Anti-gay: not homophobia, but bigotry
July 27, 2010 § 2 Comments
People who disapprove of homosexuality usually dislike being called homophobic. After all, they’ll say, they utterly disavow antipathy of homosexuals as people. Rather they disapprove of particular homosexual things, such as gay sex or gay parenting. It’s unfair to label these attitudes ‘homophobic’ – they simply aren’t some involuntary, irrational aversion like a ‘true’ phobia would be. The purpose of calling them homophobic, they’ll accuse, is just a pejorative dismissal.
They are right: calling their opposition to homosexuality ‘homophobia’ is an error. But it is an error to their credit, and one they do not deserve. For someone who was literally phobic towards homosexuals, although their aversion, revulsion or fear of homosexuals would be irrational, it wouldn’t be something they can be held responsible for. Yet those who oppose homosexuality are wholly responsible for their moral condemnation. So whilst phobics have an inculpable irrational prejudice, ‘homophobes’ have a culpable irrational prejudice. A more accurate term, therefore, is bigotry.
Anti-gay sentiment as stupid, vile, and toxic
Bigotry evaluates some group or class of people in a manner that is stupid, vile or toxic (e.g. “All black girls are whores). ‘Homophobia’ does this too.
To be a bigot implies that you negatively evaluate a group of people for no good reason. It may well be taken as something stronger: that no reasonable person could hold such negative evaluations. We might call these beliefs stupid:
A stupid belief is one that cannot be held by a reasonable person in a sincere non-defective manner.
Is anti-gay sentiment stupid? Yes. That gay sexual unions can be (and generally are) great moral goods is attested by the people who engage in them, and the people who know them. Basic commitment to good faith means taking these people at their word, yet those opposed to homosexuality gainsay them. On what grounds? None at all! It has long been held by every credible body of experts that homosexuality isn’t a disorder, that it need not carry a burden of mortality or morbidity, that it does not lead to mental illness, that homosexual relationships are positive, that homosexuals raise normal children. The experts think these things because it is unanimously confirmed in the science done.
Reality simply disagrees with those who think homosexuality is bad. They don’t let this stop them. They come up with some outrageously disingenuous and bad-faith reading of the literature to show that gay people are mentally ill or gay parenting doesn’t work. Or they make up some bizarre slander about how gay sex is ‘self-indulgent’ or using someone as a ‘means to an end’ (because, of course, all gay relationships cannot help but be built on mutual exploitation). Or they say (in the sine qua non of unreasonable prejudice) that “I don’t care how well you score on our assessments, we aren’t going let you adopt because you’re gay”. Or they make ignorant proclamations of these without any acquaintance of the data. Almost always, this sentiment is driven in spite of this evidence due to unreflective religious convictions. This is stupid.
So anti-gay sentiment is stupid. It is not only wrong, but it is so obviously wrong that any reasonable person should never affirm it. Yet anti-gay sentiment is worse than mere irrationality. It is also vile.
A vile belief is one that it is morally blameworthy to hold.
Not all stupid beliefs are vile. My conviction that everyone must always wear red socks is crazy but innocuous. Yet anti-gay sentiment is vile. It abuses and seeks to demean a group of people for no reason that for who or what they are.
Yet they insist that they don’t have a problem with homosexuals as people. They merely have a problem with them having sex or being parents. It’s the act, and not the orientation. Sadly, this view is incoherent: it’s akin to me saying ‘I’m not anti-semitic, but we should ban Bar Mitvahs’, or ‘I don’t have problem with blacks, but they need to understand that these water fountains, those bus seats and the right to vote are for WHITES ONLY’. In other words, to insist that certain goods are verboten, to further condemn all sorts of things these people find deeply meaningful and then have the gall to say ‘Don’t be so angry with me! I don’t have a problem with you as a person! I’ve merely passed judgement you would be someone else!’ is just simpering cowardice.
The reason why it is so vile is because of the debonair manner in which it dismisses gay couples. If I claimed to know that a couples relationship was detriment to them, that they had some second-rate knock-off of what love should be, that they are unfit to bring up children, that couple should be outraged at me. That fury should become incandescent if I go on to say that I don’t need to know anything about their relationship, or what they think about their relationship, or even what others who know them think about their relationship to condemn it. All I need to know is their membership to a particular group to conclude all these awful things. This is vile.
Not all vile beliefs, evil though they are, threaten a just an humane society. If those who believe these vile things keep it to themselves, although their beliefs reflect very poorly on them, at least they pose no threat to civil society. It is when they seek to press these beliefs forward that their beliefs become toxic.
A toxic belief is one that threatens the goods of a just an humane society.
Is anti-gay sentiment toxic? Obviously, some groups plainly are (e.g. Westboro Baptist Church). Others prefer a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach to homophobia. Mostly however anti-gay sentiment, in the western world or elsewhere, is open or proud. Maybe the fact these attitudes exist in the public sphere makes them toxic. Even if not, the behaviour of these groups is surely toxic. It is they who block marriage equality for gay couples, stop them adopting children, desire they endure unequal protection before the law, draft resolutions intended to express moral disapproval of the ‘gay lifestyle’. At the very least they want to preserve their ability to discriminate and demean. As gay people deserve the same protection and esteem before the law (and society as a whole) anti-gay sentiment is, as a rule, toxic.
An attack on an enemy of freedom
Right minded people should want to protect the dignity and esteem of homosexual unions from the machinations of bigots. What is the best way decent people can stop the toxin of their not-so-decent fellows harming those who don’t deserve it?
The ‘homophobes’ are right in that calling them homophobes is entirely pejorative. Being pejorative to these beliefs (and those who hold them) is a moral duty. Calling this homophobia to demean and ridicule it, to marginalize and exclude it from sensible public discourse is exactly what should be done. It shouldn’t be forgotten, though, that bigotry is the better word.
An earlier attempt of mine