned to campus to give the college's first talk on gay liberation, then wrote a very strong and angry article to the Amherst student, I applaud this opinion piece. I do, however, wish to raise seval points.

First, Idalia Friedson seems to go along with Arkes' statement, “as long as there are human beings there will be men and women. That is the meaning of sex. And one doesn’t have to read the Bible to come up with that one.”

"Yes, this is the meaning of sex," she says in response. It is not. It's the believe of some people believe who accept the human written and oft-mistranslated Christian Bible as the inviolate word of God. Sex means many things to many people. Anyone other than a televangelist or member of a ruling religious hierarchy who has an absolute phone line to the ultimate truth of God and the universe, and can thus speak with certainty as to the meaning of sex, please speak up now.

Secondly, she - I'm presuming that Idalia is a woman, and apologize if I'm wrong - states that Arkes' opinions are "radical." Radical, as I understand it, means to get to the root of things. If we want to get to the root of things, we will acknowledge that Arkes' ideas are not radical in the least. They are, however, most certainly "illogical...extreme and archaic," all words Idalia uses above.

Let's call a spade a spade. Arkes' so-called intellectual arguments are in fact prejudice and fear dressed up as arguments in an attempt to give them intellectual and moral compass. It's always dangerous to label someone as crazy, especially when they can dispense hatred with such powerfully worded vitriolic force and so-called moral authority that they can actually win people over to their side, but it is fair to say that Arkes' arguments are not rooted in logic.

People who are willing to own their own demons, and their own dark sides, do not need to subjugate and oppress the "other." Instead, they have the courage to acknowledge that what they fear and do not like about the other is in fact a part of them. If people would only take responsibility for their actions and fears, we would no longer have a world in which people are oppressed according to race, class, sex, sexuality, color of skin, religious and spiritual beliefs, etc. etc. amen. But until that time, it is essential for people to speak out, and speak strongly, against hate-mongers disguising themselves as intellectual scholars. For which I applaud Idalia, and every other person, on-campus or off, who calls for censure of Arkes and his continued use of his tenured professorship at Amherst as a platform for spewing hatred.

jason victor serinus, formerly J. Guy Nassberg '67
founder, New Have Gay Liberation Front (spring 1970) and veteran of New York GLF, 1970-1972

David Dorwart '70 (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/11/2013 - 12:05

I am relieved and heartened to see the Amherst Student enter the conversation regarding Hadley Arkes and hope that the discourse will continue in the newspaper, on line, on campus and perhaps enter the national debate beyond the recent Wall Street Journal article. I have been dismayed that the College, whose very motto is terras irradient, has up to now appeared reticent to shine a light and enter a vigorous dialogue about the many issues this controversial figure raises. I am a strong advocate of academic freedom, however, I feel if a professor like Mr. Arkes makes such vituperative comments nationally, then that professor better be willing to face the spotlight of scrutiny and the sting of indictment for questionable scholarship, reasoning and bigotry.

What is of paramount concern to me, is how would Ms. Freidson actually fair in Mr. Arkes’ classes; how do any students who would challenge his egregious statements be treated? His writings and testimony seem to express a fundamentalism and as with all authoritarian thought, reasoned argumentation could, therefore, be futile. How would a student, who does not even accept the very premise of Arkes’ argumentation (based as they are on his current religious beliefs), either securely engage in rational debate or find common ground? Arkes would appear to be aggressively didactic rather than thoughtfully dialogical, which does not promote critical thinking, engaged pluralism or a rational education – which to my way of thinking should be at the heart of the Amherst experience.

David A. Dorwart, AC ‘70

Daniel Diner '14 (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/11/2013 - 19:43

Arkes enjoys having liberals take his classes, but only to a point. He does not grade fairly - whenever I would point out the inconstancies in his arguments and use the very principles he focuses on to make the opposing points I would be marked down rather strongly. He tolerates disagreement, but only the extent at which he can laugh it away and pat the opposition on the head for making such a heartfelt effort.

Alum (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/24/2013 - 14:29

After seeing this, I went to read the Catholic Thing and read the Arkes argument. As an Alumni, a legal practioner and a Catholic I found the experience interesting, but I also found it to be the single most convincing statement yet in support of Margie Marshall's conclusion in Goodridge that there is no rational basis for excluding gay folks from the institution of marriage. The extraordinary sight of seeing a self-described natural law philosopher doing linguistic gymnastics to construct a world in which such discrimination makes sense was as clear an argument as I've seen for the Massachusetts' SJC's position. He cannot even verbalize his position without resurecting and misusing archaic terms that make me giggle.