In 1993, between congressional jobs, I briefly worked on Capitol Hill for a national pro-family lobby. I remember a conversation with a former colleague who thought that whether a person was “born gay” or not was irrelevant to the ongoing discussion about civil rights based on “sexual orientation.” He shared with me, adamant about the correctness of his position, that it doesn’t really matter which human weaknesses we’re born with, all that matters is how we choose to act when confronted with human weakness. A man with a weakness for gambling can choose not to gamble. Likewise, my colleague insisted, a person with same-sex attraction can choose not to have same-sex sexual relations.
He added, regardless of the innateness of any human weakness, society is justified, to the degree it feels it must, to frown upon bad behavior.
My colleague argued that just because a man has a sexual weakness for young children, for instance, doesn’t mean that society should condone pedophilia. A predatory act such as pedophilia is immoral, inherently wrong for human beings, in and of itself. His argument came at a time when all sorts of bad human behaviors were thought to have some genetic connection – smoking, alcoholism, drug abuse, pornography, etc. – and also at a time when we began seeing Hollywood make movies about “natural born killers” and other miscreants who seemingly could not control their bad behaviors, the poor souls.
Most Christian faiths simply refer to human weakness as “original sin” – the affliction of mortality. After giving it considerable thought, I concluded that my former colleague wasn’t really telling me that he believed that people are born with this or that compelling burden in life where moral agency (or free will) is so diminished that some poor souls, practically speaking, really don’t have any choices at all. Outside of true human disability, easily recognized as such, that sort of circumstance is impossible. He was simply arguing that mortality is universal, everyone has choices and, other than true human disability, there is no human weakness so severe that it robs man of his moral ability to make choices.
While agreeing with his broader concept, I begged to differ with his tactical indifference regarding the significance of the “sexual orientation” argument. My response to that former colleague was plain: In an effort to gain unprecedented civil rights, homosexual activists claim they are born that way (i.e. “orientation”) and they spend lots of money doing scientific and medical research to prove it. Furthermore, and perhaps most strident in opinion, many parents emotionally fatigued by children struggling with homosexuality come to believe their children are “born that way” as surely as they see the sun in the sky.
I explained that it didn’t matter what my colleague believed. In the politics of homosexuality, it only matters what they believe. Lacking scientific and medical evidence, either affirming or rejecting the theory, their undying belief turns into faith – a justification so powerful that science, medicine, fact and truth bear no sway. They know people are “born gay” and they will testify of it as surely as any devout Christian will testify that they know God lives.
A few years later, in 1998, I penned an essay titled “The Myth of Sexual Orientation.” I reissued the paper when I joined Sutherland Institute and it eventually found its way into Sutherland’s book Preserving Sacred Ground: A Responsible Citizen’s Approach to Same Sex Politics. My intended audience was not homosexual activists (as to rebuke) or the distraught family members of loved ones struggling with homosexuality (as to reclaim) – those audiences are best addressed by their own communities and through private compassionate service. My audience was, and remains to this day, disinterested citizens whose primary concern is the common good (as to remind) – elected officials and community leaders who necessarily must rise above self-interest (even personal disappointment, tragedy or heartbreak) in the maintenance of a free society.
My argument in that essay is straightforward: No replicable scientific or medical evidence exists to prove that any human being is “born gay.” It was that way in 1998 and it remains that way today. Of course, conventional wisdom disagrees. Medical professionals say otherwise. Conventional wisdom, with no proof whatsoever except personal “testimonies” (an unusually anti-scientific view of humanity), insists that people are indeed “born gay.”
Because there is no replicable scientific or medical evidence in support of a genetic, hormonal or innate homosexuality, the only reasonable explanation for homosexuality is psychological – an explanation officially ruled out of the question in 1973 at the annual convention of the American Psychiatric Association and since viewed as an ignorant and contemptible insult, a point beneath human dignity to even seriously discuss (as if to insinuate that homosexuals are mentally ill).
Of course, a psychological explanation for homosexuality hardly implies a mental illness. Human weakness is hardly a mental illness. Poor choices are hardly a mental illness. Physical, emotional or sexual trauma is hardly a mental illness. Mental illness is hardly the only standard for a psychological disorder. Many people who need a little help are far from mentally ill. Unfortunately, according to modern psychiatry and psychology, the only psychological disorders in existence are those personal issues with which the patient is displeased. To wit, homosexuality is only a disorder if the person struggling is unhappy with his homosexuality. Otherwise, there are no psychological disorders today in the eyes of conventional wisdom.
By the way, conventional wisdom’s disregard for a psychological answer to homosexuality is exactly why it claims reparative therapies are tantamount to crimes. This disregard is also why successful patients of reparative therapy (i.e., people once living homosexual lives now living heterosexual lives) are not seen as healthy but simply in denial of their “real self” (and, of course, disordered).
The “justification conundrum” surrounding homosexuality and sexual orientation is real: Conventional wisdom can’t explain homosexuality or sexual orientation through science or medicine and it won’t permit explanations through psychology or choice. All that remains is conventional wisdom. It’s like watching a person who believes the Earth is flat put his fingers in his ears, close his eyes tightly and scream loudly and repeatedly “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!” – except, in this case, the chorus is especially concerted in a growing community within younger generations.
Enter the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and, here in Utah, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS Church). Both organizations have taken public relations beatings on the issue of homosexuality – BSA for its long-standing policy that homosexuality is incompatible with its purpose and mission in serving youth and the LDS Church especially since its 2008 support of Proposition 8 in California. Both organizations are private – BSA answers only to its members and the LDS Church only to its God.
But what makes both organizations relevant in this public policy discussion about “gay rights” is their passive acceptance of the term “sexual orientation” – passive in that each organization has approvingly used the term sexual orientation to imply some human characteristic about homosexuality other than behavior. This passive acceptance of sexual orientation from two of society’s most conservative institutions could alter public policy within Scouting, within Utah and, possibly, throughout America for years to come – it could lead to a civil rights onslaught that, ironically, would end ultimately imperiling the very civil rights relied upon by BSA (freedom of association) and the LDS Church (freedom of religion) for their civil existences.
On April 19, 2013, the BSA released a proposal to amend its membership standards to include this allowance: “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.” The same proposal holds that BSA “will maintain the current membership policy for all adult leaders,” meaning BSA would recognize youth members who self-identify as homosexuals but not adult leaders who do.
The single-largest sponsoring institution within BSA is the LDS Church. On April 25, 2013, the church released a statement seemingly supportive of the proposed change to the BSA membership standard regarding youth. It stated, “The current BSA proposal constructively addresses a number of important issues. … We are grateful to BSA for their careful consideration of these issues. We appreciate the positive things contained in this current proposal.”
Several months ago, the LDS Church created a new website at mormonsandgays.org. As if to summarize the LDS Church’s position on “same-sex attraction,” the website preface reads,
The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
And, of course, in November 2009, the LDS Church took a public stand supporting Salt Lake City’s ordinances to prohibit discrimination in housing and employment on the basis of sexual orientation (though the church made sure to exempt itself from the ordinances).
In both cases, within BSA and the LDS Church, a distinction is drawn between “orientation” and “behavior” – BSA using the word “orientation” to ascribe an innate disposition and the LDS Church carefully using the term “same-sex attraction” to convey some organic influence within people. Advocates for homosexuality use both instances to claim a sea change in policy (BSA) and doctrine (LDS Church) from those two organizations that otherwise oppose homosexuality. Homosexual advocates gleefully applaud the BSA for acknowledging “gay” youth and soundly endorse the LDS Church’s “new” doctrine that people are born “gay.”
Interestingly, the proposed BSA policy acknowledges “sexual orientation” but stipulates, “Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting,” and continues by noting that BSA “does not have an agenda on the matter of sexual orientation, and resolving this complex issue is not the role of the organization, nor may any member use Scouting to promote or advance any social or political position or agenda.”
The LDS Church acknowledges “same-sex attraction” as an attraction “individuals do not choose” but stipulates, “From a public relations perspective it would be easier for the Church to simply accept homosexual behavior. That we cannot do, for God’s law is not ours to change. There is no change in the Church’s position of what is morally right.”
In a discussion published on the LDS Church’s official website, this question of sexual orientation was raised and dismissed, in a fashion similar to BSA. During a published interview between LDS Church Public Affairs department and Elders Dallin H. Oaks and Lance B. Wickman, both church leaders respond to a question bearing on “born that way,”
ELDER OAKS: That’s where our doctrine comes into play. The Church does not have a position on the causes of any of these susceptibilities or inclinations, including those related to same-gender attraction. Those are scientific questions — whether nature or nurture — those are things the Church doesn’t have a position on.
ELDER WICKMAN: Whether it is nature or nurture really begs the important question, and a preoccupation with nature or nurture can, it seems to me, lead someone astray from the principles that Elder Oaks has been describing here. Why somebody has a same-gender attraction … who can say? But what matters is the fact that we know we can control how we behave, and it is behavior which is important.
Both BSA and the LDS Church have said that the question of why someone has a same-sex “orientation” or “attraction” is not their concern. Both organizations stand firmly that homosexual behavior is prohibited. Yet both organizations acquiesce to homosexual activists on the subjects of “sexual orientation” and “same-sex attraction” – BSA in its proposed policy change and the LDS Church in its isolated support of nondiscrimination ordinances.
My concern is that in taking these positions of passive acceptance of “orientation” and “attraction” as defining human characteristics – passively as “born that way” – these great and worthy institutions have gambled in an unforgiving culture war of sexual politics – a culture war that will not be so passive in return.
This gamble may turn into a public relations nightmare because the sentiment and outreach by both organizations will fall far short of the authenticity required by homosexual advocates. On the one hand, BSA will be heavily protested by activists who see the exclusion of self-identified “gay” adult leaders as not only belying the sincerity of its new policy, but by irrationally betraying “science” showing that adult “gays” pose no harm to children, and, on the other hand, the LDS Church will receive the same harsh treatment for its insincerity as advocates argue, “Why would God make us this way and His church condemn us for acting on it?”
The big questions – and big gamble – are these: Can BSA acknowledge youth on the basis of “sexual orientation” without fueling even more politicization from within, and can the LDS Church acknowledge innate “same-sex attraction” without fueling the appearance of inconsistencies in church doctrine?
As with my former colleague years ago, I wonder if these two beloved institutions – these two icons of traditional American culture – understand that they cannot be passive about matters that only serve to energize their opponents, especially matters unsupported by evidence in science or medicine? My former colleague was wrong not to care about “nature or nurture.” It matters. And it matters because our opponents think it matters a great deal.
Most frustrating of all is that our side – traditional America – is right on the facts as well as the values. A tactic of passive deference to “born that way” begins to appear, to our opponents, as passive acceptance. It encourages their sexual politics. It is a tactical (needless and unwarranted) mistake on our part. The good news is that there is still time to reclaim what has been lost. The only question is, will we?