"There is a portion of the population that would look at the question in terms of balancing actual harm done, in more or less utilitarian fashion.|
There is another portion of the population that would say that sexual activities between adults and children is simply "wrong" and that it is just self-evident."
As far as the first category is concerned, that would seem to be a very small segment of the population. As for the second, it is far from a comprehensive account of the antis out there.
"It's pretty clear to me that more is going on in peoples' minds than any kind of straightforward reasoning calculation. The decision process starts with a gut feeling (it's wrong), and this is followed by a reasoning process which leads to the same conclusion."
Well, yes. I never meant to say that reasoning preceded emotion. Neither did I ever say that anyone's estimation of sexual harm was a balanced assessment of the available facts. The ideological histories of erotophobia and infantilazation have a long and profound reach upon both the social stigmas and the narratives people inherit. Otherwise, it certainly wouldn't explain why antis converge upon a certain handful of narratives to express their objections. You can't possibly think that intergenerational sexual activity's status as the most execrable thing that can ever happen to a child is just because it makes people feel "icky."
Ideology doesn't just serve to guide an objector's post-rationalizations but also goes towards transmitting and maintaining a certain set of societal norms and basic assumptions about right and wrong. So very much of the campus rape panic and of antiracist cancel culture stems from the infantilization of women and minorities and the altruistic desire to "protect" them from the presumed harm of iniquitous power relationships. And the exceptionality of sex as it is believed to be purveyor of such harm owes itself to broader puritanical antimaterialistic thinking which has its own tortuous lineage.
"Legislators, traditionally, when looking at these kinds of blanket prohibitions, are not basing their decisions necessarily on any claim of harm to the individual. They are looking at the relative harm to the orderly functioning of society, or some such consideration."
Too much top-down thinking there. Legislators are mainly concerned with ingratiating themselves with the public and with the mutual back-scratching of their special interests. And their ideas of what constitute an orderly functioning society don't just appear ex nihilo, but are informed by the ideological placement and history of the middle class. These ideas are not implemented without a substantial base of public support. A politician may support a blanket prohibtion of alcohol because he thinks it serves society at large, but not without the support of various factions making individual truth-claims about the moral rectitude of sobriety or the need to protect women from their drunken (often immigrant or lower class) husbands. The "elite" cannot start a fire without oxygen.
But if you back any typical person into a corner on it (in the US), ultimately it will boil down one of two ways: "it's just wrong" or "the evidence of harm must exist."
If we were talking about a "typical" person, all they'd have to do is point to any tear-filled interview of a CSA survivor; or maybe even relate a personal story of abuse. Most antis are not dusty academics who should simply know better but can't let go of that twinge of stigma. They're real people living in real communities where fear rides on the breath of rumor and monsters lurk in motorhomes and crack dens.