Gay Pride and Prejudice

Saturday, June 4, 2011 -- 5:00 PM
Ken Taylor

Our topic this week -- Gay Pride and Prejudice.    

Our society, taken as a whole, can’t make up its mind about Gays and Lesbians.  On the one hand, many studies have documented increasing tolerance of homosexuality, especially among younger, more educated, more affluent, and more liberal Americans.  On the other hand, a substantial number of Americans still don’t think gays should be allowed to marry, serve in the military, adopt or even teach children.  The extent of how divided we are about gays and gay rights is evident in our politics.  While there's substantial grass-roots activism in favor of gay rights, surprisingly few national politicians -- even politicians who are progressive on other issues -- are willing to actually stand up and lead the charge in favor of gay rights.   I can’t think of a single national politician who has taken on gay rights as a cause célèbre.   To be sure, there  was San Francisco’s former mayor, Gavin Newsom, who officiated at all those gay weddings.  But given that it was San Francisco,  it’s not really clear how much courage that took.  But in any case,  there’s no shortage of politicians wiling to demagogue against the so-called “gay agenda” and demonize gays and their so-called lifestyle.

Since gay rights is clearly a hot-button political issue, it’s fair to wonder what are a couple of philosophers like us doing discussing Gay Pride and Prejudice.  The answer is that it is one our jobs, as publically minded philosophers, to ferret out hidden assumptions, to make them explicit and open and to subject them to intense critical scrutiny.   Of course, here  the hidden assumptions aren’t really so hidden.   People who are anti-gay think that homosexuality is some sort of unnatural, morally abhorrent perversion, deeply at odds with their religious beliefs.    They also seem to believe that gayness is not just a private perversion, but is somehow communicable.  That’s part of why they're so opposed to gays in the military or gays adopting or being teachers of young children.

By contrast, people on the other side tend to think of sexual orientation as just one morally neutral dimension along which humans vary.  People vary in race and gender.  They vary in sexual orientation too.  Differences in race or gender don’t mark morally important distinctions between people, and differences in sexual orientation shouldn’t either.

So one question is who is right?  And, more importantly, how do we go about deciding who’s right?  I know what my personal opinion is, but that’s not really what I am getting at here.  I’m asking what sort of rational basis either of these two conflicting views about gayness could possibly have?  How do we go about deciding -- rationally deciding -- whether homosexuality is a morally abhorrent perversion or a morally neutral variation in human sexual orientation?   Is this a scientific question?  Is it a question of religious and moral belief?  Or just matter of political ideology?   Is there a true and false of the matter?  Are we simply evolved to have primitive aversions to homosexuality? 

I don’t have any answers – though I do have plenty of opinions.  But if we want more than mere opinion, we should turn to somebody who's thought long, hard and rigorously about what shapes our attitudes toward gayness, and the role that such attitudes have played in shaping our public discourse and social practices.  That would be our guest, renowned anthropologist Gilbert Herdt,  editor of Moral Panics, Sex Panics: Fear and the Fight over Sexual Rights.   

Comments (16)


mirugai's picture

mirugai

Saturday, June 4, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

MORALS AND DEMOCRACY The issue here that fascin

MORALS AND DEMOCRACY
The issue here that fascinates me is: in this American-style democracy, who ought to decide whether homosexuality is moral, and if it is decided to be immoral, who decides whether it should be prohibited or its practice restricted? Is it the kind of issue that should be determined by majority vote? And what is the political entity where the majority controls? The nation, the state, the municipality? Or, is the question one of those where minority rights are protected by the courts from the actions of the majority -- equal protection, civil rights, religious freedom, states' rights, privacy? The same question arises in all moral issues: among them, abortion, circumcision (male and female), pornography, prostitution, drugs, parental rights and duties.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, June 4, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

I do not choose to take sides on the gay vs. strai

I do not choose to take sides on the gay vs. straight issue. What I will comment on is the matter of pride. There are so many references to pride these days, in so many contexts, we might wonder where humility went. If we are to believe Christian dogma (I don't),pride is one of the 'seven deadlies.' My belief(s), pro or con, notwithstanding, pride seems to get people into considerable difficulty. I don't think pride is necessarily a bad thing, unless it interferes with rational thinking and uncommon sense. Certain conflicts come to mind, some more recent; some more temporaly removed.
In any case, I would advise anyone to be careful about they are proud of: are you proud because it feels right, or are you proud to go along with the crowd? The crowd is a mob with scruples---this can change in a heartbeat.

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, June 5, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

Modesty Ones' sexual habits gay or not should b

Modesty
Ones' sexual habits gay or not should be a private matter, should it not? The only real problem with sexual rights that I see is that some think it right to ignore this common decency and come out of the closet publicly exposing themselves and their love acts to us all.
=
MJA

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, June 7, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

Many years ago, I lived in Toronto, Ontario. Bigge

Many years ago, I lived in Toronto, Ontario. Biggest city I have ever lived in. Biggest city I ever became acquainted with---and loved. For a short time, I worked for the Ontario provincial government, at Queens Park, in the heart of downtown T.O.
During that short time, I became aware of the active gay community in the city. I knew little about the homosexual community at that time. But, there I was---working with THEM, and trying to understand a societal group, about whom I knew virtually nothing.
There was a young man who I befriended. I knew he was different. He invited me over to his apartment one evening and I accepted---not knowing what to expect. We listened to music and he served snacks---just he and I.
It was just an invitation, friend to friend. I got it, finally. And realized that people are more than their sexual preference(s). This was a long time ago (for me): 1970.
Canada gets it (or got it then). What about US?

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, June 8, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

The point of gay pride is that it is the antithesi

The point of gay pride is that it is the antithesis of the gay shame that gay men and lesbian are often expected to feel instead. The entire notion of pride is linked to empowerment rather than surrendering to despair.
As for the matter of sexual habits being "private", when a man publicly talks about his wife and family, the fact that he is an active heterosexual is fairly implicit. When a gay men or lesbians attempt to do the exact same thing in talking about their life partners, the inevitable claim that they are "flaunting" their sexual habits arises.

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, June 8, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

We hear from many places that "our freedoms are at

We hear from many places that "our freedoms are at risk!" What is freedom? Absolute freedom might mean that I can shoot someone for walking in front of my property. Or that I can drink ten glasses of wine and drive to the store to buy more. Clearly, we have to draw the line somewhere.
I like to use the idea of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and cease the right to swing my fist at my neighbor's nose. Homosexual marriage won't in fact touch my nose. No more than the guy standing on the street corner telling me that I will burn in hell does. I don't like the preacher or what he does, but I love freedom, and this means I love someone else's right to do what they wish, so long as they are not hurting their neighbor.
I hate saggy pants. I hate flat billed ballcaps. I hate those rubber testicles that hang from below a license plate. I hate racist bumper stickers. I hate watching revisionist history on a news commentary program. But I also realize that these are acts that are acts of freedom.
Basically, with every civil rights movement, a bunch of people do not look at what freedom means and how it applies. They let "morality" prevail(usually from a holy book), when in hindsight, the "morality" was a private view in direct contradiction with what freedom dictates.
100 years ago, were blacks allowed to marry whites? Who DARE say it should be illegal now? History repeats itself, and we are bearing witness.

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, June 9, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

Well stated, Greenlee---well stated.

Well stated, Greenlee---well stated.

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

First I have a couple of questions on a user comme

First I have a couple of questions on a user comment.
"Modesty
Ones' sexual habits gay or not should be a private matter, should it not? The only real problem with sexual rights that I see is that some think it right to ignore this common decency and come out of the closet publicly exposing themselves and their love acts to us all.
MJA
MJA, if you wouldn't mind entertaining a couple of questions that your statement evoked from me I would be grateful.
1. What is this idea of "decency" that your are assuming the masses hold?
2. Presuming you can outline this idea of decency, what is it that makes it "common"?
3. What concrete support do you have that leads you to believe that others indeed share this idea of "common decency" that allows you to feel confident in holding your position that "common decency" is a sturdy logical reasoning for your topic idea of "modesty"?
The generalization that comes with using the word "common" can be so dangerous, I simply feel I need some clarity on your intentions with the phrase "common decency". After all, could I not use "common sense" as justification for almost any act be it heinous or benevolent, without having to actually show why in fact the act in question falls under the category "common sense". Surely the danger in using "common ________" as reasoning for anything in an logical debate is apparent."Common decency" is only as sturdy as the constructs that support it, and you have not shown what those constructs are.
Further more, I find it interesting that you used the term "coming out of the closet". In that you used the phrase so loosely due to it's unwarranted implications that stating openly that one is a homosexual is some big in your face production. Is it not the case that the act of announcing ones engagement, or throwing an engagement party or wedding shower, is an
even more exuberant, in your face, display of ones act of love? With the only difference lying in what is
currently deemed socially acceptable?
Just some clarification to better understand where you are coming from would be much appreciated.
Personal thoughts on the issue. To borrow from the great MLK's playbook. the Declaration of Independence is a promissory note, and it is Americas duty to live up to that promise. If all men are created equal and endowed by there creator with unalienable rights (whoever that creator may be, as it is not directly stated as being God), with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, so long is it does not impede negatively on others liberty to the same unalienable rights. Then there is no logical argument against gay marriage. If ones only standpoint stems from a place of religious origin, that I kindly remind all that religion is also a personal freedom
that one is allowed to practice as one sees fit, ONLY, so long as it doesn't negatively impede on others personal liberties. Therefore, Outside of blatant hypocrisy, anyone who is an active participating member of Americas society has thus agreed to this social contract and is expected to uphold it. To me, this issue is simply a logical contradiction to the very
ideology that America was founded on.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, June 18, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

Tradition is a terrible thing. Why do people feel

Tradition is a terrible thing. Why do people feel such a deep need to do things the way their descendants just because they've done them that way for so long? Is it hat we're simply afraid of change? Is this the cause of all this contreversy, simple tradition? The breaking of tradition has always seemed to lead us greater things. This is because man simply cannot keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect the same result. We cannot control change, it will happen with or without us. Burying our feet in the ground and refusing to move won't help anybody, it won't save anything.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

My thanks and appreciations to all for stating OEO

My thanks and appreciations to all for stating OEOs. For those who don't know about OEOs, they are: Observations, Experiences and Opinions, as stated by the historionic effect guy, whoever he might be. Things like tradition, religion and other anthropologial anomalies are counter-intuitive to and counter-productive towards evolutionary progress. Good work, Patrick and Dabbs. And MJA? I do not discount your input either. Why should I? I don't know much...

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, July 6, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

The program that questions everything ...except yo

The program that questions everything
...except your intelligence.
Tonight's program proved this to be a joke. The political correctness at Stanford was embarrassingly overwhelming. A discussion on homosexuality and society and the only "expert" crusades for the full 50 minutes against the contrary view with only the whimpiest of softballs thrown his way. A discerning mind might want to check out a true alternative approach well represented by the "COURAGE" movement.
I hope and want to believe that not all "enlightened progressives" are so sophomoric and "herd-thinkers" as was in evidence tonight.
What a shame Stanford cannot be more provocative.

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, August 4, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

This program's discussion seems to me to have been

This program's discussion seems to me to have been profoundly unphilosophical and, indeed, not even to have benefited from the anthropological training of the guest. The problem, it seems to me, starts with the assumption that those opposed to a gay political agenda are in the grips of a prejudice. I happen to live in a jurisdiction that has legalized gay marriage and agree with that legislation. The society in my view should encourage monogamy, whether gay or straight. But I don't think that those who oppose it are necessarily merely prejudiced.
Part of the problem with the program begins with the assumption that the concept of ?moral panic? appropriate to describe opposition to gay marriage, or a fit platform from which to launch a philosophical discussion of any topic. Wikipedia defines "moral panic" as follows:
Moral panics have several distinct features. According to Goode and Ben-Yehuda, moral panic consists of the following characteristics:
? Concern - There must be awareness that the behaviour of the group or category in question is likely to have a negative impact on society.
? Hostility - Hostility towards the group in question increases, and they become "folk devils". A clear division forms between "them" and "us".
? Consensus - Though concern does not have to be nationwide, there must be widespread acceptance that the group in question poses a very real threat to society. It is important at this stage that the "moral entrepreneurs" are vocal and the "folk devils" appear weak and disorganised.
? Disproportionality - The action taken is disproportionate to the actual threat posed by the accused group.
? Volatility - Moral panics are highly volatile and tend to disappear as quickly as they appeared due to a wane in public interest or news reports changing to another topic. [1]
Of course, "disproportionality" is in the eye of the beholder. Should it matter whether, as the hosts pointed out during the session, those to whom the category is applied wouldn't agree that their concerns are disproportionate? Categorizing their attitude as a moral panic is a way of saying that we need not engage with the reasons behind their concerns because they are, a priori, irrationally. Nor, if the cited definition is appropriate, can we ever know, during the ?panic,? whether an attitude is a moral panic. The volatility of a moral panic is part of the definition, so we can only know whether there has been a moral panic after it disappears.
Apart from these general points, it is unclear to what extent the nature of the hostility to gay marriage meets the cited definition of a moral panic. On an empirical level, do those who oppose gay marriage treat gays as "folk devils"? Such an attitude by straights toward gays seems to have been prevalent when the law criminalized sodomy. Whether it is true of those who oppose gay marriage but would, for example, favor civil unions seems to be another question. The debate about marriage v. civil unions (if civil unions could be defined to include the same bundle of legal benefits as marriages) can implicate philosophical questions about essentialism in the use of words. For those who see marriage as instituted by God, the question of whether marriage should be accorded to a new set of couples is not only about whether those couples should have certain legal privileges, it is about whether the word can properly be applied to them. Religiously, they may see the word itself as defined by God. Sociologically, the word in their view may underlie a vision of the resolution of the often problematic relationship between the sexes and applying the word to other situations would undermine that vision of marriage as an ideal resolution of the relationship between people of different sexes. Historically, they may see the extension of the concept of marriage as a further step in the desacralization of what is to them a sacred institution. To those of us who see the institution as already secular, this isn't a problem; but our view only reinforces their fear. In an oddly parallel way, the opposition of gay activists to the compromise of civil unions is based in part on a recognition of the magic, or at least honorific, quality of marriage as an institution at a time when, in view of the decline in marriage as the basis for households, that magic is declining.
A second disturbing parallelism is the application of the term "homophobic" to positions not favoring gays as Philosophy Talk?s guest did. Treating someone else?s attitudes as a psychological abnormality, like a phobia, is another way of avoiding addressing them as people. It makes the same mistake that those straights did who treated homosexuality as a psychological abnormality. This parallelism, of course, should not be taken too far: worse was done to the gay community by use of the same rhetoric. No one seeks to kidnap the allegedly homophobic and convert them through psychological pressure, as was done to gays. But if we are concerned with philosophical inquiry, we should avoid this pattern. One wonders whether an anthropologist like Philosophy Talk?s guest should be interested in why gay advocates should be using a psychiatric trope as political rhetoric so soon after that rhetoric was used so destructively on gays.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, June 4, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Perhaps this is a simplistic

Perhaps this is a simplistic statement, but how could this even be a valid discussion without a single woman on the panel? The only mention of women I heard centered around how women wouldn't have a problem with being gay because women are so much more attractive. Not once did I ever hear the straight woman's view of any aspect of homosexuality. Pretty shameful. It also points to a valid fear that many women have of the Gay community that it will be used as a tool to further the patriarchal culture. Whether those fears are valid is a much more potent discussion than whether gays should be able to marry.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, June 4, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Exactly! I agree that male

Exactly! I agree that male homophobia comes from typical cultural norms of what masculinity is supposed to be. Many heterosexual men I know who are homophobic do talk about being "eyed" or possibly raped as the reason for their prejudice. It boils down to the fact that they're afraid being treated the same way they treat women.
I think all homophobia comes from discomfort with our own sexuality and a lack of an honest view about how we treat one another in general.

Fred Griswold's picture

Fred Griswold

Wednesday, June 6, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Gay marriage has been in the

Gay marriage has been in the news again ever since Obama brought it up a couple weeks ago. Here are a few thoughts on the matter.
The question to start with is, what's the point of having the institution of marriage at all? If two people want to make a commitment to each other, why should the society get its nose into that? The only reason I can see is that the children that may be products of that marriage are going to be members of the society someday, and that's what gives the society an interest. Marriage is not a right like free speech, it's a special status conferred by the society, so the proponents of gay marriage have to be able to make the case that the society should grant it.
Many of the arguments in favor of gay marriage tend to rely on love - if two people love each other, they should be allowed to get married. In our culture, romantic love is the glue that's expected to hold marriages together. When you look at the divorce rate, and consider that other cultures often accomplish this in other ways, maybe that's not such a great idea. But that's a different issue. Love is something that happens at the individual level, and marriage is at the societal level.
The proponents of gay marriage sometimes argue that if they raise kids, it's better to raise them within a marriage than outside of one. Something tells me that what counts in how you raise a kid - is how you raise the kid. Give him the tools he needs to live a decent life, and the rest of it will take care of itself. As far as who's going to raise kids who for some reason aren't being raised by their biological parents, this is an age-old problem. There have always been kids being raised by their grandparents. Unless the proponents of gay marriage come up with a comprehensive solution to the problem, it seems as if they're just using this argument as a gimmick to get their gay marriage agenda implemented, so it's too easy to doubt their sincerity.
Is there a qualitative difference between gay marriage and conventional marriage? 1) The most obvious difference is that conventional marriages can produce children and gay marriages can't. 2) The sociobiological approach says that what counts is the genes, not the individual, which explains why families are so strong - they share a lot of the same genes. This wouldn't be true in a gay marriage. 3) Along the same lines, two people in a conventional marriage will be willing to devote a lot of time and effort to their monogamous pair-bond if they both know their genes will be propagated. This wouldn't be true in a gay marriage either. 4) The proponents of gay marriage seem to want to restrict it to two people. Why? Should three people be allowed to get married? If so, what about four, or a hundred? And if not, why not? For conventional marriage, there is a reason: you just choose one from each gender. 5) One argument is that gays should be able to take advantage of practical benefits of marriage, like being covered under each other's health insurance. Why should one person be covered under another's health plan at all? The obvious reason is gender differences. Men usually make more money than women, and women usually care more about children. Health coverage, the way we do it in America, is part of the compensation you get for a job, so it makes sense to cover the wife under the husband's health plan. But this gender difference wouldn't apply in gay marriage. And, by the way, if the society finds another way to solve such problems, like universal health coverage, does that mean all those gay marriages should be dissolved? And if not, why not? Sanctity of marriage? 6) Here's an argument based on biology. Consider the feathers of a peacock. It's the males that have those fancy displays, not the females. The biologists will tell you that since the females have the primary responsibility for the care of the young, then the male had better have a pretty good display if he's going to attract any attention from them. The female looks at the colors and decides whether he looks healthy enough. If so, he must have pretty good genes, plus he's been eating good. Such adaptations are not rare in nature, they're all over the place. Now, this all makes sense only if you see it in the context of heterosexual relationships. I'd be surprised if you could find any such adaptations in nature that seem designed to facilitate gay relationships. So this is a real difference between gay relationships and straight ones.
From the foregoing, I'd say that gay marriage and conventional marriage really are qualitatively different. And if they are different in fact, why should they be treated the same in the law?

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, June 10, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Legally, the U.S. is a

Legally, the U.S. is a secular state, and secular states will sooner or later recognize homosexual marriage. This does not concern me that much. Of course, at some point the state may try to force religious institutions to recognize or even perform such marriages - that would concern me. We'll see. From a legal perspective, homosexuals should have the same rights as anyone else in this country - no less, and no more.
To discuss whether homosexual marriage is right or wrong, or for that matter whether homosexuality is itself right or wrong (which is the real issue), one must have a standard of right or wrong to begin with. We've been down this road many times on this blog in other discussions - if the only standard is human society, or human opinions, or even human philosophy, ultimately there is no standard...because there is no particular reason for me to accept anyone else's reasoning, feelings, or philosophy as superior to mine.
I find homosexual conduct personally repugnant - not because I'm somehow afraid of my own sexuality (that whole pseudo-psychological argument is absurd), or afraid of homosexuals (not at all, I've had friends in that community), but simply because it repels me viscerally. On a moral level, I find it wrong because God declares it to be so...the Creator has the right to set the rules of His creation, I think. Others may accept that or not, as they see fit, but that is what I believe.
However, I think nature makes it clear enough as well - it is pretty obvious from the natural structure how the parts of our bodies were meant to fit together. In fact, looking at sexual activity itself, it has two natural purposes - pleasure, and procreation. Only one form of sexual activity fulfills both purposes - therefore it must be either the only natural form, or the most natural. Which would make others either less natural, or unnatural.
By the way - Harold, you raised an interesting side note when you said "Things like tradition, religion and other anthropologial anomalies are counter-intuitive to and counter-productive towards evolutionary progress." Why do you think evolution has progress? I thought it was by definition purposeless, mindless, and unguided - so how can it have "progress," since progress implies movement toward a goal, which in turn requires an intelligence to decide on said goal?
In fact, if I were to pursue that side issue a bit further - if evolution really is driven by the chance occurance of traits that provide a reproductive advantage (which is after all the heart of the theory), why did not evolution eliminate homosexuality millenia ago? It would be hard to come up with a trait more contrary to reproductive advantage.

 

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