Should we tolerate homophobes?

Gregory Lewis 8 February 2010

Is it time for all of us to come out of the closet as gay rights activists?

Most of us in modern society think there is nothing wrong with being gay, and the law currently approaches the stage where gay and straight are treated the same. This is a good thing. Others, however, think there is something wrong with being gay (or doing gay things) and perhaps this should be recognised by law. These are the beliefs of a dwindling and vilified minority. And this is a good thing too.

Let’s call these beliefs ‘homophobia’. Strictly, this is inaccurate: anti-gay beliefs aren’t like compulsive aversions or mental illness. They are just as irrational as these things, but to pretend homophobia is like claustrophobia does it a credit it does not deserve. It’s not a compulsive aversion, but a conscious, volunteered-for bigotry. But homophobia is useful shorthand.

Why is it irrational? Take gay parenting. If homosexuals can raise children, there probably isn’t anything greatly wrong with them. Homophobes commonly think gay couples – given their relationships are a cheap knock-off of the heterosexual ‘genuine article’ – are unfit to bring up children.

They should have no problem, then, with the law obliging them to consider applications made by gay couples to adopt – all adoption agencies have rigorous means of assessing a couple’s fitness to be parents, and so gay couples, being unfit, would all be excluded.

The problem was this wasn’t true: these agencies realised that, by their own standards nonetheless, many gay couples would be assessed as excellent parents. So they sought opt-outs from equality legislation to refuse these couples – not on the grounds of being bad parents, but on the grounds of being gay.

It gets better. Lots of studies have been done on gay parenting, and they all say the same thing: that gay parenting isn’t uniformly bad, or even that it’s slightly worse, but that it is just as good as straight parenting – that there is nothing to tell between them. The consensus on this point is overwhelming: from psychiatrists, to social workers, to family doctors, to child psychologists – in short, everyone who knows what they are talking about.

This is the theme of the ‘gay debate’: that of homophobia being proven wrong, but it persisting regardless. Homosexuals don’t have a case to answer (they never had a case to answer – it should have been laughed out of court on its first hearing). Homophobes do: judging on sexual preference is as justified as judging on gender or skin colour. It’s very bad to be a homophobe in the same way as it’s very bad to be a racist. Activism, not tolerance, should be the agenda.

Homophobes want to gentrify their homophobia, to distinguish it from very bad things like racism and sexism. Of course they don’t judge homosexuals, they don’t think they’re bad people, but sex, marriage and kids are only meant for (heterosexual) man and wife. This isn’t prejudice in the same way “well, it’s not your fault that you’re black, and it doesn’t make you a bad person, but these water fountains, those bus seats and the right to vote are WHITES ONLY” isn’t racist. So when Christians (here’s looking at you, CICCU) try the ‘God loves fags (but he wants them to disown, demean and castrate their own sexuality)’ they can, frankly, bugger off.

God is, of course, the omnipresent elephant in the room. Sadly, homophobia is a primarily religious phenomenon – after all, if God says gay sex is wrong, he cannot be gainsaid.

But given all the people who thought God wanted them to be racists, slavers and ethnic cleansers, he is evidently misheard often – so it’s worth double-checking you really are speaking on God’s behalf.

Alarm bells should ring if God is telling you to be against something for no good reason.  If the reasons you do have bear striking resemblance to those of opponents of miscegenation or apologists for apartheid (“It’s unnatural”, “It’s disgusting”, “the Bible’s clearly against it”), hit the panic button.

Homophobes are on the wrong side of history, and will be judged as positively as the opponents of the suffragists, the abolitionists, and the civil rights movement. Given the battle is mostly won, many are happy to let homophobia rot away. This is a bad idea.

It’s not good enough that gay couples have to settle for ‘separate, but equal’ marriage, it’s wrong that ‘gay’ has become a generalized term of abuse, and it’s outrageous that homosexuals can suffer persecution in so many parts of the world for the audacity of loving someone.

Homophobia should not be illegal, but it should not be accepted, nor excused, nor ignored, nor appeased. Any less is betrayal.

Gregory Lewis