September 30, 2006

This Post Isn’t About Mark Foley

Posted at 11:14 am (Pacific Time)

A few years ago, when the Catholic Church was rocked by the scandal about priests’ sexual abuse of boys, some of the Vatican hierarchy sought to focus attention on the “problem” of gay priests and seminarians (rather than the real problem of the church’s failure to protect children from predators). The Pope signed a policy in 2005 to ban ordinations of gay men, and a recently-completed probe sought evidence of homosexuality in Catholic seminaries. The fact that pedophile priests and gay priests are two distinct groups with little overlap was largely ignored.

Here we go again?

In the wake of Rep. Mark Foley’s resignation from the US House of Representatives, the Web has been full of commentary about it, including suggestions that being gay is equivalent to being a pedophile.

Although most people no longer accept the stereotype of gay men as child molesters, this old canard gains temporary currency whenever a sensationalistic story breaks. Without wading into a discussion of the specifics about Rep. Foley, I’d like to note an important fact:

There is no inherent linkage between an adult’s sexual orientation and her or his propensity for sexual attraction to children or molestation of children. The ranks of those who engage in sexually inappropriate behavior with children or underage teens include gay, straight, and bisexual adults. But none of these groups are disproportionately likely to be molesters or predators.

My web site includes an extensive discussion of this issue.

The Mark Foley story undoubtedly will generate considerable buzz in the days ahead. But it shouldn’t foster scapegoating of sexual minorities.

Copyright © 2006 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

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September 26, 2006

The Race Card in Marriage Politics

Posted at 1:01 pm (Pacific Time)

On Monday, Senator George Allen (R-VA) publicly denied allegations that he frequently used racially offensive language back in his days as a University of Virginia football player. It was the most recent in a series of accusations of racial insensitivity made against Sen. Allen during his current reelection campaign.

The senator made the denial after holding a press conference with a group of pastors, most of whom were Black.

Buried in most reporting about the event was the main purpose of the press conference: to promote Virginia’s November ballot measure that would create a constitutional ban on legal recognition of same-sex couples.

Some observers will find it ironic that Sen. Allen piggy-backed his assertions that he’s not racially prejudiced onto an event whose focus was to promote discrimination against sexual minorities. Others won’t see any irony at all because they don’t put sexual prejudice on a par with racial prejudice.

Irony aside, Sen. Allen’s joint appearance with black clergy was politically shrewd. Not only might it help to counteract some of his own image problems, it also is likely to reinforce support for the constitutional amendment among black heterosexual Virginians.

While most of the US public opposes marriage equality for same-sex couples, opposition is stronger among African Americans than among Hispanics and non-Hispanic Whites. My own research suggests that the source of many black heterosexuals’ opposition to marriage equality is their moral condemnation of homosexual behavior: They are more likely than other racial and ethnic groups to regard same-sex sexuality and relationships as sinful, and this attitude strongly informs their opinions about marriage.

Capitalizing on this pattern, opponents of gay rights have targeted African American communities in their campaigns against marriage equality. Members of the clergy have often been enlisted to make salient the moral dimension of heterosexual Blacks’ attitudes, as was the case at Sen. Allen’s press conference.

The tactic may well be successful this year in Virginia, where a Mason-Dixon poll earlier this month showed the ballot measure was supported by 54% of likely voters, versus 40% who opposed it.

Advocates for sexual minority rights shouldn’t write off the African American community, however. Although most heterosexual Blacks don’t favor marriage equality, many support gay rights in other arenas. For example, strong majorities favor outlawing job discrimination based on sexual orientation and support hate crimes legislation.

One explanation for this seeming inconsistency is that marriage is closely linked with religion in the minds of many Americans, black and non-black alike, whereas job rights and hate crimes aren’t. Thus, attitudes toward the latter aren’t based on religious beliefs to the same extent as opinions about marriage. Given their history and their own experiences with prejudice and discrimination, many African Americans are strong supporters of antidiscrimination laws. However, that support currently doesn’t translate into support for marriage equality.

Sen. Allen’s press conference with black pastors may not help him avoid the political fallout from his recent campaign stumbles. But it exemplifies conservative Republicans’ potent strategy of appealing to heterosexual African Americans in their fight against marriage equality.

Copyright © 2006 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

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