A Review of “Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything” by Robert Reilly

gay-okIt’s one thing to present a compelling thesis, and another to follow it up with compelling support. In his book Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything, Robert Reilly presents a thesis with which I can agree. His defense and support of that thesis, however, is often frustrating. Despite its solid thesis, this book’s failure lies in its insensitive characterization of gay men and women.

It’s not entirely clear to me for whom this book was written. Reilly states in his introduction that this book is “not about” the homosexual. He writes:

It should be emphasized that this critique of the homosexual cause is not an attack upon homosexuals, nor is it generated by animus against them…This book is not about them and is not meant to offend them. (xiii)

That, of course, doesn’t tell us a whole lot because the book is in fact about “the homosexual.” “It is about those who insist not only on defining themselves [as homosexuals], but on defining the rest of us as well.” The book is, I assume, written for those who already agree with Reilly’s thesis, namely that homosexual behavior is not natural and those who try to defend it as such must rationalize their immorality. While Reilly does an excellent job of unpacking natural law philosophy, his arguments are not particularly new. Readers may wonder, then, about the value of his contribution to this conversation.

He establishes the purpose of this book as helping readers to “live rightly in respect to our sexual Nature” (xii). That word “Nature” (with the capital “N”) is important. For Reilly, “Nature” refers to the “metaphysical concept.” He states:

The point of departure must be that Nature is what is, regardless of what anyone desires or abhors. We are part of it and subject to it. We shall see how, once the objective status of Nature is lost or denied, we are incapacitated from possessing any true knowledge about ourselves and about how we are to relate to the world. (16)

For Reilly this is a foundational point. For, “At the heart of the debate over same-sex marriage are the most fundamental questions about who man is and how he decides what makes for his flourishing” (15). Two views of human nature have developed in history that determine how we relate to this idea of “Nature.” The first view derives from Aristotle and holds to the view of Nature expressed above, the second derives from Rousseau who argues that man has no immutable nature, but his nature is whatever he determines it to be. Reilly traces the influence of Rousseau’s philosophy up through the years, demonstrating how it has led ultimately to the deterioration of the family and finally to the defense of gay marriage.

There’s much that I can appreciate about Reilly’s argument. His use of natural law as a defense against gay marriage is compelling. It’s not novel, and much of what he says attentive readers have heard elsewhere. Yet he does do a good job of presenting a number of individual arguments – arguments about justice, human rights, biology, and morality, for example – within a larger philosophical framework. His great flaw, however, is the manner in which he discusses gay and lesbian people and their motivations.

He presents a convincing case for the importance of rationalization apart from foundational philosophy of Nature, but often he discusses gay and lesbian people as if they have no complexity to them. He speaks of people as though they are flat, with simple motivations, and intentional deceptive hearts. Furthermore, he uses some of the most derogatory language to describe same-sex activity. So, for example, he states that homosexual relationships are inherently selfish and that those involved in them do not love those with whom they engage in sexual activity (62). He compares the rationalization of homosexuality to the rationalization of the Nazis (8-9). If Reilly is writing to convince those with whom he disagrees he has not started out well. There are moments where his ignorance is clearly evident. He says absolutely nothing about the subject of attraction, which is a significant issue to those in the LGBT community. His analogies too reveal a complete lack of sensitivity and understanding. This was not written with gay and lesbian men and women in mind.

Ultimately the book fails to give any real hope for change. Of course, that is not Reilly’s intent. His intent is to explain the progression of the so-called culture wars around the subject of homosexuality. His goal is to describe how the legalization of gay marriage has arisen. Yet, without any context for how change can take place in the lives of individuals it feels rather pointless.  His argument that homosexuality is unnatural means nothing to the person who might agree with him but doesn’t know how to change his orientation. Reilly has nothing to offer readers in that way. There’s a lot of diagnosis and a lot of insensitivity in this book, but there is no hope. For those reading up on this subject, I would argue that there are far more compelling, helpful, and gracious works to consult.

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