“Welcome Gays, No Gay Behavior Allowed”

An issue about religious freedom and discrimination has been a hot topic at philosophy blogs, recently. You can check it out here, here, and here.

The background: The American Philosophical Association (APA) has an anti-discrimination statute that forbids discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Nevertheless, it accepts ads from Christian colleges that require all employees to sign contracts and promise not to engage in various “un-Christian” behaviors. Having a gay partner is one of these un-Christian behaviors.

Now, by tolerating these schools, is the APA living up to its own statutes? It does have another relevant policy, to the effect that it’s OK for religious schools to seek to hire people with the relevant religious affiliation. Christian schools may seek to hire Christians, etc. But that’s not quite the same as letting colleges impose bans on gay behavior.

A petition has been signed by about 1,200 APA members to the effect that the APA should stop accepting ads from Christian colleges. (I haven’t signed, just because I’m not a dues-paying member.) But then there’s a contingent that says the APA has actually done all it needs to do: it’s fully in compliance with its anti-discrimination statute. In fact, it says even the Christian schools are in compliance.

What? One argument in a counterpetition, signed by a number of prominent Christian philosophers, is that there’s an important distinction between orientations and acts. If discrimination on the basis of orientation is prohibited, it’s still permitted to prohibit certain acts. Then we hear various analogies. You can protect adulterers, or felons, or drinkers from discrimination, but still require them to cease and desist.

So…if a college knowingly hires gay and lesbian faculty, is it discrimination based on sexual orientation if they are expected to get rid of their partners, or seek no partners, while their straight colleagues enjoy marriage and family?

We don’t have to ask this question in a vacuum. There are statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in many cities, states, and businesses. The general intent behind them is clear—like men and women, or blacks and whites, gays and straights are to be treated as equals. Homosexuality is not to be treated as a moral pathology, if heterosexuality is not treated as such.

To press the super-subtle question about orientations vs. acts, you actually have to support or have considerable sympathy with the regime at these Christian colleges. Yet the regime is mean-spirited and downright creepy. A graduate student at Prosblogion talks about his gay Christian friends like this: “These people found deep freedom in not acting out their homosexual orientation, and many, I would say, found a deeper companionship and communion with God.”

Pretty words, but it’s a sad picture: gay faculty finding “deep freedom” in containing themselves, while their straight colleagues enjoy all the satisfactions of marriage and family. And it’s fantastically unrealistic. What we’re really talking about is loneliness, shame, the effort to change what won’t change.

I consulted a friend of mine who has worked for 20 years at the EEOC (the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) what she thought of the act/orientation hair-splitting. She said this would not hold up in a court. If a business had a rule prohibiting Muslim acts–wearing hijab, going to mosques, etc.– that would be regarded as a pretext for not hiring people with a Muslim orientation. The business wouldn’t get to say that Muslims find deep freedom in suppressing their religious impulses.

I quoted her over at Prosblogion and she was immediately dismissed by a commenter as not knowing what she was talking about. Well, maybe after another year at the EEOC she’ll know as much about anti-discrimination law as a philosophy graduate student.

Make no mistake about it, these people are unkind, but they’re sly and creative, and they’ll use every slippery distinction in the book to keep gay people from living normal happy lives. I’m just glad that at least in the philosophy world, they’re in a very small minority.

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