The following is an email that I received from a correspondent who takes umbrage with my notion that pedophiles—that is individuals who molest either pre-pubescent girls or boys—have a “sexual orientation” that is distinct from simply the gender of the child that he (or she—but mainly he) is molesting. That is if a man molests a 5-year-old boy, it is no more fair to associate this with the phenomenon of normal homosexuality than it would be to associate a man molesting a 5-year-old girl with normal heterosexuality. Here is his response:
Taken to it's logical extreme, treating pedophilia as
a distinct and exclusive "orientation" (apart from
either hetero or homo) is very troublesome. By doing
so, you arm them with the exact same "new civil
rights" that you are claiming for homosexuals, and
their claims of injustice are equally valid. They are
"born that way" and "can't change" and are
discriminated against for religious reasons.
Arguably, they have an even stronger case than [gays],
because marriage has taken place among broad age
ranges in different places in history, while same-sex
marriages have not.
We dont ever need to agree -- just remember me when
the age of consent is challenged. Your team will be
behind it, and it will be presented as a matter of
equality. But the end result is still the same -- men
trying to have sex with boys.
And here is my response back:
Actually I think it would be better for your side to argue that homosexuality as an orientation doesn't matter. That is, even if it is a biological, genetic, unchosen unchangeable thing, so too are other things that we clearly ought not to find acceptable: alcoholism; pedophilia may be; science has even found that the desire to murder may be genetic or inborn in some folks. There are also a whole host of diseases, from serious depression that causes tragic patterns of suicides in families, to schizophrenia, and other diseases/disorders that could qualify as genetic, biological, immutable. Some of these have only become treatable in the modern age, and they are so by changing human biology. Maybe if homosexuality is genetic/biological, scientist will find a way to wipe it out by changing our biology in the same way we treat say bipolar with lithium.
The defining feature of wrongness for pedophilia is that it harms children. (And this factor is wholly absent from homosexual relationships between consenting adults.) It doesn't matter if the "orientation" to do so is genetic or biological, or unchosen or not. As I wrote you before I think the "age" of the child tells us whether a distinct orientation is involved. If it's pre-puberty, then we are dealing with real pedophilia. If it's post-puberty, then the abuse more likely stems from a normal homosexual orientation, if a boy, and a normal heterosexual orientation, if a girl. But, the acts -- whether pre or post puberty -- are wrong for the same reason: they harm children. So it doesn't matter if it's a normal hetero adult guy having sex with a 14-year-old fully developed girl or a pedophile who only desires 10-year-olds, if there is harm in both circumstances, they are both wrong for the same reason. See how orientation can be seen as irrelevant?
As far as age of consent is concerned, most sexually liberated types argue for drawing it at puberty. And that's where it historically has been drawn since the Old Testament Jews told us that we become adults at 13. Even as far as the 1950s in the bastion of social conservatism -- the South -- marriages were permitted where one party was 13 and the other was an adult (Loretta Lynn, Jerry Lee Lewis). It's only in this post 60s era of sexual modernity that we've begun to see the age of consent rise closer to 18 in a uniform way. (To be fair, the fact that teenagers more freely and openly have sex before marriage, whereas before they didn't, may have made it easier for us to realize that a post-pubescent 13, 14, or 15-year-old should, in no circumstance, be having sex with adults).