David Velleman has another post at Left2Right on homosexuality, this time focusing in on how people abuse what he calls anti-epithets like 'racist', 'anti-semite', and 'homophobe', especially the last. As with past posts by him on the topic, I pretty much agree with his whole analysis and find it strikingly friendly to things I've myself tried to argue. He thinks such words have been abused so much against people they shouldn't be used against that they lessen the force of the terms, leaving nothing left for the real extremists.
There are three levels that need to be distinguished. There are those who place someone else in a morally inferior and even subordinate category. Out of a realization that many people don't seem to understand the difference between using and mentioning a word, I don't even mention the epithets he mentions, because I know someone will come along accusing me of using the words, but the N-word and the F-word both strike me as solid examples of language that necessarily puts someone in a morally subordinate category. I think this is true even of those groups who use those words of themselves, but I'm not going to argue that point now. People who tell gay jokes may fall into this category, depending on the intent of telling the joke. If it's to make them feel superior for not being gay, then it's moral subordination. If it's because they think it makes fun of the stereotype but not gay people as they really are, and they could tell it to gay friends and enjoy the laugh together, that may be different. Anyone who uses the F-word against someone who is gay is clearly in this category because of the force the word carries (what linguists call illocutionary force -- the intended effect of the word on the hearer). Terms like 'homophobe' are best applied to this group, although even then I'd rather reserve it for the subset who really are irrationally fearful or gay people, as I do think a number of people are but won't admit it. (I disagree with David's claim that this should have much to do with repressing one's own homosexual desires. I think people who find anal sex between two men disgusting are not likely to be suppressing their own homosexual desires. People who are genuinely homophobic are hardly ever like the character in American Beauty.)
A separate group would include those who do not morally subordinate anyone (i.e. do not treat them as if their only purpose is to serve others) but do act in ways that are harmful or discriminatory. There's a difference between being a racist and unintentionally discriminating, and there's even a difference between being a racist and deliberately discriminating but not for reasons having to do with attitudinal racism (e.g. catering to others' racism is not attitudinal racism but simply spinelessness). In this category would be those who would not rent to a gay couple because they don't want illicit sex taking place on their property. It would also include those who wouldn't want a gay person taking care of their children out of fear that the person might be a child molester. As I write this, my wife and baby daughter are at the home of a lesbian couple, and my baby may be in the arms of a lesbian; I have no problem with that, and anyone who does may well be truly homophobic, so that label might apply to some things in this category. Both that and not renting to a gay couple involve different treatment and therefore count as discrimination or prejudice. Whether it's discrimination may not have anything to do with whether the person discriminating sees gay people as morally subordinate or inferior. It may simply be due to a view (probably false) about what gay people do or what they're likely to do. That's a false view, and it has bad consequences, but it's not necessarily homophobia. It might be, but it might not be. That's the point of the second category.
The third group is those who have a opinion about the immorality of someone's actions but do not allow it to carry over into their view of the moral status of the person in terms of rights or inherent value and also do not allow it to lead them to treat the person differently. This is where biblical Christianity stands with regard to homosexuality, at least with non-religious matters. Those who hold to a moral code that says homosexual acts and relationships are morally wrong may not discriminate in any way against those who engage in those acts and are even proud of them. That's David's point, I think. This third level is a group with views he disagrees with, but they're views that aren't on the first or second level. The first is an attitude toward the person that stops any discussion, and the second is an action that can be seriously harmful. The third is simply a view that someone's action is wrong.
Compare a couple analogous cases. Christians who follow the Bible believe that sex outside of marriage is wrong. So my neighbors who are living together but aren't married, who presumably are having sex, are sinning. I don't talk to them much, not nearly as much as I should, but it has nothing to do with that. Teaching two courses, staying on top of my responsibilities with a family of five, helping out with a ministry on campus, and trying to make some progress toward my dissertation just seems to take enough time that I don't go hang out with my neighbors, regardless of their sexual practices. The same goes with many of the graduate students in my department. I think I could have been good friends with a bisexual student who is no longer in town. I had many enjoyable conversations with him, and though we disagreed strongly on many moral issues I would have enjoyed spending a lot more time with him. It would have been wrong for me to use my moral views about anything he may or may not be doing or have done to influence me not to spend time with him. Most evangelicals I know agree with me, at least in principle. Yet some people consider the mere belief that it's wrong for two men to have sex to be bigotry. I'm just not sure how something in category three is even structually like something in category one, which is where bigotry seems best applied.
Another moral view is that it's wrong to plagiarize on exams or papers. I've had students plagiarize. One student did it this semester, even on a dialogue paper (which is part of how it was easy to catch). She lifted material from a few websites, and it was quite obvious to anyone reading both her paper and the websites. I gave her a zero. I viewed her conduct as quite wrong and disrespectful to me. Yet I don't see her on a lower plane because of it, and when I was grading her final exam I was rooting for her to do well so that she might pass from trying to do good work to redeem herself, and I will do the same thing when I grade her paper. If she deserves to fail, she deserves to fail. If her last work for the course is able to get her a high enough grade, then I'm glad she learned from her experience and was willing to work hard to pass the course. So I take no attitude toward her as being morally subordinate or inferior because she did something wrong. I should also say that a good friend of mine got caught plagiarizing three times in the same semester, twice with the same professor. None of that changed how I viewed him after the fact, and I was perhaps even closer to him afterward, as much as I view plagiarism as one of the lowest things a college student could ever do. My friend now agrees with me on this, I believe, and considers his actions stupid. He expected people to reject him when he confessed to this. It didn't happen. Taking a category three view does not require a category one or category two view. These cases demonstrate that. I could say the same thing about people morally opposed to smoking who hang out with their smoker friends while they smoke or people morally opposed to being drunk who hang out with their friends while they drink to get drunk. Examples really do abound. Why should it be different with those who think gay sex or being in gay relationships is wrong?
There are some touchy subjects for those who think gay sex/relationships are wrong, such as what to do about saying congratulations to a newly married gay couple, whether to go to a gay marriage ceremony for one's friends, or whether to support legal recognition of gay unions. I've talked about these a bit in other posts but don't want to try to find them all at the moment due to wanting to finish this so I can back to finishing my grading, which is due tomorrow. Check the Posts on Homosexuality link in the sidebar under Favorite Posts if you want to see some of that. Maybe I'll find them later and add links.
There are, however, some clear matters. Any group that holds to a statement of faith and a code of conduct should be allowed not to appoint someone proud of violating that code of conduct to its positions of leadership. It's one thing to do something once or twice that violates it and then to repent. It's quite another to say that the code of conduct is wrong and that you don't follow it but to insist that you should be allowed to lead in a group holding such a code. [Those quick to point out hypocrisy among religious leaders need to understand this distinction, but so do those who think it's bigotry not to ordain gay people.] Isn't it a little perverse for someone to pursue a ministry position in a Christian church while being openly, actively gay and proud of it. Why would anyone want to do such a thing anyway? That would be like a Christian applying for a job teaching courses about how Christianity is the origin of all sorts of oppressive narratives that control our society. A friend of a number of my friends was in such a position in the Syracuse University English Department. She was hired to teach courses like this with specific political goals, and when she became a Christian and forsook her philosophical lesbianism, she realized that she couldn't fulfill her job description anymore. Rather than calling it discrimination that they wouldn't allow her to teach those courses from a Christian perspective or even from a non-biased perspective, she graciously acknowledged that the job description did not allow her to be a Christian and continue in her job, and she resigned.
I want to acknowledge that refusing to hire an openly and actively gay pastor is technically discrimination, but it's not the kind that seems to me to fit in category two. First of all, you can take attitudes like those in category three without insisting on any of these things. I don't think that's the biblical view, but it's technically possible to do so, and many conservatives who aren't Christian in a biblical way may be like that. I wonder if that's one reason David was separating out categories two and three to begin with. Even so, I don't think this kind of discrimination is problematic in the way that it is to refuse to associate with someone for being gay, to refuse to allow someone to attend your church merely for having a homosexual orientation (at least initially -- there may be other reasons to disfellowship someone later on, but that's different), or to refuse to rent to someone or hire someone because of sexual orientation (allowing some exceptions, e.g. a religious job with a code of conduct).
It's discriminatory to insist on hiring a black actor to play Malcolm X or for a heterosexual to insist on marrying only a heterosexual of the opposite sex. It's discriminatory to insist on hiring someone most qualified for a job. Discrimination is simply being choosy. The question is whether it's ok to be choosy in that way in those circumstances, and that's why I think these kinds of discrimination do not count as the same sort as category two. People like to compare them with being opposed to interracial marriage or integrating bathrooms, but there's a difference. People who were opposed to interracial marriage viewed blacks as morally inferior and wanted to preserve a structure that continued that, by refusing to allow them to marry white people. No one is disallowing gay people from marrying heterosexuals. That social dynamic just isn't present in the gay marriage debate. Other ones might be, but that one isn't.
Similarly, many white people thought (and some still think) that there's something perverse about me having sex with my wife because she's black and I'm white. Many people think a man having sex with a man or a woman with a woman is perverse. Yet the social structure being relied on in the two cases is very different. It's not that men are viewed as inferior and therefore it's perverse for someone who isn't a man to have sex with a man. It's that the particular act is perverse but not because of who is doing it. It doesn't involve one person lowering himself or herself, whereas with interracial sex that was the attitude. People saw a black man having sex with a white woman as perverse because they thought he was somehow polluting her with his blackness. With a white man and a black woman, it was different. There must have been something wrong with him to want to engage in that sort of act with someone like that. These social attitudes are so far removed from the dynamic with attitudes toward gay sex that I just don't see the analogy. Holding up gay sex as a perversion is a moral view, and it's one that need not involve any moral subordination or wrongful discrimination. David Velleman sees that. I wish more people with his attitude toward the morality of homosexuality would also see it, because then the people who really do hold category one attitudes toward Christians (or at least those being faithful to the Bible) would be far fewer.