Melanie Phillips is reporting that you can now receive a visit from the police in Britain if you publicly question the right of homosexuals to adopt children. My question in this post is not your opinion on same sex marriage or adoption. But why would anyone imagine that a plainly-stated opinion on such matters qualifies as a "homophobic incident" in need of cautionary policing?
Homophobia is a concept rooted in the fact that we all learn our desires from each other. For example, when we see a very beautiful person, we may simply gaze in awe, needing no other confirmation of this truth of nature, and often feeling no desire to hold or own this beauty. But this is an exception to the rule: most of the time, our natural instincts are subject to cultural mediation. We turn to our fellows to confirm or deny our desire. On a scale of one to ten...
I may not normally be focussed on homoerotic imaginings, but when exposed to them I may well have reason to think I risk falling under their spell, under the other's desire, unless I make an effort to reject them. To the other, this effort may appear a denial of sexual possibilities that are in me if only I could throw off the chains of my repressive past and let them out. The term "homophobia" was first coined to refer to people's denial of a homosexual possibility in at least a good number of us, if not in everyone, and more generally to the denial of the culture of (especially male) homoeroticism that some quite reasonably suggest was at the origin of all erotic culture.
What homophobia has to do with one's opinion on marriage and family is a whole other question, I won't try to figure now. Suffice to note that the assumption implicit in the alleged crime of homophobia, i.e. that we are irrationally fearful of certain natural human desires, makes me wonder what the very concept of homophobia, or phobias more generally, have to do with the policing mentality: "Your professed desire is good/bad; you know it's in you, or at least in human nature, why don't you just admit it or at least celebrate it for others".
The essence of policing is in stopping and winning confession of dangerous desires. The desire for free speech lies in the powerlessness of some desire, and the possibility the powerless might have, if free to speak, to make the powerful respond to their verbal provocations. The truly powerful don't have to talk, and it may well be in their interests not to: if you have to assert your authority, it's a sign you might not have it. A great king is mostly silent; he simply raises a finger or eyebrow and all in court will know and follow his desire. The great king shuts himself up to protect the established community from desire, from too much speech.
But what is the essence of policing and free speech in a world where everyone can do pretty much anything they desire (beyond violence or theft), except, it increasingly seems, speak freely of a desire for a world in which certain boundaries are maintained in the name of a conservative concept of freedom in society?