Gays and Pedophiles

Right, they're not at all alike. But you need to make this analogy to understand the defense of Christian colleges that's been put forth by David Hoekema and Mark Murphy.

Think about it. How should pedophile philosophers be protected from discrimination? Very, very weakly. Being a pedophile isn't disqualifying. But doing pedophile stuff surely is. Only the orientation deserves protection, not the behavior.

The defenders say this very, very weak level of protection is all that the APA ever meant to extend to homosexuals, when it passed a provision against discrimination "on the basis of homosexual orientation" in 1989. No protection for the behavior, just for the orientation.

On this interpretation, the APA never meant to weigh in on a philosophy department that's about to hire John Doe, finds out that he has a gay partner, and so withdraws the offer. They didn't mean to take a stand against that kind of thing. Nor did they want to weigh in on a case where Jane Doe is about to get tenure, but her colleagues find out she's living with another woman, and turn her down.

No, the APA didn't care about gays being turned down for jobs and tenure on grounds of their living gayly. What they cared about was gays being turned down on grounds of sheer gayness. In other words, the man or woman who's gay, but does nothing gay, had to be protected.

But why would they have looked at the issues this way? There's more to the story of the APA's thinking, as the defenders of the Christian colleges see it. The APA members themselves didn't necessarily think gays were like pedophiles, or that they deserved only the protection from discrimination that pedophiles are entitled to, but they realized this was the view of people at a handful of extremely conservative Christian colleges.

They were terribly concerned to protect the freedom of these Christians to think that way, so they framed their own discrimination code to accommodate them. They gave gays minimal protection throughout the US, so that the 4-5 colleges that actually prohibit gay behavior would be free and clear.

Ahem. If that's what the APA board members were thinking, how extraordinarily stupid of them. Surely the level of protection from discrimination gays receive in "APA-approved" philosophy departments across the US ought to be based on the view of homosexuality that prevails in the APA. That's not the view that being gay is like being a pedophile.

But what about religious freedom at the 4-5 Christian colleges? If it concerned the APA, it would have been absurd to water down anti-discrimination statutes nationally, just to give these colleges greater freedom. The reasonable course of action would have been to exempt them from the anti-discrimination rule.

I can't imagine the APA board members really had the set of thoughts being attributed to them. Using a principle of charity, I've got to think they had a reasonable set of thoughts. When they passed a rule prohibiting discrimination based on homosexual orientation, they were saying that gay people can't be excluded from jobs, tenure, etc., on grounds of being or acting gay. They didn't make a handful of Christian colleges the arbiter of what should count as discrimination across the land.

As to whether they meant to exempt Christian colleges from the robust policy they had passed, it appears not, if you read the APA policy carefully. But to think they passed an extremely weak provision, giving gays almost no protection nationwide, out of deference to 4-5 Christian colleges, really is an insult to these presumably reasonable people. Surely not. It just can't be so.


Chris Swoyer said...

Excellent post. This is a bit tangential to it, but I'll try to connect it at the end. In my experience, at least some of the people who object to (what seems pretty clearly to be) the APA policy on gay/lesbian discrimination argue that it is a difficult and open
moral question whether GLBT behavior is morally acceptable (I believe some of the petitions even said things to this effect).

I think those of us who disagree need to argue more forcefully that this just isn't so. But it is can be especially touchy, because the interlocutor's reply is sometimes that his or her religious beliefs say it is, and to disagree too vehemently is to fail to
respect their religion, or their religious views (which many of us DO want to respect, though the sort of respect due here is worth a few blogs in it's own right). In effect we are, as I think your blog suggests, sometimes allowing a small minority of
people in the APA decide that a moral issue is cloudy when in fact it isn't. This speaks less to the letter of the APA's policy than to the views that motivate it. But it's these views that make the issue such an important one, and that seem worth noting
now and again in these discussions (few would worry much about some inconsitency in the APA's behavior if it concerned some obviously trivial matter).

Jean Kazez said...

Hi Chris, I wonder if there's something a bit devious about all this act/orientation hair-splitting. If you just wanted religious differences to be respected, why wouldn't you demand an exemption for Christian colleges from the APA's policy on discrimination? The insistence on interpreting it as a very, very weak policy to begin with would have an impact everywhere. It would take away redress for gay job applicants whether they're being denied jobs at Christian U. or any other U. Bigots everywhere would get a free pass (from the APA, anyway) to deny people jobs, promotions, etc., because they're in gay relationships!

As to whether the moral issue is cloudy. I don't even think it's cloudy to my very conservative neighbors in Dallas. People are not too keen on gay marriage, but I think the vast majority are on board with the idea that gay people should be protected against discrimination, and not just in the very, very weak sense that would pertain to pedophiles!

Chris Swoyer said...

Yes, part of my thought was that in all the hair splitting, the real points are sometimes lost. My experience is that at least some (gotta qualify these things) of those supporting the 4-5 church-related schools do argue that it's an open issue, and I think most are sincere.

I suspect (on the basis on little evidence) that most non-philosophers, who are so worried about fine epistemic point,s see it as fairly clear cut, one way or the other. I only wish the conservative people around here felt like the people you mention there. Even the idea of civil unions is not popular. It was voted down decisively here, though that vote was tied to a ban on gay marriage, and might have faired better on its own, but I don't think even alone it would have passed.

Jean Kazez said...

Hmm, I should first survey my neighbors, before I attempt to state their attitudes! To tell the truth, I'm guessing, based on this and that. It seems really awfully minimal to have a rule that says people can't be fired (or not hired) based simply on "gay behavior." Most major companies do have rules protecting gay people from that sort of discrimination (a lawyer friend informs me), and there doesn't seem to be a lot of fuss about it. Setting up civil unions or anything else marriage-like is another story. That seems to make people feel like the sky is falling.