Ten Ways that Thoughtful, Good-hearted People Disagree about Same-Sex Relationships & Gay Rights

One of the interesting byproducts of protracted conflict – whether in a marriage, a family or a community – is that one or both sides begin to articulate the others’ “views” in ways that seem misshapen and skewed (at least to observers – and especially to those actually holding the purported”views”).

Similar to other great spiritual teachers, the Buddha once spoke of anger as a poison that potentially deforms and skews our view of others.  Social psychologists such as Jonathan Haidt have confirmed the degree to which our ultimate conclusions arise not merely from reason or logic, but rather from the underlying emotional commitments that drive us (all) – especially when they are intense.

Pushing against this perhaps universal tendency to mis-take and mis-represent, then, it can be helpful to at least try to articulate differences in a way both sides might recognize as accurate.

As part of  a Village Square series attempting to illuminate meaningful differences, this document below is the third of similar tools – following Ten Ways that Citizens Disagree on Development in the Farmington Foothills and a similar tool arising from the recent liberal/conservative disagreement over a new Mormon policy. In each case, the intention is to “map out” both key questions and modal responses in the current U.S. discourse about  important questions –  drawing upon summary arguments in the simplest language possible. The attempt here is to fairly delineate actual contrasts in the discourse, juxtaposing reasonable perspectives on different sides (this, in a way that would be recognizable to those who hold them).

To be clear, the attempt is not to somehow represent or summarize “the views” on one side or another – since the complexity within both the gay and religious conservative communities are immense. Instead, the goal is to summarize modal or “common” ways of thinking – as represented in the current American discourse.  As Arthur has pointed out, individual beliefs sometimes diverge sharply from the kinds of things that end up getting “said” in the discourse; it is the latter, and not the former, at interest here.

The overall aim – like the blog itself – is to help support and stimulate a thoughtful conversation between religious conservatives and the LGBT community – one where both sides are fully heard and respected in their humanity (even if the ideas are not respected – which is never an expectation of dialogue).  Rather than covering over differences in grasping for a “let’s all just get along” harmony, the intention is to very much turn towards the differences with more serious attention – including perhaps an acknowledgement of the seriousness and intensity of a conflict not likely to ever go away.

This document has been shared and reviewed with a number of people in both the gay and religious conservative communities – gathering input to strengthen it.  Any and all further feedback is welcome (either in the comments or at jzhess@gmail.com) – with an aim to make further improvements and refinements.

1. For those attracted to others of the same sex, what does this attraction mean for identity?

  • If you’re attracted to the same sex, that says something about who you are on an important level.  The big question is whether you will be supported by those around you in living in alignment with your true self – including the expression of this sexuality with a same-sex partner.  The alternative is denying and suppressing who you really are.
  • If you’re attracted to the same sex, that is a meaningful part of your life experience. The big question is whether or not it centrally defines who you are. It is possible to openly acknowledge (and not suppress) same sex attraction, while choosing to not identify with it as fundamental to your identity.

2. How biological is sexual orientation and how malleable is that biology?

  • Sexual orientation is largely biological—in a way that doesn’t substantially change over time. Although environmental influences may shape development, their impact is secondary to the innate tendencies rooted in biology. This explains why people who try to change only compound their suffering.
  • Biological factors play an important part of sexual orientation, with environmental factors also playing a significant role over time. Consistent with the malleability of the human brain and sexual fluidity, some have experienced meaningful shifts in sexual orientation over time.

3. Hasn’t it become clear that “choice” and “change” are no longer useful or relevant concepts in this conversation?    

  • Yes, of course. Most people understand clearly that being gay is not a choice.  Given this, any attempt to emphasize choice or change can only invoke less acceptance and cultivate conditions of more hatred for the gay community.
  • Not quite.  Although whether to feel a particular attraction is clearly not a choice, how to respond to attraction, whether to identify with it, and whether to act on it are all meaningful choices about which thoughtful disagreement exist. Depending on these choices, the body, mind and spirit can change in meaningful ways over time – just as it does for all human beings.

4. Should the changes happening in society in relation to LGBTQI rights be celebrated?

  • Yes.  The changes in the U.S. and elsewhere are something to celebrate! They are civil rights advancements to be welcomed vigorously as an expansion of freedom and a genuine improvement to the overall well-being of society.
  • Not necessarily. These changes in the U.S. and elsewhere are fundamental challenges to Judeo-Christian norms and cause for concern. Despite people’s earnest hopes, these shifts will lead to unanticipated negative consequences in the future.

5. Is the civil rights movement in the 60’s the appropriate metaphor for what is unfolding?

  • Of course. As most people now acknowledge, this is the new civil rights movement—and the next stage in respect, rights and freedom for all.
  • Not quite. There are limits to the 60’s analogy—especially in relation to how dissenters are seen. Equality, justice and rights can be understood in very different ways. Other metaphors, such as Palestinian/Jewish co-existence, may be more fitting in their acknowledgement of rich cultural traditions at odds.

6. How are we to make sense of past and current distress in the LGBTQI community—including suicides?

  • Primary responsibility for the distress and suicides within the LGBTQI community lies with those sharing messages that undermine a sense of worth and value among the gay community – especially religious institutions that haven’t fully embraced the LGBTQI community for who they really are.
  • The factors contributing to distress in any circumstance are complex and multi-faceted. To attribute an event like suicide primarily to religious teaching not only mischaracterizes the messages of most faith communities, it ignores numerous other possible factors.

7. On a fundamental level, doesn’t this come down to simply learning to love and accept people?

  • Yes! That is the basic issue. It’s becoming harder and harder to see why it’s so incredibly difficult for some to simply love and accept people for who they are.  
  • More than simply whether to “accept people,” the fundamental conflict centers on whether to accept another view of identity, sexuality, choice and marriage – one that conflicts with classically understood religious teaching. In that way, this is not so simple as often presented (at least not for religious conservatives).

8. How should we thinking about those who experience same-sex attraction, but who choose to not to label their sexuality or to identify as “SSA/Same-sex Attracted” (and not LGBTQI)?

  • This particular standpoint is a reflection of inner homophobia—and dangerous to promote or highlight in any way. It might even be important to agree to condemn or shame this option so people see it for what it is—both inherently harmful and destructive in the larger message it sends those who are vulnerable – like LGBT youth.
  • This is a legitimate standpoint that deserves the same respect as other choices in relation to sexuality. Rather than sending a harmful societal message, this represents another viable option that others deserve to know about as they navigate how to relate to their own sexuality.

9. When the words “anti-gay” or “bigoted” are used, what do they mean?

  • This refers to someone who believes gay people are anything less than entirely equal and completely acceptable in their identity, sexuality, relationships and life experience.
  • This refers not to someone who is hostile to the gay community – especially in open and overt ways. Any broader definition pathologizes  religious or spiritual traditions that proscribe same-sex sexual relations.

10. What role has religion played in influencing the LGBTQI /SSA communities?

  • The influence of religion has largely been negative—acting as a driver and reinforcer of societal prejudice against the gay community. Members of conservative religions who experience same sex attraction often feel pressed to enter heterosexual relationships, which they could only experience as miserable.  As a result, these people are often left with only one option in how to relate to their sexuality: celibacy.
  • Despite popular perceptions, religion continues to be a force for compassion, love, respect and freedom in the world.  Although some who experience same-sex attraction in religious conservative communities do not find it possible to pursue a heterosexual relationship, some do—and find great happiness in these family relationships. There are others for whom celibacy is a commitment they are willing to make in order to feel peace within their spiritual beliefs and values.

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