Saturday, September 26, 2009

Response to Elder Bruce C. Hafen at Evergreen Conference Sep. 2009 (Part 2: Politics and Society)

I have struggled over how to respond to the political and social arguments Elder Hafen makes in his talk to Evergreen International. Perhaps it is because I do not accept the all too often simplistic arguments made from either side. Perhaps it is because my experience in trying to discuss these issues in the past has resulted in experiencing some of the most hurtful attitudes I have ever seen. So, perhaps the only way to go is just to jump in.


The 1973 decision by the American Psychological Association to remove homosexuality as an official disorder is a major point of contention in the discussion of the politics surrounding homosexuality. Elder Hafen, along with Evergreen International, NARTH, and other such organizations, takes the usual stance that this removal was inappropriate and only done in response to vigorous protests and demonstrations against the APA. Elder Hafen argues the change was done "not because of any change in actual medical findings." This argument is tricky because it rests in a certain level of technical wording. A proper understanding of events leading up to this decision requires the understanding of how homosexuality was categorized as a disorder to begin with and what it takes to have something officially categorized as a disorder.

Homosexuality was originally included by the APA as a mental disorder because the information about homosexuality was only obtained from one source: patients with mental disorders who were also homosexual. With such a biased source of information and being a rather small portion of the population, it is easy to understand how homosexuality would be considered a disorder. However, in the 1950's work began to understand human sexuality in the context of society at large, not just the mentally disordered. The two best known works in this area were done by Alfred Kinsey and Evelyn Hooker. Both realized the lack of scientific rigor that existed behind the views and responses to homosexuality. Their work was the start of a line of studies, spanning decades, that time and time again failed to prove the theories and assumptions made about human sexuality. By their own definitions and requirements the APA could not allow homosexuality to stand as a listed mental disorder. This is not to say there were not the demonstrations and protests by activist groups. But this was not a case of the APA caving to political pressure. The demonstrations and protest were fueled by the APA's own research and findings, or lack there of. So, yes, it was not a change based on medical findings. It was a necessary, ethical change due to the inability to produce any supporting findings. In 1975 the APA adopted a resolution supporting this action: "Homosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgment, stability, reliability, or general social or vocational responsibilities." I have yet to hear an argument about why homosexuality should be reinstated as a mental disorder based on the APA's requirements to consider something as a mental disorder.


Pro-gay activism has been a bit of an ethical mine field for me over the years. While it is clear I am very much for gay rights, I am bothered by the how and why much of the pro-gay camp argues and fights for their side. Elder Hafen's "four misconceptions activists seek to establish as facts" are issues I agree are problematic. Most take a complex issue with no clear answer and try to make it simplistic.

"First is the misconception that same-gender attraction is an inborn and unalterable orientation." "A second misconception the activists promote is that therapy cannot treat, let alone change, same-gender attraction."

I wrote about these "misconceptions" in my previous post/response. I will reiterate that while there is no conclusive evidence to support these theories, there is also no conclusive evidence to support the theory that sexual orientation can be changed; I find it a bit absurd how Elder Hafen argues the complexity of sexual orientation somehow makes his simplistic theory of change valid; and his use of severely ethically questionable sources makes his argument dubious at best.

"The third misconception is that most Americans favor same-gender marriage, which means the [LDS] Church is outside the mainstream in opposing it."

This is a rather mixed issue, on both sides. There are a variety of issues in whether or not this is a misconception or something more of a reality. The numbers over the past few years have been in a great amount of flux. What does seem to be happening, overall, is there is a trend towards acceptance of the idea. Elder Hafen's own statistical "evidence" shows a rather even split in opinions on the matter. The vote on California's Proposition 8, which amended the California Constitution to ban same-sex marriages, was very close passing by only four percentage points, less than half a million total ballots. While it may not be quite possible to say most Americans support same-sex marriage, it is equally difficult to say most oppose it. If anything, we are currently at an equilibrium, a tipping point, between the opinions.

Elder Hafen does make a point about the aftermath of California's Proposition 8 campaign. He quotes a Time article calling it a "vicious backlash from gay-rights activists, some of whom accused Mormons of bigotry and blind religious obedience." I agree there was a vicious backlash. In some ways it is continuing. I remember the protests here in Salt Lake City right after Election Day. While I understood and felt the outrage and hurt, I chose not to participate. To me, those protests seemed too reactionary and seated in the anger of the moment. Gratefully, they remained relatively peaceful, only showing some brief moments of shouting between protesters and opponents of the protest. This did not diminish my unease, however. I still find myself all too often in a strange limbo area of argument where I share a common goal or desire with the pro-gay side, but I all too often see the purpose for it and the paths to go down seeming at odds with those who share my goals. Also, I still feel the need to defend the rights of the LDS Church, and other organizations.

It is also difficult to argue against many LDS voters blindly obeying their religious leaders. Blind obedience is a common trait among any religion, and bigotry is just as common. (Seriously, look up the actual definition of bigotry.) At the same time I know of many who did not blindly obey. In fact, there have been a large number of people leaving the LDS Church over how the Church handled the Proposition 8 campaign. I have been highly critical of the tactics used by the LDS Church over Proposition 8. (I will post some of the responses I wrote.) I will say here I found much of the arguments made by the LDS Church and its coalition members against same-sex marriage and the political goals of gay-rights activists very unethical. I was shocked at the level of misrepresentation of facts in legal cases cited to support their "rational" fear of losing rights as a religion. Ironically, the way they acted in the campaign is far more likely to affect their tax-exempt status and other rights than allowing states to license same-sex marriages.

"The fourth misconception is that there are no rational, non-religious reasons for opposing same-gender marriage."

To be completely honest, I find Elder Hafen's argument in this section of his talk very well done and, in general, I agree it is a valid argument. I agree that a major reason government got into the business of marriage is to support the raising of children. That is also the reason why caring for children provides many benefits in the tax code. I also wholly agree that American society has become too much of a divorce culture with people entering marriage without proper preparation and with unrealistic expectations. I also agree that families falling apart and children being raised by only a single parent contributes to damaged citizens and a damaged society. But, again, we must be careful not to become simplistic in dealing with issues as complex as marriage and family.

There is a consensus in the social science and psychological research that children, overall, do best when raised by both biological parents. I support giving the biological, or "natural," family priority as a general guideline. I do not however believe this requires it to be law. Family dynamics cover a very wide variation. All too often there are cases when the biological parents are not what is best for the children. This is why is Child and Family Services and foster care programs exist. I personally spent my early childhood with a schizophrenic mother. My parent's divorce and my father removing us from her direct influence was very necessary.

To say that because children generally do best being raised by their biological parents is a difficult argument against same-sex marriage. Every time I hear the argument made I cannot help thinking the argument somehow implies same-sex marriage will cause children to be removed from their biological parents. I don't see how that is going to happen. Children are already being removed from biological parents for reasons completely unrelated to same-sex marriage. If anything there is evidence that same-sex couples may be a very valuable resource in helping take in those children displaced due to what ever reason they are removed from their parents. Research of homosexual pairings of animals is showing these "mating pairs" can be a very valuable asset in raising young, helping diminished populations of some species flourish again. On the human side, the basic argument against allowing homosexual couples from raising children has revolved around the idea that children need a father and a mother to help them properly develop gender identity and appropriate gender roles. Arguments of sexist beliefs aside, these concerns are valid, but once again the evidence is not in support of the supposition. In 2006 the American Acadamy of Pediatrics published an analasys on findings of children being raised by same-sex parents. In the concluding comments:

There is ample evidence to show that children raised by same-gender parents fare as well as those raised by heterosexual parents. More than 25 years of research have documented that there is no relationship between parents' sexual orientation and any measure of a child's emotional, psychosocial, and behavioral adjustment. These data have demonstrated no risk to children as a result of growing up in a family with 1 or more gay parents. Conscientious and nurturing adults, whether they are men or women, heterosexual or homosexual, can be excellent parents. The rights, benefits, and protections of civil marriage can further strengthen these families.

Often, the LDS Church and other organizations cite studies that supposedly say children actually do need both a mother and a father, both sexes of parent. A look into those studies usually shows that the study actually says nothing about homosexual parents as none are studied. The studies used in these arguments are only in regard to the child being raised by both biological parents or by one single biological parent. Those studies do show that children do significantly better when both parents are raising the child, but as no homosexual parents are included in those studied nothing can actually be inferred as to the efficacy of children being raised by a same-sex couple. This misuse of these studies have even brought about the ire of the researchers. I distinctly remember a case where researchers were threatening to take legal action against the conservative group Focus on the Family for misrepresenting their research claiming it "proved" homosexuals were unfit parents when no homosexuals were involved in the study. (Aparantly, this was not an isolated incident.) In the end, if marriage is for the raising of children, I am for making that more reflective in statutes and policies regarding marriage. However, until the orphanages are empty and foster care services are no longer needed, I still cannot see an argument to keep same-sex couples from being able to be married and bring children to raise into their homes.

The flip side of the argument for saying marriage is about children is that although so many people like to use it as a point against same-sex marriage, they are very unwilling to make laws in a more affirmative way. Some people have even tried to propose bills and modify marriage laws to reflect a more child centered civil institution. In 2006 a group proposed a bill that would require couples to produce children to be allowed to stay married. Currently, a man in California is working to get a proposition on the ballot to make divorce illegal. Quite honestly, I find it a little--if not a lot--hypocritical that those who argue that marriage is falling apart because people aren't going into it to raise children or are too willing to get divorced do not support statutes to make bearing children requisite or bar divorce. Mostly, it just makes them seem all the more willing to say anything to keep the "queers" from going down the aisle.

In the end, all the scientific, sociological, or political argument and debate is not what will sway a person in Elder Hafen's position or an organization like Evergreen International. Perhaps it is this sense of futility that I struggled with. At the root of it all, down at the bottom of even their inclusion of secular arguments, lies one all encompassing conceit: because God said so.

No comments:

Post a Comment