This essay is adapted from "Conservatives and Our Queer Constitution," by Scott Yenor, in Up from Conservatism: Revitalizing the Right after a Generation of Decay, edited by Arthur Milikh.

Conservatives and Our Queer Constitution

For the last 50 years, the Republican Party has professed the family to be, as its election-year platforms state, “the foundation of the social order” (The Platform of 1980), “society’s central core of energy” (2000), and “the foundation for a free society” (2016). Much ink has been spilled. Billions of dollars have been spent. Organizations have been formed. Yet conservative opposition to the sexual revolution has amounted to very little. In fact, things seem only to get worse: birth rates have declined; more children are born outside of wedlock; divorce has increased; and more people live together outside of marriage. 

The conservative movement’s broad trajectory on family is one of loss after loss: feminism, followed by the gay revolution, followed by same-sex marriage, and followed soon (perhaps) by trans rights. The reversal of Roe v. Wade may point to a partial victory, depending on what states do and whether a culture of life becomes a culture of motherhood; few seem willing to stick their necks out for such an outcome.

Many conservatives made sincere, intelligent efforts to oppose gay rights. Those who were associated with Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in the 1970s understood that relaxing proscriptions against homosexual conduct would lead to sexualizing childhood. Anita Bryant’s “Save our Children” campaign in Florida recognized that emancipating same-sex attraction would tend to corrupt children. Yet much of conservatism’s mainstream was embarrassed by such prophetic admonitions. After the hard-fought victories of the 1970s and 1980s, conservatives eventually settled on maintaining “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” gestures and attitudes. Indeed, partly to avoid confrontation, the conservative family policy agenda became mostly economic in nature by the 1990s. Child tax credits, for example, were passed in the 1990s. The so-called marriage penalty has been mostly repealed.

Genuine conservatives—Old Right and New Right—sense that the future of the country depends on reversing family decline, but family decline at this point seems (dare we say?) inevitable and fated, sown into the American regime and indeed the modern situation.

As it pertains to marriage, the rolling revolution begun in the 1960s is about liberating sexual desire from procreation, marriage, and parenthood. Sometimes this means embracing contraception so sex is detached from procreation (hindering nature). Or it can mean encouraging women to shun childbearing and child-rearing and to prioritize careers (compromising nature). Sometimes it means celebrating cohabitation and single parenthood (a realization of autonomy). The accumulation of these practices, always done in the name of autonomy or conquering nature, has everywhere led to the decline of family life. This rolling sexual revolution cultivates a new sexual ethic supporting what may be called the Queer Constitution (in contrast to our former Straight Constitution), which has become central to Americanism and its ruling class.

Securing individual autonomy and overcoming nature are at home in celebrations of LGBTQ+ Pride as well. The move from gay rights to public recognition of gay identities is always justified in terms of securing and then affirming personal autonomy. Every Supreme Court decision expanding same-sex freedom in this sphere is done in the name of personal autonomy. Much the same is also true of the LGBTQ+ relation to nature. No LGBTQ+ advocates ever recognize that their practices bring psychological and physical harms, including dreaded diseases. These elements of nature are always attributed to social stigma or “minority stress” syndrome. The natural harms are attributed to homophobia and are used to justify great changes in social arrangements. Monogamous, man-woman marriage, for instance, was rearranged to prevent same-sexers from experiencing the insult of not having their relations affirmed and other social costs. Nature is not thereby conquered, but its role in human life is reduced to following one’s sexual desires by those who embrace sexual liberation.

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The Queer Constitution

Every country has a sexual constitution: a set of laws and opinions, which use shame and honor to shape and guide sexuality. The old marital constitution was, shall we say, the Straight Constitution, which honored enduring, monogamous, man-woman, and hence procreative marriage. It also stigmatized alternatives. This Straight Constitution upheld a vision of marriage that, among other things, limited divorce and proscribed fornication, contraception, sodomy, and adultery, promoted a family wage (under some circumstances), and imagined marriage for the purposes of procreation and educating offspring. We lived under the Straight Constitution until roughly the 1970s.

That constitution no longer exists, or perhaps just barely. We currently live under the Queer Constitution, which claims to—and in fact does—reject the Straight Constitution. The Queer Constitution was developed by winning legal battles in the service of broader cultural recognition of what once were called alternative lifestyles. It moved from gay rights in the 1970s, to proclaiming “Gay Pride” a virtue in the 1990s, to a legal recognition of the constitutional right to sodomy in the early 2000s, to making the Boy Scouts and the U.S. military accept homosexuals, to constitutionalizing same-sex marriage in the 2010s, to protecting gender identity under the civil rights laws in the 2020s, to practically banning intellectual and legal opposition to the Queer Constitution on speech platforms.

Some conservatives fought these changes. Nonetheless, nearly all acquiesced to them serially—fighting against new extensions while accepting their previous defeats. Rarely have conservatives acted as if the future of practices encouraged under the Straight Constitution—with its manner of directing passions and ordering loves—depended on reversing efforts to queer our sexual constitution.

At the Queer Constitution’s core are two ideas: First, that all sexual behaviors, if consensual, are equal and dignified. Second, that society’s binary, heteronormative gender identity is an iron cage, hampering individual expression and happiness. The Queer Constitution honors all manner of sex. Laws restricting contraception, sodomy, and fornication are, by its lights, unconstitutional. These changes in law are but the first part of an effort to normalize and then celebrate premarital sex, recreational sex, men who have sex with men, childhood immodesty, masturbation, lesbianism, and all conceptions of transgenderism.

The live-and-let-live attitude, hoped for by conservatives and promised by revolutionaries, cannot in principle hold. Indeed, the move from legal tolerance to public celebration is perfectly logical. Human beings are social and political animals. Many parts of their lives take place in private, but society nevertheless recognizes and applauds public manifestations of private acts. Under the Straight Constitution, no one watches a husband and wife having sex, but the public celebrates their weddings and their births, and the public recognizes their common property. Weddings themselves are a recognition of the importance of the marriage for the couple and for society as such.

Advocates of the Queer Constitution wanted and needed such public affirmation for their private acts. From the private protection or tolerance of “gay rights,” advocates moved on to taking pride in “coming out of the closet.” Failure to show a similar pride is a public insult, punishable through social opprobrium, as violations of hate speech codes, or worse. Advocates sought and won legal recognition for same-sex marriage, visitation rights for same-sex partners, and the right to adopt children, but they did not stop at such a legal infrastructure. That is because the Queer Constitution demands public celebration of queerness. School curricula must be queered, the better to educate children before“homophobia” sets in. Men dressed as sexualized women must read children’s books to children in public libraries, lest they grow up to think transgenderism is abnormal. “Love makes the family”—rather than a mother and a father—must become the morality of every generation. Christian bakers must be made to bake the wedding cake for gay couples, lest failure to bake the cake insult the gay couple.

As to the next frontiers: strictures against adult sex with children are being “problematized” and are now eroding. Calls to lower the age of consent and to embrace pedophilia chic are beginning, including among politicians. Incest taboos are already being subjected to critical questions. “Live and let live” turns into “comply or else.” Many pro-family activists pretend dishes of the Queer Constitution can be accepted à la carte without ordering the whole Queer menu.

Beyond the law and public morality, the Queer Constitution rules in the scientific professions, our major corporations, our education system, the Boy Scouts, the American military, and countless other commanding heights in our culture and within our families. Even churches openly support it. What had been considered bad under the Straight Constitution must now be considered good under the Queer Constitution, and vice versa. Many conservatives refused to see the Queer Constitution as the Left’s imperial project, one aimed at subverting and dishonoring the Straight Constitution. Now this imperial project has gone international. Conservatives can no longer indulge in libertarian fantasies. Peaceful coexistence between a queer and a straight constitution is not sustainable.

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The Costs and the Path

The laws and mores of the Straight Constitution fade wherever the Queer Constitution is embraced—just as the advocates of the Queer Constitution expected. The gay rights branch of the Queer Constitution is not responsible for all its effects (surely feminism, which also advocates for the end of all sexual taboos, bears a responsibility as well). Yet the Queer Constitution has coincided with the amazing rise in non-monogamous relationships, a public acceptance of alternative lifestyles even among conservative Americans, cohabitation, the sexualization of childhood, and the consumption of pornography. It has also coincided with the decline of marriage rates, marriage stability, the priority of marriage, the character necessary to sustain marriage, and birth rates. The social costs of the Queer Constitution are broad and deep.

At its deepest level, the Queer Constitution elevates sexual pleasure and sexual self-expression as the goods of adults that have a dominant hold on the human heart, instead of procreation, familial duties, and parental responsibility. One’s sexual identity becomes who one is. Expressing sex in whatever way becomes a crucial right. All eros becomes sexual eros. Dealing with the consequences of sex—including, most crucially, children—becomes someone else’s problem or not a problem at all, since there are fewer kids.

In contrast, under the Straight Constitution, sex is something one does, not who one is. Life under this constitution encourages individuals to make sex serve something higher, like the duties of parenthood or finding its place within a marital regime. When people are taught that sex is who they are, they are less likely to see beyond sex to higher duties. The duties associated with marriage and parenthood necessarily wither as the Straight Constitution shapes fewer and fewer lives.

Moreover, the victory of the Queer Constitution promotes more and more queerness. Honoring queer sexuality has done much to shape a new queer and nonmarital culture. More than ever before, Americans identify as either lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or as possessing other sexual characters. Though the number of such persons relative to the population as a whole had remained steady at under 4 percent for decades, these numbers approach 20 percent among females under 25 years of age. Young girls are especially sexualized and vulnerable to those who force the Queer Constitution, since girls are uniquely subject to social pressures and media. As our culture points them toward the Queer Constitution, they are much more likely to follow it. This new constitution of sexuality affects the thoughts, words, and deeds of all to some extent.

This social contagion has profound effects on individual happiness and social health. Indeed, sexual constitutions do not create human desires, but they play a large part in shaping them. Like a command-and-control economy, our reengineered ways work poorly, damaging men and women. Suicide rates and rates of drug abuse have spiked. People are more and more medicated. Health crises proliferate, depending on the lifestyle. Life expectancy sinks. A sense of personal mission, centered on family life, fades, and with it fades human ambition and purpose. Children mutilate themselves, at parental, medical, or teacher suggestion. Damage to transgender children is irreversible. Society as a whole is less happy, less trusting, less confident.

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Models for a Straight Future?

Where the Queer Constitution sees non-procreative sex as superior (or at least equal) to procreative marital sex, a new Straight Constitution would hold that there can be no equality between man-woman procreative sex within marriage and other kinds of sex. Society must honor man-woman, marital procreative sex over other expressions of sexual mingling if it wants to survive and thrive over the long haul. Only then will birthrates start to recover. Only then will a superior sense of joint creation inform parental responsibility. Only then will a genuine love that transcends the point of individual interest become the glue for married couples. Only then can lives be reinvigorated with purposes, informed by nature and justifying sacrifices. But this appears to be far removed from where things stand.

Old family-advocacy conservatives, in recent years, have generally been relegated to seeking carve outs for decent family life within the laws and mores provided by the Queer Constitution. A few exemptions here, a little tolerance for families there. Those advocates pray that nature will be strong enough to withstand the imprudent whispers of the Queer Constitution and that many or enough citizens will still be drawn to “natural” marriage (as family advocates, hopefully, call it), as it responds to deep human needs. Perhaps, they hope, the Queer Constitution is a temporary madness that will solve itself if queers do not reproduce themselves. But it is not. Old family advocates have been standing athwart the Queer Constitution and shouting “Nature” for decades. Things only get worse. Nature is not enough to withstand the imperial Queer Constitution. It cannot be contained with compromising half-measures and carve outs. Advocates are seeking converts.

A rejuvenated conservatism would recognize, as did leftist activists a generation ago, that easygoing coexistence between a decent Straight Constitution and the Queer Constitution is not possible. As a result, the family must be self-consciously repoliticized. Given the centrality of politics, as the New Right appreciates, the Queer Constitution must be rejected root and branch and replaced with a new Straight Constitution, duly changed for our circumstances, supporting man-woman marriage, enduring marriage, procreative sex, and parental responsibility. From the perspective of the New Right, the Old Right may have hoped to achieve the goal of a decent family life, but the Old Right did not will the means to achieve it.

The Old Right is correct in seeing that nature provides materials from which decent family life might arise, but the manner of guiding nature is crucial. The queer revolutionaries long ago recognized that sexual passions and priorities could be bent away from enduring marriage—and they built a queering ethic to accomplish it. The New Right must work with the building blocks of nature, but it must also show that our Queer Constitution is a source of misery and social decline, and that a new Straight Constitution is more humane, fosters happiness, and creates an enduring social fabric with lasting man-woman marriage at its heart.

What are these natural building blocks? Differences between men and women are natural. It is a natural fact that only man-woman sex can produce children. Sexual impulses are natural in the sense that they are spontaneous; and they are mostly, absent a countervailing cultural tendency, toward man-woman relations. Men and women in the main have crucially different psychologies, fitting them for life together and raising kids and reflecting something like checks and balances. Childhood is naturally a state of helplessness for human beings. The family, like the sex integrated into it, is based in nature but it is always mediated by laws. A decent sexual constitution would take all these facts into account, while pointing to better, sturdier relations to make them serve human happiness, personal excellence, and the social good.

What would a decent sexual constitution look like in our context? It is difficult to say, but answers to this question center on the relation between stigma and legal proscriptions. In the past, many civilizations pursued the harshest option, painful to mention, involving putting laws with real teeth, like Mosaic or Islamic laws, on the table, as the legal machinery necessary to maintain a real stigma against those who oppose a straighter constitution. Those religious traditions, in their own words, banned sodomy, women who lie with women, people who desire to sexualize or to have sex with or to dance sexually with children, and others who should, in a decent society, to differing degrees, face real social stigma grounded in tough legal sanctions. Such scary depths, smacking of tyrannical control, can hardly be uttered today. Many of the world’s societies—in Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Asia—have been on this path, or are about-facing toward it. Many of those nations are consciously choosing to continue down this path based on their experiences of the West over the last few decades. This option is hardly congenial to Western public opinion today and is thus not desirable or possible.

Those who hope for a pro-marriage Straight Constitution may see the American founders as precursors. In the beginning, America’s sexual constitution pointed men to fatherhood and women to motherhood, and it pointed sex toward fruitful marriage. For instance, adultery was outlawed, as were fornication, incest, rape, polygamy, and other sexual and marital practices. Laws commonly discriminated between men and women, suggesting different roles for them. The proddings of culture were thought to benefit both sexes. Men owned the family property in their own name, controlled the family finances officially, and were the voting representatives for the family. The ideal, such as it was, of public man–private woman reigned in law and culture. The founders’ sexual constitution was supposed to link natural desires to a republican, Christian society that allowed for natural growth and responsible parenthood. The sexes would be separate for some of their daily lives, but they came together for common private purposes. Men would have suitable outlets in commerce and politics, while women would raise children, mind the home, and build community.

Making man-woman procreative sexual desire normative meant, on the founder’s sexual constitution, stigmatizing some sexual desire. Laws against sodomy were on the books in all 13 states at American independence. It was viewed as “an offense of so dark a nature, the very mention of which is a disgrace to human nature, a crime not fit to be named.” Nevertheless, the founders’ sexual constitution never had as hard of an edge in practice as it had in law. Few malefactors were really punished. When punishments came, they were much gentler than the law could have allowed. Clearly, however, the time of even the founders’ somewhat tepid resolution is over.

Today, public authorities must at least stop getting behind the institutions of Gay Pride. The light must be shed on the institutions of Pride. Serious journalists and politicians must poke through the endless propaganda on issues relating to the Queer Constitution. Deep investigations into what the gay lifestyle actually does to people should be matters of public interest, just as efforts to normalize sex among children and to mainstream gender reassignment are beginning to draw attention from journalists. Journalists must dare to speak the name and seek the consequences of the love so central to Pride. Twenty-eight percent of men who have sex with men have had over one thousand lifetime partners, according to one study. Fidelity is hardly a norm among men who have sex with men. Lesbian relations break up at rates several times that seen in the rest of the population. People should know about these pathologies.

Proscriptions against sex with children and the sexualization of children must be maintained, while our public schools should be subject to scrutiny and skepticism for what they promote and what they leave undone. Sex education programs, all funding the leading edges of our Queer Constitution, should be subject to withering congressional oversight and ultimately be discontinued, since they cause infinitely more harm than good. States should reject sex-education funding, knowing that its leading edges always support the Queer Constitution. In the states new obscenity laws for a more obscene world should be adopted. Pornography companies and websites should be investigated for their myriad public ills like sex trafficking, addictions, and ruined lives. The justice of anti-discrimination must be revisited.

The Old Right could not conserve a decent society, though many knew the stakes. Eventually conservatives compromised, hoping for the best, which resulted in the step-by-step adoption of the Queer Constitution. Perhaps they could do no different, given the class arrangements of our new managerial elite. Becoming elite meant acquiescing in the Sexual Revolution. Resisting that revolution meant irrelevance. But this bargain is up: conservatives are now outside the ruling classes and inconsequential. For society, embracing the Queer Constitution combines the costs of having weak, adult-focused marriage customs with all the costs associated directly with this constitution. The result has been individual misery, social decline, and a barren future. The perversities will keep mounting, as advocates for the Queer Constitution are clearly coming for the children, a fact they themselves now openly admit.

All civilizational founders recognized the importance of promoting a straight constitution and stigmatizing its alternatives. The New Right must follow the deep wisdom of such founders where it leads. Only a return to an uncompromising Straight Constitution can reverse our decline.


This essay is adapted from “Conservatives and Our Queer Constitution,” by Scott Yenor, in Up from Conservatism: Revitalizing the Right after a Generation of Decay, edited by Arthur Milikh (Encounter Books, 328 pages, $32.99).

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About Scott Yenor

Scott Yenor is a professor of political science at Boise State University. His book The Recovery of Family Life: Exposing the Limits of Modern Ideologies was published in 2020 by Baylor University Press.

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