In the latest volley between right and left over gay equality and civil rights, watch for this idea to catch fire among religious conservatives: sexual orientation blindness. That’s my phrase for the position of Michael Hannon. Writing in the Catholic magazine, First Things, he proposes that Christians rediscover the idea of sodomy in the Book of Leviticus and flat out refuse to even recognize homosexuality as a concept at all:
The Bible never called homosexuality an abomination. Nor could it have, for as we have seen, Leviticus predates any conception of sexual orientation by a couple of millennia at least. What the Scriptures condemn is sodomy, regardless of who commits it or why.
In other words, gay or straight, if you have anal or oral sex–or pull out of a vagina before you cum–whether in marriage or outside marriage–your proper identifier should be abominable or sodomite, as in, Call me abominable and I am a sodomite.
And you can hardly have an equality movement for abominable marriage or sodomite marriage, can you? Here’s Hannon again:
[I]n our own day homosexuality deserves the abominable label, and heterosexuality does too.
Put a different way, sex is for business (making babies), not pleasure; you should not identify who you are (a human being in the image of God) with your contingent sexual desires, however persistent:
Rather than struggling to articulate how to live as a “homosexual Christian”—or, for that matter, the even more problematic question of how to live as a “heterosexual Christian”—we should be teaching our Christian brethren, especially those in their most formative adolescent years, that these categories are not worth employing.
In other words, straight or gay, there should be no non-procreative or procreative sex outside of marriage, and in marriage there should only be procreative sex. Period. Here’s more Hannon:
Our Christian forebears would be shocked at our complacency with sexual orientation. The only reason that this whole program fails to alarm us as it would them is that we have been systematically indoctrinated into it from childhood, especially the young adults among us. […]
They [heterosexuality and homosexuality] are recent inventions that are utterly foreign to our faith, inadequate for justifying sexual norms, and antithetical to true philosophical anthropology. The time has come for us to eradicate sexual orientation from our worldview as systemically as we can manage—with all due prudence as to complicated particular cases, of course.
Hannon’s position recalls that of many conservative whites on race. After blacks won civil rights in the courts and legislatures, conservative leaders started deploying the concept of “color blindness” in law, not necessarily out of sincerity, but in order to maintain certain patterns of inequality in society. It was all they had left. They took to pretending that race didn’t exist for them at all–and so the old racial patterns could go on existing exactly as they did before, with society making no actual attempts at remedying injustices.
So if Michael Hannon’s proposal gains momentum among conservatives, I think it really does deserve the moniker, “the new sexual orientation blindness.”
But you can’t render a group of people invisible by simply pretending they don’t exist; by becoming blind to them. That’s true of African Americans and it’s true of gay people. And the fact that the priests who wrote the Book of Leviticus 2700 years ago didn’t recognize gay people’s existence doesn’t mean that the rest of us, in the 21st century, shouldn’t.
And science has something to say here. It has been weighing in for years now on correlations between sexual identity and birth order; sexual identity and genetics (via twin studies); and sexual identity and the size of certain brain areas. Converging lines of evidence point to homosexuality having a biological basis. This fact cannot be wished away by selective appeals to the Bible, natural law theology, or postmodern theorizing against essentialism (Hannon deploys all of these against homosexual identity in his article).
Science is telling us that homosexuals are not hallucinating their identity, and so Michael Hannon’s strained proposal for sexual orientation blindness cannot mask reality: contemporary religious conservatives are running out of sensible chess moves against gay and lesbian recognition and rights. Hannon’s article also illustrates that if homosexuals are recognized as a group at all, then, in a democratic society, disregard and discrimination must ultimately stop against them, and they must be tolerated (as one tolerates in the public square people of different races, different religious and political views, and different cultural practices from your own).