Monday, July 17, 2006

Ex-gay ministries

Eve Tushnet and David Morrison both have written in recent weeks about ex-gay ministries and psychological programs that say they can heal homosexual desires. There is much wisdom in both of what these individuals say. Eve also followed up her NRO piece on her blog here (scroll down to the end of the day for about five posts) here and here.

As for my thoughts, I am a bit of a skeptic about these programs, because they tend to be based on historical-psychological theories for the genesis of homosexuality, and if that's true, then by definition, it can't be undone. You can't unlive your adolescence (you can try to recode it, sure, but I'm not sure wht this would help existentially ... the male body has a mind of its own and it's a hard thing to fool). But I have even less time for the attacks on these ministries, which I think presuppose a descriptively inaccurate understanding of sexuality -- the dominant-hand/eye-color model of something teleologically determined at birth (or so soon in one's pre-sexual conditioning as to make the distinction academic). I posted some of my thoughts at Amy Welborn's last month, and I've adapted my two or three notes into a few more paragraphs that I think stand up without the context of the back-and-forth:

As for the success of these programs, 'successful" sublimation of homosexual desire does not constitute 'becoming heterosexual,' if we understand these terms as ontological categories. But having desire for the opposite sex might constitute success, at least somewhat, and that IS common. What is rare is the complete elimination of homosexual desire -- in other words, therapy produces three sorts of results; all-straight, mixed (i.e., glass half-empty, half-full, howver you wish to slice it), and all-gay (i.e., complete failure). Whether this split is 33-33-33 or 20-40-40 or 5-5-90 is neither here nor there, ontologically. The point is that change is possible. The rigid division of persons into "gay" or "straight" orientations blinds us to this fact.

The problem is that "sexual orientation" (as our society understands and constructs that term) is not "one's essential being." To ask the question in reverse ... can a breeder change his behavior to the point where homosexuality becomes habitual and "normal" for him? Sure. And if he's propagandized sufficiently with the notion that he's now discovered his "true nature," he can develop the "orientation" as much as anyone else.

I agree that people should go into these programs, if at all (I have not) only with their eyes wide open, knowing what the chances of "success" are, and with realistic expectations. All too often, this caveat is undermined both by marketers eager to sell their product, and by the hopes of potential customers who want to be rid of what they see as a scourge (understandably also ... hey, remember that episode of The Brady Bunch where Dad warned eager-beaver pitcher Greg that out of millions of young boys, only one will go up to be a Don Drysdale. And Greg said, "well, I'm gonna be the one." It's like that.)

So yes, I agree that these things often are unsuccessful and shouldn't be oversold. Shame on those who do. I hope you enjoy your money. But the thing is, I don't think the APA/gay activist concern on this subject is disinterested and unideological. The general prevalence of failure or only-partial success doesn't distinguish anti-gay therapy from any other non-drug, non-intrusive (think "A Clockwork Orange") psychological treatment. And keep in mind that only the believing and highly-motivated should even enter such efforts in the first place (which BTW makes the "unscientific" charges ring hollow). If there were a (say) 30 percent success rate, that wouldn't mean 3 of 10 random men on Dupont Circle. But again, this doesn't distinguish anti-gay therapy. No therapy can ever work on someone determined to resist it or who thinks his condition is good.

Friday, July 07, 2006

I ♥ NY again

... though I still the New York Times.

In an explicable outbreak of sanity, modesty and knowledge of their place in their scheme of government (which is NOT to make substantive moral choices), the New York state Supreme Court refused to impose gay marriage on the state. Money quote, from Cheryl Wetzstein of the Washington Times:

"We hold that the New York Constitution does not compel recognition of marriages between members of the same sex," Judge Robert S. Smith said in the 4-2 ruling by the New York State Court of Appeals. "Whether such marriages should be recognized is a question to be addressed by the Legislature."

And ...

"If we were convinced that" state marriage law was "founded on nothing but prejudice ... we would hold it invalid, no matter how long its history," he wrote. But by "limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples, New York is not engaging in sex discrimination."

Reading those quotes practically produced a case of the Pepsi Syndrome on my computer. Since when have judges let legislatures decide moral issues? [/sarcasm] The second quote notes something remarkable -- a judge is acknowledging that the rational basis test is not a license for free-standing moral enquiry on rationality. Or in the words of Gerard Bradley in the matter of Martha Nussbaum's disgraceful lying in the Colorado Amendment 2 case:

Its defenders do not have to show that Finnis (for example) is right and that Nussbaum is wrong. Amendment 2 needs merely a rational basis, not the unequivocal verdict of reason. Its opponents needed to do more than rebut Finnis' account of the classical writers. They needed to show that his account is unreasonable or incompetent-not just debatable or inadequate.

I despise the rational-basis test in US courts because I don't think most people (especially those in some elite clersiy such as the legal profession) have the intellectual humility to realize that others can have rational reasons for disagreeing with them. "If I think X, it's because X is the verdict of reason, so anyone who thinks not-X must be doing so on non-rational grounds" is too common an implicit intellectual template (and actually as common on the natural-law right as the post-modern left) to give anyone the power to invalidate a law on the grounds of "rationality." Unless you actually WANT him (or them) to be dictator(s).

But read the excerpts Judge Smith's opinion, from the International Herald-Tribune. Everything is couched in the conditional (bold-face mine):

First, the Legislature could rationally decide that for the welfare of children, it is more important to promote stability, and to avoid instability, in opposite-sex than in same-sex relationships. ... The Legislature could find that this rationale for marriage does not apply with comparable force to same-sex couples. ... The Legislature could rationally believe that it is better, other things being equal, for children to grow up with both a mother and a father. ... It is obvious that there are exceptions to this general rule ... but the Legislature could find that the general rule will usually hold. ... In sum, there are rational grounds on which the Legislature could choose to restrict marriage to couples of opposite sex. ... A court should not lightly conclude that everyone ... was irrational, ignorant or bigoted. ...

It's hard for me to overstate how joyful this decision makes me, quite apart from the particulars of gay marriage. A court is realizing that a Legislature could make a certain judgment rationally, without taking that as a license to judge the rationality of that judgment itself. That is, this court understood that value judgments are generally not their call. Gay activists have gotten so used to bypassing all public discussion, debate and persuasion with the cry "BIGOT!!!" that they just sputtered ... "how?" The Human Rights campaign called the decision "archaic" and "rooted in ignorance"; Lambda Legal said it denied that homosexuals "are full citizens of this state"; and in spectacular act of presuming one's own conclusion, the ACLU blustered that "there is simply no good reason" not to have gay marriage.

One quote from the dissent by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye deserves to be unpacked. From the International Herald-Tribune:

The claim that marriage has always had a single and unalterable meaning is a plain distortion of history. In truth, the common understanding of "marriage" has changed dramatically over the centuries.

This is, as far as it goes, true enough. The common understanding of marriage, who can marry, and why, etc., has indeed changed dramatically in nearly every way conceivable:

Age: Mahatma Gandhi was married as a little boy, before puberty, and this was far from unprecedented in the India of his time, and other cultures where parent-arranged marriages were the norm. Puberty has been generally understood as defining the ability to marry (for obvious reasons), while our current society generally discourages marriage until about the late-20s;

Consanguinity: While the principle is pretty near universal, its application has been very far from that, primarily in matters of cousin marriage. That is, in some societies, one can only marry someone of no known blood relationship at all, while in some others (particularly clan societies) a first cousin or a second cousin is possible, and in some cases even preferred (ditto);

Number: Obviously, polygamy is as old as marriage itself and is approvingly practiced to this very day in some societies, and even in our own among some religious sects, sub rosa. Multiple husband to one wife is rare, but not unheard of. And curiously (or not), AFAIK, the same-sex spouses have never been considered married to each other (there is a great Chinese film called "Raise the Red Lantern" about rivalry among wives;

Dissolubility: Again, whatever Our Lord may have said about "from the beginning, it was not so" divorce or annulment have been available in some or another form in many socieities and religions; in some others, not very easily; and in others, not at all. The social stigma attached to divorce has varied too, with India going all the way and killing widows on the funeral pyre (a practice called suttee);

Love: Marriage hasn't always been understood in romantic terms, and exclusive "love marriage" is a recent development. Most famously, Aristotle argued that the highest form of friendship (one based on character rather than utility or pleasure) was between equals, and thus not possible between men and women, or other superior-inferior groups. Greek men still married because they understood biology, but erotic love was generally thought to be same-sex. Socrates married Xanthippe, but still had his eyes captured by Lysis, Phaedrus and Alcibiades. And there was also Sappho of Lesbos (and yes, that's the derivation);

Dowry/Property: Today's custom that the father of the bride pays for the wedding is a residue of this practice, a way of providing for the bride and an assurance that she came from a good family. Otherwise, it's not generally practiced today in the West, but still is common in India. The reverse practice, called "bride price," is commoner in traditional African and American Indian societies -- it began as a form of the groom showing respect to the bride's father and showing his ability to be a good provider. (Feminists whine about both practices, which just shows how irrational they are.) And in Japan, marriage customs include both practices (sorta) -- the two families exchange a series of symbolic gifts. In our society, not until capitalism gained steam (about the time of Regency England) did marrying for property begin to be considered disgraceful gold-digging (Jane Austen sat on the cusp of the two eras, and this tension is the source of much of her drama);

Matchmaking: Again, our current practice -- the free choice of two autonomous parties -- is quite a recent development. The Church teaching has always been that the bride and groom marry one another, but family influence has waxed and waned considerably. Now, we believe the family has no real input, while at other times, even in our own culture, the family held at least a veto (ditto what I said above about Jane Austen). In other societies, marriages have been arranged outright -- sometimes with the children having a right to refuse, other times not;

Virginity: Generally, knowing another man has "spoiled" a woman (Jane Austen again -- Lydia and Mr. Wickham), but today, we don't think it does. And we consider it suspiciously overpious (if not downright eccentric) for a man to have had no experience before his wedding night.

That was longer than I intended ... but what I'm demonstrating is that I am under no illusions of the kind about which the dissenting New York judge thinks she needs to disabuse the likes of me. That one model of marriage has prevailed in human civilizations, or in our own throughout time, is not true. Correct. In many, many details -- including ones that we now consider (in a loose sense) "sacred" -- marriage is historically conditioned.

And yet ... something still strikes me. Despite all these myriad ways that marriage has differed throughout the 5,000 years of human civilization (I suspect I haven't scratched the surface; I am not an anthropologist), the one notable way it has NEVER differed is the centrality of the male-female union. As I noted above, even in plural marriages, the multiple wives were not married to each other, free to worship Sappho (sometimes they were friends; othertimes rivals; and probably in a few cases, Sappho came upon them). But unless the good judge's point is that any change in the understanding of an institution means the institution has no meaning per se, the fact that an institution has changed in every conceivable way BUT ONE seems to rather suggest that this one thing (male-female) constitutes marriage's essence (this is the classic Aristotelian way of defining, in fact; the unique feature constitutes the essence, distinguishing it from the "accidents," such as [in this case] dowry, number, age, love, etc.). The alternative is simply to say that marriage has no meaning at all, in which case, why not marry an animal, your children, etc.

Nor is this understanding of marriage as essentially male-female the result of ignorance or homophobia. Marriage has been understood as male-female in essence, even in societies with what-we-think-of as a more "tolerant" view of homosexuality. As I mentioned above, pederasty was a common and widely-admired practice among the Greeks [and Romans, to a lesser extent]. In many other primitive societies, rites of passage and periods of testing have involved same-sex sex acts and/or some form of same-sex love (sponsorship, adoption, brotherhood). What is completely unknown in human history (until historically speaking, five minutes ago) is a marriage parallel -- an exclusionary same-sex union that followed the same or parallel customs as opposite-sex unions. (And yes, I know of John Boswell and I also know that his books' account of social approval and gay marriage are incompetent fantasies based on tendentious eisegesis.)

Marriage *means* a man and a woman, so there is no such thing as a homosexual "marriage" (though there is same-sex "love" and same-sex sex acts). It's really that simple.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


There may be elements of wishful thinking in this New York Times report on a homosexual "marriage" ruling, expected today in New York state supreme court. But as an object lesson in the New York Times' agenda on homosexual issues, how it's barely more than cheerleading for the Human Rights Campaign et al, the article is just this side of unbeatable. You can see the hopeful anticipation seeping through the article in phrases like:

● "[W]hether to permit gay and lesbian marriages in the state" in the story's lead paragraph. Which phrasing presupposes that there is any such thing as a gay and lesbian "marriage" in the first place, something that the state can "permit" (or "ban") as it pleases. The whole case against homosexual marriage is that marriage MEANS a man and a woman and that there 'tain't no such thing as gay marriage, any more than four-sided triangles or male pregnancy (insert Monty Python joke here).

● "The most sweeping would be a clear affirmation of a constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry" in the second paragraph. Which phrasing presupposes that there is such a right, one that needs "affirming" rather than being "created" from whole cloth. And doing so in a "clear" way; clarity always being good you understand (and I doubt the Bowers precedent abberation was ever called "clear" by the NYT). The controlling worldview is that gay marriage is a reality that our bigoted society just needs to acknowledge and be liberated toward.

● The first direct quotation from Stephen Gillers of NYU: "The question is whether they can intellectually do what I think intuitively and emotionally they'd like to do." As a piece of legal prognostication, this is nothing short of a shocking admission (albeit probably true) that what matters is not what the law or precedents say, but what the judges "intuitively and emotionally [would] like to do." The intellectual work -- the legal analysis, in other words; the supposed expertise that earns judges their legitimacy as rather than a super-legislature, deciding value conflicts -- is slave to the wish.

● "[L]awyers noted that the Court of Appeals has a long history of trailblazing, going back to a golden age in the 1920's under Chief Judge Benjamin Cardozo." Which phrasing presupposing that "trailblazing" in matters of legal issues, is something good. Otherwise an era of it wouldn't be called a "golden age," but a "dark age." Can you imagine the 12th century being called "the golden age of religious authority"; if you can't, you see my point.

Does Jesus love porn stars?

The answer to that question has got to be "yes." After all, it's bedrock Christian doctrine, held by all this side of Fred Phelps, that God loves us all as His children and wants us all to be His. Now this is not at all the same thing as "Jesus loves what porn stars do" ... duh. And it doesn't mean that a porn star who loved Jesus would keep being a porn star ... double duh. After all, Our Lord both saved the women caught in adultery and told her "go and sin no more."

This is not advanced exigesis of Von Baltasar in the original German. This is fairly basic Mere Christianity, one would think. But apparently not for some. XXX Church describes itself as the "#1 Christian Porn Site" but it's really a ministry to the porn industry and to those suffering from pornography's effects. Some people don't like that. From the news article:

But some believe there are better ways to attract potential converts.
"Christ would never compromise or stoop to their level. Mary came to him, remember? He didn't go to the whore house using words like sex and porn," said a typical entry in the hate mail section of the XXXchurch website.
"It's nothing but a gimmick to you, an excuse to mingle with the perverts. You talk more about porn than you do Jesus Christ," it said.
Mahon admits his ministry has received mixed reactions in the Christian community. "When we first started this thing four years ago, some people looked at us and thought we were working for the devil," Mahon said.
The young ministers also had trouble finding a publisher for their porn-fighting Bible. The American Bible Society, one of the oldest Bible publishers in the US, refused to print it.
"Out of a sense of propriety, ABS felt that the wording 'Jesus Loves Porn Stars' was misleading and inappropriate for a New Testament cover," the company said in April.

I can understand a certain "not my style" reaction to the gaudy New Testament covers, the free translation style, the nonobservance of certain forms of social piety, including such deliberately provocative phrasings as "#1 Christian porn site." There's an instant knee-jerk backlash among some Christians, understandable to a degree and borne of one too many guitar Masses or visits from "Bishop" Spong, to anything that looks too modern, not that old-time religion. (But c'mon ... Christ would never use the word "sex"; and coming from someone who does feel comfortable using the word "whore.")

But I think what many current Christians, especially those who do not or have not struggled with ... ahem ... sexual compulsion, do not realize is what "reaching people where they are" means. Excessive surface piety and a condemnatory attitude (in this day and age of socially-approved libertinism, at least) only pushes away. David Morrison once criticized a right-wing Catholic columnist on the issue of same-sex-attracted priests, saying that her heresies and attitude and arguments were, effectively if not intentionally, counter-witness. Here's his description of the mental dynamic of a proud sexual sinner in his comment fields.

Father before, and even after, I came to belief in Christ I used to have a little box in my mind into which I put "Christians" and attitudes I understood to be "Christian." While the little box would not have provided me the sufficient argument to intellectually defend eschewing Christ, it was enough of a disincentive to keep the question from arising. That is what I think this sort of thing does, just like [Fred] Phelps' signs, they put one more brake on, one more brick in the barricade.

It would be one thing if there were any porn on the XXXChurch site or links thereto, or if they were pushing bad beliefs. But all that is at the site is perfectly orthodox in content, there's free anti-porn software for downloading. Yeah, there's a flambuoyant or impudent style to it all. But this site's critics cannot get blinded by such inessentials, the things on which that modernist heretic St. Augustine said there should be liberty. And y'know what ... whatever self-promoting streak Mahon and Gross have (and they clearly have one) ... at least they're there. They're at porn conventions, trying to minister to those most in need of Him and those whom I (and millions of other Christians obviously) have helped corrupt through my own sin. And ask yourself honestly ... if you're far-gone enough to be degrading yourself for money, on film and tape for all the world to see forever -- is the title "Jesus loves porn stars" make you more or less likely to open a book than "Porn stars are evil."