The following essay was penned in 1991 and submitted to The Furrow. Many of the arguments of “Family Solidarity,” a group that seems to have disappeared, were trotted out again by Professor Bart Kiely, SJ, in The Furrow in January 2012. http://josephsoleary.typepad.com/my_weblog/2012/01/homosexuality-and-the-freedom-to-think-by-bart-kiely-sj.html
FAMILY SOLIDARITY ON THE GAY CHALLENGE
In 1988 the European Court condemned Ireland's laws against sexual activity between males as a breach of human rights. Three years later the laws are still on the books, though in the meantime similar laws have been quietly abolished by the Soviet Union and Hong Kong. [2012: The Irish law was finally changed in 1993.] Although the Church of Ireland has denounced these laws as "unchristian," some of our own [Roman Catholic] bishops have repeatedly defended them. Why? The answer may be found in a booklet distributed by Family Solidarity (= FS) in 1990: The Homosexual Challenge: Analysis and Response. Here I offer a critical review of its principal arguments. [2012: Did Irish bishops in fact inhabit the same mental swamp as Family Solidarity? Their silence exposed them to that suspicion. Meanwhile, groups like FS have succeeded in painting the Catholic Church as a rabidly anti-gay institution, which has been one cause of its near-collapse in Ireland.]
FS recognizes a duty to understand, help, and defend gays (p. 4), but finds the concrete demands of the Irish gay movement unreasonable. It should be noted that such gay demands as "conjugal rights and social welfare benefits for their partners" (p. 7) are not what was in issue in the European Court's judgment. This recourse to a domino theory from the very start is a weakness in FS's argument and prevents an impartial consideration of what is due to gay people in justice. [2012: 21 years later, these rights have been won, and the title of marriage is now demanded, so FS were not entirely off the mark.]
A discussion of the nature and causes of homosexuality ends in a division of gay people into three types: the compulsive (a loaded description of the constitutionally homosexual person), the symptomatic, and the episodic (pp. 11-12). The only possible etiology retained for "compulsive" homosexuality is "a problematic parental relationship in early childhood" such as "an unloving and distant father." This is in contradiction with the immediately preceding remarks on the obscurity of the origins of homosexuality.
The section on "homosexuality and health" claims that gay males are intrinsically promiscuous and "their subculture itself carries a high risk of disease." "It is natural for a parent to want to protect his child from entering a subculture in which disease is rife" (p. 13). But there is only a difference of degree in the health dangers faced by gays and heterosexuals. Over-protective parents could well wish to prevent their children having any sexual life at all, given the shadow of AIDS. The model of parenting here seems to take no account of the son or daughter as a free subject.
The criminalization of gay sexuality is as inappropriate a response to AIDS as the criminalization of heterosexual behaviour would be. It impedes the collaboration of gay people in testing, treatment, and reduction of risk. FS's logic here could justify criminalizing all sexual activity, even in marriage, except for purposes of replenishing the population. But FS wants to apply its draconian measures to gays only, not to the population at large. This savours of discrimination.
On the score of mental health FS speaks of "the alienation and loneliness of many of those who adopt the homosexual lifestyle" and their "frustration as they lose their sexual attractiveness with advancing age" (p. 16). "Adopt the homosexual lifestyle" is a misleading term, since normally people do not choose their sexual orientation. If the reference is only to those how socialize with other gay people or who are sexually active, FS gives no evidence that this increases rather than diminishes gay loneliness. Again, even if there were any evidence that gay people are by their nature more prone to "mental misery" (p. 16) than others, it would be only a matter of degree. Loneliness and aging are not in any case a matter of "mental health" but normal features of human life. The signs that gay people are happier and more fulfilled in a more tolerant culture are not considered.
FS protests against language that puts homosexuality in a favorable light, the term "gay" being the clearest example (p. 19). Certainly, the spread of such language indicates a widespread revulsion against the old vocabulary that categorized homosexuality as something monstrous. The new language removes a barrier to tolerance of human diversity and a source of psychological oppression to gay people. FS should try to build a person-centered moral discourse without recourse to language that stigmatizes individuals.
The linguistic innovation which most disturbs FS is "a new definition of 'family' which would include male-male, female-female, temporary or permanent, exclusive or non-exclusive forms" (p. 21). However, it is not clear that acceptance of gay couples undermines the normal family; for one thing, it might lessen the frequency of matrimony between a gay and a non-gay partner. Some families have been enriched by the friendship of their son's or daughter's gay companion. In any case, it is not a sign of serious reflection on the crisis of the family to propose the criminalization of gay sexuality as part of the solution.
Ten Gay Claims
The longest chapter rebuts ten claims of the gay movement.
1. "Gay is good": "The statement contradicts the wisdom of centuries of Judaeo-Christian civilisation... No civilisation considered [homosexual behaviour] as a norm for all, on a par with the family" (p. 23). The trouble is that the "wisdom" of our civilisation on this score is gravely in doubt: consider for example the impossibility of maintaining the etiology of homosexuality offered by Paul in Romans 1, the most influential Christian utterance on the subject. As to other civilizations, it is obvious that a generous place has been given to gay relationships in Arabic and Japanese culture, and in pre-Christian European culture. No one is seeking to impose homosexuality as "a norm for all"; rather, what is contested is the brutal imposition of a heterosexual norm on all, even on those whom nature does not intend for heterosexual sex and marriage. Even if FS could show that all civilisations impose this norm on all, this would still beg the question. The relative universality of sexism or racism has not been found to justify for their perpetual maintenance; humanity has often made progress by revolutionary change.
2. "Homosexuality is natural, inborn or God-given rather than learned or acquired." This is indeed the spontaneous conviction of many gay people. Heterosexual people feel the same way about their heterosexuality. FS shouts down the testimony of gay self-awareness in favour of Charles Socarides' theory: "a disturbed parent-child relationship produced a major obstacle to the normal development of the natural sexual orientation" (p. 24). Recent discoveries (1991) have revived interest in possible physiological foundations and reinforced the sense that one's basic sexual orientation is not a matter that one can change.
The dogmatism of Socarides is in any case quite discredited in contemporary psychoanalysis. According to Kenneth Lewes: "his accounts of homosexual viciousness and desperation rivaled Bergler's in intemperateness, though he lacked Bergler's smugness and cruelty... The accuracy of his findings is questionable because of his personal investment in the debate, which has no place in psychoanalytic research and treatment. If Socarides was so militant in his public utterances, one wonders what his demeanor was like in the treatment room" (Kenneth Lewes, The Psychoanalytical Theory of Male Homosexuality, New York: Simon and Shuster, 1988, pp. 203-4). Edmund Bergler is another of FS's authorities (p. 37). Here is a sample of his writing: "I have no bias against homosexuality... [but] homosexuals are essentially disagreeable people... [displaying] a mixture of superciliousness, false aggression, and whimpering,... subservient when confronted with a stronger person, merciless when in power, unscrupulous about trampling on a weaker person." (ib., p. 15). The only other well-known psychoanalyst referred to by FS is Irving Bieber. Lewes writes: "In buttressing his claim for the necessary psychopathology of homosexual orientation, Socarides referred to Bieber's 'findings' that 'one-third are schizophrenic, one-third, neurotic, and one-third, character disorders.' But Bieber's sample consisted of homosexual males in treatment, and his study had been criticized at length precisely because its sample had been preselected on the basis of psychopathology" (ib., p. 203).
FS quotes these authorities without giving any indication of the current status of their work. This reliance on outdated figures, who did so much to alienate gay people from psychoanalysis, testifies to the lack of support for FS's views among contemporary psychoanalysts. [2012: Two decades later, Fr Kiely still relies heavily on these “authorities,” alongside the recently self-discredited Robert Spitzer.]
3. "It is damaging for a homosexual to attempt to change." "This is an example of psychological determinism, whereby the homosexual is locked into his homosexuality, with no possibility of escape from it. This is, of course, what the movement wants; no politicized movement can be indifferent to the loss of its members" (p. 25). The question here is one of fact. Freud's judgment that "to undertake to convert a fully developed homosexual into a heretosexual is not much more promising than to do the reverse" (p. 67) is an observation, not the result of a deterministic theory. The suggestion that gay people are anxious about a possible decline in their numbers is sheer fantasy. Bieber and Bergler are invoked to prove that gay people "can and have” changed their orientation" (FS's italics). This desperate attempt to wish away the reality of sexual orientation, by making it a matter of deliberate choice, is what generates most of the fallacies and contradictions in FS's reasoning.
4. "Homosexuality is not a mental disease": FS invokes Freud's view that it is "a condition of arrested psychosexual development" (p. 25). But Freud is a treacherous witness on this score. He wrote: "Homosexuality... cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function produced by a certain arrest of sexual development... It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime and cruelty too." Moreover, "he contributed to the Festschrift for Magnus Hirschfeld, a manifest homosexual and pioneer researcher and activist for homosexual rights" (Lewes, 32, 31). FS deplores the American Psychiatric Association's 1973 decision that homosexuality is not a pathology. Lewes judges, in contrast, that "although it contained much that was polemical and angry... it can be viewed as the beginning of a new history, with a promise of... transforming what had been largely a discourse based on distance and judgment into a genuine dialogue in which troubled people can speak unguardedly to listeners who are open to hearing" (p. 229). Psychoanalysts sharing FS's views could never practice such "genuine dialogue" or be "listeners who are open to hearing." This weakens the credibility of these views.
5. "There is need for 'comprehensive' sex education that presents the homosexual lifestyle in a positive light." FS deplores an education in which "no contrary pressure is felt by the young person opting for a homosexual lifestyle" (p. 29). This ignores the fact that such contrary pressure (into heterosexual acting-out) can push gay adolescents to depression and suicide (a recent study shows that the suicide rate among gay adolescents in the U.S. is three times as higher than the average). Again, it is implied that sexual orientation is a choice made by adolescents, in contradiction with all the psychoanalysts quoted so far.
6. "Every homosexual ought to 'come out'." FS answers: "homosexuality and the homosexual temptation will always remain, since temptation is a part of the human condition" (p. 30). Decriminalizing gay sex encourages openness about gay sexual feelings and this "will have a bad effect on society." One might use the same logic to suppress celebration of heterosexual identities and feelings in all public media, for heterosexual "temptation" is no less a part of the human condition. To see a person's sexual identity only as a temptation is to miss the fact that temptation concerns the abuse of natural goods, not their intrinsic value. To say that the sexuality of gay people has no intrinsic goodness is dehumanizing, and savours of Manicheanism.
7. "Homosexuality has little to do with buggery and kindred acts, but is essentially a matter of fine feelings." FS denounces this "attempt to base morality on subjective factors alone." But this seems a straw man argument. What the gay movement is saying is that sexuality colours the entire reach of one's emotional and creative life, and that the essential freedom is the freedom to be oneself, rather than to commit certain isolated "acts." Legal prohibition of all gay sexual expression gains its most sinister significance from its implicit denial to gay people of this freedom to be.
8. "Society is afflicted with a disease called 'homophobia'." FS agrees: "It is quite true that homosexuals have been treated as if they did not exist, or as outcasts." FS proposes the following policy: "Today, in Ireland, the alcoholic, genuinely attempting rehabilitation, can expect understanding and support. If a similar attitude about homosexuality existed, the homosexual genuinely seeking rehabilitation would be able to find support and acceptance in the community" (p. 32). A subtle form of bullying is afoot here. Alcoholism is an addiction or disease, but there is no evidence that these categories fit the gay temperament or gay sexual acts. If by rehabilitation is meant change of orientation, the demand that one seek it is a piece of psychological violence reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984: only gay people who hate being gay are socially acceptable. If renunciation of sexual activity is what is meant, it would be logical to exact the same price of heterosexuals who wish to be accepted by the community. But a community which ostracizes its members if they are thought to be lacking in sexual purity is an oppressive theocracy, as in Calvin's Geneva.
9. "Homosexuals constitute a minority-group, similar to those racial and ethnic groups which are subject to discrimination." Answer: "homosexuals belong to their 'group' only by virtue of their homosexual acts," there is no "discrimination on the basic of their orientation alone" (p. 34), and so to accept them as a special status group would be to approve their immoral acts. In fact, however, homophobia does not distinguish so neatly between orientation and acts, any more than anti-semitism distinguishes between the practising Jew and the one who conceals his or her identity.
Moreover, the distinction between orientation and acts is intrinsically murky. Is a simple hug or kiss a homosexual act? To a homophobic person it would be. A zealous Irish policeman might consider it a case of "gross indecency," punishable by two years imprisonment. Ed Cohen comments on the 1885 law: "'acts of gross indecency' were entirely unspecified in themselves and only derived their 'indecency' from their appearance in the context of a relationship between two men... [They] had no particular specificity save for the sexual actors and were defined against a normative standard which deified the 'purity' of the middle-class 'household'"; in: Ronald R. Buttes, et al., eds, Displacing Homophobia: Gay Male Perspectives in Literature and Culture (Duke University Press, 1989), pp. 191-2. We have seen that FS's own use of terms such as "homosexuality" often leaves it unclear whether the reference is to orientation, acts or both. Thus virulence directed against acts is quickly transferred to the orientation, and there is no effective brake to prevent it being directed basically against the person. As no place is left for the voice of gay subjects, such rhetoric can only be felt by gay people as an aggression.
The lack of a clear borderline between orientation and behaviour means that such formulas as "loving the sinner, hating the sin" or "pitying the orientation, condemning the behaviour" can in this context feed into the hatred and condemnation of persons. If a person's sexuality is seen as intrinsically disordered - not just in this or that relationship but in its very roots -, then even the most innocent expressions of that sexuality are stigmatized. Thus it may be that the statement quoted on p. 10 is not as absurd as at first it seems: "The National Gay Federation rejects this audacious and hypocritical attempt by the Irish Hierarchy to differentiate between 'homosexual orientation' and 'homosexual acts'."
10. "Homosexuals are 10% of the population." FS tries to discredit the Kinsey Report (1948), but Kewes writes: "Kinsey's statistical findings, at least with respect to male homosexuality, seem to have been quite robust," and points out that subsequent studies support the findings while "Significantly, no study claimed to refute Kinsey" (Lewes, p. 129). 37% of the sample of 5,300 males had had, since adolescence, a homosexual experience to the point of orgasm; 13% were more homosexual than heterosexual. Nor would FS's panic be intelligible if gay people were an infinitesimal minority.
Judaeo-Christian Norms and Irish Law
In its argument that Christianity cannot accommodate gay sexuality, FS completely ignores contemporary moral theologians. The Bible is quoted at length (Sodom and Gomorrah, Leviticus, Romans 1) as is John Harvey, a priest-counsellor with a pessimistic view of gay sexuality. Otherwise we hear only of something called "'Gay' Theology": "Those who adhere to this special theology generally attempt to legitimise homosexual behaviour by fastening upon the unitive significance of the sexual act, while ignoring the procreative" (p. 47). Many gay people "share the natural human longing for a close friendship that is stable, home-building and fruitful, which is what marriage provides. At the same time, their choice of being 'gay' is a rejection of the very thing that makes marital stability necessary [possible?]" (pp. 47-8). Here again it is falsely insinuated that sexual orientation is freely chosen. "The homosexual can learn to live chastely. Hard as it may seem, this is the only genuinely Christian option for those homosexuals who cannot establish a stable heterosexual relationship and therefore [!] remain homosexual in orientation" (p. 53). This rhetoric of the "genuinely Christian" might be appropriate in a pastoral context, but here it is opportunistic and smug. FS's use of the term "chastity" gives the virtue a bad name; only a person-centered morality can restore meaning to this devalued word.
Utterly lacking in this document is any recognition of such values as freedom, conscience, or human self-realization. As a result FS misses the central thrust of the gay challenge and projects rigid, even fascist, images of family, Church and State. Thus, quoting Chief Justice O'Higgins on "the Christian nature of our State" and the potential "harm to the institution of marriage," FS argues that "the Constitution requires the criminalization of homosexual acts" (p. 56). If this suggests that the Irish Constitution has no respect for conscience and human freedom, the blame lies with the judges who could find no grounds in the Constitution for a defence of these values in the case of gay people. In FS they have found the admirers they deserve.
It should be noted that David Norris, in Norris v. Attorney General, 1980, had three clergymen among his witnesses, whereas the Attorney General was unable to produce a single witness of any kind. (The A.G.'s counsel had approached at least one moral theologian and one bishop, who declined to be of assistance.) The judgments against Norris ignored the clerical submissions on: freedom of conscience (Vatican II); the relation of law and morality; the immorality of discrimination and prejudice; the evil effects of the law; the grey areas in moral and pastoral theology, such as Paul VI's teaching that what is objectively immoral can be subjectively defensible. The only thing Christianity had to say on the subject, as far as the judges could see, was that "homosexual acts are wrong" (p. 53).
According to Justice Henchy: "the trial judge was bound in law to reject the Attorney General's defence and to uphold, at least in part, the plaintiff's case." The Irish Council for Civil Liberties comments: "the majority in Norris undermined the salient features of our constitutional democracy... The foundations of our constitutional democracy are principles of justice, including human rights, and judicial review is an institution created for the purpose of realising, impartially, in concrete cases, the requirements of these principles... Ireland has an obligation, which has the force of the European Convention of Human Rights behind it, to put aside its form of sexual apartheid. It is to the Convention we must now look for commonsense and justice" (Equality Now for Lesbians and Gay men, Dublin, 1990, pp. 21, 23.)
If this is correct, then the clergy, legal profession and politicians of Ireland are implicated in a grave breach of human rights. Family Solidarity's booklet reveals the poisonous thinking behind this injustice. By their silence, the clergy have allowed groups like Family Solidarity to represent the Catholic Church, driving a deep wedge of alienation between the Church and gay people.