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Southwestern philosophy prof counters claims that homosexuality is not a ch

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–When a newspaper columnist criticized the mayor of Fort Worth, Texas, and “far-right” Christian groups for opposing a proposal to include sexual orientation in the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance, a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor responded with a column placing the main issue back at the forefront of the debate: Is sexual orientation a choice?
Citing claims by people who have changed their sexual orientation, Doug Blount, assistant professor of philosophy at the Fort Worth seminary, refuted the assertion by the proposal’s supporters that “all reputable medical and scientific evidence support the fact that an individual’s sexual orientation is not a matter of choice.”
“Perhaps the [city’s human relations commission] defines ‘reputable evidence’ as evidence that supports the view that sexual orientation isn’t a matter of choice,” Blount wrote in the Jan. 25 Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
“If so, then one can’t quibble with its conclusion,” Blount continued, “but one also can’t deny that the HRC has simply manipulated language to stack the deck in favor of its recommendations.”
The proposal, recommended by a 9-1 vote of the human relations commission, would have amended the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Churches and religious organizations would be exempt from the amendment. By a 5-4 vote during a work session Jan. 18, the council decided to table the proposal until seeing how the Texas legislature and courts deal with the issue.
Writing a week before the vote, Jack Z. Smith, a columnist for the Star-Telegram, accused Mayor Kenneth Barr, who sided with the majority, of having an “abysmal lack of leadership” and of dodging the issue. He also wrote that tabling the issue would be both “an act of political cowardice” and a “crude slap in the face to the HRC.”
Smith labeled people who believe homosexuality is a choice as “homophobic critics of gays.” He later added that he doesn’t believe Barr is homophobic and is “clearly not a philosophical soulmate of far-right Christian conservative groups that are so relentlessly and pathetically anti-gay.”
Without stereotyping or negatively labeling those with contrary views, Blount countered that if the HRC used a less-restricted definition of “reputable evidence,” it would find that its conclusion is mistaken.
Smith, in addition to noting the HRC’s “reputable evidence,” said the way homosexuals are treated by society as “pariahs” is more evidence that homosexuality is a choice.
“The conclusion seems obvious to me,” Smith wrote. “Considering how gay people are often treated by society as pariahs — indeed they are often ostracized by members of their own families — why would anyone freely choose’ to be gay?”
Blount countered this argument by asserting that many people risk alienation from society by choices they make. Using the example of cocaine addicts, Blount wrote, “… in this case, the risk of such alienation clearly isn’t sufficient to prevent people from making choices that bring with them that risk.”
Blount also noted that even if genetic predisposition to homosexuality were true, that fact would be insufficient reason to change the city’s ordinance and would open up the question of whether other groups with possible genetic predispositions, like alcoholics, deserve special protection against discrimination.
For people who might make the distinction that homosexuals, unlike alcoholics, do not pose a danger to anyone, Blount wrote, “Indeed, there is a long history within Western culture of regarding homosexual activity as posing a significant danger — first and foremost to the homosexual.”
He added that “the intellectual tradition that lies behind that history has enjoyed something of a revival among professional ethicists in the last two decades.”
Blount concluded his article by expressing misgivings over the definition of sexual orientation that the proposal is likely to use. A bill before the Texas legislature defines sexual orientation as “the actual or perceived status of a person with respect to the person’s sexuality.”
If used by the HRC, this definition could extend protection to pedophiles, even those who might wish to work at child-care centers, Blount wrote.
A similar comment by a city council member elicited groans and comments of “not this again” from people at the Jan. 18 meeting, according to a Star-Telegram article.
Another bill in the Texas legislature relating to employment discrimination by school districts defines sexual orientation as “homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual orientation, real or perceived, as manifested by identity, acts, statements, or associations.” Three other bills that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation do not include a definition of sexual orientation in their text.
In a counter-opinion column that appeared beneath Blount’s, Michael D. Ivey, former director of the HRC, wrote that he was “amazed at the fear and ignorance” of elected officials who believe that sexual orientation is a choice.
“On the question of ignorance, when it comes to sexual orientation, it seems that some Christian fundamentalists have a corner on the market,” Ivey wrote criticizing views that say homosexuality is a choice and equating it with “sin, depravity, pedophilia, the moral degeneration of society, the recruitment of children and a variety of other stereotypical concepts.”
“People don’t choose their sexual orientations,” Ivey wrote. “People choose their actions. The two are not the same.”
While agreeing conceptually to a point with Ivey’s distinction that homosexual activity and orientation are separate, Blount, after reading Ivey’s column, noted that actions do affect orientation by strengthening it or affecting propensity to it.
Blount added that such a distinction works against the homosexual-rights arguments in two ways. “If Ivey grants that homosexual activity is a matter of choice, then orientation is, at least in part, a matter of choice,” Blount said, “because behavior affects how we are oriented.”
He also said that if sexual orientation is not defined as activity, then homosexual activity would not be protected by the amendment.

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  • Matt Sanders