Saturday, February 15, 2014

Defending the Faith

An old friend linked to this article from Slate on Facebook today, about religious opposition to same-sex marriage as voiced by Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal.  The post quotes Jindal as follows:
No church or church-affiliated organization, or individuals whose business is run in a manner consistent with their faith practices, should be required by the state to take steps in conflict with their religion. Nor should they be legally punished for how they treat marital arrangements outside the teachings of their faith. …
The writer of the piece, William Saletan, compares Jindal's remarks to the stand taken against interracial dating, also defended on religious grounds, by Bob Jones University "fourteen years ago," though it is actually decades older than that: the university had lost its tax exemption for racial discrimination in 1983, despite the support of then-President Reagan.  The particular stand Saletan discusses took place during the 2000 election campaign, when Republican candidate George W. Bush was criticized for having paid the obligatory visit to to BJU.  I've written about that before, and as Saletan points out, BJU dropped its policy against interracial dating immediately after mounting this defense, admitting that they couldn't cite a verse of Scripture to support it.  (The link I had to this information is broken.  Damn CNN.  But Saletan has this link to a contemporary account, which in turn links to a transcript of Bob Jones III's appearance on Larry King admitting that he had no Biblical support for the policy.)  Saletan points out several parallels between Jindal's defense of religious antigay bigotry and BJU's defense of racial bigotry, and rhetorically challenges Jindal to explain whether he'd support a religiously-based ban on interracial dating.

One of the most entertaining parallels Saletan draws is to a statement from BJU which declares that in its precincts "Students of all races attend here and live in racial harmony and respect for one another as Christians. … Each person dates within his own race. For there to be discrimination, one race would have to be treated differently than the other."  As Saletan says, this parallels the common claim that homosexuals can marry as long as they marry someone of the other sex.

But I objected to this related part (the statement in bold type is the antigay argument Saletan wants to refute):
4. Homosexuality, unlike race, is a choice. Empirically, all the evidence runs against this belief. If the science doesn’t convince you, the personal experience overwhelmingly reported by gay people, combined with the spectacular failure of “ex-gay” ministries, ought to shake your confidence. Yes, it’s possible to concede that homosexual inclination is involuntary while insisting that to act on that inclination is a choice. But the same can be said about race: You’re born black, but the decision to date a white person is on you.
As I keep insisting, the evidence supports neither claim: you can't prove scientifically that anything is a choice, and the evidence that homosexuality is somehow inborn is invalid.  As for "the personal experience overwhelmingly reported by gay people," that's a datum but proves nothing: people defend all sorts of bad-faith decisions by claiming that they can't help themselves, and they may even believe it.  (Lately, for example, I've encountered some gay people who claim that coming out wasn't a choice for them.  What else could it be?  How does coming out get into one's genes?)  The same goes for the spectacular failure of ex-gay ministries: it shows that sexual orientation, whatever it may be, is difficult to change, to the point of impossibility.  But forced religious conversions are equally ineffective, and no one (I think) wants to claim that religious affiliation is genetic.

A number of people, gay and antigay, have tried to confuse the issue of analogies between "race" and "sexual orientation" in the service of their agendas.  True, same-sex marriage isn't equivalent to race, but it is arguably analogous to interracial marriage.  As I've also pointed out before, interracial marriage was not legitimized by appeal to a "racial orientation" that forced people to marry spouses of the opposite race; why some people made such a choice was not even discussed seriously, certainly not in the Supreme Court decision which struck down state anti-miscegenation laws in 1967.  (It concludes, "The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations.")  I've known people who were only attracted to people of other races, as well as others who stuck to intra-racial relationships.  Some of the latter, especially, might appeal to Nature as a basis for keeping it all in the Race, but there's no basis for this notion and no one, that I know of, has even tried to find one.

Is being gay like being black?  Parallels and analogies can be and have been drawn, and they can be argued for and against.  But since American civil rights laws protect both innate conditions and chosen ones, whether homosexuality is inborn, mysteriously acquired, or freely chosen is irrelevant to the question of religious exemptions under those laws.  Religious freedom, like any other freedom, has limits, and those will have to be debated, litigated, and decided; but it's dishonest of opponents of same-sex marriage to pretend that such questions are anything new.