Gays, Lesbians & Society

Speaking of Assumptions

The struggle over admitting self-acknowledged homosexuals into the armed services has something to do with the nature of the military but a lot more to do with the nature of homosexuality. It strikes me as a battle over assumptions: whether homosexuality is chosen or discovered; whether it can and should be “cured”; whether gays are predatory recruiters for their “lifestyle”; whether it’s sound public policy to enact statutory protections of gay and lesbian rights in housing, employment, inheritance law, admission to the military, etc., and thereby to foster greater tolerance and, eventually, social acceptance of homosexuality; whether gays and lesbians can be good parents; whether the notion of same-sex marriage cheapens and undercuts or compliments and complements the male-female variety; whether the effect of the gay sensibility on politics, family life, theater, films, the arts in general is malevolent or positive, or both, or neither; whether, psychologically, homosexuality is an aberration, a basic flaw, or simply a difference; whether, morally and ethically, homosexual love-making—men lying with men, women with women—is perverse, repulsive, evil, or merely a sexual variant, in itself neither better nor worse than heterosexuality; and, finally, whether the belief that homosexuality is of its very nature a social disvalue, a psychological aberration, and a moral evil is founded on sound, time-tested personal and social values or is rooted in inherited bias, personal ignorance, and/or homophobic fear. 

I speak of “assumptions” in that 205-word sentence because, in my judgment, there is no evidence on either side of any of these issues so compelling that it will simply overwhelm the opposition, shaming them into silence. The experts, including ethicists, moral theologians, and biblical exegetes as well as psychiatrists, anthropologists, and sociologists, differ. Since we’re all sexed, we all have a stake in the matter—and a limited perspective. The tactics of victimization and political correctness, used on behalf of homosexuals, can influence the judgments even of professionals. The depth of conviction among anti-gay advocates, and their sheer numbers, have considerable impact that is similarly unrelated to the force of their arguments. 

In any case, this issue will be settled (if it’s ever settled) not by experts but by amateurs: the rest of us. It follows that we should all try (repeat: try) to be upfront about the sources for our conclusions. My own reasons for coming down on the gay side are several. First, because of my life experience my knees tend to jerk toward the liberal side of most issues; I was a Depression child, my mother was strongly devoted to FDR and the New Deal, and I was orphaned at twelve, therefore an underdog in life’s struggle and a sympathizer with underdogs. Second, I had a few fumbling homosexual experiences in my boys’ boarding school. I’m sure I mentioned them in confession but they were neither repulsive at the time nor devastating in the aftermath. Third, like most New Yorkers I have gay and lesbian friends and neighbors, and far from being predatory monsters, aberrant, sex-mad, weak-willed, or poor citizens, they’re admirable people. Anything negative anyone says about homosexuals in general I apply to these people in particular, and I get mad. Unscientific, yes, but I note that whereas in a mid-January New York Times/CBS poll only 42 percent of all adults surveyed favored permitting homosexuals to serve in the military, 69 percent of respondents with a gay relative or friend took that position. Is that bias? Or knowledge? 

Finally, however, this is an issue of justice. Homosexuals stand at the bar accused as a group of being a corrupting influence in society, a threat to the effectiveness of the military, underminers of family values, dangerous role models for children. There are arguments and anecdotal evidence for such views. I think that the arguments can be refuted and that the evidence to the contrary is a great deal stronger. But that’s just my opinion, which has never been taken as definitive. The point is that in this dispute, as in the case of any defendant charged with any kind of antisocial behavior, the burden lies with the prosecution. In the absence of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, it is radically unfair to continue heaping disabilities and disadvantages (not to speak of contempt and obloquy) upon a whole class of people who are asking nothing more than equal treatment for themselves as persons.

The late Robert G. Hoyt was senior writer at Commonweal from 1988 to 2002.

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