Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Hitchcock: 'Hard Times for the Homophobic'

Editor's Note: The following piece was submitted by Leonard Hitchcock to the Idaho State Journal. It runs just as a nondiscrimination ordinance is being reconsidered by the Pocatello City Council. The piece appears here with his permission.


It is increasingly likely that the average American citizen is personally acquainted with someone whom he or she knows to be gay.  It is also increasingly a matter of general awareness that scientific research has established that being gay is the result of biological causes.  Admittedly, a complete and comprehensive biological explanation has not yet been achieved, but it is now widely accepted that two of the operative biological factors are a genetic component, and the chemical environment in the womb. It is becoming clear, as well, that a gay sexual orientation usually manifests itself in childhood.

These two advances in public knowledge have made things tough for anti-gay activists.  Arguments that used to be effective now seem not merely unpersuasive, but downright offensive.  The fulminations of ministers and priests depicting gay people as monsters of perversity, abhorred by God, detested by the righteous, and damned to eternal suffering, were far more plausible when most people thought homosexuals to be exotic and rare creatures, like witches or atheists, and weren’t aware that gay people were there, among them, as neighbors, co-workers and relatives, behaving like perfectly normal human beings. Once gay people began to stop concealing themselves, and the rest of us were allowed to know them as they are, those Biblical characterizations came to seem both unfair and absurd.

What science has revealed about homosexuality has confounded the church’s teachings.  If being gay is to be labeled a sin, it must involve the will; it must be chosen, just as adultery or lying or idolatry must be chosen.  But if it emerges through the operation of biological forces well before it makes sense to speak of “choosing,” then moral strictures do not apply.  Being gay is, instead, morally equivalent to being black or female.  Consequently, discrimination and moral condemnation are, for a majority of American citizens, no longer defensible.

How, then, do those who are determined to keep homophobia alive carry on their crusade?  For one thing, many of them now conceal their own religious convictions and are careful to refrain from publicly attributing to gays the sinfulness and personal guilt that they believe them to bear. Instead, they pretend to be concerned about other peoples’ religiously-based opinions of gays and the danger that those persons’ constitutional right to practice their faith will be interfered with by laws that protect gays from discrimination.  Alternatively, they profess concern about preserving peace in the community if those with such opinions are not appeased.

For some anti-gay religious sects, doctrinal change has accompanied the accumulation of scientific evidence and change in public attitude.  Rather than asserting that being gay is intrinsically sinful, some denominations now take the position that it is only acting gay that constitutes a violation of God’s law.  Which is to say, desiring to have sex with someone of the same sex is excusable, because it is biologically determined, but actually having sex with that person is immoral because it is a willed act, i.e. within one’s power to refrain from performing. 

The upshot of this humane and enlightened doctrine is that you may, if you are gay, be accepted as a member of the congregation, but only if you pledge to live a life of celibacy.  This raises the obvious question: Why does God, who is surely responsible for your biological nature, implant in you a powerful desire that He then forbids you to satisfy?  Is this consistent with His goodness and mercy? 
Another tactic of anti-gay activists, in response to the fact that the public no longer seems tolerant of outright condemnation of gay people as individuals, is to attack something called the “gay agenda.”  They present the gay agenda as something sinister, conspiratorial, and subversive:  Gays are plotting to undermine Christianity, to weaken the country’s moral fiber, to infiltrate liberal organizations and turn them to their own purposes, to seize political power and pass laws that give them free rein to parade their perverse “life style” publicly and without interference. 

So, do the gays have an agenda?  Of course they do, but it is neither hidden nor nefarious, and it is fundamentally the same agenda that all victims of systematic prejudice and discrimination have been forced to formulate and act upon.  Didn’t African-Americans have an agenda?  Women? Native Americans? Disabled people?  Did we find it suspicious that those groups had agendas?  If we did, it was not because there was something wrong with having an agenda; it was simply because we didn’t believe they deserved to enjoy the same civil and political rights as the rest of us.  And underneath the camouflage of arguments about “free exercise,” and keeping peace in the community, and sinister agendas, that is what anti-gay activists assert: gay people are morally unfit to be treated equally.

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