First it was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, opining earlier this week that homosexual acts are immoral
Now Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback says he agrees
: "I believe that homosexual acts between individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts." (The irrepressible former lawyer in me seized on that "between individuals" qualifier, wondering whether Brownback was intentionally creating a safe harbor for group sex. But I digress...)
What's going on?
First, note the language. Both Pace and Brownback were almost lawyerly in their focus on homosexual acts, rather than homosexuality itself. In fact, Brownback explicitly claimed that homosexuality isn't immoral, while homosexual acts are: "I do not believe being a homosexual is immoral, but I do believe homosexual acts are."
Generally, I like a legal and moral focus on behavior rather than conditions, thoughts, feelings, or or other internal matters. Who cares what people are, or what they think or feel, when it comes to the organizing principles of a society? For all sorts of reasons, we should focus on what people do. So let's examine Pace's and Brownback's position as they stated it.
General Pace compared homosexual acts to adultery. Both are external behaviors, not internal states, so fair enough. But adultery necessarily has all sorts of negative consequences. Consensual sex doesn't. So I don't understand the stated basis for Pace's position. He does offer a clue, though: "My upbringing is such that I believe that there are certain things, certain types of conduct that are immoral." Let's come back to that in a moment.
The apparent basis for Senator Brownback's position is a bit more straightforward: "I'm a Catholic and the church has clear teachings on this."
This is interesting. Neither man claims to predicate his beliefs on reason: Pace cites his "upbringing," and Brownback his religion. It occurs to me that there is a huge cultural gulf at work here, a fundamental difference in worldviews. The way the cultural difference expresses itself with regard to views on sexuality is only a manifestation, a symptom of something much larger.
Perhaps this is the heart of the matter: there's a kind of person who accepts uncritically what's taught by parents, by religious leaders, or by other authority figures. And there's a kind of person who isn't satisfied with a "that's what I was taught" basis for morality, or anything else -- the teachings must also stand up to reasoned inquiry or they will be modified or rejected. Actually, the distinction is more subtle than that. Both groups do employ reason (Pace offered up the gay sex = adultery argument, which is at least an attempt at reason, however obviously flawed). But the first group uses reason to try to buttress a belief in which it's already invested, while the second group uses reason to examine the belief itself.
Put it another way: there are people who believe their subjective tastes are a sound basis for law and morality. And there are people who can use reason to distinguish between their subjective tastes and objective morality. One group believes certain views are ordained by God, and that those views must therefore be correct. The other group believes a wrong view couldn't come from God, no matter what's claimed in a religious text or by a religious leader or anywhere else.
Brownback also said, "We should not expect someone as qualified, accomplished and articulate as General Pace to lack personal views on important moral issues. In fact, we should expect that anyone entrusted with such great responsibility will have strong moral views."
I wonder why Brownback suddenly shifted his precise focus from external behavior to internal states? No one (no one reasonable, anyway) cares particularly about General Pace's private opinions. The question is, was it appropriate for Pace to air that opinion, particularly while in uniform, particularly while many gay Americans are fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan? Does Senator Brownback have any thoughts on that?
Sidenote: Senator Clinton's initial reaction to General Pace's comments was to courageously note, "Well, I'm going to leave that to others to conclude
." My God, at least Senator Brownback wasn't so afraid or scripted or whatever that he professed not to have an opinion. Later, Clinton changed her stance: "I disagree with what he said and do not share his view, plain and simple."
Related news: today's Wall Street Journal reports that "Poland's schools chief said teachers who promote 'homosexual culture' to students will be fired, insisting he's not on an antigay crusade."
I'm always curious about these terms... "homosexual culture" and "gay agenda." What are these things? What would it mean to promote them?
I had some gay teachers in high school. I'm not sure if they were promoting anything beyond what they taught in the classroom. I didn't receive any brochures about the awesomeness of the gay lifestyle or anything like that, but one guy did wear pink shirts... was he trying to tell me something? Regardless, I seem to have turned out heterosexual.
Judging from my own experience, I believe most of one's sexuality is inborn, and that environment matters at most at the margins. So I can't help wondering if people who are afraid of some "gay agenda" or gay teachers or hidden messages in SpongeBob Squarepants cartoons or whatever sense that they themselves are perched precariously on some sexual fence, and that it would take only a slight environmental nudge to topple them over to the other side. Why else would they be so exercised about the susceptibility of others, if they didn't feel it in themselves?