Some people think the recent supreme court decision supporting marriage equality is a setback for those of us who want to be judgmental about other people’s sex lives. This is a misconception. The supreme court ruling is only a set-back for those who want to use the law to impose their judgments about the sex lives of others, but they deserve to be set back, as they are confused.
The notion of using the law to impose personal morality is a poorly thought out project. Since what we want when we judge other people’s intimate lives is for them to flourish into creative,autonomous individuals, using legal coercion is not just a blunt instrument for defeating our goals. It is a self-defeating one. The person for example who has sex in the correct way but only because he fears legal repercussions is not having sex in the right way.
Sex is non-verbal communication. The desire to be judgmental about the sex lives of others stems from the same desire as the wish to be judgmental about the communicative lives of others. In both cases it is self-defeating to enlist the government’s monopoly on violence to push one’s agenda. In both cases though it is overly extreme to stand back from being judgmental. The first duty of friendship is reproof. A friend would not let a friend express a thought that was foolish, or express it in a foolish way without communicating that opinion. Similarly we would not want those we care about to be in sexual relationships that we find objectionable: perhaps because they are boring, or coercive, or spiritually deadening, or somehow conducive to the emotional crippling of one or both partners rather than to their flourishing.
Of course sex differs from many other forms of communication in one key respect: it is private. So the wish to get on a moral soap-box and lecture people about their sex lives is more akin to the wish to lecture them about their poetry than it is akin to the urge to lecture them about their political or scientific speech. But that is a far cry from saying we should not take a strong moral stand about our neighbor’s sex lives and share it. Lovers of poetry have strong opinions about poetry: they have examples they love, examples they accept but think could be better, and examples they actually hate. Lovers of sex, one would expect, would feel the same way.
Needless to say those willing to indulge in this pastime open themselves up to criticism of our own sex lives at the hands of others. But for those who are either a)exhibitionists or b)interested in the opinions of others about such an important topic, that is not a bug — it is a feature.