Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Moral Contortions of Anti-Homosexual Discriminators

I’m sorry to keep harping on this, but I cannot believe what I’m reading from David Hoekema. He’s over at Leiter defending Calvin College’s anti-gay discrimination. He says, the policy prohibits discrimination on the basis of homosexuality in hiring practices. He says, I know, I was Executive Director of the APA when the policy was drafted, debated upon, and adopted. He says, Calvin College complies with the policy. We don’t make hiring decisions on the basis of homosexuality. He then says, we do place a much heavier behavioral burden on homosexual faculty than we place on heterosexual faculty, since we permit heterosexual faculty to have sex if they’re married, but we do not permit homosexual faculty to have sex under any circumstances.

There are (at least) three contortions here. One is that it is apparently possible to be fair to homosexual members of the faculty while demanding that they alone abstain from meaningful sexual relationships. It might be fair to demand that of everyone (though it’s far from obvious that it would be), but it is patently unfair to impose such a heavy differential burden on homosexual faculty. To be fair, he is willing to listen to people who say that. To be more fair, who gives a shit, since he won’t actually do anything.

Another contortion (and this came up in the thread on Leiter’s blog) is that the policy absolutely does forbid this kind of shit. While Hoekema is right that the policy forbids discrimination in appointments and is to be admired for adhering to that portion of the policy, he completely ignores the fact that it also explicitly forbids discrimination in retention, tenure & promotion, salary determination, manuscript evaluation, graduate admissions,and other professional activities. Hoekema invokes his authority as Executive Director at the time of the policy’s adoption, and then interprets the policy in a way that ignores almost all of its content. He does the same thing in another comment: “A nondiscrimination policy concerning hiring does not explicitly address issues of retention…”. But the APA’s non-discrimination policy does explicitly address issues of retention. What the fuck? The policy is very simple. It lists a bunch of features that may not be the basis for certain types of decision, and then it lists a bunch of decisions for which the features may not be a basis. Hiring is one type of decision, but there are others. Understood straightforwardly and in good faith, even if Calvin complies with the policy with respect to hiring, it does not comply with respect to other applicable decision-types. There is a controversy in that thread about whether this evinces dishonesty or incomprehension, and Prof. Murphy has admonished us to be charitable, I don’t know which interpretation is the more charitable: either he’s a liar, or he cannot comprehend simple sentences, the drafting, debating, and adoption of which he claims to have presided over.

A final contortion (and I mentioned this earlier) occurs when Hoekema appeals to the general principle diversity is a strength, not a weakness, in defense of his schools discriminatory retention practices. Diversity is important, he says. It is important to have a wide range of types of academic institution. The fact that some schools fire people for having gay sex and others don’t strengthens the academic community as a whole. Hoekema does not believe that this principle applies on an intramural basis—on his view, Calvin College itself would be weakened by diversity and should not adopt a position of tolerance.

Ok. That was the last one. Unless somebody else gets me riled.

--Mr. Zero

Update: this comment from Mark Lance is a must read. Thanks for sharing, Professor Lance.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure I'd not go along with it in this particular case, at least in relation to the APA non-discrimination policy, but in general the distinction between diversity within and between institutions seems to me to be a sound and important one. I can't quite tell if you're denying that or not, but in general I think that society is best served by having both types of diversity.

Anonymous said...

K, imagine this hypothetical. Your sexual orientation is straight. You spend several hours assembling the perfect application for a TT position at your favorite university. You send it off. You get a phone interview. You get invited for a fly-out. When you arrive and meet the committee members, your gay-dar goes wild. Every member of the committee is gay..you're sure of it (Queen and Abba are playing in the department all day long, the secretary is a cross-dresser). Over the course of several years of hiring, the old boys' club has been effectively wiped out and converted into the old queens' club. Do you pretend that you are gay so that you stand a chance of securing the job? Or do you think that your sexual orientation should be irrelevant to the hiring decision? If you're sure that it will be a factor (perhaps the deciding factor) n the final decision and can't in good conscience pretend that you're gay, do you complain afterwards to the administration about the unfairness of the hiring process? ("Oh, you poor straight person, you get discriminated against in less than 1 percent of the hiring processes"). Although this situation might be so rare as to seem absurd, it is often the case that hiring committee members hire people like them. Gay people tend to hire gay people. Straight people hire straight people. Religious people hire religious people. Secular atheists hire secular atheists. If one is in the department, then there are usually more (perhaps the first gay person hired acted straight in order to secure the job). Indeed, the number of gay people in any one department (assuming that there is at least one) is probably statistically over-representative when compared to the population-at-large. Thoughts?

Popkin said...

The fact that this debate is taking place at all is an embarrassment to the profession. The fact that there are a small number of philosophers who think there's something wrong with homosexuality I can sort of understand (we all have irrational prejudices); but the fact that people with so much philosophical training could propose such obviously terrible arguments is really disheartening. And worst of all is the fact that they refuse to listen to reason when the utter terribleness of their arguments is pointed out to them.

Anonymous said...

There are (at least) three contortions here. One is that it is apparently possible to be fair to homosexual members of the faculty while demanding that they alone abstain from meaningful sexual relationships.I've been thinking about this whole ordeal for awhile, and I wonder whether the disconnect between the two camps is that "meaningful sexual relationships" simply have no standing for these religious institutions; the relevant meaningful relationship is (religious, not secular) marriage. So if these institutions require employees to abstain from extramarital sexual activity, then that includes all homosexual activity for those who hold that same-sex couples cannot participate in (religious) marriage.

So, while someone back on one of the Leiter threads said that none of this has to do with marriage (and same-sex marriage), I'm starting to suspect that that is false, precisely because one could argue that it's not (essentially) homosexual sex that's a no-no (for certain religious folk), but rather extramarital sex that's the no-no (and given a "traditional" conception of who can marry, all homosexual sex is extramarital sex). If religious institutions have a (moral?) right to include prohibitions of extramarital sex in what it takes to have the proper religious affiliation, and if they have a right to adopt a particular conception of marriage, then one might argue that there's no violation of the APA policy. (And there's no need to get into all the act/orientation disputes, or whether there's something distinctively wrong w/homosexual sex, etc. etc.)

***

As I think that homosexuals can have meaningful, loving relationships, raise kids just as well, etc. etc., I would venture that the undue burden is denying same-sex couples the opportunity to marry. (And so have a relationship that is not "extramarital.") Of course, my guess is that at least many of the institutions under fire here wouldn't even think of doing that...and if such resistance IS present, then we're back to the impasse between the two camps.

The virtue of the approach I suggested above is that if these institutions dare take it, they can still consistently poo-poo on all you profligates and your extramarital sex without causing an undue burden, which Hoekema admits is there. (Does he admit this b/c he thinks it needs to be rectified? Well, here's a map.) And so there will still be plenty about which the sexual puritans and the sexually liberated may argue...

(Finally, I know that someone will say that all of this completely misconstrues what these particular religious folk really think of homosexuality. Perhaps so. But it seems important that if these institutions stress that marriage is the right place for sex to happen, then why isn't anyone addressing this aspect of the ordeal?)

Anonymous said...

i think that it might be because we can tell that it's a disingenuous argument.

also, anon 11:53 does a pretty good job, to my mind, of illustrating the frustration that Popkin voices above. i mean, seriously. learn to logic.

Anonymous said...

or yeah, what mark lance just said.

Mr. Zero said...

in general the distinction between diversity within and between institutions seems to me to be a sound and important one.Kinda. I mean, it's important to have a diverse group of institutions of higher learning--your Princetons, your Ole Misses, your Drakes, your Calvins, your East County CCs, your ITT Techs, what have you. Sure. But I don't think society at large or students in particular are well-served when colleges can and will fire professors (and expel students) for having gay sex. For one thing, this sort of bigotry hurts the gay community in obvious ways--it marginalizes them and grants legitimacy to silly views like Hoekema's. For another thing, it robs the students of potentially valuable experiences. Just like how neither Mississippi at large nor the students of Ole Miss in particular were well-served by segregation.

Do you pretend that you are gay so that you stand a chance of securing the job? Or do you think that your sexual orientation should be irrelevant to the hiring decision?These are not alternatives; they're compatible. Reading through the rest of your comment, I'm not sure I understand what you're trying to say.

However, to take your example and run with it, suppose you decided to pretend to be gay in order to get the job. Suppose you really didn't have any meaningful alternative--suppose all jobs were alike in this respect, and so you'd pretty much have to pretend to be gay no matter what. Suppose you would also have to get a boyfriend. Suppose that eventually you'd have to marry this guy in order to keep the ruse going.

That would really suck, and its exactly what closeted gay people go through. Closeted gay people don't stay in the closet because it's fun in there; they stay in there because of bigotry. Mark Lance's comment highlights the awful effects of this bigotry. And when I see distinguished philosophers who work in ethics defending this bigotry, it makes me want to puke.

the fact that people with so much philosophical training could propose such obviously terrible arguments is really dishearteningYes. Another reason to keep beating the (mostly?) dead horse.

the disconnect between the two camps is that "meaningful sexual relationships" simply have no standing for these religious institutions; the relevant meaningful relationship is (religious, not secular) marriage.That may be the case. I don't know exactly what's wrong with this religious view of marriage; whether it's naive or hypocritical or what, but sexual relationships are important to people. That's why almost everyone is either in one or else getting in one is a top priority. (I'm not saying this is universally true; it's just true of everyone I've ever met or heard of.)

And it seems to me that the appeal to marriage involves a kind of circularity. A prominent argument against the morality of homosexual sex has to do with its extramaritalness. But homosexual marriage isn't recognized because of its homosexualness. (Obviously that's not the whole story, since I guess God called it an abomination or something. But again, he said that about wool/cotton blends, and he didn't say it about slavery.) I say, recognize gay marriage (the way Notre Dame recognizes Alastair MacIntyre's marriages), and leave everybody alone. God also admonished us to refrain from judging or else we'll be judged, and also to let he who is without sin cast the first pink slip.