Monday, January 07, 2008

On Morality and Intellectual Dishonesty

[Originally posted at on October 7, 2006]

One argument that I often hear from right-wing Christians is that the fact that homosexuality is natural does not mean we have to condone it. After all, so is pedophilia, and we don't condone it, do we? That is a misguided and morally dishonest argument.

The fact that society (as a whole, not just a religiously-affiliated segment of society) does not condone pedophilia comes from the realization that one of the two parties involved in the sexual act is a minor. The law has many special provisions concerning minors. For example, a minor cannot enter into a legal contract without the permission of his parents or guardians. Minors can't drink. They cannot vote. With diminished right, come also diminished responsibilities and increased protection. Society considers minors victims in a sexual relationship with an adult. And the law makes theoretically no distinctions based on the age of the minor. Whether the minor is six or sixteen years old, the perpetrator can be prosecuted.

There are some people who attempt to put pedophilia and homosexuality on the same level. That requires an astonishing degree of religious fanaticism or intellectual dishonesty. An honest believer can still consider homosexuality wrong, but only from a religious perspective. Homophobia, meet sin. Absent the concept of sin, all that is left is a homosexual relationship that does not involve a minor (if that were the case, it would be pedophilia), just two consenting adults. There is no victim. The only way one can envision the existence of a victim in a homosexual relationship is if one accepts the position, rather the dogma, that God condemns people "who choose the homosexual lifestyle."

I do not have a horse in this race: I am not gay, I know of no gay people in my family, and I have no openly gay friends (no, I am not a homophobe, either.) Nevertheless, as a fellow human being I cannot accept the discrimination that unreasonably targets a minority that, vocal and well-funded as it is, needs all the help it can get to overcome the cacophony of judgemental venom that is poured upon it day after day after day by people who define morality in terms of sexuality.

We should not demand that religious people embrace the viewpoint of those, like us, that consider homosexuality just another of the infinite possibilities of life. They are entitled to their misguided and unfortunate belief. But we should indeed demand that religious people, of all stripes, stop confining those of us who have different sexual instincts to second-class citizenship. And should help gays and lesbians be protected from repugnant comparisons that seek to put them and pedophiles on the same (im)moral ground.

The fact is that we need to convey the idea that homosexuality is no more a preference than left-handedness or the color of one's skin (and there are certainly parallels throughout history in how people of different colors and homosexuals have been fiercely persecuted). To define homosexuality as sexual-preference also implies the idea that a person can force him or herself to change his preference, with some level of training. It misleads people into thinking that given the choice between Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson, and Nathan Lane, a homosexual man might choose one of the two goddesses, where in fact his choice lies between Nathan Lane or moving on. Many homosexuals attest that their sexual orientation manifested as early as the first few grades of school. Attempts to change it are mostly unsuccessful and may lead (and have in fact led) to unspeakable trauma both for "converts" and for the family they have gone to build in perpetuation of biological a lie.

Perhaps we need to redefine the terminology that we use to refer to homosexual people. We need to do a better job at teaching society to see homosexual as simply human beings, rather than deviants or mistakes of nature. Just as we have moved from calling people handicapped or disabled, because of the connotation of inferiority which is so often completely unjustified (the more sensible and sensitive term is differently-abled) we may need to change the way we talk about homosexuals, to redefine reality in more humane and sensitive terms. We should try to do away with the odious connotations attached to words like homosexual and gay, and replace them with something that more accurately reflects nature and reality, like differently-inclined. Whatever we do, we cannot let these immoral and bigoted attacks on our brothers and sisters continue, without having to accept a big chunk of the blame for their continued segregation. If we do, we will be next in line.

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