A faulty criticism of gay life

In a recent op-ed piece ("Society objects to overt homosexuality for good reason," July 7, 2002) John C. LeDoux argues that society is justified in denouncing homosexuality. LeDoux sees homosexuality as one of several sins denounced in the Bible, and his purpose is to show that there are independent, health-based reasons supporting the sinful label.

Oddly, since LeDoux is a scientist, the reasons given only apply to male homosexuality-primarily the spread of AIDS and the contraction of GBS-gay bowel syndrome. Yet the conclusions he draws apply to all homosexuality-male and female. As far as we know, female homosexuality has no adverse health effects. Thus, by his reasoning, perhaps Biblically-based denunciation of female homosexuality is unsupported.

LeDoux further claims that there are no scientific studies that have verified that homosexuals are born homosexual. In the case of his own son he insists that the practice was chosen. Like many "nature vs. nurture" debates, this issue may not be resolved conclusively one way or the other. It seems highly likely that some homosexuals choose to be homosexuals, and that others, even if they were not literally born that way, have a very strong sense, from the onset of puberty, that they are homosexual. Perhaps this comes from early childhood experiences rather than from genes. But in any case it is not experienced as any kind of choice.

Of course LeDoux is right that the decision to actually have sex is a choice. But it is a much more questionable claim that it is merely a choice to be sexually active for the span of one's life, than to be celibate. The extreme challenge of celibacy has been made clear to us by recent revelations about some priests. And St. Paul himself (I Corinthians 7:9) acknowledged the enormous challenge of celibacy.

LeDoux complains especially about gay groups pushing their "agenda in our schools". I have no idea what he thinks is going on in our schools. But someone needs to take seriously the fact that a leading cause of teen suicide is a strong sense of alienation in teens who feel themselves to be homosexual. One possible counseling strategy with such teens is to try to offer them a sense of acceptance-that they are not bad people, and that these seemingly unavoidable feelings are not necessarily bad feelings. I wonder what LeDoux thinks the alternative approach should be. Perhaps, that they are not bad people, but they must disavow these feelings. Asking people to draw this kind of line within their psyche seems reasonable only to people who don't try to do it themselves. Imagine being expected to disavow your heterosexual feelings.

Perhaps this is why homosexuals tend to see their sexuality as an important part of who they are. LeDoux seems to think this is inappropriate, and claims that for heterosexuals, by contrast, sex "plays a very small part of their lives." But that may be an illusion, brought on by the fact that heterosexuality can be taken for granted-just as people who live in free countries tend to take their freedom for granted. If one were asked to disavow it, it would become clearer how central a role it plays in our lives.

Finally, LeDoux sees homosexuality as standing out from other Biblical sins because it is the only case in which the sinner tries to justify the sin. This he finds especially objectionable. But is homosexuality unique in this respect? Among the other sins he lists are idolatry and greed. Yet these are defended on a daily basis in society. Of course, when they are defended, they are not called "idolatry" and "greed". They are called "the Dow" or "consumer confidence".

I do agree with one thing often repeated in LeDoux's piece-a feeling of distaste toward homosexuality. But the question is what to do with that feeling. I choose to try to overcome it in a spirit of compassion, rather than submit to it in a spirit of judgement.

James C. Klagge

Department of Philosophy

Virginia Tech