Gays must be tolerant of conservatives' views

July 22, 1998|By Linda Chavez

FiRST IT WAS Reggie White, then Trent Lott and now a coalition of conservative Christian groups who have raised the hackles of gay-rights activists by suggesting that homosexual behavior is sinful.

The most recent battle in the culture wars is playing out on the pages of some of the largest newspapers in the country, as groups including the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council are running national ads urging gay men and women to abandon homosexual activity.

The ads "fly in the face of scientific fact and are at odds with what we know from biological and psychological science," claims Dean Hamer, the author of a much-disputed study of the genetic basis of homosexuality. Other critics have called the ads "hateful" and said their purpose is to stigmatize homosexuals and create the impression that homosexuality is an illness. But despite the furor the ads have provoked, the views expressed are fairly conventional.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that sexual relations between two adults of the same sex is always wrong, according to the General Social Survey of the National Opinion Research Center, the most comprehensive poll of its kind on social issues.

Orthodox beliefs

Moreover, traditional Christian belief holds that all sex outside marriage is sinful. Period. Sex before marriage is a sin. Adultery is a sin. Sex between two men or two women is a sin. Not all individual Christians accept this teaching, but it is by far the predominant view among Protestants and Catholics, as well as Jews and Muslims. Why shouldn't a group of conservative Christians be able to state such run-of-the-mill, orthodox religious beliefs in a newspaper ad?

What rankles the critics of the ads most, however, isn't whether homosexual behavior is sinful but whether homosexuals can change their sexual behavior. The most controversial of the ads have involved first-person testimony from former lesbians and gay men who have changed their lifestyle.

"Thousands of ex-gays like these have walked away from their homosexual identities," proclaims one ad featuring a large group photo of smiling men and women. The ad is an invitation to homosexuals and their families to contact a ministry that specializes in helping gays to change their behavior.

Changes abound

The idea that homosexuals can -- or should -- change their sexual orientation is abhorrent to gay-rights activists. Much of the support for laws granting homosexuals protection against discrimination, for example, rests on the presumption that sexual orientation is akin to race or gender and can't be changed. But clearly some people do change their sexual behavior, if not their underlying desires.

Countless gay men and lesbians were once involved in heterosexual relationships, then left those partners to seek same-sex relationships. Is it impossible to imagine that this transformation can work in the other direction, too? According to Exodus, a Christian group that ministers to ex-gays, thousands of men and women have already done so.

No one, including the sponsors of the ads, is suggesting that homosexuals should be forced to change their behavior. But what about those gay men and women who want to change? Ads like the ones in question reach homosexuals who have no idea where to turn for help if they want to change their lifestyle.

Nothing in the ads encourages hatred or mistreatment of homosexuals, but the ads do express a view of traditional Christian morality and encourage homosexuals to seek help in abiding by the prohibition against sex outside marriage.

Instead of recognizing that Christian groups have the same right to try to shape public opinion and influence behavior as any other group, gay activists have been denouncing the ads as "extremist." It's time gay groups started demonstrating a little tolerance of their own.

Linda Chavez is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 7/22/98

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