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March 16, 2009

That Nuance Thing, Again

So - given that this review is accurate (and I haven't read his book, so I have no way to assess it) where do people like me fit into Andrew Sullivan's moral matrix?

... in the next few years, I realized that the Republican party had no interest in reaching out to gay people on the basis of human dignity, individual freedom and economic liberty. My own minority was only admitted into the coalition if it agreed to dehumanize itself.

Since when has admitting there may be tension between unlimited individual freedom and longstanding societal interests amounted to "dehumanization"? Dehumanizers!!!! It seems to me that Mr. Sullivan is once again cheerfully imputing the worst possible motives - on no evidence - to anyone who doesn't happen to share his beliefs. Either you agree with him, or you're an Evil, Wrong/Bad Dehumanizer. There is no middle ground. But on to the review, and the matrix:

This book, better than any other, clearly and thoroughly outlines the four main arguments for and against homosexuality, and critiques their strengths and weaknesses in a prose style that is both highly personal and incredibly reasoned and intelligent.

The Prohibitionists are the one school that is the most decidedly anti-homosexual - seeking to either punish or "cure" gays and lesibans.

OK. That's definitely not it. I don't give a rat's ass what anyone else - gay, straight, bisexual, it matters not a whit - does in the privacy of the boudoir. And I don't want gays punished for having consensual sex any more than I want heterosexuals punished for having consensual sex. In fact, I'd just as soon the government stayed out of my bed (and everyone else's too).

The Liberationists seek freedom from social labels and conventions, but, like the Prohibitionists, do not accept the concept of homosexuality as a valid state of being - there are no real homosexuals, only homosexual acts. Sullivan sees them as well meaning, but misguided.

Not me either. I think many social conventions have evolved over the centuries in order to keep us from killing each other and because they have survival value. That, in a nutshell, is why I'm a conservative. And I don't necessarily have a problem with social labels either. Many times they help us distinguish between things that are fundamentally not the same:

In his book, The Soul Beneath the Skin, David Nimmons cites numerous studies which show that 75% of gay male couples are in successful open relationships. He makes it clear that whatever you decide as a couple you should be up front, direct and honest about what the contract of your relationship is on both sides.

Given that heterosexual married couples differ from homosexual couples in this regard, the argument that allowing gay unions to be called "marriage" may undermine traditional marriage suddenly doesn't look so silly. Once the idea that sexual infidelity violates the explicit promise of faithfulness in marriage gains widespread acceptance (because, after all, 75% of gay male couples do it, so it must be OK), the generally accepted definition of marriage changes as well. Are we really supposed to believe the idea that sexual infidelity and promiscuity - nevermind those pesky marriage vows! - are normal and perfectly acceptable won't spread to heterosexual marriages? Or that if this concept of marriage gains traction, it won't be destabilizing and harmful? Let's test that one.

Tonight I'll casually inform my husband that I've been cheating on him sexually, but he really has no right to object because hey: I'm still emotionally faithful. And if any children result from my dalliances, he's still on the hook to provide for them.

For life.

If you buy into the absurd notion that this wouldn't weaken traditional marriages and split up families with children, there's a very large bridge I'd like to sell you.

As far as labels are concerned, it's hard to understand (though the far Left would love this) how anyone can have a sensible conversation about anything by pretending everyone is the same. Labels, though they can be misused, provide a convenient shorthand for discussing objectively observable differences.

The Conservatives believe that homosexuals are entitled to a certain amount of privacy and respect, but homosexuality is still a sin. Homosexuals do exist... but they can't help it. They still disapprove of homosexuality, just not necessarily homosexuals.

Wrong again. I don't think homosexuality is a sin. Your mileage may differ, but that's what I believe. I do respect the right of those who think the Bible takes a stand on homosexuality to have that opinion. A lot of men absolutely do think women are intellectually inferior to them and hysterical to boot. Many women think men are insensitive, violent, and irresponsible cads. But thinking a thing doesn't make it so. In a world where many things cannot be known with certainty, I see little benefit in confusing opinion with reality.

And I don't disapprove of homosexuality on moral grounds. I do disapprove of rampant promiscuity on any number of grounds but then I disapprove of heterosexual promiscuity too, for precisely the same reasons.

The Liberals also mean well, and struggle for the rights of homosexuals, but unfortunately blanket them in their larger agenda of "helping the little people", so to speak - well meaning, but sometimes a bit patronizing.

This is, in large part, what I dislike most about progressive ideology: the condescension. I can see all the ways in which being homosexual makes life more difficult. I just disagree about where we go from there.

Being stupid, ugly, flat chested, or uncoordinated unquestionably makes make life more difficult. Question for the ages: is it "easier" to be a gorgeous, intelligent homosexual or an ugly, stupid straight person?


How do societies weigh, let alone compensate for, the myriad natural impediments to which humans are subjected by birth or fate? And should society even be doing this? Should it seek to level every playing field by making any and all "discrimination" illegal? All these things are qualities we're born with. Not all of them impede our progress through life to an equal degree. But it's hard to argue it's not more difficult to be ugly than attractive, nor that it's harder to be gay than straight in a majority-straight culture.

So where do I fit?

I don't think people can help being gay.

I don't think being gay is anything to be ashamed of. I don't think being gay is anything to be celebrated either. It just "is".

I don't want gays punished or harassed on account of their sexual orientation.

But I do think there are valid reasons for distinguishing civil unions from traditional marriage. I think things that are inherently different can be treated differently. I think marriage, though demonstrably not all married folk have children, is an institution societies have traditionally supported to encourage procreation and promote stable families.

And I still don't buy the fact that only calling a union between two people of the same sex (formed for a different purpose) exactly the same as a union between two people of the opposite sex is the only path to societal acceptance of homosexuality. The fact is, if you genuinely believe homosexuality is a sin, calling gay unions "marriage" isn't likely to change that opinion one whit.

And if, like me, you think society has a strong interest in promoting commitment and monogamy in the homosexual community, it doesn't matter a bit to you whether we call it "marriage" or a "gay union" - either way, you don't disapprove of gay couples and in fact, wish there were more of them.

What I can't get past is that I think, since survival of the species is a biological imperative, society has plenty of reasons to distinguish between unions likely to result in children and those which aren't. I also think we ought to be extremely careful in tinkering with institutions that have developed over centuries, especially when we don't know what the consequences will be and especially where children and families are concerned.

I also think that the rationale for changing longstanding social conventions needs to balance the competing claims of individual rights/freedoms with societal stability and well being. How we do that in a democratic Republic ought to be something we address via debate, not judicial fiat.

Posted by Cassandra at March 16, 2009 05:34 PM

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Hm. What account is given, then, to those of us who think that being gay is in fact NOT hardwired? While there is certainly some inclination on some people's part towards relationships like this, there's also an inclination on some people's parts to other activities that are regarded as anti-social and that those people are expected to control and avoid.

I don't give a rat's behind what people do behind closed doors either. But when you open that door and proclaim that it's a basic human right that I should have to recognize those activities as being equivalent to marriage and to enjoy the same state sanction and privilege as actual marriage, then it is properly my concern to challenge that.

Posted by: RonF at March 16, 2009 07:14 PM

What account is given, then, to those of us who think that being gay is in fact NOT hardwired?

I think you were meant to fall into the "think homosexuality is a sin" category, where "sin" is used in its broadest context (i.e., it's a voluntary decision and it's wrong/harmful on some level).

Your second paragraph neatly articulates the objections a lot of opponents of gay marriage have to equivocating the two.

Posted by: Cass at March 16, 2009 07:21 PM

I think your comment also indicates how two people with very different ideas about homosexuality can come to the same conclusion, for different reasons.

Posted by: Cass at March 16, 2009 07:23 PM

An obvious (and undoubtedly oft-repeated) observation:

If homosexuality has a biological basis, this brings up the very real possibility--even probability--that, one day not so far off, science could discover what causes homosexuality...and, in turn, develop pre-natal screenings and treatments for it.

And if we discover what causes homosexuality, then, in our Brave New Obamian World, what's to stop mothers from eventually a) seeking said treatments for this "birth defect" or b) simply aborting their fetus before term? Hey, how could folks like President Cover-Boy deny women control over their own pregnancies and bodies after promoting the Sacred, Inviolable, and Mysterious Cult of Choice for all these years?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. This kind of stuff isn't going to happen tomorrow. However, dare I ask folks to bear in mind how far we've advanced since, oh say, 1959? Only fifty years ago there were still lots of folks in iron lungs and the concept of DNA testing was just a wild fantasy.

Bottom line: in my view, irony of ironies, the greatest "enemy" of homosexuality won't be religion. Nope, the entity that may well end homosexuality, as we've come to know it, love it, and argue about it, will be that most seemingly rational and dispassionate of actors: science.

Posted by: MarkJ at March 16, 2009 08:31 PM

That's already happening to women ;p

More female babies are aborted world-wide than male ones. A woman's right to choose, indeed.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 16, 2009 09:09 PM

Where is Darwin in this debate? Does anyone really think that natural selection would select speciation that can't, or won't, reproduce?

Posted by: Gino G at March 16, 2009 11:56 PM

Interestingly enough, there may be evolutionary value in homosexuality. There have been a number of studies that suggest it may be an evolutionary response to overpopulation.

When a population becomes too crowded in the animal kingdom, more mothers kill and eat their young too. The world is a strange place.

My position has always been that we are not likely to find definitive answers in this lifetime. I certainly don't claim to know the answers :p

Posted by: Cass at March 17, 2009 12:11 AM

I'll stick with the Bible...not just the Old Testament (Leviticus 18:22) that people like to say is passé; there are pretty clear references to it in the New Testament as well. (Romans 1:26-32 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

That being said, I have been called homophobic for the way I believe. This is patently false, since a phobia is a fear. I don't care what people do in private, that's between them and their conscience and/or God, if they believe in the latter as I do. But leaving Him out of the equation, normalcy is dictated (gasp!) by the majority, and since a purely homosexual species can't reproduce by way of their choice (yeah, I said that) biology alone dictates that the practice is abnormal.

Posted by: camojack at March 17, 2009 03:11 AM

My main problem with the "Gay Rights" movement (for lack of a better term) is that they don't want to be equal with the rest of us, they want to be "more equal." It seem like the loudest of them believe that, because of their sexual orientation, they should have rights and benefits the rest of us don't have.

Posted by: Frank at March 17, 2009 05:58 AM

leaving Him out of the equation, normalcy is dictated (gasp!) by the majority

I guess I have problems with this, too. At different times in history, a majority of society have believed some pretty inexcusable things. Didn't make them right. It just made them comfortable in their beliefs.

There are pretty clear references to a lot of disturbing things in the Bible, camo. Slavery. Rape.

Just handing your own wife over to another man without her consent to be used sexually doesn't seem right to me. It also contradicts other areas of the Bible (very likely due to poor translation) that suggest such behavior isn't right. For this reason, it's a bit chancy saying, "Well the Bible is against this, it says so *here*, therefore that behavior is wrong".

If that's true, then if the Bible cites other acts we consider grossly immoral (slavery, rape) as perfectly fine, does this make them moral?

I don't believe it's homophobic to think being gay is morally wrong or unnatural. That's a belief I don't happen to share, but there are rational grounds to conclude both those things. It's not my intent to get into a discussion of whether the Bible is an infallible guide to morality, because I very likely won't agree with a great number of people and that's an extremely contentious subject.

I can cite any number of Bible references that condemn looking at anyone who isn't your wife in the altogether, and yet enormous numbers of Christian conservative bloggers maintain there's nothing wrong with that.

So I think people cherry pick the Bible too often.

It's my personal opinion after having thought a lot about it that we're meant to wrestle with certain things - to have to think about them. I don't think the Bible lets Christians off that hook. That said, as I wrote in my post, I have no problem whatsoever with a faith-based belief that homosexuality is morally wrong.

I suppose (and this isn't aimed at you in any way, shape or form) I just wish I didn't hear so many folks seize on the parts of the Bible that excuse away their own behavior while seizing other parts as "proof" the other guy is a lousy sinner :p

Posted by: Cassandra at March 17, 2009 06:23 AM

Frank, I understand your beef. I have real moral problems with the things some gay activists advocate. Saying it's OK to promiscuously spread HIV, for instance, because it's such a "hassle" to wear a condom is one.

Or thinking there is some amorphous right to have sex in public. That's a problem for me. But then there are plenty of straight people who advocate nutty things too. The fact is, I don't want to see that no matter *who* is doing it :p

But I also don't think activists speak for all gays. Like any other group of people, homosexuals don't all think alike just because they happen to be gay.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 17, 2009 06:30 AM

Ah, homophobia. For any other situation, "-phobia" means an unreasoning fear. But "homophobia" is used to refer to any opposition towards normalizing homosexual behavior. It's called "controlling the debate". By popularizing the term in such a fashion the proponents of homosexuality get to define all opposition to homosexual behavior as an unreasoning fear and labels the people opposing such.

Posted by: RonF at March 17, 2009 09:34 AM

I think you were meant to fall into the "think homosexuality is a sin" category,

Which does two things. First, it very neatly takes me out of the "rational" category and puts me into the "religious bigot" classification. Secondly, it preserves the illusion that the concept that homosexuality is biologically determined is established as scientific fact and cannot be rationally challenged. Which is in fact false.

Posted by: RonF at March 17, 2009 09:38 AM

I agree on all points.

Unlike many, as I've said once or twice, I don't confuse my opinions with universal truth ;p

They're just my best effort to wrestle with often difficult subjects. If everything I believe were true beyond a rational doubt, I would never have changed my mind on any issue.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 17, 2009 09:42 AM

And finally - yes, the Bible does have some things in it that we think today are wrong. But what I note is that later on in the Bible often those things are contradicted as no longer acceptable. Whereas the condemnations of homosexual behavior in the Bible are in both the Old and New Testaments and there is never any positive thing said about it.

Posted by: RonF at March 17, 2009 09:42 AM

I can't even begin to comment on that, Ron. My knowledge of the Bible, while fairly good, is hardly encyclopedic.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 17, 2009 09:59 AM

My 'round-the-corner neighbors are only in favor of gay marriage because of the potential conundrums it will throw at the legal system: "A legal marriage means a breakup will require a legal divorce. Can you imagine the brain-freeze that'll hit the PC judges who have to decide which of two *men* is gonna have to pay alimony?"

My r-t-c neighbors *are* gay, just in case you were wondering.

Posted by: BillT at March 17, 2009 10:21 AM

My knowledge of the Bible is generally based on the fact that being the only tenor in our choir means that I go to church just about every Sunday and listen attentively to the readings. So my knowledge is hardly encyclopedic either.

However, I've never heard a proponent within the Church point out where the Bible says homosexuality is O.K. What they do say is 1) Jesus never condemned homosexuality and 2) he did say we should love each other. My rejoinder is that there's a lot of things he didn't condemn that we think is pretty bad and that a lack of comment != approval. And that loving someone doesn't mean that you approve of or give state sanction to their sins.

Posted by: RonF at March 17, 2009 05:52 PM

My r-t-c neighbors *are* gay, just in case you were wondering.


At least they have a sense of humor :p

Ron, I don't think there are many churches (except mine) that think the Bible supports homosexuality. But then on the other hand I just read something extremely interesting whilst researching earlier today.


I see the problems manifest in saying you don't have to take the Bible literally. Stretch that far enough and you're re-writing it to suit your own desires. But one can't ignore translation errors.

I always think about the tower of Babel. Sometimes I wonder whether the Bible contains inconsistencies for a reason.

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 17, 2009 06:08 PM

Correction, Jesus never condemned homosexual acts specifically.

1) Jesus didn't come to condemn the world, but to save it. We condemn ourselves pretty well already, we don't need help.

2) Jesus did condemn sex outside of marriage (See the story of the woman at the well). Homosexual sex being, by definition, outside of marriage must then be a sin.

3) Yes, Jesus did call us to love each other. And this is completely compatible with believing that the person is sinning.

My wife and I eat dinner with a gay couple every week. My wife geeks out with one over the Food Network, I geek out with the other over Battlestar Galactica and we all make fun of the contestants on American Idol. It's a great time. We've been to their house for dinner, and they've been to ours. One of them is now our family physician. Are they sinning? Sure, but so am I and they don't seem to hold it against me.

The greatest compliment you can give me is one given to Jesus as an insult: "He's a friend of sinners!"

Oh, and BTW. They don't support gay marriage either for 2 main reasons: 1) They generally aren't too fond of marriage period and 2) have we really solved all the problems that *this* is the biggest thing we have to worry about?

In regards to slavery, etc. in the Bible, don't confuse descriptive with prescriptive. Slavery isn't condemned but neither is it prescribed. It's treated as something that is a reality. Remember, God isn't so much concerned about your physical situation as your spiritual one.

In regards to changes in the law between the Old and New Testaments:
Matthew 5:
17"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

The law hasn't changed, but Jesus did on multiple occasions demonstrate that his contemporary's interpretation of the law was wrong. Specifically, that the Pharisees had lost sight of the fact they had started worshiping the law instead of God. The law was to demonstrate our need for God and a savior through the fact that while one should strive to, one could never live up to it.

*On the eating of shellfish, etc. Many of the laws were given specifically to the Jews and no one else. Some were even given specifically to the priesthood which were not binding on other Jews. Such it is with the Laws of Moses. Messianic Jews would still be bound by those laws. The laws given to gentiles can be found in Acts 15:20: prohibited are Idolotry, fornication (sex outside marriage), consuming meat obtained by strangulation and consuming blood. And no, the red liquid in your steak isn't blood, it's myoglobin not hemoglobin.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 17, 2009 06:43 PM

I'm not particularly a religious person. But I believe that you don't have to be to have a decent set of morals. I see myself as a more conservative realist. There are things in the world I disagree with, but that doesn't make them any less real. I believe in affecting what change you can, and coping with the rest as best as you are able.

That said...I have nothing against a civil union for homosexuals. For me, this falls into the realm of separation of church & state. I know its not entirely what the founding father meant, but I don't really care. I don't see why 2 consenting adults, who are in a respectful, loving relationship and are contributing members of society, cannot be afforded the same legal protections and rights that others receive simply because they are of the same sex. We will give those rights to drug/alcohol abusing, spouse-abusing, and saps-upon-society individuals and not think twice about it. I don't get that. I do make a distinction between civil unions and marriages. A marriage is a religious sanctity. The state should not be able to tell a religious body to allow or accept a union as a marriage.

I agree with you about the open marriages idea as well. However, I will make one caveat. As a whole, generally speaking, I can see where an open relationship would work in a homosexual relationship but not in a heterosexual relationship. Men are much more likely and able to separate the physical act of sex from emotions. Most women are not. I readily admit that I am not able to do that. Most of the women I know are the same. Most of the men don't ever consider it, they just accept for what it is.

As to the biological comments...there is homosexuality in nature. Why is it we all try so hard to believe we are exempt from nature's influence?

Posted by: tankerswife at March 18, 2009 12:19 PM

I'll be the first to admit ignorance of most of the Biological Sciences. Pretty much if it isn't on the Discovery Channel...

However, from what I've seen using biological comparisons to the animal world is spurious at best.

First, the vast majority of the animal kingdom don't create significant long term pair-bonds. In fact, most don't go for the whole pair-bonding thing at all. They just impregnate and scoot.

Second, except when involving the Alpha male in a pack-oriented (and highly heirarchical) species, violence between males to determine breeding rights to females is considered above board behavior.

And yes, we do see a substantial amount of both in human society, I just can't buy off on the idea that just because it's a natural biological urge, that it is something we should promote.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 18, 2009 01:30 PM

At least they have a sense of humor

My fault. They used to keep to themselves until their dog got loose, and I convinced her to follow me back to her home instead of chewing my leg off.

They got instructions in practical puppykeeping, I got two volunteers to help rebuild my koi pond, and when KtLW discovered that one was Cordon-Bleu trained, they made the Frequently-Invited list. Somewhere along the line, they realized they didn't have to be defensive about themselves.

How's that expression go? Something like, "Hate the sin, but love the sinner"...?

Posted by: BillT at March 19, 2009 09:10 AM