This essay first appeared in Cliterati on May 26th; I have modified it slightly to fit the format of this blog.
Reductio ad absurdum is a form of argument which follows the logical consequences of the thing argued against until they reach a point the opponent must agree is false, ridiculous, harmful or otherwise undesirable. Laws against consensual behavior could easily be defeated by such arguments were those who support them open to considering their possible consequences; unfortunately they never are, and so the laws are enacted and those harmful consequences must happen in fact to real human beings before most people will even begin to consider that they should be repealed. It takes even more than that to move the really staunch prohibitionists, especially those whose power or livelihood depends upon criminalizing as much of the spectrum of human behavior as possible; no matter how awful the consequences of their beloved laws, no matter how great the costs in money and ruined lives, no matter how damaging to the fabric of society or destructive to the principle of justice, they will just keep chanting “the Law is the Law” or “society needs to send a message” or “perhaps you want to legalize murder as well” while shutting their eyes, ears and hearts to the evil their policies cause. The chief weakness of the reductio ad absurdum technique is that some people are unable to recognize absurdity when they see it, or else unwilling to admit it when they do. And when the situation involves sex and adolescents, some people will adamantly refuse to acknowledge the wrongfulness of even the most outrageous outcomes:
…Kaitlyn Hunt, 18, faces two felony counts of “lewd and lascivious battery on a child”…after the parents of her 15-year-old girlfriend pressed charges…Kaitlyn Hunt’s mother, Kelley Hunt-Smith, wrote in [a] statement posted to Facebook…”They were out to destroy my daughter. [They] feel like my daughter ‘made’ their daughter gay”…police arrived at the family’s home Feb. 16 and put her daughter in handcuffs…Indian River County [Florida] Sheriff Deryl Loar said that age difference, not sexual orientation, determined prosecution…”If this was an 18-year-old male and that was a 14-year-old girl, it would have been prosecuted the same way,” Loar said…The state attorney’s office has offered Kaitlyn Hunt a plea deal which includes two years’ house arrest and a year of probation, which would stay on her adult record and limit her career choices…
I have absolutely no doubt that the sheriff is telling the truth, but that only increases the absurdity rather than acting as a defense as he seems to believe. Age of consent laws are currently justified by the pretense that they “protect” girls below that age from adult “sexual predators”, but that was neither their original rationale nor is it the way they’re usually applied: 80% of young men prosecuted under these laws have an established, consensual relationship with the so-called “victim”, and fewer than half are more than six years older; 55% of them are under 21, and 75% under 24. In other words, the great majority of such prosecutions are initiated to eradicate and punish boyfriends of whom the girl’s parents do not approve; as in the case at hand, the age difference is merely a convenient excuse.
But while one might (justifiably or otherwise) raise the specter of teen pregnancy or venereal disease to object to a heterosexual relationship, one would be hard-pressed to find such grounds for a lesbian one; though a few STIs (namely vaginosis, chlamydia, herpes, HPV, trichomoniasis and pubic lice) can be spread from woman to woman, several of these could also be contracted via behavior that even the most bloodthirsty prosecutor would hesitate to use as the basis for a criminal charge. And really, does anyone believe that the younger girl’s parents were truly concerned about the possibility of their daughter contracting a disease whose name they probably can’t even spell? If so, would Kaitlyn’s providing a clean blood test have caused charges to be dropped? OK, I’m indulging in a bit of reductio ad absurdum myself there, but I think y’all can see what I’m driving at. None of the possible negative side effects of this relationship, whatever they might be, justifies destroying a young girl’s entire life; morally infantile rubbish like “it’s the law” or “we mistreat everybody equally” is even worse. And if those of us who are sane can agree that these laws create monstrous injustices when inflicted on young women, perhaps we can also agree that they’re just as horrible when inflicted on young men.