A few years ago I had an extended conversation about gay people with an evangelical man in his mid-50s. I thought that this conversation might be illuminating, in that this fellow is a decent fellow in many ways. He would make a nice neighbor, for instance. He works hard, pays his taxes, makes contributions to poor people, loves his children and abhors bigotry, at least when it involves blatant discrimination of African-Americans. On the other hand, he is deeply troubled with the “problem” of gays. For purposes of this post, I will refer to him as “Donald.”
Here’s how the conversation went:
Do gays choose to be gay? Donald is really perturbed that some people choose to engage in homosexual sex as a matter of sexual variety or perverted fun. On the other hand, he does acknowledge that there are numerous gay people who have not chosen to be gay. They were born or raised in such a way that they turned out “differently.” Donald admits that they had no choice. They have innocently found themselves attracted to members of the same sex. I asked Donald whether his God created them this way, and he shrugged.
Donald admits that many heterosexuals engage in sex that he considers degenerate or immoral. This would include oral sex, anal sex or S&M for example. Donald reluctantly admits that these people should nonetheless be allowed to marry. People who do not want to have children or who physically can’t have children should also be allowed to marry. According to Donald, the state government should grant marriage licenses even to those who are not truly in love with each other, although he doesn’t personally approve of this practice.
Gay people should fight their sexual urges, according to Donald. They should be celibate for their entire lives. Gay people who fall in love with other gay people should not ever express that love physically. Donald claims that human beings do not need to have sex. People can live “meaningful” lives without it, even if they feel strong urges to have sex.
I mentioned my belief: that sex is as essential as food for most people; sex is a central part of being a human being. Donald sees sex as something optional, such as eating a particular food (e.g. ice cream) or going to the beach. I see living together publicly as a bonded couple (with the option of raising a family together) as a fundamental human right. Donald would generally agree, except that gay people do not have this right. Why not? Because the Bible says it’s so.
Simply being gay is not something that will cause a person to go to hell, according to Donald. If a gay person actually has homosexual sex, however, this is a moral and degenerate act. Having homosexual sex is a serious sin which you will cause one to be sent to hell for eternal torture. God has required this. Why? It’s not for Donald to question his God.
Donald believes that having homosexual sex is “unnatural.” He bluntly stated that animals do not have homosexual sex. He was not interested in knowing about bonobos, who commonly engage in homosexual sex as a form of community bonding. He was not interested in knowing that many other species of animals engage in homosexual sex (450 species have been shown to have clear homosexual behaviors). See also here.
In other words, Donald claims that homosexual sex is “unnatural,” but he does not want to talk about hundreds of species of animals engaging in homosexual sex in the wild. He won’t go so far as to call gay animal sex “unnatural,” but doesn’t find zoological field work to be relevant. He doesn’t like talking about human beings as though they are animals. As to that thorny concept of what is “natural,” Donald would consider things such as line-dancing, SUVs, cosmetics and large crucifixes to be sufficiently natural. But one thing that is NOT natural is adult gay people who consensually, privately and intimately express their affection for each other.
I asked Donald whether it seemed fair to him that his religion, if it got a hold of the reigns of government, would prohibit gay people from engaging in the single solitary form of sexual intimacy that interested them, and prohibited this for their entire lifetimes. He shrugged and mentioned that the Bible forbids this. For Donald, it is not a matter of fairness.
I don’t know where any of this leads. Perhaps it doesn’t get to the heart of the issue at all. Perhaps the real problem is something rarely discussed. Perhaps it’s simply a matter that many people are uncomfortable with their animal bodies, including organs such as the penis . . . Oh, no. I uttered that word. I’m so very sorry. I don’t really know how to use a computer that well . . . I tried applying White-Out to the computer monitor, but I see that that word is still there. Well, please pretend that I didn’t say that word!
Donald said one other thing that I found curious. He insisted that marriage is a religious institution. His argument is thus straightforward: since marriage is a matter of religion and the Bible prohibits homosexual acts, then gays should not be able to get married. I find this argument strange in that marriage is actually two things: yes, it is a matter of tradition, including religious tradition. On the other hand, marriage is a civil institution. As marriage is currently established, it need not be a matter of religion at all. People commonly go before judges and get married without uttering a single word about religion. When I bring this up to people like Donald, he shrugs. He makes it clear that if people like him could ever take hold of our government, there would be no such thing as a purely civil marriage ceremony.
In sum, I found it curious that my differences with Donald were not really matters of clashing facts. Rather, our differences were focused at places where Donald was unable or unwilling to freely consider various facts.