Though many religious right leaders criticizing homosexuality claim that they 'hate the sin but love the sinner,' their vicious personal attacks poison public debate and reinforce a cultural hatred that could lead to violence and death.
Are gay men and lesbian women "perverts?" Do they have "filthy habits" that lead inexorably to bestiality, incest and prostitution? Are they intent on purposely spreading sexual diseases? Destroying Christianity? "Recruiting" youngsters in our public schools and "converting" them against nature to homosexuality?
The jihadists of the fundamentalist religious right say yes. These prominent Christian leaders, many of whom head gigantic ministries, are sure of it.
Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell, who once raised funds off a "Declaration of War" on homosexuality, calls gays and lesbians "brute beasts" and says they are "part of a vile and satanic system [that] will be utterly annihilated."
Traditional Values Coalition founder Lou Sheldon, who once suggested isolating victims of aids in "cities of refuge," says they are "deviants" who "target children for recruitment" to gay sex, cross-dressing and sex-change operations.
Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson, who once warned of tornadoes and earthquakes hitting Orlando, Fla., if Disney World didn't cancel "Gay Day," says that allowing gays to serve in the military gives "preferred status to evil."
But science suggests these men are wrong.
The Straight Facts
Nothing in the legitimate scientific literature supports the notion that homosexuality is a "perversion" or a mental illness. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Social Workers have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder. It needs no cure.
Similarly, there is absolutely no evidence — save the shrill and oft-repeated claims of the anti-gay movement's leaders — that homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to molest children. In fact, the best available science suggests that children raised by gay couples are no worse off, and in some ways may be better developed, than their peers in heterosexual households. The "studies" often cited by anti-gay leaders have been shown repeatedly to be based on junk science.
Even the notion that the Bible unswervingly condemns homosexuality is open to debate. Many scholars believe that several key passages actually are denouncing orgies and prostitution — or in the case of the town of Sodom, inhospitality — and not homosexuality.
There are two Old Testament passages that do appear to condemn homosexual acts, one of them calling for the death penalty. But they both show up amid a long list of religious prohibitions, including eating pork and wearing mixed fabrics, that have been abandoned by almost all contemporary Christians.
In this issue, the Intelligence Report takes a look at the religiously based crusade against homosexuals in America — a "thirty years war," as the story points out, that has intensified since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state anti-sodomy statutes in the 2003 Lawrence decision. Key points in the report include the religious right's repeated use of bogus "science" and the bully-boy tactics of its leaders.
These leaders angrily rebut charges that their cruel name-calling — public descriptions of gays as "perverts," "child molesters," "deviants" and "evil" people — has led anyone to violence. They say they "hate the sin, but love the sinner."
That is a hard one to swallow. When perpetrators of hate crimes against gays use identical words to describe their victims, you have to wonder where it began.
When Lou Sheldon reportedly tells a journalist that if given the chance gay men will kidnap people's sons and convert them to gay sex, it's hard not to recall the infamous "blood libel" against the Jews — the accusation that Jews kidnap Gentile children, kill them and drain them of blood to be used in making matzohs.
When religious leaders describe gays as voracious sexual beasts trying to "recruit" in the schools, it's difficult to forget the way that 19th century racists ranted about "lust-crazed" and "demonic" black men intent on raping white women.
Fundamentalist Christians have every right to their views of religion. But when they use that right to launch vicious personal attacks on an entire group based on characteristics that most scientists see as immutable, they poison the political debate and subject the objects of their scorn to the very real possibility of violence and even death. And that can only damage a healthy democratic society.