On Campus, Absence of Due Process Extended to Gays

Rape and lesser incidents of sexual misconduct on college campus must not be tolerated, but false accusations without due process for the accused, often leading to sanctions or being expelled and a public record that can’t be challenged, are not justice. That’s been true of male-female student relationships on campus (where charges often follow sex that occurred while both individuals were inebriated or stoned), and now it’s been extended to gays, as the Washington Post reports about a case at Brandeis.

The charges here, however, involve a couple that dated for two years and, after the breakup, one accused the other of violations such as staring too much at him while he was undressed in the bathroom, and kissing him while he was asleep and thus unable to consent (did I mention this was a two-year relationship)?

The accused, who was not entitled to legal counsel, was sanctioned by university officials but not expelled. But “he is incensed that his life was turned upside down with what he believes was flagrant disregard for his due-process rights. And he worries about how the sanctions might affect his future.” The accuser “is outraged that the university did not expel his ex-boyfriend.”

The Post reports:

The current and former college students describe themselves as victims of false accusations amid a national campaign — led by the White House — to stamp out sexual violence on campuses. While the federal push to increase awareness of sexual assault is aimed at keeping students safe and holding the nation’s colleges and universities accountable, some of the accused say the pressure on their schools has led to an unfair tipping of the scales against them.

Maybe these incidents should be left to the judicial system when there is evidence of an actual crime. Otherwise, students should learn they are expected to take responsibility for their actions, including bad relationship decisions and morning-after regrets.

More. “Wink” comments:

So many microaggressions! This article should have had a trigger warning. I feel violated and plan to sue.

Furthermore. From Philadelphia Magazine: “The battle over what constitutes sexual assault on college campuses is reaching new levels of absurdity.” You think? But don’t try to tell that to Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Back to Basics

Same-sex marriage came and went in the US Supreme Court, and the the most reactionary Republican dominated state legislatures responded by — passing new laws restriction abortion.  While the high court was deliberating a case challenging the power of Congress to prohibit or punish same-sex marriage under state law, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, South Dakota and Indiana were all exploring creative ways to provoke the high court to revisit Roe v Wade.

The lack of an outcry about U.S. Windsor is partly due to the fact that the opinion left those states’ anti-marriage laws intact.  But the renewed focus on abortion and Roe, at a time when the highest court in the land was setting down a marker about marriage equality suggests something else is at work.

That something else can be seen in the non-reaction in California to the opinion overturning the notorious Prop. 8. In 2000, California voters passed Prop. 22, an initiative statute prohibiting same-sex marriage, with 61% of the vote.  The state Supreme Court overturned Prop. 22 as a violation of the state constitution in 2008, which prompted Prop. 8, an initiative that amended the state constitution itself to prohibit same-sex marriage.  Prop. 8 got a little over 52% of the vote, but a win is a win.

So California’s voters must be furious about the decision in Hollingsworth v Perry, right?

If so, it’s hard to see.  Less than two days after the ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals took the final step to permit same-sex marriages again in California, and while a very few of the usual suspects showed their faces to television cameras at the subsequent marriages throughout the state, there are no signs of outrage among the voters whose will was thwarted.

Opposition to same-sex marriage is different from opposition to abortion.  There is a real and substantial moral question with abortion: At what point does human life begin?  In the 40 years since Roe, that moral question has remained alive and vibrant, and the constitutional argument about abortion has seldom flagged.  Moral feelings about abortion start strong and tend to stay strong.

Not so for same-sex marriage, where moral feelings may have started strong, but have weakened substantially over time.  The moral consensus around same-sex marriage was collapsing even before the Supreme Court weighed in.  With each new iteration of the issue, voters see less reason for opposition, more reason in the arguments made for equality.  The moral argument against same-sex marriage is no more than the moral argument against non-procreative sexual activity; once heterosexuals can see their own procreative sexual desires in the broader context of a world in which procreation is controllable, the idea of sex for other reasons — pleasure, relational intimacy, emotional bonding or just for the hell of it — moves homosexuals from their historical outsider status to a proper role as fellow members of the human family.  Procreation is a good thing, but it is not all that sex is for.

The shift back to abortion for the old guard of the GOP is some evidence that this cultural shift on same-sex marriage is taking hold.  It is harder and harder to argue against the images of joyous couples getting married, and now joyous heterosexual friends and family are joining in the celebrations.  Connection and inclusion are moral instincts, family imperatives, that it takes an effort to deny.

There is still a strong sense that abortion is worth the effort.  For a small minority, the fight against same-sex marriage will continue to be a priority.  But the continent on which they once stood is becoming more of an island every day.


The Sin

I am unqualified to criticize the theology in Robert Gagnon’s hefty essay on the biblical errors in Alan Chambers’ leadership of Exodus International.  But what’s at stake here is pretty considerable, and more than just theological.  Chambers is president of Exodus, the group that assists Evangelical Christians with “same-sex attraction.”  Exodus had famously supported the notion that gays could change their sexual orientation, but Chambers – a gay man who is satisfactorily married to a woman, though he does not deny he continues to be sexually attracted to men – says now that he doubts such change in orientation is possible.

His change about change is important, as the sheer length of Gagnon’s critique (35 pages, with appendices) suggests, because it lets us see what Maggie Gallagher and the NOM Choir try so furiously to obscure: all that is left of the debate over homosexuality is the vestigial tail of a religious question about sin.

Gagnon starts out with religion (the entire first three pages are devoted to the writings of the Apostle Paul), but it’s soon clear he is quite exercised about the fact that Chambers may be removing Exodus from the political playing field.  Chambers’ comments have made “homosexualist” groups “smell blood in the water.”  They will take advantage of Chambers’ naïve attempt to be apolitical.

Religion vs. Politics is now the gold standard for discussing gay equality, and Gagnon’s invocations of that framework show how closely he has been listening to his brothers and sisters in Christ who don’t wear their theology on their sleeve.  Gagnon explicitly adopts Maggie Gallagher’s “they’re out to get us” mentality (perfected by Frank Schubert), charging that Chambers’ abdication threatens “foisting on us laws that will attenuate our own civil rights and coerce acceptance of homosexual unions in the civil sphere.”

That kind of talk, in an essay that purports to be almost exclusively about what proper theology has to say about the sin of homosexuality (and sin, in general) is telling.  Chambers’ comments about sexual orientation and change would not be all that consequential but for the fact that they undermine the entire religious foundation of the remaining phantoms about homosexuality.  Gagnon frets about “serial-unrepentant homosexual practice,” and sees acceptance of that as sending us all down the slippery slope to committed homosexual unions.  To Gagnon, this is a moral disaster in the making because it erodes the moral superiority that religious believers so love to lord over ignorant or vicious homosexualists:

. . . my main concern is that Alan’s comments to those living a homosexual life are ultimately unloving and ungracious. I don’t doubt that Alan intended his comments to “gay Christians” to be otherwise. Yet the actual result is to leave such persons deceived by giving them a message of “peace and security” when instead danger hangs over them (1 Thess 5:1-11). Who is gracious and loving? The parent that assures a child that crossing a busy intersection without looking both ways will produce no harm or the parent that does everything in his or her power to warn the child about the potential harm? Obviously the latter, for the warning is part of the makeup of a loving parent. In fact, state social services agencies count the former as abuse.

The arrogance of such christianity is what drives many truer Christians mad.  Lesbians and gay men are not the only ones who have been so lovingly parented by christians who claimed to have only the best interest of fully adult “children” at heart.  This is the same brand of tender love that christian men were expected to exercise over their wives (and all women), and that christian whites had toward blacks.

But the toxic paternalism is not just for christians.  That reference to “state social services agencies” is another slip where Gagnon reveals that while his concern is religious in concept, he intends it to be civil in application.  His religious critique shows that his real interest is secular politics.

It’s certainly fair for religious people to participate fully in American politics.  But there is a disconnect between arguments believers find religiously persuasive and those that will change the minds of non adherents.  Sin, in particular, has always been a tricky notion in interfaith contests, and leaves nonbelievers cold.

But it’s not just in the political realm where Gagnon overestimates his own brand of expertise.  He acknowledges Chambers may be right that homosexual orientation might not be entirely changeable, but says even incremental changes could still be valuable:

It is not necessary that reparative therapy achieve complete transformation from “gay” to straight in order to be helpful. One or two shifts along the Kinsey spectrum or a change in intensity of homosexual impulses can be beneficial.

I don’t know what is known about how or whether sexual orientation can be changed, but I’m pretty confident that no one yet has studied whether something as inherently subjective as sexual attraction can be moved – or measured – fractionally.  In any case, I’m not persuaded that theological scholars are the ones best suited to be pronouncing on the prospect.

Gagnon’s primary point is that social acceptance of homosexuality “regularizes the sin.”  I can’t judge the merits of his theological case, but this is, in the end, only a theological case, and only one of those.  Other theologians obviously disagree, as do other non-theologically inclined Christians.

But that divide within Christianity itself, endangers the monopoly that the fundamentalist brands of christianity demand, and in their worst moments have tried to foist on the general public.  While Christian thinking has been all over the map on so many other issues, the more fundamentalist tribes have generally been able to hold the line on homosexual sin.  But for them, too, that line is fading, and Chambers exacerbates the problem.  If sexual attraction can’t be changed, and if homosexual attraction in particular can’t be stamped out or ignored, then the case for just accepting gay people within the civil law is not just strong, its opposite is inhumane.

This is the turning point for religion today.  The possibility that lifelong heterosexual marriage may not be exactly at the center of the moral universe is as threatening to Gagnon as the location of the earth itself was to Pope Urban VIII when Galileo was sentenced to prison.  Gagnon is fighting every bit as hard (with more limited resources) for the status quo.

Galileo and Copernicus did not eliminate the earth, they just noticed – and said — that it was located somewhere other than where the Vatican had always placed it. That’s a religious problem only if you are under the impression that earthly religious leaders are as inevitably correct in their scientific thinking as they are in their theology.  But the Bible isn’t an authority on everything, and sometimes people use the Bible’s words to make moral issues out of things that aren’t properly moral.  The earth is no less important because it circles a larger body, and heterosexual marriage is no less important because it is not in every human’s nature to be attracted to the opposite sex.  There is plenty of room in the universe for God, still, and morality — even sexual morality.  And maybe God approves when humans acknowledge their errors.

Chambers isn’t Galileo, just as Gagnon isn’t Pope Urban; but today’s evangelical Inquisition is every bit as vainglorious as its Catholic predecessor, every bit as contemptuous of unbelievers, and every bit as likely to expose the sin of its own excess of hubris.

Privacy, Silence, Neutrality and Anderson Cooper

I am as glad – and grateful – as anyone for Anderson Cooper’s non-coming-out coming out.  There are some lessons in this story worth talking about.

People who know Cooper seem to agree with him that he was not really in the closet except with respect to the general public.  That is a telling fact.  As the walls of the closet have come down on the private side of people’s lives, there is still that remaining door that can be opened or closed to the public.  The people we know on our side of the door – the private side – are far more likely today to know we are homosexual than they ever have been.  Cooper enjoyed that private side of the closet with his family and friends.

But Cooper is not like the rest of us (and not just in what he does for a black t-shirt).  For those of us without a public face, the need to come out or not to others – to decide whether to open that door — is a recurring issue; we are always meeting new people, and regularly face the problem of how much to reveal to whom, and in what circumstances.

People like Cooper who have a large public reputation have to deal with this a little differently.  Word spreads about the famous, particularly about something as personal and controversial (or at least pretty interesting) as homosexuality.  News of my homosexuality never hit Twitter; it never really achieved a threshold of being news.  For Cooper, opening that door once to a world that knows him as a personality pretty much brings him out in toto.  There will still be pockets of cluelessness, but for the most part, this is a one-time deal for someone of Cooper’s stature.

The Entertainment Weekly story that got this story moving makes the point that it’s possible for even celebrities today to come out without its being a big deal, and Cooper’s example contradicts that (in the short term, since it was kind of newsish) but reaffirms the larger point, having such a short shelf-life.  Writing this post all of two days after Andrew Sullivan broke the story already feels like I’m stretching it out.

But that’s where the political aspect of sexual orientation comes in.  For me, when it comes to sexual orientation and politics, I was born this way.  It has taken me a long time to accept that some people – a lot of people – are not born political, or at least don’t take to politics naturally.  I see a need for lesbians and gay men to take political action, but as people who are more activist than me can tell you, it’s always been an uphill battle.

Cooper reports on political stories, but as a journalist he should not be an activist.  As a gay man, that puts him in a difficult spot.

A lot of politically active lesbians and gay men resent celebrities who are privately lesbian or gay, but have not opened the public door.  We have an enormous public relations job to do, and need all the help we can get.  That is one of the things that animated the movement to out politicians and celebrities – the idea that they had an obligation to use their public face to help us all gain equality.  The worst of the worst were the ones who worked against legal equality, but the desire for even neutral or supportive public figures to come out – or be dragged out – came from the mathematical problem of being a minority in the first place.  We start out with numbers that are staggeringly against us in a democracy, and then have the additional problem of members of our group who won’t even admit they belong.

Cooper seems to have struggled with that.  He mentions “the unintended outcomes” of maintaining his privacy, and says he may have given the impression that he is trying to hide something that makes him uncomfortable, ashamed or afraid.  His coming out was intended to – and does — clarify any misimpressions.

But those misimpressions are, and always have been, a perfectly natural consequence of silence.  If about 95% of the population is heterosexual, and someone doesn’t positively identify as homosexual, is it unreasonable for people to assume that individual is straight?  The open discussion of homosexuality over the last quarter century or so changes the bet somewhat, since silence now looks more telling, when it isn’t downright implausible.  Yet many people still cling to the fig leaf of privacy as if it were without consequence.

In this impressive compilation of Cooper in the field, one quote stood out: “Journalists don’t like to become part of the story, but unfortunately they have been made part of the story. . . . “  That, I am afraid, is true of sexual orientation as well.  Our inequality is embedded in the status quo that recognizes only heterosexual relationships, and if we say or do nothing, we are part of a story that tolerates and accepts our second-class status.  We cannot get out of that story, or create a more appropriate status quo unless we act, unless we speak, unless we stand up as lesbians and gay men.

The false neutrality of silence is clear in this story about Jitters and Bliss Coffee.  The company claims to be neutral when it comes to marriage.  They say they don’t have a public position on the matter, and “respect the views of all their customers.”  To demonstrate that neutrality, they joined up with the National Organization for Marriage to offer NOM members a non-Starbuck’s coffee option, since Starbuck’s has taken a position supporting marriage equality.

That is the neutrality of the status quo, being nakedly manipulated to preserve itself.  Our silence, their silence, anyone’s silence is a vote for NOM, is a vote for the bias and prejudice that are woven into the fabric of current law.

In this politicized environment, privacy equals silence, and silence equals — well, not death anymore, but certainly some spiritual damage.  That was the unholy balance that Cooper upset.  Neutrality is a primary virtue of the journalistic profession, but when “neutrality” means “the status quo,” and if the status quo is, itself, biased, then neutrality is not neutral.  Anderson Cooper’s coming out helps expose that truth.

The Conformist

This doesn’t surprise me at all.  Catholic voters seem to view Rick Santorum the same way they view the Catholic hierarchy in general – with indifference.  Romney trounces Santorum among Catholic Republicans.  Less than half of Catholic Republicans even knew Santorum shared their faith.

That’s probably because their faith teaches them such different things than Santorum’s.  The Catholic Church’s leadership is more interested in its crusade against sexuality than in its members.  But Catholics are willing to forgive their leaders such peccadilloes.  Sexual frustration doesn’t come without some consequences, and American Catholics are nothing if not patient with their hobbled priests and bishops.

The church is not a democracy, as it repeats endlessly.  And that is an important point to keep in mind.  The church leadership can take even the most extreme stands, and not have to worry much about consequences.  It is easy for Catholics to ignore church teachings, and live their lives according to a more reasoned, personal morality, and the dictates of conscience.  Church teachings are ultimately advisory.

But civil laws are not.  When Catholics back away from Santorum, it is because they seem to understand the separation of church and state in a far more sophisticated way than Santorum and their church leaders do.  The government really can ban abortion and contraception, and crack down on same-sex relationships and many other things.  The only checks on government power are found in the constitution, and if a candidate is promising to change even that, political ambition can exceed the authority of any church in the modern world.

I say “ambition” because some constitutional changes are simply beyond the reason of the American people – such as a ban on contraception.  Even Santorum seems to realize that political reality.

But Americans in general, and American Catholics in particular, demonstrate a moral generosity that exceeds that of their leaders on issues like same-sex marriage and even a secular right to abortion.  And lay Catholics seem to recognize that other Americans don’t always have that same compassion and respect for the opinions of others.  That is why they cannot back Santorum.  He takes the bishops too seriously, and is appealing to people whose views are aligned with the worst, not the best of their church’s morality.

The rejection of Santorum by Catholics is the mark of the vitality of American Catholics.  They demonstrate the cardinal (you should pardon the pun) virtue of a democracy, respectful dissent.  By prohibiting that dissent among its leaders, the Vatican ultimately inspires, and even encourages individual moral reasoning and sometimes resistance among its members.

Santorum’s Vatican-approved anti-sexual crusade has little appeal among his fellow worshippers, but there will always be some zealots somewhere fervent to light a torch.  What are a few doctrinal differences among voters?

Santorum’s only headache — and ours — -is that he’s not running a church, he’s running a campaign.

The Repentant Gingrich?

So Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife says that he asked for an open marriage while he carried on an affair with his mistress (now wife) Callista. Meanwhile, candidate Gingrich speaks with a straight face about the sanctity of “one man, one woman” marriage:

“I will support sending a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the states for ratification. I will also oppose any judicial, bureaucratic, or legislative effort to define marriage in any manner other than as between one man and one woman.”

His defenders from the religious right—including Rick Perry—claim that Jesus offers forgiveness and redemption to repentant sinners. Presumably, in their minds, anyone in a committed same-sex relationship counts as unrepentant.

But the distinction they’re trying to make between divorce and homosexuality doesn’t hold up, even on their own principles.

Yes, the Bible speaks of forgiveness and redemption. But if marriage really is “until death do us part,” then Gingrich is still committing adultery with Callista. Don’t take my word for it, however–take Jesus’:

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10: 11-12)

This double standard is worth pointing out, frequently, publicly and forcefully.

Where I’ve Been

I’ve been quiet on this site for a while, in large part because I’ve retired my weekly column at 365gay.com, which has since announced that it’s going to shut down.  (I’ll resist the temptation to commit the post hoc fallacy.) Meanwhile I have been working on the book Debating Same-Sex Marriage for Oxford University Press, in which I argue against Maggie Gallagher; we’ve made progress and expect it to appear in Spring/Summer 2012. And I’ll be doing my usual Fall Speaking Tour, so if you’re near one of the venues, come listen, ask questions, applaud, cheer, heckle, or whatever.