Making Gay Okay: A Review (9)

The next few chapters of Reilly’s book are fairly straightforward, and more or less irrelevancies. His groundwork has been laid already, and as we have seen, that groundwork is based upon shoddy scholarship, discredited theories, and a vast collection of right-wing position papers and online essays. The ground floor of his skyscraper is Natural Law, which confuses “what is” with “what ought to be” and is evaluatively bankrupt so far as moral questions go, more or less reflecting the expectations of the person back to them so that they hear not the clear meaning of nature but the echo of their own voices.

Chapter Seven, “Sodomy and Science,” demands little comment. It mostly tries to establish that there is no “gay gene,” which is irrelevant to the issue because even if a gene were discovered it would not provide us with an answer to the moral question of whether something ought to be done. Again, a gene or no gene is simply “what is.” It has no bearing on “what ought to be.” The chapter also tries to force another dichotemy between science as descriptive of what is there and science as a manipulator and transformer of what is there (Reilly seems to think this would be bad). Yet followed to its necessary conclusions, one must ultimately reject all technological development on this view, as technology manipulates Nature into things it was never meant to be. Chairs and tables, insofar as they are transformative developments in the “purpose” of tress, are quite unnatural and, on Reilly’s view, ought to be rejected as illustrative of man’s God-like demands to conform reality to his will. Certainly man was never intended for space travel, so we can go ahead and shut down NASA. Goodbye, genetics research and cancer treatments and antidepressants.

The first half of the chapter, however, is devoted to the story of how the APA finally removed homosexuality from its listing of mental illnesses in the 1970s. Certainly this was something that many in the APA wanted to see happen and planned accordingly, but Reilly sees this as a disqualification. Let us put aside for a moment the fact that Reilly builds his history of this situation primarily from antagonistic sources like the founders of NARTH and frequently seems to confuse rhetoric and ideology with facts-based reporting. Setting this aside, the fact that a group of psychiatrists wanted to see it decriminalized does not make their actions right or wrong. Again, Reilly confuses “what is” with “what ought.” His argument seems to be that they had an agenda, therefore we should still view homosexuality as a diagnosable mental disorder. But the right things have often been done for the wrong reasons (presuming, in this case, their actions were wrong), and every major change in the social fabric is undergone by people who want to see that change occurring. No one complains that because Martin Luther King Jr. had an agenda to give African Americans equality under the law it therefore invalidates what he did. Likewise, no one complains that because the women’s suffrage movement was comprised by women, therefore they should never have been granted the right to vote. This sort of reasoning is completely wacky. However, this kind of thinking, conspiratorial though it may be, does serve a very helpful purpose – given the enormous respect given to organizations like the APA, due to their careful scholarship, it is necessary to undermine their reliability by painting them as being hijacked by non-scientific, ideologically-driven left-wing agents of the LGBTQ community. This might be nothing more than a giant exercise in the ad hominem fallacy, but it has proven effective in raising the suspicions of conservative people when the name appears. They are effectively smeared as “biased” and “ideological,” which allows for hard rightwing groups to swoop in as “trusted” organizations and spread their faulty claims and nonsenical scholarship (one might also note the parallels here to virtually every other debate in our culture right now, from climate change to evolution).

The second half of this chapter addresses the question of whether LGBTQ people can change their orientation or not. This, of course, assumes that orientation is permanently fixed, which most researchers would now say is not the case with the majority of people, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Reilly eagerly embraces this emerging development as an argument for reparative therapy, but once again he confuses “what is” with “what ought to be.” Just because there is some fluidity in orientation, this is not in itself a case for forcing it to change. Repeated studies have shown that reparative therapy can cause severe psychological damage to patients. Just last Sunday 9 major ex-gay leaders renounced reparative therapy as harmful. The APA’s extensive, 138 page report on Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) includes an examination of the methodology of reparative studies and found that “given the limited amount of methodically sound research, claims that recent SOCE is effective are not supported.” Reparative therapy has helped certain people lessen their same-sex attractions and overcome compulsive and addictive sexual behavior, but there is currently no evidence that anyone has ever changed their fundamental orientation (despite the fluidity mentioned above). The reparative lobby conflates behavior with orientation when they trumpet their success stories.

Chapter eight is titled “Same-Sex Parenting” and rehashes more of the methodologically flawed research on the deleterious and negative effects of gay parenting on children. Reilly trots forward a few examples of kids and grown children of gay couples talking negatively about the experience in the chapter, but one could do just the same for heterosexual parents and this would not prove that all heterosexual parents caused harm to their children and ought not be allowed to have them. No one ever claimed that gay parents would be perfect, and so obviously some kids will come out of the experience wishing it had been otherwise, just like pretty much every kid at some point or another. The most extensive study to date shows that the kids of gay parents are just as healthy and adjusted as kids of straight parents.

Chapter nine is titled “Sodomy and Education,” a chapter in which Reilly sees the proliferation of same-sex educational courses in school programs as a massive, covert conspiracy to normalize the behavior – rather than an honest attempt to discuss a highly-relevant topic based on the best, current scholarly information that can help kids struggling with their sexual identity and help their peers in how to talk about the subject.

Reilly’s final three chapters, on the boy scouts, the military, and the US and UN’s attempts to globalize gay rights as a category of human rights, should not long detain us. His brand of fear and conspiratorial thinking and highly selective citations leave us little doubt as to where he falls in the discussion. His chapter on gay rights internationally laments the fact that the U.S. is laboring to pressure other nations to treat their gay populations humanely and as full human beings. No mention is made of laws like Uganda’s anti-gay bill increasing criminalization of the behavior and orientation, nor that it was just struck down as unconstitutional, though one is left with little wonder as to where Reilly came down on bills like it.

In my final analysis, Reilly’s book completely fails to establish its thesis. Natural law itself fails to live up to its promised ability to grant us the power to move from “what is” to “what ought,” to derive morality from nature. There is a reason philosophy has moved beyond natural law – it cannot show us what is good or proper. Its results are entirely arbitrary, as morality is not established by nature. The book also fails the scholarship test, being little more than a partisan regurgitation of the same biased studies, discredited individuals and research, and the flimsy excuses they engender to keep the whole narrative complex afloat. There is nothing in this embarrassing book that would give me cause to change my mind concerning LGBTQ equality.


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