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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Making Gay Okay: A Review (7)

Chapter Five of Robert Reilly’s Making Gay Okay is titled “The Lessons From Biology,” and is a discussion of the health issues involved in same-sex behavior. But before we get to the health issues he will raise, Reilly must first set the stage with a number of assumptions. He complains that we know the use and purposes of every other part of the body but refuse to admit what is so obvious about our sex organs, namely that they are used for procreative and unitive purposes (52). He uses the example of the lungs, which were made for air, not for water.

But it seems to me he is ignoring a number of truths regarding the genitals. First of all, they have two primary purposes – to pass waste and to have sex. NNL theorists, and all conservative arguments against SSM, ignore this reality entirely. To them, the genitals are always spoken of as life-bringing while the anus is an organ of death and waste. But the reality is that the genitals expel waste as well (a function for which they are arguably employed far more than for sex). Furthermore, the anus is also designed to give pleasure during its typical function, and has many more nerve endings than the genitals. The male prostate is located nearer to it than to the genitals too, and thus anal intercourse is reportedly able to give more intense orgasms than otherwise. What an odd design, if we are indeed to believe the NNL theorists and conservatives.

What follows are pages and pages of nonsense and misinformation and shoddy logic. He lists the many sexually transmitted diseases that can be contracted by gay people, ignoring that all of these can also be contracted by heterosexuals. The anal-specific problems he points to are problems with aggressive penetration, not with the practice exclusively. Moreover, he says gay men are 37 times more likely to get anal cancer than the general population, but as even he manages to note, this is for men who have already contracted HIV, not the general population of gay men.

Reilly also claims that gay men have a lifespan 30 years shorter than straight men, even without anal sex. To make this claim, Reilly depends upon the discredited work of Dr, Jeffrey Satinover, an anti-homosexual advocate. The trouble is that Satinover is depending upon bad research, in this case a 1993 paper which came to this shocking conclusion by comparing obituary listings in 16 gay mags and papers with two mainstream newspapers. In John Corvino’s words, “the methodology in this study is laughable even to those with no formal training in statistics” (What’s Wrong With Homosexuality?, 52). The author of this paper, Paul Cameron, was expelled from the American Psychological Association for ethics violations, and condemned by the Nebraska Psychological Association and American Sociological Association for “misrepresentations of scientific research on sexuality” (Corvino, 53). Reilly also uses the work of Dr. Hogg on young gay men in Vancouver between 1987 and 1992, which found that young gay men there were more likely to die 8-20 years before the general male population. But Reilly, and all conservatives who cite Hogg’s work ignore three things: 1) this was in the heyday of risky gay behavior, thus driving up mortality rates 2) these deaths were from HIV, for which there is now effective treatment, thus bringing the average back down and 3) the study is so narrow that general conclusions cannot be drawn from it. This is demonstrated from Hogg himself, who in 2001 denounced the use of his paper to “suggest that gay and bisexual men  live an unhealthy lifestyle that is destructive to themselves and others,” and points out that his research would no longer be an accurate study of the gay urban population in Vancouver today (Corvino, 55-56).

Such is the sort of “scholarship” one finds in these sorts of books. Based upon this shoddy research, Reilly asks why we don’t put warning labels on homosexuality like we do for smoking (57-59). This again ignores the fact that HIV and AIDS can be transmitted heterosexually, and that heterosexuals also practice anal sex. It also ignores the fact that physicians and medical experts have been warning people about how HIV and AIDS is transmitted for nearly three decades. We don’t outlaw smoking just because it can cause cancer, though we do warn people about the dangers and stop indoors smoking in public to protect others from second-hand smoke. Reilly also downplays the difference between the HIV virus and anal sex – that is, anal sex does not cause HIV, though it can transmit a virus that is already present. He tries to hand-wave over this distinction by calling it a distraction (58), but the point is a real and legitimate one. The behavior and the virus are two entirely different things, and anal sex practiced without the virus present cannot cause the virus. To turn this around a bit, imagine claiming that because vaginal intercourse comes with the risk of contracting various diseases that a person wrote an entire book denouncing the “heterosexual lifestyle” as filthy, degrading, disgusting, and unclean? Would we not call such a book a category confusion and an overreaction?

The rest of Reilly’s chapter is devoted to the purported claim that gay men are vastly more promiscuous than other segments of the population (59-65). The object of rehashing all this information is to claim that fidelity is not common in the gay community, therefore they will destroy marriage or redefine it out of existence. That gay people (really, gay men since Reilly continually conflates gay men who practice anal sex with the general LGBTQ community) are not marriage material. Now, we must grant at the outset that men are generally more promiscuous than women for a variety of biological and cultural reasons, and that men who have sex with men, therefore, will have a higher rate of promiscuity than any other demographic group. But this hardly proves that this must be the case; plenty of promiscuous heterosexual men have been tamed by love and there is nothing to prevent this from being the case with homosexual men either.

But even granting that this is the case, there are a number of studies which have shown that, while men who have sex with men do report higher numbers of partners than those who do not, this is not statistically much higher from the general population of men. For example, Edward Laumann et al notes that While some evidence in our data supports this general tendency, the differences do not appear very large in view of the higher variability in our measures that results from the small sample size of homosexually active men.”  (Social Organization of Sexuality, 316). Vierod et al noted in their large study of gay men in Scandinavia over a five year period that the average sexual partner was about one partner per year in the first year, and 0.3 partners by year five, which is much lower than expected (Scandinavian Journal of Social Medicine, 1997). Bryant and Demian conducted a study on homosexual relationships which showed that 63% of gay male relationships were entirely monogamous and 78% had a frequency of extra-relationship sexuality of zero partners (Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services, 1994). These numbers are comparable to the heterosexual numbers of Laumann et al’s study, taken from the same period, which showed that 79.3% of heterosexual men were monogamous.

So where do these huge numbers come from? Often these statistics come from earlier days in the LGBTQ movement when, born out of the free love movement, encouraged casual sexuality, or are studies of high-promiscuity centers like densely populated urban centers. There are highly promiscuous gay men out there – just like there are highly promiscuous straight men out there. But this does not appear to be the norm for either orientation.

Making Gay Okay: A Review (5)

Chapter three of Reilly’s book follows easily in the train of what has come before and bears few surprises. This chapter has to do with Rousseau, and I have nothing to contribute to that conversation because we’re still being forced into Reilly’s false choice between objective meaning built into reality or no meaning at all.

The problem with the natural law argument is that it presumes we can bypass the subjective self to get at external reality. But as many philosophers have critiqued the Greeks over, to observe is to interpret. The subjective self cannot be got around (and even if we want to say that the Spirit or the Bible or God guides us, we’re still as subjective selves choosing to believe that, so it doesn’t answer the question). Now, this does not mean there is no meaning to the world, nor that the objective world is entirely cut off from us. Obviously not. But it does mean that we have to understand that all meaning is interpretive. That is to say, when trying to find out where we are, we consult a map, not the geography around us by itself. The map is an interpretation of the terrain that gives us a big picture that helps us make sense of where we are. The only problem is that no map can perfectly correspond to the geography of the world. For example, ancient maps by Christians and Jews often featured Jerusalem standing in the center of the world. Even today our maps substantially distort the size of Africa and Asia in relation to the sizes of the rest of the continents because the map process involves converting a 3D spherical shape into a 2D flattened surface. And even if we could make a perfect map, the map itself still would not be the same thing as the reality, because it is a representation. We must imagine that external reality is like the terrain we’re walking through, and the map is our worldview or perspective on how to interpret that terrain. The trouble is that some people start to confuse their map of the terrain with the terrain itself, and this causes all kinds of problems.

But Reilly does include a section in this chapter called “The Telos of Sex,” and it is here that he really starts to emphasize the New Natural Law (NNL) theory. The NNL is different from the original Nature Law (NL) theory, and this is sometimes confusing. NL taught that heterosexual coitus was the only just and good form of sexuality because it was procreative. NNL, by contrast, teaches that heterosexual coitus is the only lawful form of sexuality because it is both unitive and procreative. That is, they claim that coitus is the only means by which “union” can be achieved. That is, “only a unitive act can be generative, and only a generative act can be unitive – in that only it can make two ‘one flesh'” (36).

The NNL is perhaps the most sophisticated non-religious moral argument against gay marriage – which is why I find it so completely strange. The phrase “one flesh,” upon which they have rested their entire argument, comes after all from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” (Gen. 2:24). To suggest that this idea comes from “nature” or even “Nature” is quite dishonest. It comes right out of the Bible. So much for Natural law.

Further, it is unclear what exactly is meant by this phrase “one flesh.” Does it mean something spiritual or metaphysical? The mystical way in which NLL theorists speak of it, you would certainly think so. In the Bible, of course, this phrase is used by the New Testament to refer to the mystical union between Christ and the Church (Eph. 5), referring to mutual participation in one another. Clearly it is symbolic of participation and not to be taken literally. This does not stop NNL theorists, of course, who claim that it is in fact literal. They see the couple engaged in coitus as becoming “literally, not metaphorically, one organism,” (George, In Defense of Natural Law, 183). It is unclear what exactly is meant by this claim, since it is obviously not the case that a husband and wife become a single organism. Unless they both merge into a single, breathing beast with two heads, four arms and four legs, it seems like the word “literally” is being misused here.

Thus we can safely conclude that the “one flesh” phrase is a metaphor. The bride does not literally become the husband, nor the husband the wife. But this can be a powerful symbol of a life of mutual sharing in common. But if this is the case, then the specialness of coitus is found in the minds of the people involved; that is to say, sexual contact releases chemicals into the brain that increase the sense of intimacy between the partners involved. If this is the case, though, then the “unitive” factor comes from the brain upon sexual release, not the specific means by which this release is accomplished. Nothing is, of course, preventing a same-sex couple from sharing lives in common and having the same general intimacy as opposite-sex couples – cuddling, making out, sleeping in the same bed, doing chores, watching movies. And if the “unitive” sense comes upon sexual release, then it is not dependent upon coitus.

The most obvious way to approach the NNL argument is to point out that their theory requires us to forbid infertile couples from marriage. They cannot meet the criteria of the NNL view of sex. Their coitus might be unitive, but it cannot be generative. As Reilly says, “”only a unitive act can be generative, and only a generative act can be unitive – in that only it can make two ‘one flesh'” (36). Thus, according to their own principles, infertile couples cannot be “one flesh” even though they are heterosexual.

Reilly claims that same-sex behavior is inherently unable to be satisfying because it is “felt as a betrayal, as a lie with the body,” followed by “emptiness, by alienation” (37, 38). If this is the case, then we should expect relationship satisfaction to be far lower among same-sex couples than among other-sex couples. Except that sexual and relational satisfaction is equal among gay and straight couples. Likewise, if this is true we ought to expect that anal sex is unsatisfying, or less satisfying than coitus, yet many heterosexual couples enjoy anal sex, and a surprising substantial number of women get more intense orgasms from it, and enjoy it more than coitus. Such information is unlikely to impress NNL theorists because to them this is definitionally impossible: “No matter how many times homosexual advocates say it, two flesh of the same kind is not, and cannot become, ‘one flesh'” (38). From the outset, then, the NNL theorist simply assumes this cannot be true – and is enthusiastically unwilling to reconsider, no matter what evidence is presented to the contrary. Such is simply willful ignorance. Moreover, this ignores real people and their experiences in favor of a theory. It is the equivalent of saying, “People don’t enjoy apples,” and when people come forward to say, “Actually, we do like apples,” you respond by saying, “You don’t know what you like.” This is a blind assertion that can be neither proven nor disproved, and as such deserves to be simply cast aside as hubris and arrogance. It is simply an excuse to privilege heternormative behavior and nothing more.

Making Gay Okay: A Review (4)

Reilly’s second chapter gets to the heart of the matter, and is his attempt to establish his main argument. His hope is to establish a natural law case against homosexuality by appeal to Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, and to a lesser degree, Aquinas. To do so, he defines Nature thusly: “Nature is what is, regardless of what anyone desires or abhors” (16). That is, nature is objective reality, what is really there. And he frames the argument as a dichotomy between those who embrace objective reality and those who reject it. “Opponents of same-sex marriage say that it is against Nature; proponents say that it is according to Nature and that therefore they have a right to it” (15). Specifically, he argues that natural law views the telos (the intended purpose) of reality as objectively built into the universe while for his opponents meaning and purpose are malleable, that there is no actual telos in the universe.

Now, a couple of comments right at the start.

(1) Appeal to nature, or indeed Nature, will never settle this issue or any other moral issue because Nature isn’t set up this way. According to Reilly’s own definition of Nature, it simply expresses “what is.” But “what is” does not equate with “what ought.” The two are totally separate discussions. Nature simply cannot tell us what is moral and what is not, so the whole program is an exercise in futility. The fact is that both heterosexual and homosexual activity is regularly observed in Nature, but this contributes nothing at all to the question of whether one ought to do something. Theft, rape, incest and murder are all observed in nature, but this does not establish that we “ought” to do any of these things, or that they are morally permissible. Nature simply cannot answer the question and all-to-often simply reflects our own prejudices and preconceptions back upon us.

(2) Reilly’s appeal to the telos of objective reality, that there is inherent meaning built into reality, also suffers from a failure to actually address any of the relevant concerns. Specifically, Reilly only offers us two choices; either meaning is inherent to reality or we just make it up as we go along. This strikes me as a false choice, since there is a third option, that meaning is not inherent to any part of reality, but is given to the world by God, a process that we as images of God can imitate. There is objective reality, but because we gaze at it through the subjective and limited self, our map of the terrain and the terrain itself will never totally correspond to one another; this is the foundational observation of postmodern thought. Not that reality is meaningless or that there is no objective reality, but that we simply don’t have the ability to access it. A number of Christian philosophers have concluded from this observation that God appoints meaning to things, but not because that meaning is inherent in the thing.

(3) Following from this, I raise the problem of knowing when a meaning is really there and when it is invested in by the subjective self. After all a flag, while manmade, can after some time become so closely tied to the meaning invested in it as to be inseparable ever after. And who determines what is natural about the meaning of things in the universe anyway? What is the telos of a tree? If we are simply observing Nature (what is), then certainly cutting one down, chopping it up and making a chair out of it is entirely unnatural. Whatever the original telos of trees was, it certainly cannot be said to be made for sitting, least of all hacked apart and rearranged in an unnatural order for that purpose.

It is also odd that Reilly wants to rely upon the Greek philosophers for establishing the primacy of heteronormative sexualized relationships in marriage as the highest good. He’s at least aware of this objection, and claims that Greek civilization has only a “partial acceptance” of homosexual behavior, expressed in pederasty (22-27). Such a view is starkly anachronistic for a few reasons.

(1) In Greek culture the highest relationship was not the family, heteronormative or otherwise, but same-sex friendship among men. It is quite an error to suggest that the familial unit was the highest form of relationship one could have.

(2) Greek civilization thrived on many types of same-sex relationships, not just pederasty (though this was common enough between teachers and students and between masters and slaves). It is incorrect to argue that the “publicly accepted” homosexual relationship was between an “adult male a male adolescent” while relationships between “mature male adults were not accepted” (22). In fact, “this was a cultural myth,” and that “by far the most common type of same-sex relationship” was between “two women or two men united by affection, passion, or desire,” (Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, 56, 57). In Plato’s discussion of the soulmate in his Symposium, he argues that soulmates were once a single soul, a four footed, four legged, two headed creature and that people spend their lives searching for the other half of their whole. These halves can be opposites, male and female, or two women or two men. He writes that when a man finds his male counterpart, they are “filled with the most wondrous friendship and intimacy and love, and are unwilling . . . to be apart from each other for a second. And they spend their whole lives together.” Aristotle approvingly describes two male lovers who lived and died together in a single household and were buried together like husband and wife (Politics, 2.96-97). Hundreds of more examples could be offered. Reilly’s work here is simple revisionism when he claims that a “homosexual household would not make sense to Aristotle” (27).

 

Making Gay Okay: A Review (3)

Reilly’s first chapter is called “The Culture War,” and it is as disturbing as it is rife with errors, assumptions, and a stark lack of documentation. He begins by alluding to the “slippery slope fallacy,” that is, that if we accept LGBTQ people we’ll loose a host of other nasty things upon the world, like bestiality (xii, 3-5). This, of course, is a fallacy for a reason in that the future cannot be predicted with any kind of certainty. It is also a fallacy in that he ignores the central issue with regards to this claim, which is that consent is the foundation. Homosexuality will not bring with it bestiality or pedophilia or incest because of the matter of consent. A child cannot consent, and nor can an animal. And in the case of incest, there is an undo balance of power in the family structure that inclines toward manipulation and power-influences over true consent. They are all excluded; LGBTQ relationships built on mutual affection and consent between adults is, however, not the same thing at all.

He next complains about the change in argument by LGBTQ activists, from “Leave us alone!” to “Accept us publicly!” He doesn’t take any time to consider why this might be the case, and in fact strongly suggests it is because of their uneasy consciences (pp. 7-12). As part of this discussion, he wonders aloud about why a gay person would want to come out of the closet–given all of the great benefits of being in the closet: “After all, the hidden homosexual . . . enjoys the privacy of concealment” (6). Of course, one of the major reasons an LGBTQ person might want to live openly and without fear in a free and civilized society is that being “out” reduces stress, depression, and increases the generally well being of the person (as studies have repeatedly shown). Reilly might do well to read Timothy Kurek’s stirring account, The Cross in the Closet.

For those keeping score at home, Reilly employs the “Nazi analogy” on page 8. Gay people rationalize their sexual perversion to same way Nazis rationalized euthanasia: “when morally disordered acts become the defining centerpiece of one’s life, vice can permanently pervert reason, and the inversion of reality becomes complete” (8). He rushes to reassure us that he is not suggesting that “homosexual acts are in any way comparable to the evil of euthanasia,” but is simply trying to show how powerful rationalization is to those whose “consciences it corrupts.” Reilly, of course, misses the fact that the horrifying offensiveness of the analogy comes not from the suggestion that gay people are as bad as Nazis, but that that rationalization functions the same in both examples. His assurances are not so assuring when you realize that his statement opens the way for the possibility that LGBTQ people might be as bad as the Nazis. There is, after all, no real moral restraint upon them in Reilly’s universe: “The problem is that” their worldview “allows for anything” (xii).

Another issue that arises is Reilly’s preoccupation with anal intercourse, which he takes to be definitional of homosexual behavior. In his view, “only the act of sodomy . . . differentiates an active homosexual from a heterosexual” (7). But hold on just a second, mister. The most recent studies suggest only about 50-80% of gay men practice anal intercourse, and the latest study (2011) indicates only about 37% of gay men practice anal intercourse, though about 75% will try it once, according to Underwood’s 2003 study, Gay Men and Anal Eroticism. Anal intercourse consistently ranks lower than most other forms of sexual pleasure. The identification of homosexual behavior with anal intercourse is, therefore, tenuous at best, and moreover, is completely destroyed by the fact that a 2010 study found that 51% of heterosexual men and 43% of heterosexual women have experimented with anal intercourse. And a number of heterosexual males also enjoy the practice as well. It should also be kept in mind that originally the term “sodomy” included essentially any non-coital sexual expression, including oral sex, which is fairly common among both hetero and homosexual couples. So it is completely incorrect to presume that “sodomy” in any form is an accurate means of distinguishing heterosexuality from homosexuality.

Making Gay Okay: A Review (2)

I begin this review with a glance at the “Introduction.” It is here that Reilly foreshadows his argument and the sweep of the book, as well as set up the issue the book addresses.

He starts by asking why we should care. After all, if LGBTQ people represent less than 2% of the population, and an even smaller fraction of them will get married, this seems a bit of a non-issue, really (xi). His answer to this rhetorical question is to claim that everything depends upon denying gay rights, even the future itself. “This is what the same-sex marriage debate is really about–the Nature of reality itself. Since the meaning of our lives is dependent upon the Nature of reality, it too hangs in the balance,” (xii). So, for Reilly, the stakes are high–gay people mess with the very fabric of reality.

In fact, Reilly sees LGBTQ rights as the end-game of a long culture war that began, in fact, with the acceptance of contraception: “The foundation stone of this false reality, as we shall see particularly in terms of Supreme Court decisions, was contraception, and the capstone is same-sex marriage. The progression from the one to the other was logically inescapable” (xi). Thus, Reilly identifies a logical train that begins with any acceptance of contraception, passes through abortion, and ends with same-sex marriage. The difficulty with this is that, like so many things in this book, his argument depends upon a false choice. His choice demands we choose medieval Catholic natural law theory or modernist secular relativism, but I happily disagree with both philosophical constructs. In point of fact, Scripture itself avoids these choices.

The structure of the book is that Reilly will argue for the Greek and medieval construct of natural law, which he sees as able to grant us access to objective reality, and then argue that Rousseau started us on a trajectory denying objective reality, instead situating reality with the individual. More on this later, but let us at least note that this dichotomy is foundationally simplistic, as though these are our only choices.

Finally, Reilly is at pains to establish that the book is “not an attack upon homosexuals, nor is it generated by any animus against them” (xiii), a reassuring comment until one remembers that he has already described their identity as a “false reality” that imperils the fabric of reality. His statement is also further undercut by this comment about a former classmate of his that died of AIDS: “Put bluntly, he denied the principle of noncontradiction, and the principle of noncontradiction denied him,” adding that “this is what is going to happen to us as a society” (xi). One can feel the love radiating from the page.

He then concludes his introduction by briefly discussing his use of terms. Among them is this little gem, which seems to me illustrative of his whole approach: “I do not surrender the word [gender] to those who use it to mean that the masculine and the feminine are artificial constructs socially or politically engineered for men and women” (xiv). Nothing like a bit of blind, dogged refusal to deal with the central issue under discussion to give off the appearance of scholarly reasonableness.

Making Gay Okay: A Review (1)

I have started to work my way through Robert Reilly’s recent book Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior is Changing Everything and thought I would blog through it, chapter by chapter. The title sounds quite promising, or at least ambiguous – this change might be good or bad in Reilly’s view, depending.

It doesn’t take long to find out what Reilly thinks, though. The first sentence of the book’s description reads: “Why are Americans being forced to consider homosexual acts as morally acceptable?” Right then; a solidly polemical book heavy on rhetoric. This should come to no surprise. The book was published by Catholic-owned Ignatius Press, which would never dare publish anything supportive of LGBTQ people or issues, and it comes bearing endorsements from such organizations and people as conservative Catholic Michael Novak of the conservative (Koch brothers funded) thinktank American Enterprise Institute, Patrick Fagan of the conservative Family Research Council (known for its homophobia and Islamophobia), and Jay W. Richards, whose book Money, Greed, and God is one of the most distorting capitalist screeds in recent memory.

But most notable among its endorsements was the very first, at the top left hand side of the book jacket – the one and only Joseph Nicolosi of NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), whose long-discredited theories are still touted by Dr. Nicolosi and NARTH regularly, theories which have caused irreparable harm to many people. This is well documented and beyond dispute at this point.

This raised my suspicions about the sort of “scholarship” I was about to see in the book, so I spent ten or fifteen minutes flipping through the chapters, reading the footnotes at the bottom of each page. It is always helpful when understanding a book to see who and what the author is leaning upon. To my complete lack of surprise, the footnotes of the book reads like a who’s-who of the Conservative Political Action Conference. Reilly has relied almost exclusively upon highly biased, out-of-date, or non-scholarly sources.

For example, among the biased literature he cites, he relies heavily upon such sources like the Fox News website, the Heritage Foundation, the American Family Association, the Blackstone Institute, National Review, the Claremont Institute, Buzzfeed, BANAP, Exodus Global Alliance, various NARTH articles, conservative publisher ISI Books, and Dr. Nicolosi’s debunked 1997 book, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality. Most significantly, Reilly leans upon the conservative the Witherspoon Institute (famous for its controversial and flawed study on LGBTQ parenting), the work of Robert George of Princeton University. Dr. George has popularized the neo-Natural Law argument against homosexuality which provides the basis for Reilly’s arguments. The NNL theory has a host of philosophical and logical problems, which have been carefully dealt with by John Corvino (What’s Wrong With Homosexuality?, pp. 87-97).

Reilly also depends upon out-of-date information. In his chapter on biology, for example, he quotes a number of scientific studies and so forth, until you realize that one paper was published in 1977, another in 1982, another in 2001, and books from 1972, 1984, 1995, 1996, and 1997. Some of the other citations in this chapter are more relevant (2009, 2011, 2013, etc.) but are news articles or other irrelevancies that are not direct scholarship. The point being, nothing about this chapter is up to date, a troubling realization given that the information on this subject are constantly changing and advancing, yet he’s citing studies from 1977.

A third problem with his scholarship is the complete lack of it. The preponderance of his footnotes come from internet articles, blog posts, YouTube videos, Huffington Post articles, Wikipedia, and even Buzzfeed. While these might not be wholly objectionable to on their own, the fact that they make up the majority (at least 50% or more) of his footnotes demonstrates that this book is not a scholarly work at all, but a popular account. This impression is reinforced by noticing how often he quotes the opposition from works he agrees with. In fact, very often in the book he will be quoting his enemies out of the books or articles of his allies, which shows that he is also short on actually reading directly from those he disagrees with in many instances. This is another sign of the lack of rigorous research done before the book was written and published, ostensibly from a respectable publisher.

None of this refutes the contents of the book, but it ought to at least make us approach it with a careful, critical eye. Next time we’ll dig into the meat of the thing.