Some Tuesday Morning Prop 8 Stories, One of Which ANGERS ME

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Well, today we get back to business. I’m actually looking forward to seeing what nonsense Andy Pugno comes up with this week; it can actually be fun to reply to. Plus, before the week’s out, we’ll see the defense’s approach to the trial and what their “expert” witnesses have to say.

This morning I just want to bring your attention to a few more articles that I think are worth reading, but I’ll be brief about them (except one).

» Edge brings us a brief glimpse into how some of the plaintiffs are feeling one week into the trial: Prop 8 plaintiff reflects upon trial’s first week

» Marcy Wheeler at Firedoglake reflects upon Friday’s proceedings and the vastly different ways that Matthew McGill (for the plaintiffs) and David Thompson (for the defense) approached their questioning of expert witness, Dr. Michael Lamb. She points out some key excerpts from the day that show just how incompetent Thompson seemed to be in trying to twist science to support his side. It’s definitely a worthwhile read: Prop 8 Trial: A Tale of Two Lawyers

» While a lot of folks have been speculating how the Supreme Court might eventually rule on this case, an article in the Los Angeles Times this morning looks at Judge Walker’s history, and it turns out he’s been pretty gay friendly in the past! Check it out: Same-sex marriage Judge Vaughn Walker has dealt with other gay rights cases

» Curious as to what to expect from today’s testimony? Firedoglake’s got a preview. It should be another interesting day! Prop 8 Trial: Tuesday 1/19 Witness Preview

» Law dork Chris Geidner gives us a look at week 2 and ponders why there’s a trial as opposed to a summary judgment. While many gay activists are optimistic about the potential implications of this case, he’s not so sure. Even if there’s a ruling that favors marriage equality, it might still only have implications for California because of how it might get deemed unconstitutional. If you’re into thinking about things from the legal perspective, check out his post: Perry: Week Two

Now, the legal aspect is important, but this other new post really has me kind of upset.

There’s this other site out there right now called “Prop 8 On Trial,” and it’s written by two Berkeley law students who are actively following the trial and offering their analysis. That’s all well and good. As I wrote yesterday, this trial needs publicity.

Their new post, however, is about the question of whether homosexuality is a choice, and they approach it only as a legal question. That seems to translate into simply weighing opinions and beliefs. They discuss the question like it’s still up for grabs, and not in the most respectful light, asking: “Can homosexuality be prevented?” [NOTE: This morning the post has been tweaked to be slightly more appropriate by asking “How do people become gay?” with some other tweaks in the quotes below. My concerns are unchanged.]

This bothers me because it’s not objective. It assume that homosexuality is a defect, and a negative one. Would anyone ever ask the question, “Can heterosexuality be prevented?” [The same is still true for “How do people become straight?”] No. Such an idea would never be considered. But these two law students treat homosexuality as if it’s still some big mystery that hasn’t been researched and which nobody understands:

In these ways, Perry is a novel airing of nearly a century of American anxiety about the source of homosexuality and its transmission.  There seems implicit in this culture a question of:  How can we control homosexuality?  How can we contain it?  What’s more, tracing this history is instructive, because it reveals the origin of many gay stereotypes and helps place the current same-sex marriage debate in the context of an argument that has been simmering for at least the last 60 years.

The source? Its transmission? Control? Contain? Those are the kinds of questions we should be asking about religion. Variations in sexual orientation are not up for grabs, and it’s upsetting to be reminded that it may be upon the plaintiffs to prove this point. In other words, the court gets to decide whether modern knowledge of human development is “right,” based upon opinions and beliefs. It seems Judge Walker is a pretty rational thinker, unlike these two law students:

Perhaps many of these stereotypes could be relegated to a painful but irrelevant recounting of the history of American gay culture if everyone believed what gay rights advocates have been saying for years:  That people are not turned gay; they’re born gay. The problem is that a lot of people don’t believe that.

Perry plaintiffs have also testified exactly to that.  “I’m proud to be gay.  I’m a natural-born gay,” plaintiff Paul Katami declared on the first day of trial.

Yet for much of the country, the matter is just not that simple. How gay men and lesbian women come to exist is an age-old inquiry whose answer still baffles scientists and divides the American public…

“For much of the country?” What else do they need? It’s quite offensive, really, this notion that other people’s intuition is better judgment than our knowledge of ourselves. And I can promise you that there are no gay folks who are baffled or divided. Are we gays, with our agenda, still so untrustworthy that you doubt us when we explain how we experience our identities to you?

Actually, I’m starting to have some doubts about you straight people. Could you go take this questionnaire (written in 1972) and help me feel a little more comfortable around you?

Even if American opinion is changing, it is curious that the Perry defense is not addressing this issue more head-on.  Why don’t they overtly say that homosexuality begets homosexualityAre they afraid that doing so implicitly embraces the unpopular – a statement that they want to limit the number of people who are gay? It seems obvious that this is their point.  Then again, this is certainly an unwelcome view in the San Francisco courtroom, where giggles emanate every time an attorney asks a gay witnesses if there’s some chance that he might be mistaken about his sexual orientation.  However, the importance of the issue seems clear even to the plaintiffs, who repeatedly question their own witnesses about whether gay couples can be good parents and raise heterosexual adults.  The implicit message behind these questions is that anxiety about the origins of homosexuality must be addressed.

This is certainly an unwelcome view in the San Francisco courtroom, where giggles emanate every time an attorney asks a gay witnesses if there’s some chance that he might be mistaken about his sexual orientation.  But according to US history and broader current opinion, it does not seem an outlandish stance. Until the country is confident that homosexuality is both natural and beyond influence, those who want to prevent same-sex marriage will be able to summon and rely upon an American cultural tradition that is both ambivalent about the homosexual phenomenon and perhaps fearful that the current gay population is only the beginning.

And according to US history and broader current opinion, it does not seem an outlandish stance. Until the country is confident that homosexuality is both natural and beyond influence, those who want to prevent same-sex marriage will be able to summon and rely upon an American cultural tradition that is both ambivalent about the homosexual phenomenon and perhaps fearful that the current gay population is only the beginning.  In short, the public is still asking: How do people become gay?

Actually, the reason the defense probably isn’t overtly saying homosexuality begets homosexuality is because THEY’D BE OVERTLY WRONG. There are piles of scientific evidence collected by decades of psychologists demonstrating the opposite. The few verified theories we have about possible causes of homosexuality do show some genetic components (see video below), but there’s nothing that demonstrates inheritance.

The more important point is that the question of “how?” or “why?” is totally irrelevant. All that matters is Is sexual orientation an immutable characteristic? and ALL evidence points to YES for all sexual orientations (including you breeders out there!). That’s surely why the plaintiffs are using experts to hammer this home.

It seems poor Amanda and Sarah might have been sucked into the defense’s anti-science agenda, though I appreciate that they at least made a few tweaks to their post since it went up last night (and I’m generally glad they’re blogging about the trial). Apparently though, as long as a perspective is popular or long-held, it’s still considered a valid opinion. If this is how our new generation of law students are being encouraged to think, I’m very worried about our future. Ladies, please go read Marcy Wheeler’s post that I linked to above. It’s still much more informed than yours is. I’ve also included a short video below that might help address some of your doubt.

In the meantime, keep writing the way you’re writing and I’m sure plenty of LGBT folks will swarm to your blog to let you know how insensitive you sound by talking about gay people like we’re some race of mutants.

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There are 15 Comments to "Some Tuesday Morning Prop 8 Stories, One of Which ANGERS ME"

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  • Andrew says:

    Hi Zack,
    I would like to respond, on my own behalf, to your criticism of the recent post from the “Prop 8 On Trial” blog.  For full disclosure, I am a Berkeley law student myself, and I am acquainted with one of the two bloggers you have criticized. My own feeling, in reading your post, is that you attack a position which you feel underlies, or is at least implicitly supported by, their post, but in doing so you are mistaken. If I understand you correctly, you have attacked their post for suggesting or implying that believing that being gay is a choice, rather than an immutable characteristic, is a rational and valid belief. I just want to point out that their post is journalistic in nature. They are not taking sides, nor should they be. They are trying to dispassionately and objectively report on a trial, based on their own observations, and are trying to inform the reader of what society in general believes. In doing so, they do not implicitly support this belief. If you disagree with me on this point, then you and I have very different feelings about the purpose of media, jouralism and freedom of speech. Your criticisms are reductive. The major reason this trial is so important is precisely because so many people in our society hold anti-gay beliefs. What would you prefer? That the Prop 8 on Trial blog become a one-sided, pro-gay blog like your own? Your blog is different in nature from theirs. There is much value in both types of blogs. But I think your criticism belies that you don’t appreciate the distinction. If you had it your way (as I understand it, if the Prop 8 On Trial blog didn’t talk about anything that you, or they, or pro-gay rights people, or whoever, thinks is rational and justified by scientific literature), then the Prop 8 on Trial blog would lose its value as a journalistic, balanced enterprise. Your obssession with rhetoric and word choice, with what you think the post implicitly supports, and with what you think their post implicitly reflects on the beliefs of its author, is misplaced.
     
    Although this shouldn’t matter, I would like to say that I, myself, like most law students here, am pro-gay marriage and pro-gay rights in general. I don’t criticize you because I disagree with your stance on this issue, but because I think you have unfairly criticized a bloggers for “insensitivity” when it is you who is being insensitive to the needs and nature of their blog and their post.
     
    I would also like to emphasize that I speak here only for myself, and not on behalf of the Prop 8 on Trial bloggers.
     
    Thanks,
    Andrew

  • ZackFord says:

    Andrew,

    I thank you for taking the time to respond to my post and I appreciate your point that my blog is quite different in nature than the blog I criticized.

    Still, as a member of the social sciences and a journalist (of sorts) myself, I take great concern with pieces that are not informed.

    As I acknowledged in my own piece, there is a definitely a need to convey that the traditional belief that homosexuality is a choice needs to be dismantled. There is not legal precedent on that point. However, to suggest that it is still a mystery, to suggest that both points of view are valid, or to use language that paints gays and lesbians in a negative light is hardly objective or respectful.

    To talk about homosexuality as an “other” or a virus that needs to be “contained” or an outbreak that is just “the beginning” is to ignore decades of psychological, sociological, and even biological knowledge on the topic of sexual orientation. These are the very stigma the plaintiffs are trying to reveal, and to see them so blithely included in the post is disheartening and does not speak at all to the journalistic merit your proclaim. My point was that the piece was not objective at all.

    There is a difference in describing what people believe and suggesting what they believe is valid. The entire tone of that piece is based on “what if the people are right” and “can they be convinced” instead of heeding all the knowledge that is widely available that paints a very different picture of the topic at hand: the nature of homosexuality. The piece almost ignores the experiences of gay people entirely, and in doing so is incredibly disrespectful of our identities.

    I share your appreciation for the blogging these two students are doing, but as an LGBT educator, I feel I also have an impetus to hold them to a higher standard of knowledge and informed writing.

    Imagine a piece written in the same way about the earth being only 6,000 years old. Just because there are quite a few people who believe it does not mean that it has any intellectual merit. If you can’t see that this piece about homosexuality as a choice lacks the same merit, perhaps you too need to spend more time studying the research and psychological precedents that exist for sexual orientation.

  • Andrew says:

    Hi Zack,
     
    First of all, I’d like to very sincerely thank you for responding to my comment in a thoughtful and civil way. It’s too easy to be nasty to people on the Internet, and of course given that we are, in the bigger scheme of things, on the same side, it makes no sense for us to be nasty to each other.
     
    After reading your response, I think I can better see where your criticism is coming from. What caused me to react so strongly to your critical post is that I thought you thought that the authors were themselves uninformed about, or worse, insensitive to the issues that they have dedicated so much time to writing about. Also, I still disagree with you over the extent to which their post may have validated wrong-headed beliefs (such as that sexual orientation is a choice, or that homosexuality can spread like a virus). I believe that you are focusing too much on word choice, and I think this is probably because our society’s history of anti-gay bigotry and discrimination has affected, and continues to affect, your life more than my own. I realize that there is not much left substantively for us to talk about, other than that I hope you realize that Prop 8 On Trial is a blog written by people who are in fact very sensitive to gay rights issues, people who care very deeply about these issues. If anything, as journalists trying to appear neutral, they are trying to avoid sounding as if they have an pro-gay bias by perhaps being too generous in the way they describe the anti-gay viewpoint.
     
    I should also say that I appreciate your analogy to the religious belief that the earth is 6,000 years old, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. I guess in my mind the two points are not on equal scientific footing. On this point I am sure that you are much more expert than I am, but to my knowledge the question of whether gay parents are more likely to produce gay children (whether by nature or nurture) is not settled in the same way that evolution is. I don’t think that the question is completely frivolous, and for that reason, I don’t agree that treating the viewpoint as valid (which, in your view, is the same as treating the viewpoint as anything other than completely invalid) is inappropriate, given the journalistic nature of their blog.
     
    All this being said, I can’t help feeling that this is all a moot point, given that Prop 8 On Trial has made a follow-up post which you (and I) think demonstrates more sensitivity (in my opinion, bordering on reflecting a pro-gay viewpoint).

  • ZackFord says:

    Thanks for your follow-up, Andrew.

    I do appreciate the work of all bloggers of the trial, as I think any publicity that gets people talking about the issues is important.

    I really must point out that the idea that gay parents produce gay children is antiquated. It’s the same argument used by John Briggs over 30 years ago in his spin for Prop 6. Your unwillingness to accept that this question has been settled is disappointing. (I would challenge you to consider how many of the gay people you know have gay parents. I know I don’t.)

    I also have some concern that your concern of a pro-gay viewpoint ignores the fact that the original post was, in fact, demonstrably anti-gay. I contend that it is hard for anybody who understands sexual orientation to not be pro-gay. What you might see as dispassionate to avoid being pro-gay, I see as being anti-gay to avoid being pro-gay.

    I do very much appreciate the follow-up post, which I will mention in my roundup post that I am currently working on. Thanks again for your comments. I hope you continue to explore your thinking on these issues…

    As Mayor Sanders said this morning, it’s possible to be anti-gay without being motivated by animus, but that doesn’t change the fact that such viewpoints are still rooted in prejudice.

  • George says:

    Zack,
    I do hope that the link between homosexuality and heredity is confirmed.  That would be great news wouldn’t it!  I guess we’ll know in a generation or two.  As more gay people come out of heterosexual relationships, and hence stop procreating, then gays should drop out of the gene pool.  We can always hope!

  • Sarah Ruby says:

    Just so you know, we post under separate bylines at prop8.berkeleylawblogs.org. We don’t edit each others’ work, and this was not my post.

  • ZackFord says:

    Yes, George, that’s exactly how it works! Thanks for the clarification, Sarah. And thanks for being there for those of us (like me in Pennsylvania) who can’t!

  • AlexMagd says:

    I liked your post, but what was with the joke at the expense of bi people at the end of the video? Isn’t it about time we stopped viewing someone as “not properly straight” or “not properly gay” when in fact they’re bisexual? I hate stuff like that, where you’re on board the whole way and then right at the end they make you feel alienated. A video arguing that sexual orientation isn’t a choice implying very strongly that people who are bi are just confused, and aren’t a sexual orientation in their own right? Sigh.

  • ZackFord says:

    Alex, I’m sorry you felt that way from the video (which is actually from the film For The Bible Tells Me So). That is actually not the reaction I have, so let me offer you another perspective.

    My experience has been that while most people settle into a sexual orientation for life, there is the potential for fluidity. My impression of the comment in the video was not a reference at all to people who are bisexual, but people whose sexual orientation has, in fact, changed or shifted over the course of their lives.

    The important point is that only you can determine what your sexual orientation is. We all have a general understanding that sexual orientation cannot be intentionally changed, but some people might find that their sexual orientation is different at one part of their lives than it was at a different time. We would generally respect people at their word, but when it comes to demonstrating that we don’t have control over our orientation, the notion that some might “change” might compromise others’ understanding.

    If anything, it’s a jab at the simpleminded people who continually disrespect us because of the fact that we’re different is so complicated to them.

  • ZackFord says:

    Ironically, just this point was debated in this morning’s proceedings…

  • AlexMagd says:

    Well, fair enough, good point.
    I guess I’m just used to that kind of reaction. I still remember a couple of years ago the shock news story that Tila  Tequila couldn’t be gay because “she’d recently had a boyfriend”. The prospect that she was bi was never even discussed. Thanks for the trial coverage by the way, it’s excellent 🙂

  • ZackFord says:

    Thanks Alex!

    And I just want to make sure you know I do think your point is valid. Biphobia is rampant among heterosexuals and us Gs and Ls, and it’s a shame so many struggle to understand it or even validate it. If you’re curious, I wrote about bisexuality a bit in this post from last year: http://zackfordblogs.com/2009/02/when-identities-dont-just-defy-norms-they-supercede-them/

  • Anastasia says:

    Hello Zack,
    Can you recommend any peer-reviewed studies that discuss heredity and homosexuality? I am curious as to how a biological trait would not be heritable. It’s possible, but I’d like to learn about the mechanism.
    Thanks!

  • ZackFord says:

    Hey Anastasia,

    My understanding of the research is that no single phenomenon (such as a gay gene) has been found responsible for the development of sexual orientation (one way or the other), but that rather there are likely a number of different factors that interplay. While I know Wikipedia is not a great original source, I’d at least start by directing you to this article, which does cite a number of the studies you might be interested in reading and provides a basic context for the issues.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biology_and_sexual_orientation

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