Daniel’s contribution to this important anthology is a tract entitled “Heterosexism, Not Homosexuality, is the Problem,” which serves as the book's introduction. At one point he writes:
Homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is morally neutral. It is primarily how persons live and relate to other persons and to their parent earth that gives persons their main identity. In healthier cultures, the “is” of a person is not established by sexual orientation or by height, but by moral commitments. The object of one’s passion and love does not stigmatize the lover. We know more of what makes a person a person by finding his or her lived-out attraction to compassion and justice. . . . This same healing theme appears here and there like an aspiring leitmotif in all those flawed but powerful classics called world religions. The healthy emphasis on the moral character of persons – rather than with whom they fall in love – strips away and embarrasses the moralistic pretensions of heterosexist cultures. Seeing persons through heterosexist lenses is radically distortional.
Heterosexism in Contemporary World Religion: Problem and Prospect, notes Daniel, is a much-needed invitation to exit that terrible, damaging and corrupting closet of fear that heterosexism forces us into. The scope of the book’s content provides the guiding light for this exodus journey. Co-editor Judith Plaskow, for instance, explores the dismantling of the gender binary within Judaism; Ann-Marie Hsiung examines gender and same-sex relations in Confucianism and Taoism; Yu-Chen Li reconstructs Buddhist perspectives on homosexuality; Mary E. Hunt shares insights and advice on eradicating the sin of heterosexism; Ghazala Anwar offers a defense of same-sex marriage based on the Qur’an and other Muslim sources; Kelly Brown Douglas examines heterosexism and the Black American Church community; Anantanand Rambachan highlights the irreconcilability of Hinduism and homophobia; and co-editor Marvin Ellison defends same-sex marriage on Christian grounds.
Without doubt it’s an essential book in the ongoing quest to banish heterosexism from our lives and from our religious and cultural institutions.
Following (with added images and links) is an excerpt from Daniel Maguire's “Heterosexism, Not Homosexuality, is the Problem.”
Homosexuality is not a problem: heterosexism is a problem, and not just for sexual minorities. To think of homosexuality as “problem” – which even persons of liberal bent can do - is a distraction and a surrender to the unjust and poisonous prejudice of heterosexism.
Homophobia has, in irony, been called “the last respectable prejudice,” but, of course, no prejudice merits respect. All prejudice metastasizes into other sites and spreads its malignancy into policy, law, custom, and culture. Any prejudice tolerated makes other prejudices seem more natural. By its nature, prejudice “outgroups” persons, disenfranchising them of their human rights. It marks persons out for special and negative handling simply because of who they are.
Unlike its cousins anti-Semitism, sexism, and racism, heterosexism has enjoyed undue immunity from critique, especially religious critique. Worse yet, religious have been the major offenders in fomenting prejudices against sexual minorities. The pope says gays cannot be priests. As theologian Mary E. Hunt points out in chapter 6, heterosexual Catholics have seven sacraments; gays and lesbians have only six since the sacrament of matrimony is denied them. Some Episcopalians want to split their church apart to prevent same-sex marital bonding. The stress on reproduction in all religions often disparages non-reproductive sex, thus tabooing and insulting all homosexual relationships. Religious prejudices seep deeply into culture. Thus, sexual minorities not only cannot be clergy, they also cannot be teachers or even soldiers.
Religions are always active and influential in defining the meaning of the bonding called family and have regularly shrunken it into a gated preserve for heterosexuals. This gives religious blessing to a heterosexual monopoly on committed love. It transforms marriage from a human right into an award for being heterosexual. Sexual pleasure itself is put on trial; it must be justified or validated by reproductivity. Sexual joy in its own right is stripped of its natural legitimacy. Sexual minorities are thus not the only victims of heterosexist brutality. The damage is so much broader.
Humanity needs its exuberant diversity, but humans tend to flee from it. William Sloane Coffin writes: “Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with – and perhaps the most dangerous thing to live without.” (1) This self-protective hunger for a cowering monism could indeed be the fatal flaw of our species. We either learn to live with and exult in the wealth of our natural and cultural differences – religious, ethnic, racial, sexual – or we perish.
The fervor that animates homophobia seeks ill-fated support from zoology, hoping to show that nature requires heteronormativity. Alas, the desired evidence is not there, and contrary evidence abounds. In his extensive study Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, biologist Bruce Bagemihl shows that homosexuality is part of our evolutional heritage as primates. He reports that more than 450 species regularly engage in a wide range of same-sex activities ranging from copulation to long-term bonding. Even the assumed male/female dimorphism is not fixed in nature. “Many animals live without two distinct genders, or with multiple genders.” (2) Finding evidence that our preferred social arrangements are exemplified in edifying animal conduct is also doomed. The lovely mallards sometimes form “trio-bonds” with one male and two females or one female with two males. (3)
Homophobia and Fear of Change
A similar and related timidity makes us fear change. Extreme conservatives seem to be saying that “nothing should be done for the first time.” Yet change is of the essence. From the molecular micro to the macro of the universe, flux is normative and incessant. “First times” are an unending feature of nature. Clearly many changes would come to society if heterosexism with its multiple noxious ramifications were banished from our cultural lexicon and buried with evils of the past, such as cannibalism and the divine right of kings. The extent of change, it seems, is keenly felt.
If the patriarchally conceived models of marriage were changed and more egalitarian forms of marriage and family were legitimated, a lynchpin would be yanked out of current social constructions. As Marvin M. Ellison points out in chapter 2, governments might have to support people on the basis of need and not of conformity to a narrow definition of family. His words: “Making status the exclusive conduit for these benefits does little to correct the entrenched patterns of social and economic inequities that are rapidly expanding within the global capitalist social order.”
Patriarchal marriage has long been the building block of society, and through its symbolic power it finds reflection in governments and corporate structures. It weaves hierarchical assumptions into the expression of power. Heterosexist and biased definitions of normalcy attach to the central nerves in the economic and political arrangements now in place. Change in these matters is not just personal; it is political and important, and powerholders know it. Hence the frenzy and uproar in church and state when regnant notions of marriage and family are threatened by new thought.
Fear of two persons who love each other and want to bond permanently, legally, and if they choose, religiously, would not, on its face, seem to presage social disaster. Why does it engender such panic?
It does seem to be the rule of life that when an issue becomes suddenly inflamed in society, it rarely has anything to do with the issue. It has everything to do with power. Powerholders, like animals who sense earthquakes before others, first feel the distant tremors that threaten their foundations and their privileges.
All of this helps to explain the shocking enigma of misplaced moral indignation in the political arena and among religious people. One would think that the ongoing starvation of 1.3 billion people in absolute poverty would command our moral attention. If not that, then one would hope that the double basting of the planet in CO2 with catastrophes of melting polar and glacial ice already happening would focus our minds. How compatible it would be with the peace-passions and empathy traditions of all the world’s major religions to mount campaigns against bloated military budgets that suck the blood out of our economies while children starve and wars and illiteracy spread, with health-care needs unforgivably unmet.
But no. In countries such as the United States, a demonic, fear-driven pelvic orthodoxy, with scandalous over-absorption in issues like same-sex marriage, contraception, and abortion, consumes politics, churches, legislatures, and judiciaries.
The widely unappreciated truth is that heterosexism with its attendant assumptions forces us into a closet of fear – terrible, damaging, corrupting fear. [Heterosexism in Contemporary World Religion: Problem and Prospect] is written as an invitation to exit that closet.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Daniel Maguire in Minneapolis
A Catholic Statement of Support for Same-Sex Marriage
A Christian Case for Same-Sex Marriage
John Corvino on the "Always and Everywhere" Argument Against Gay Marriage
Patrick Ryan on the "Defense of Traditional Marriage" Argument
Nathanial Frank on the "Natural Law" Argument
Steve Chapman: Time is On the Side of Gay Marriage
Lowell Erdahl on "Unlearning the Things That Used to Be Obvious
Daniel Maguire on the Progressive Core of Catholicism
Daniel Maguire on Catholicism's "Long History of Demeaning Sexuality"
Daniel Maguire on Sex as Liturgy
Daniel Maguire on the Wedding of Spirituality and Sexuality
Honoring (and Learning from) the Passion of Saints Sergius and Bacchus