July 23, 2008

From 1993 to 2008: DADT and the House Armed Services Committee

Posted at 11:02 am (Pacific Time)

Today the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee holds hearings on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The congressional hearings come as Democrats increasingly discuss repealing the policy under a new Administration, and in the wake of a July ABC News/Washington Post Poll in which 75% of respondents said  that “homosexuals who DO publicly disclose their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the military.” (78% said those who DON’T disclose their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve.)

The hearings also follow the recent release of a report by a team of retired senior military officers that concluded the ban on openly gay service members is counterproductive and should end, as well as a public statement signed by more than 50 retired generals and admirals that calls on Congress to repeal DADT.

With these signs of quickening movement toward eliminating the military’s discriminatory personnel policy, I’d like to be able to discuss the social science research relevant to the policy.

However, there isn’t much to say that is new.

Revisiting the Social Science Data

To be sure, new studies have been released that consider issues related to privacy, unit cohesion, and the experiences of other countries that have integrated sexual minorities into their militaries. I’ve discussed some of this work in previous posts. The Michael D. Palm Center website at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is also an excellent resource for such research.

But the conclusions of the newer research don’t differ much from those of past studies.

Thus, it seems appropriate to revisit a previous set of hearings in which the House Armed Services Committee heard about social science research relevant to military personnel policy. They were held in May of 1993 and were chaired by Rep. Ron Dellums (D-CA).

I was invited to testify before the Committee on behalf of the American Psychological Association and five other professional organizations (the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Counseling Association, the American Nursing Association, and the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States).

What follows is the bulk of my oral statement (with some introductory and background material omitted):

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I am pleased to have the opportunity to appear before you today to provide testimony on the policy implications of lifting the ban on homosexuals in the military….

My written testimony to the Committee summarizes the results of an extensive review of the relevant published research from the social and behavioral sciences. That review is lengthy. However, I can summarize its conclusions in a few words: The research data show that there is nothing about lesbians and gay men that makes them inherently unfit for military service, and there is nothing about heterosexuals that makes them inherently unable to work and live with gay people in close quarters.

….I would like to address two questions that have been raised repeatedly in the current discussion surrounding the military ban on service by gay men and lesbians. The first question is whether lesbians and gay men are inherently unfit for service. In the current debate, some consensus seems to have been reached that gay people are just as competent, just as dedicated, and just as patriotic as their heterosexual counterparts. However, questions still are raised concerning whether the presence of openly gay military personnel would create a heightened risk for sexual harassment, favoritism, or fraternization.

Obviously, data are not available to address these questions directly because the current policy has made collection of such data impossible in the military. However, based on research conducted with civilians, as well as reports from quasi-military organizations in the United States (such as police and fire departments) and the armed forces of other countries, there is no reason to expect that gay men and lesbians would be any more likely than heterosexuals to engage in sexual harassment or other prohibited conduct. We know that a homosexual orientation is not associated with impaired psychological functioning; it is not in any way a mental illness. In addition, there is no valid scientific evidence to indicate that gay men and lesbians are less able than heterosexuals to control their sexual or romantic urges, to refrain from the abuse of power, to obey rules and laws, to interact effectively with others, or to exercise good judgment in handling authority….

The second question I would like to address is whether unit cohesion and morale would be harmed if personnel known to be gay were allowed to serve. Would heterosexual personnel refuse to work and live in close quarters with lesbian or gay male service members? This question reflects a recognition that stigma leads many heterosexuals to hold false stereotypes about lesbians and gay men and unwarranted prejudices against them.

As with the first question, we do not currently have data that directly answer questions about morale and cohesion. We do know, however, that heterosexuals are fully capable of establishing close interpersonal relationships with gay people and that as many as one-third of the adult heterosexual population in the U.S. has already done so. We also know that heterosexuals who have a close ongoing relationship with a gay man or a lesbian tend to express favorable and accepting attitudes toward gay people as a group. And it appears that ongoing interpersonal contact in a supportive environment where common goals are emphasized, and prejudice is clearly unacceptable, is likely to foster positive feelings toward gay men and lesbians. Thus, the assumption that heterosexuals cannot overcome their prejudices toward gay people is a mistaken one.

In summary, neither heterosexuals nor homosexuals appear to possess any characteristics that would make them inherently incapable of functioning under a nondiscriminatory military policy. In my written testimony, I have offered a number of recommendations for implementing such a policy. I would like to mention five of the principal recommendations here.

The military should:

  • establish clear norms that sexual orientation is irrelevant to performing one’s duty and that everyone should be judged on her or his own merits;
  • eliminate false stereotypes about gay men and lesbians through education and sensitivity training for all personnel;
  • set uniform standards for public conduct that apply equally to heterosexual and homosexual personnel;
  • deal with sexual harassment as a form of conduct rather than as a characteristic of a class of people, and establish that all sexual harassment is unacceptable regardless of the genders or sexual orientations involved;
  • take a firm and highly publicized stand that violence against gay personnel is unacceptable and will be punished quickly and severely; attach stiff penalties to antigay violence perpetrated by military personnel.

Undoubtedly, implementing a new policy will involve challenges that will require careful and planned responses from the military leadership. This has been true for racial and gender integration, and it will be true for integration of open lesbians and gay men. The important point is that such challenges can be successfully met. The real question for debate is whether the military, the government, and the country as a whole are willing to meet them.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I will be happy to answer any questions that members of the Committee might have.

From 1993 to 2008

That was in 1993. Today, as then, the real question is not whether sexual minorities can be successfully integrated into the military. The social science data answered this question in the affirmative then, and do so even more clearly now.

Rather, the issue is whether the United States is willing to repudiate its current practice of antigay discrimination and address the challenges associated with a new policy.

The growing opposition to DADT among military veterans and the public indicate that we finally may be ready to take up this challenge.

*          *          *          *          *

The full text of my 1993 oral statement before the House Armed Services Committee can be read on my website.

Copyright © 2008 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

·

July 18, 2008

New Poll: Californians Saying No to CaMP Act

Posted at 12:13 am (Pacific Time)

The first California statewide poll to directly measure public opinion about Proposition 8 — the so-called California Marriage Protection (CaMP) Act, a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban marriage equality — suggests the ballot measure is in serious trouble.

As reported at ProtectMarriageEquality.com, a Field Poll commissioned by Oakland’s KTVU-TV found that the marriage ban is supported by only 42% of Californians, while 51% oppose it. The remaining 7% are undecided.

The Numbers

Consistent with previous polls by the LA Times and the Field Research Corporation, the new survey found that support for the amendment is strongest in California’s politically conservative Central Valley, where it is favored by 54%. By contrast, coastal residents — who constitute 69% of the population of likely voters — oppose it by a margin of 56% to 37%. The percentages against Prop. 8 were 67% in the San Francisco Bay Area and 51% in Los Angeles County.

Republicans overwhelmingly support the amendment by a margin of 68% to 27%, while Democrats oppose it 63% to 30%. Notably, Independents oppose it 66% to 27%.

Proposition 8 is opposed by a majority of women (54%, versus 40% who support it) and a plurality of men (49% to 45%).

The only ethnic group tending to support the amendment is Latinos, who favor it by a 49% to 38% plurality. However, 13% of Latinos are still undecided. Non-Hispanic Whites, African Americans, and Asian-Americans all oppose Proposition 8.

The amendment is supported by a plurality of Californians who say they don’t personally know anyone who is gay or lesbian. However, that group constitutes only one fourth of the respondents. Those who know or work with a gay or lesbian person oppose the amendment 54% to 40%.

Good News for Equality Supporters

The poll numbers offer a double dose of hope for supporters of marriage equality. Not only do the data indicate that the ballot proposition is currently losing outright, they also suggest that its prospects for gaining support during the coming months may be dim.

In a previous post about an earlier LA Times poll (which was conducted before marriages of same-sex couples actually began in California and which found slight majority support for a hypothetical ballot measure), I quoted the Times‘ observation that:

“…[B]allot measures on controversial topics often lose support during the course of a campaign” and, for this reason, “strategists typically want to start out well above the 50% support level.” According to Susan Pinkus, the Times Poll Director, “Although the amendment to reinstate the ban on same-sex marriage is winning by a small majority, this may not bode well for the measure.”

Thus, the measure’s lack of majority support now — less than 4 months before the election — indicates that the Christian conservatives who propose to write marriage inequality into the California constitution have their work cut out for them.

Reasons for Caution

Although the poll results are good news for equality supporters, it would be a mistake to take victory in November for granted for at least three reasons.

First, we’ll need data from more surveys with comparable samples to be sure that the Field Poll results accurately describe California opinion at this time.

Second, although it is indeed a hopeful sign that the amendment lacks majority support at this point in the campaign, many things can happen between now and the November election that might shift voters’ opinions.

Third, past experience indicates that polls may understate the true opposition to marriage equality among the California electorate. In 2000, the final Field Poll before the election indicated that 53% of likely voters supported Proposition 22, the anti-equality Knight Initiative that the California Supreme Court recently ruled unconstitutional. On election day, 61% voted for it.

Thus, the new poll should invigorate supporters of marriage equality in California. But it shouldn’t make them complacent.

*          *          *          *          *

The KTVU/Field Poll data were obtained through telephone interviews conducted in English and Spanish with a random sample of 672 California likely voters from July 8-14. The margin of error for the question about Proposition 8 is 3.9 percentage points.

Poll respondents were asked the following question: “Proposition 8 is the ‘Limit on Marriage Constitutional Amendment.’ It amends the California constitution to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. If the election were being held today, would you vote YES or NO on Proposition 8, the Limit on Marriage Constitutional Amendment?”

The full report is available at the Field Poll website.

Note: This entry has been updated to include additional details about the survey that were released subsequent to its initial posting.

Copyright © 2008 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

·

July 4, 2008

Jesse Helms: “If You Want To Call Me A Bigot, Fine.”

Posted at 12:49 pm (Pacific Time)

I’m not going to put a lesbian in a position like that….
If you want to call me a bigot, fine.”

Jesse Helms, in response to President Clinton’s 1993 nomination of Roberta Achtenberg as an assistant secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

AP Photo

Future students of 20th-century US history may puzzle over a section of the 1990 Hate Crimes Statistics Act. After mandating the federal government’s annual collection of data about “crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity,” the Act includes the following passage:

“SEC. 2.

(a) Congress finds that:

  1. the American family life is the foundation of American Society,
  2. Federal policy should encourage the well-being, financial security, and health of the American family,
  3. schools should not de-emphasize the critical value of American family life.

(b) Nothing in this Act shall be construed, nor shall any funds appropriated to carry out the purpose of the Act be used, to promote or encourage homosexuality”

This section of the Act is the legacy of Jesse Helms, who died today at the age of 86.

When the Hate Crimes Statistics Act was being considered by the Senate, Helms played a leading role in efforts to block it because it included antigay violence among the crimes to be monitored by law enforcement personnel. Aware of the bill’s popularity and having failed to remove sexual orientation from it, Helms attempted to thwart its passage by introducing an amendment that its supporters would find unacceptable but politically difficult to vote down.

The Helms amendment would have added the following language to the bill:

“It is the sense of the Senate that:

  1. the homosexual movement threatens the strength and survival of the American family as the basic unit of society;
  2. State sodomy laws should be enforced because they are in the best interest of public health;
  3. the Federal Government should not provide discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation; and
  4. school curriculums should not condone homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle in American society.”

Such tactics were typical of Helms, who regularly used his parliamentary skills to get his own way in the Senate. On this occasion, however, he was outmaneuvered by Senators Paul Simon (D-IL) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who proposed alternative language that was less antigay.

The Simon-Hatch amendment was approved before Helms’ amendment was considered, thus providing political cover for senators. By supporting the Simon-Hatch language, they could safely vote against Helms’ amendment without being labeled pro-gay and anti-family.

And that’s why the Hate Crimes Statistics Act includes statements about “the American family” and denials that it was intended to “promote or encourage homosexuality.”

Helms’ failure at preventing passage of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act was unusual. His mastery of Senate procedure, coupled with lawmakers’ fear of appearing pro-gay, frequently allowed him to succeed in enacting his anti-gay agenda.

When the US was first confronting the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, for example, Helms was instrumental in preventing the government from funding effective prevention programs among gay and bisexual men. The Senate twice endorsed his amendments prohibiting federal funds for AIDS education materials that “promote or encourage, directly or indirectly, homosexual activities.” By constricting the scope of risk-reduction education, Helms’ actions were widely believed to have contributed to the epidemic’s rapid spread.

Throughout his 30-year tenure in the US Senate, Helms was consistently associated with antigay stands. Given this fact, as well as his longstanding opposition to racial equality and the race-baiting tactics he used in election campaigns throughout his career, it is a fairly easy matter to accept his invitation to label him a bigot.

Personal bigotry aside, however, Helms’ legacy includes the many institutional manifestations of heterosexism that he was able to implement during his years in the Senate. Through the laws he sponsored and those he helped to defeat, he created real hardships for sexual minorities while also fostering sexual prejudice in American society. And his efforts probably contributed to the spread of HIV in the United States and the infection and deaths of many gay and bisexual men.

On this Independence Day and the occasion of Jesse Helms’ death, it is fitting to note how personal bigotry combined with political power can enable one politician to do so much harm to so many people.

And, recalling the general unwillingness of elected leaders to stand up to Jesse Helms’ antigay campaigns over the years, it is appropriate to reflect upon the words attributed to Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Copyright © 2008 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

·

July 1, 2008

From Russia With Hate: Paul Cameron @ Moscow State U. Sociology Dept.

Posted at 9:35 am (Pacific Time)

  • Take one US antigay activist who happens to have earned a Ph.D. in psychology and has been denounced by major professional associations of psychologists and sociologists in his home country and Canada.
  • Add one Russian university department where the training is substandard, the faculty don’t publish in their field’s academic journals, the dean has been charged with plagiarism, and xenophobia is encouraged in students’ work.
  • Combine and season with dubious research findings published in a low-prestige academic journal.

That’s the recipe for Paul Cameron’s recent visit to the Sociology department of Moscow State University. It was a seemingly perfect match, teeming with possibilities for public pronouncements based on junk science and chock-full of sexual prejudice.

And it didn’t disappoint. Press service dispatches from Russia suggest that Cameron has found a highly receptive audience for his antigay rants

Before considering Cameron’s statements, let’s revisit those ingredients.

Ingredient #1: Moscow State University’s Troubled Sociology Department

Last year, MSU students organized to combat their Sociology department’s eroding teaching standards and repressive living conditions. They issued an open call for support on their website that listed a variety of grievances and concerns:

We, a group of students of the Sociology Department at Moscow State University, have asked the department’s administration to improve the quality of teaching, stop force-feeding us with ultranationalist propaganda, and ensure acceptable conditions of life and study. In response to our demands, the administration has stepped up repressive measures: Friends who were distributing leaflets have been arrested by the police; individual students have been threatened; and the dean’s office and a servile student’s committee have written a letter to the rector (president) of the university asking to clamp down on any unapproved student protest actions, campaigns, or meetings on campus. All this is part of an attempt to muzzle us and create a wall of silence to conceal the dramatic state of affairs at the department.

In recent years, lectures at the department have become ever more insipid and formal exercises. The administration has cut the number of seminars and practical classes. We are allowed to take ever fewer course units in neighboring disciplines. We are hardly ever given the opportunity to attend talks by outside lecturers. Exam questions are limited to the contents of a textbook authored by the dean.

The dean’s office has distributed a brochure to all students which approvingly quotes the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” blames Freemasons and Zionists for the world wars, and claims that they control US and British policy and the global financial system….

A March 19, 2007, NY Times article reported that the University had created a commission to investigate the students’ accusations. According to the students’ web site, that commission was highly critical of the department, finding that the level of training for students was substandard, that the faculty does not publish research in major sociology journals and is largely isolated from the field of sociology, and that the main textbook used in the department (authored by the department’s own dean/chairman) is unsatisfactory and includes multiple instances of plagiarism. The commission also noted that some graduate students’ work included ideological expressions of bigotry against other cultures.

Ingredient #2: Paul Cameron, Antigay Activist and Discredited Psychologist

Most readers of this blog are already familiar with Paul Cameron, who holds the dubious distinction of having been castigated by the major professional societies of two different disciplines:

  • In 1984, the American Psychological Association informed its members that “Paul Cameron (Nebraska) was dropped from membership for a violation of the Preamble to the Ethical Principles of Psychologists” by the APA Board of Directors.
  • Later that same year, the Nebraska Psychological Association adopted a resolution stating that it “formally disassociates itself from the representations and interpretations of scientific literature offered by Dr. Paul Cameron in his writings and public statements on sexuality. Further, the Nebraska Psychological Association would like it known that Dr. Cameron is not a member of the Association.”
  • In August, 1996, the Canadian Psychological Association adopted a policy statement that said, “The Canadian Psychological Association takes the position that Dr. Paul Cameron has consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented research on sexuality, homosexuality, and lesbianism and thus, it formally disassociates itself from the representation and interpretations of scientific literature in his writings and public statements on sexuality.”

Combine and Stir Well: Cameron In Moscow

As Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin reported on June 16,

Paul Cameron, of the Family “Research” Institute …. is in Moscow, where tomorrow he will speak at Moscow State University on a panel called “Social norms and prospects of development of society.”…  Cameron will be spreading his discredited “research” to Russia, where he remains an unknown quantity. There, he will speak on “Homosexuality and the demographic problem.”

Indeed, Cameron appears to have found a receptive audience in Moscow. According to an Interfax-Religion News Service report, headlined “The Number of Drunken Drivers and Tax Evaders Among Homosexuals is Twice as Much – Expert“:

The number of drug-addicts and drunken drives among representatives of sex minorities twice exceeds the same figure among heterosexuals, director of the American Family Research Institute Paul Cameron believes.

“The number of those who use alcohol, heavy drugs and drink behind the wheel is twice as much among homosexuals. Besides, homosexuals twice more often evade taxes,” Dr. Cameron, who studied phenomenon of homosexuals for 40 years, said in the round table in Moscow.

He cited his institute’s research proving that representatives of sexual minorities of both sexes changed partners more frequent than heterosexuals. The number of those who suffer from venereal diseases among homosexuals is also much bigger.

Cameron also told about recent research of the degree of everyday risks for homosexuals and heterosexuals conducted by the Canadian government. The research showed that the number of homosexuals exposed to the risk to be murdered or violated, which includes home violence, is twice as much as among heterosexuals. The expert stressed that Canada officially permitted homosexual “marriages.”

Another Interfax dispatch that same day reported Cameron’s belief that “Almost all homosexuals are victims of fashion or sexual violence in childhood.”

[Note: I believe the Interfax translation went wrong here. From what I know of Cameron's rhetoric, I suspect he said something to the effect that many people become homosexual because they are influenced by society's current norms that allow for (limited) acceptance of sexual minorities, not that they are fashion victims, as the news agency's dispatch suggests.]

And the report indicated that Cameron had endorsed the Moscow mayor’s repressive actions against free speech by gay rights groups:

He urged Russians to back up such politicians as Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov who opposed gay parade in Moscow. Cameron also finds it joyful that representatives of the sociology faculty of the Moscow State University showed interest to his institute’s research and plan to conduct similar independent analysis.

“The USA needs your help. We want Russia to say strong “no” to homosexuality. American government groundlessly ignores our scientific research data. The West is rich, but this particular situation makes it die,” the researcher said.

Seasoning: Cameron’s “Research” Findings

As is generally true of Cameron’s statements about homosexuality and sexual minorities, the comments reported by Interfax are so full of falsehoods, junk science, and outright bigotry that a point-by-point rebuttal would be a Herculean task — not unlike cleaning out the Augean stables. Because many of those comments echo “findings” he reported in a 2005 paper published in Psychological Reports, I’ll note a few problems with that paper.

[Note: As explained on my web page, Psychological Reports is Cameron's main publishing outlet. It is a low-prestige academic journal that is distinguished from most other journals in the behavioral and social sciences by its policy of charging authors to publish in it.]

In the article, Cameron claimed to have reanalyzed data from the 1996 National Household Survey of Drug Abuse (NHSDA), using a publicly available version of the data on the webite of the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR). The website also permits users to conduct simple data analyses, which Cameron’s article says he used.

One big concern about the article has to do with the numbers Cameron reported. I’m not confident that they actually match those in the NHSDA data set. He reported that 176 respondents had engaged exclusively in same-sex sexual conduct during the previous year. However, a 2000 paper published in the American Journal of Epidemiology — authored by UCLA Profs. Susan Cochran and Vickie Mays — used the same data set and reported that the sample included 135 people who said they’d had only same-sex sexual partners during the previous 12 months. I used the same on-line NHSDA statistical tools that Cameron said he’d used and I obtained results essentially the same as those of Cochran and Mays. Given the extensive track record of Profs. Cochran and Mays in analyzing data of this type, and their publication of these and other national survey data in prestigious academic journals, I’m inclined to trust their results over Cameron’s. Just where Cameron found his “extra” 41 respondents isn’t clear.

Another numbers-crunching concern is that Cameron analyzed the data by simply cross-tabulating various behaviors (e.g., drug use) by sexual behavior category. This approach ignores the complex relationships among key variables. In the 1996 NHSDA data set, for example, age, income, and employment status are correlated both with males’ same-sex behavior and with their use of an illegal substance. Much of the association between sexual conduct and drug use may be accounted for by these and other variables. Cameron’s article, however, didn’t use statistical methods that would control for these correlations and, consequently, couldn’t take into consideration the whole array of variables that might influence behavior.

Even if Cameron’s numbers were accurate, it’s important to remember that the NHSDA included no questions about whether the respondents considered themselves to be gay, straight, or bisexual. Rather, participants were asked whether their recent sexual partners were male, female, or both. Thus, the data set addresses sexual behavior, not sexual orientation. Although the two are certainly correlated, it’s not accurate to equate behavior and identity. In the previously mentioned American Journal of Epidemiology article, for example, Profs. Cochran and Mays estimated that as many as one third of the NHSDA respondents who reported at least one instance of same-sex behavior wouldn’t self-identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

Yet another limitation to the article’s credibility is the consistent antigay spin in Cameron’s interpretation of the findings. This is even more evident when we consider how he presented differences between Blacks and Whites in the same data set. According to the data tables in his Psychological Reports article, Blacks were more likely than Whites to report recent illegal drug use, involvement in prostitution, being on parole, injecting drug use, cocaine use, multiple problems related to alcohol use, having sex outside an ongoing relationship in the past year, more sexual partners, family members on welfare, and absence from work in the past 30 days. Rather than assert that Blacks pose a risk to society — a claim too preposterous even for Cameron — he allowed that the differences he observed between Blacks and Whites in the NHSDA sample could be attributed to the effects of racial discrimination.

Using Cameronesque logic, he then concluded that the differences between same-sex and different-sex groups couldn’t be explained as the result of antigay discrimination because they didn’t parallel the differences between White and Black respondents. That is, respondents reporting same-sex contact didn’t match Blacks on all of the variables listed above.

If the Interfax dispatch is accurate about Cameron’s use of the Canadian data, his antigay spin becomes even more obvious.

Presumably, he was referring to the 2008 Statistics Canada report, Sexual Orientation and Victimization 2004. It noted that the 2004 Canadian General Social Survey on victimization inquired about respondents’ sexual orientation for the first time, following Parliament’s amendment of the criminal code to include sexual orientation as an identifiable characteristic for protection from hate crime victimization. The survey found that sexual minorities experienced higher rates of violent victimization and discrimination than did heterosexuals.

While a reasonable person would understand these data to mean that sexual minorities are the targets of discriminatory attacks, Cameron interprets them as showing that sexual minorities — not the perpetrators of antigay violence — are the problem. This is consistent with his endorsement of Moscow’s Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who has repeatedly denied gay groups the right to publicly demonstrate, saying such marches are “satanic” and referring to same-sex relationships as “a deadly poison for children.”

Recipe For Hate

Cameron has unsuccessfully sought credibility in the US as a researcher for at least the past quarter century. The rogue Sociology Department at Moscow State University — with its low academic standards and atmosphere of repression and xenophobia — seems like the perfect place for him to land.

Sadly, his approach to “research” may well catch on there, subjecting Russia’s sexual minorities to even more hostile stereotypes than they currently face, with the added scientific veneer that Cameron’s spouting of bogus statistics can provide.

And sadly, for those of us in the United States, Cameron probably won’t stay in Russia but will instead return home to Colorado Springs and continue to foist his half-baked ideas on the American public.

*          *          *          *          *

Thanks to Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin for many background resources related to this post.

For more information about the Moscow State University Sociology Department and its Dean, Vladimir Dobrenkov, see Richard Bartholomew’s June 21 post at Talk to Action and his March 25 (2007) post to Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion.

For more about Paul Cameron’s Moscow visit (and about Cameron in general), see Jim Burroway’s posts at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Further reading:

Beauchamp, D.L. (2008). Sexual orientation and victimization 2004. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. Available at: http://www.statcan.ca/bsolc/english/bsolc?catno=85F0033M2008016

Cameron, P., Landess, T., & Cameron, K. (2005). Homosexual sex as harmful as drug abuse, prostitution, or smoking. Psychological Reports, vol. 96 (#3), pp. 915-961.

Cochran, S. D., & Mays, V. M. (2000). Relation between psychiatric syndromes and behaviorally defined sexual orientation in a sample of the US population. American Journal of Epidemiology, vol. 151 (#5), pp. 516-523.

Copyright © 2008 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

·

June 26, 2008

Five Years Ago Today: Reflections on Lawrence v. Texas

Posted at 12:01 am (Pacific Time)

On June 26, 2003, the US Supreme Court issued its opinion in the Lawrence v. Texas case, ruling that state laws restricting adults’ rights to engage in private, consenting sexual behavior are unconstitutional.

Today, on the fifth anniversary of that historic decision, it seems appropriate to recall the events leading up to it and to consider what has happened since.

Consistent with this blog’s focus, I’ll emphasize the social science research data relevant to the case as presented to the Court in an amicus brief filed by the American Psychological Association (APA) and other professional organizations. I had the privilege of helping to write the APA’s briefs for Lawrence and the other cases mentioned below, all of which sought to inform the Court about current scientific knowledge related to homosexuality and sexual orientation.

Bowers v. Hardwick

Before discussing Lawrence, it’s important to recall the Court’s decision 17 years earlier in Bowers v. Hardwick.

Michael Hardwick was arrested in his Atlanta home after a police officer (who had been admitted to the home by a houseguest) peered through Hardwick’s partially open bedroom door and saw him engaging in oral sex with a male companion. Georgia had a sodomy law that, like the laws in many other states at the time, criminalized oral and anal sex between same-sex and different-sex partners alike.

With assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union, Hardwick brought a suit against the state Attorney General, Michael Bowers, challenging the law’s constitutionality. The case reached the US Supreme Court in its 1985–1986 term, and the APA filed an amicus brief jointly with the American Public Health Association.

That brief detailed the current state of scientific thinking and empirical research about homosexuality, explaining that the sexual conduct made illegal by the Georgia statute was common in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, and was neither pathological nor harmful to the individual. Rather, the brief argued, such behaviors play a key role in maintaining intimate relationships, which in turn are important for the psychological well-being of heterosexual and homosexual individuals alike. The brief also explained that homosexuality is not a psychological disorder and it rebutted arguments by the Georgia Attorney General that the statute was an effective deterrent to the spread of AIDS.

By a 5–4 majority, the Court upheld the Georgia statute, declaring that states can legally regulate the private sexual behavior of consenting adults. This outcome was made all the more disappointing by later revelations that Justice Powell had initially sided with the justices who wanted to overturn the statute but then changed his vote. Justice Powell commented that he had never personally known any gay people. Ironically, several of his law clerks over the years had been gay but, out of concern for their careers, none had disclosed that fact to Justice Powell.

Three aspects of the majority opinion by Justice White and the concurring opinion by Chief Justice Burger are especially noteworthy.

  • First, the opinions framed the legal question very narrowly and addressed only homosexual conduct even though the Georgia statute made both heterosexual and homosexual sodomy illegal. As Justice White put it, “The issue presented is whether the Federal Constitution confers a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy and hence invalidates the laws of the many States that still make such conduct illegal and have done so for a very long time” (p. 190).
  • Second, both opinions found justification for their legal reasoning in religious and moral traditions. Justice White wrote that proscriptions against homosexual conduct “have ancient roots” (p. 194). Chief Justice Burger asserted that “To hold that the act of homosexual sodomy is somehow protected as a fundamental right would be to cast aside millennia of moral teaching” (p. 197).
  • Third, the opinions constructed same-sex sexuality as something very different from heterosexuality, declaring that it has no relationship to families. Justice White wrote, “No connection between family, marriage, or procreation on the one hand and homosexual activity on the other has been demonstrated, either by the Court of Appeals or by respondent” (p. 191). Elaborating further on this theme, he equated homosexual behavior with incest and heterosexual adultery, predicting that if the court were to decide that the Constitution protects the right to “voluntary sexual conduct between consenting adults, it would be difficult, except by fiat, to limit the claimed right to homosexual conduct while leaving exposed to prosecution adultery, incest, and other sexual crimes even though they are committed in the home” (p. 194).

The Bowers decision was a great blow to proponents of equality for sexual minorities. However, an opportunity to challenge it came surprisingly soon.

Lawrence v. Texas

In 1998, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested in Texas for having consensual sex in Lawrence’s bedroom. The Texas sodomy law was similar to Georgia’s in that it criminalized oral and anal sex. Unlike the Georgia statute, however, the Texas law applied only to conduct between people of the same sex. In a lengthy series of appeals, the lower courts refused to overturn the law, citing Bowers v. Hardwick as precedent. Lawrence and Garner finally appealed to the US Supreme Court, which heard the case in the spring of 2003.

For several reasons, legal experts believed it might be possible to overturn Bowers v. Hardwick at this time. Many states had eliminated their sodomy laws, either through the legislative process or because courts had found them to be in violation of the state constitution. Gay people had become much more openly integrated into American life, and public opinion surveys revealed widespread opposition to antigay discrimination. The membership of the Supreme Court had also changed since 1986, and the Court’s 1996 Romer v. Evans ruling suggested it was more receptive to gay issues than in the past. In addition, many legal scholars regarded the Bowers v. Hardwick opinion as not well reasoned and considered it an embarrassment to the Court.

The APA — joined by the American Psychiatric Association and the National Association of Social Workers — filed an amicus brief, one of more than two dozen such briefs submitted in the Lawrence case. As in Bowers v. Hardwick, the APA brief summarized the current state of scientific knowledge relevant to the case, citing an extensive list of empirical studies and literature reviews in support of its conclusions.

Although some aspects of the Lawrence brief were very similar to the earlier Bowers brief, a much larger body of scientific research on sexual orientation was available than had been the case 17 years earlier. In addition, consistent with the Texas statute, the Lawrence brief focused on research about homosexuality. It stressed three major conclusions from behavioral and social science research findings:

  • Homosexuality is a normal form of human sexuality. In connection with this point, the brief explained why and how sexual orientation is important to the individual; how sexual orientation develops, and the fact that most people do not perceive their sexual orientation to be a choice; and the mental health professions’ recognition that homosexuality is not a mental disorder.
  • Trying to legally suppress sexual intimacy among same-sex partners deprives gay men and lesbians of the opportunity to participate in fundamental aspects of human experience. In this regard, the brief discussed the importance to gay men and lesbians of sexual intimacy and committed relationships; the centrality of the specific behaviors proscribed by the Texas statute to sexual intimacy and, therefore, to the intimate relationships that are at the core of lesbian and gay families; the similarities between same-sex and heterosexual intimate relationships; and the ability of gay men and lesbians to be good parents.
  • Sodomy statutes — such as the Texas law — reinforce prejudice, discrimination, and violence against gay men and lesbians. Related to this point, the brief presented research findings on the discrimination, prejudice, and violence routinely encountered by gay people, and discussed how antisodomy statutes reinforce and help to perpetuate those enactments of sexual stigma.

Five years ago today, the Court declared the Texas law unconstitutional by a 6–3 majority, reversing Bowers v. Hardwick.

Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion was sweeping in its language and its recognition of the basic humanity of gay people. This is evident in his criticism of how the 1986 Court majority had approached Bowers v. Hardwick:

To say that the issue in Bowers was simply the right to engage in certain sexual conduct demeans the claim the individual put forward, just as it would demean a married couple were it to be said marriage is simply about the right to have sexual intercourse…. When sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring. The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to make this choice (p. 567).

Justice Kennedy also noted that the continuance of Bowers as precedent “demeans the lives of homosexual persons” (p. 575), and asserted that “Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today” (p. 578). Near the end of the opinion, he wrote, “The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime” (p. 578).

These statements represented a dramatic break with the Bowers Court’s view of gay people.

What was the impact of the APA  briefs on the Court? In 1986, Justice Blackmun cited the APA brief in his impassioned dissent to Bowers v. Hardwick. Subsequently, in overturning their sodomy laws, some state courts relied on information from the APA amicus briefs submitted to them. The 2003 brief wasn’t explicitly cited in the written opinions for the Lawrence case, although some of Justice Kennedy’s recurring themes — his recognition of the humanity of gay men and lesbians, and the fact that sexuality is central to personal identity and intimate relationships — were repeatedly stressed in it.

Although we don’t know whether and to what extent the brief affected the Lawrence decision, what matters is that it was filed. As a joint effort by the largest mental health professional associations in the United States — whose memberships also include many of the country’s leading behavioral scientists — the brief illustrated just how far psychology and psychiatry have come in their understanding of human sexuality and their renunciation of sexual stigma.

The Marriage Equality Cases

The ink had barely dried on Justice Kennedy’s decision when questions began to be raised about its impact on marriage laws. Indeed, the justices directly addressed this question in their opinions, with Justice Scalia’s dissent interpreting the majority opinion as leading inevitably to marriage equality (an outcome not to his liking), and Justice Kennedy denying that such a conclusion was in any way inevitable. Justice O’Connor, who wrote a separate concurring opinion, made a point of separating the Lawrence decision from the marriage issue.

Less than six months after the Lawrence decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court cited it in their ruling that prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying violated the state constitution. A few months later, Mayor Gavin Newsom directed the San Francisco County Assessor to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and officials in a few other jurisdictions did likewise. Thus began a period of intense legal, political, and cultural focus on the issue of marriage equality.

In the past 4 years, several state courts have considered challenges to their marriage laws. The APA and other professional groups filed amicus briefs in those cases which summarized the social science research related to three major lines of argument:

  • In psychological terms, intimate same-sex relationships are not fundamentally different from different-sex relationships.
  • Gay and lesbian couples are currently raising children, and are just as capable as heterosexual couples in this regard.
  • Marriage confers a variety of tangible and intangible benefits that have important effects on psychological and physical health; because they cannot marry, same-sex couples are currently denied these benefits.

I’ve discussed the social science data supporting these arguments in previous posts to this blog.

To date, most of those laws have been upheld by state courts, although the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples must be granted the same rights and responsibilities as different-sex married couples.

The important exception, of course, is California, whose Supreme Court ruled on May 15 that it is unconstitutional to deny marriage rights to Californians simply because they are gay.

That decision — which also declared that sexual orientation will now be considered a “suspect classification” and that laws and policies discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation will be subjected to strict judicial scrutiny — repeatedly cited the Lawrence v. Texas opinion. It also cited the APA amicus brief, as detailed in a previous post.

In the months ahead, Californians will debate whether or not the Court’s ruling should be undone by a constitutional amendment that has qualified for the November ballot. Meanwhile, a decision about Connecticut’s marriage law is expected from that state’s Supreme Court at any time, and an appeal is pending for an Iowa lower court judge’s opinion that the state’s ban on marriage rights for same-sex couples is unconstitutional.

*          *          *          *          *

Back in 1975, soon after the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its official roster of mental illnesses, the American Psychological Association (APA) adopted a resolution that not only endorsed the psychiatrists’ action, but also recognized psychologists’ responsibility to undo the harm their profession had historically done to sexual minorities. That resolution committed psychologists to “to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with homosexual orientations.”

The APA’s amicus briefs in the Bowers, Lawrence, and related cases were translations of that resolution into concrete action.

Because current debates about law and policy concerning sexual orientation inevitably raise questions about the nature of intimate relationships, parenting, family dynamics, and the personal impact of sexual stigma — phenomena that have been extensively studied by behavioral and social scientists — psychologists and other behavioral scientists have an ongoing role to play in communicating our knowledge to policy makers, jurists, and the public.

By doing so, we will continue to fulfill our longstanding commitment to take the lead in removing the stigma historically attached to homosexuality and same-sex intimate relationships.

*          *          *          *          *

This essay is adapted from sections of a longer article titled “Confronting Sexual Stigma and Prejudice: Theory and Practice,” which was published in 2007 in the Journal of Social Issues, vol. 63, pp. 905-925. The original article is copyright © 2007 by Gregory M. Herek. Sources and bibliographic references can be found in the published article.

Copyright © 2008 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

·

« Previous Page« Previous entries « Previous Page · Next Page » Next entries »Next Page »