Beyond dispute?

A prominent American civil rights group claims that pro-family organisations are promoting anti-gay hatred.
Michael Cook | Jan 19 2011 | comment  

The crime of lèse majesté – insulting the sovereign -- is rarely prosecuted nowadays apart from in Morocco and Thailand. These countries find it useful for muffling criticism of their monarchies. In Morocco, for instance, a hapless 26-year-old engineer was roughed up and given a three-year jail sentence in 2008 for posting a fake Facebook profile of the Crown Prince. In the same year an aspiring Australian novelist spent six months shuffling around a foetid jail because he had defamed an imaginary Thai prince in a novel which sold seven copies.

But the impulse to punish in order to soothe offended dignity dies hard. Lèse majesté is making a comeback in the United States. Gay activists are using it as a way of stifling criticism of their lifestyle and of same-sex marriage.

As a few prominent pro-family lobby groups have learned lately, if you stray from the party line, you’ll end up on a certified list of hate groups.

The latest indictment was issued in November by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a respected civil rights organisation based in Montgomery, Alabama. It made its reputation with landmark legal victories over white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. These included repulsive outfits like the Ku Klux Klan, White Aryan Resistance and Aryan Nation.

But recently -- based on their definition of a hate group as an organisation with “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics” – the SPLC has compiled a list of anti-gay groups. Most of them, it says are religiously motivated and pump out “demonizing propaganda aimed at homosexuals and other sexual minorities”.

The SPLC lists 18 of these organisations on its website. Manic or mainstream, they have one thing in common: they are said to be spewing out hatred towards gays and lesbians.

What evidence is there for these allegations? Unlike the anti-black, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant hate groups, the Gang of 18 have not been murdering, firebombing, pistol-whipping, or terrorising homosexuals. They have not even incited the lunatic fringe to do their dirty work for them. Instead, they are being censured for “name-calling” and holding “discredited” ideas – thought crimes, in other words. Here is the SPLC’s explanation:

“Generally, the SPLC’s listings of these groups is based on their propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling.”

The villains include mainstream pro-family groups like Concerned Women for America, the Traditional Values Coalition, the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage. They were outraged. “This is intolerance pure and simple,” said the Family Research Council. “Elements of the radical Left are trying to shut down informed discussion of policy issues that are being considered by Congress, legislatures, and the courts.”

It must be conceded that within these groups there are cantankerous people with bizarre views. The SPLC’s condemnation of the American Family Association is based largely on embarrassing citations from the blog of Bryan Fischer, who works as a policy analyst for the AFA. It’s the sort of stuff that screams for its disclaimer, “the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association”. But this is one of 21 blogs on the website. The worst that the AFA could be charged with is consorting with a crank, not fostering hatred.

With the endorsement of the venerable Southern Poverty Law Center, the list is already being used to stigmatise anyone associated with one of the organisations as venomous and hateful.

But the astonishing thing about the roll-call of anti-gay hate groups is the spuriousness of the ten “known falsehoods” which have been refuted by “scientific authorities”. Subscribing to some or all of these – it’s unclear how many – lumps you in with Klansmen and Holocaust denialists.

The burden of these claims rests upon the credibility of the “scientific authorities”. It turns out that, for the most part, they are not scientific authorities at all, but professional groups like the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychiatric Association.

Whether their official positions on homosexuality are true or false, they are political decisions which are decided on a vote, not just on their scientific merits. As an example of how it works, in a unrelated controversy, last year the American Pediatric Association endorsed a modified form of female genital mutilation – and then reversed its stand after the ensuing outcry. Which position represented the views of scientific authorities?

The ten myths are a hodgepodge of historical assertions, scientific theories, sociological statistics and policy predictions. Here they are:

  1. Homosexuals molest children at far higher rates than heterosexuals.
  2. Same-sex parents harm children.
  3. People become homosexual because they were sexually abused as children or there was a deficiency in sex-role modelling by their parents. 
  4. Homosexuals don’t live nearly as long as heterosexuals.
  5. Homosexuals controlled the Nazi Party and helped to orchestrate the Holocaust.
  6. Hate crime laws will lead to the jailing of pastors who criticize homosexuality and the legalization of practices like bestiality and necrophilia.
  7. Allowing homosexuals to serve openly would damage the armed forces.
  8. Homosexuals are more prone to be mentally ill and to abuse drugs and alcohol.
  9. No one is born a homosexual.
  10. Gay people can choose to leave homosexuality.

How are these proved? Mostly by referring to assertions by the American Psychological Association et al, such as “same-sex couples are remarkably similar to heterosexual couples, and that parenting effectiveness and the adjustment, development and psychological well-being of children is unrelated to parental sexual orientation.”

At least one -- Homosexuals are more prone to be mentally ill and to abuse drugs and alcohol -- is endorsed by the SPLC’s explanatory text itself:

“It is true that LGBT people suffer higher rates of anxiety, depression, and depression-related illnesses and behaviours like alcohol and drug abuse than the general population. But studies done during the past 15 years have determined that it is the stress of being a member of a minority group in an often-hostile society — and not LGBT identity itself — that accounts for the higher levels of mental illness and drug use.”

In other words, it is statistically true that homosexuals are more unstable. And one explanation for this is hostility and discrimination. The statistic is a fact; the explanation is merely a hypothesis. Aren’t Americans allowed to debate hypotheses any more?

And then, in a remarkable reversal of scientific method, some of the myths haven’t actually happened yet. Whether “Allowing homosexuals to serve openly would damage the armed forces” is a matter of dispute. But it can hardly be proved a myth until after it has been tried and egregiously failed to take place. The repeal of "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" only happened in December! This is Alice in Wonderland stuff: as the Queen of Hearts said, “Sentence first, verdict afterwards!”

And some of the myths have no owners. Take “Same-sex parents harm children”. Which of the censured organisations has argued that same-sex parents physically or sexually abuse the children in their care? What they do argue is that same-sex parenting is harmful for children because they lack either a mother or a father. The benefits of same-sex parenting are unsettled business for psychologists and won’t be settled until the results of raising a generation or two of children are known. 

There is one myth which seems genuinely daft: that Hitler’s Germany was run by homosexuals. This links gays to the atrocities of a regime which reviled them as perverts, threw them into concentration camps and murdered them. It seems wicked. But no more wicked than using the same guilt by association smear to revile pro-family activists.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. 

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