Letters to the Editor


Dunbar, VanDyke wrong on gay marriage

Both Courtney Dunbar and Lawrence VanDyke presume that homosexuality is mutable. Dunbar (“Gay marriage is not a civil rights issue,” Mar. 11) cites no support whatsoever, while VanDyke (“One student’s response to ‘A Response to Glendon,'” Mar. 11) cites a lone study, which relied exclusively on verbal self-report of changes in sexual orientation. Moreover, many of the study’s participants were recruited through ex-gay religious ministries, and 73% felt conflict between their religion and sexual attraction. Thus, there was strong motivation for self-deception. We also question whether VanDyke actually read the study (authored by Spitzer, not Spitzner) or any of the 26 peer commentaries immediately following it. The efficacy of “reparative therapy” is anything but “substantiated.”

The scientific consensus remains the same: there is no proof that reparative therapy works, and there is abundant evidence of its harms. The American Psychological Association’s official stance is still that sexual orientation cannot be volitionally changed. But this should be painfully obvious – the high rate of suicide among gay and lesbian teens is ample evidence that, for many, sexual orientation is immutable. At some point, this simply degenerates into an accusation that the overwhelming majority of gays and lesbians are liars; that we could change if we just really, really tried.

In any event, even if we think immutability is legally significant (a suspect assumption), then the question we should be asking is not whether anyone can change their sexual orientation, but whether anyone cannot. Even the most ideologically-driven reparative therapist, Joseph Nicolosi, admits that a third of his highly-motivated clients simply cannot change their sexual orientation. How could the law possibly distinguish between gays and lesbians who could never change their sexual orientation from those who might be able to if only they went through decades of psychotherapy? And how could we apply different standards for each type, given that harms like discrimination are palpably hurtful for both? Obviously, the law cannot – and should not.

Perhaps an even more revealing question is this: did you arrive at your conclusion that homosexuality was immutable before or after you formed your substantive conclusion about whether homosexuality was wrong? As Dunbar and VanDyke demonstrate, in most instances, the answer to the latter question informs the answer to the first.

Peter Renn, Amanda Goad and five other HLS Lambda Board members

The conception of civil rights described by Ms. Dunbar in her guest opinion piece (“Gay marriage is not a civil rights issue,” March 11) is shortsighted and inaccurately ignores the transcendent nature of Black America’s involvement in civil rights efforts. The civil rights movement was, and continues to be, about more than achieving racial equality. Rather, it is about forcing America to make good on its promise of liberty, equality, and justice for all.

Ms. Dunbar uses a test of immutability for determining whether a group is worthy of inheriting the legacy of the Black civil rights struggle. However, even if you believe that homosexuality is a choice (though much scientific evidence suggests otherwise), American state and federal constitutional jurisprudence continually protects religion, marital status, creed, and alienage-categorizations that are all choices. By arbitrary circumscribing equal protection doctrines in a manner excluding gay and lesbian Americans, Ms. Dunbar harrowingly suggests that social popularity of a group should determine whether it receives the rights of full citizenship under the law.

Ms. Dunbar notes that Black Americans are not the only owners of the Civil Rights legacy. Indeed, she is correct. All Americans are entitled to invoke the legacy of the Civil Rights struggle to further their own equality efforts. Martin Luther King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, has herself drawn parallels between modern gay rights struggle and Black American efforts toward racial equality. Although race-based, gender-based, and sexual orientation-based discrimination are not qualitatively equivalent, none of these forms of animus have any place in American law.

Jason Billy, 2LTreasurer, HLS LambdaMember, Harvard Black Law Students Association

What I found most disturbing about both Courtney Dunbar and Larry VanDyke’s anti-gay editorials was the authors’ shared view of the pursuit of civil rights and liberties as some sort of brutal, zero-sum game.

Mr. VanDyke, for example, seems to be asserting that any time “tolerance” for homosexuals becomes state policy, religious freedom will automatically be impinged. Why, I would ask, can’t we have both religious freedom and gay rights? Why can’t I have the freedom to live my life and structure my family as I see fit, while also standing by the right of a Christian fundamentalist to teach his children that homosexualtiy is wrong? That is the logic of both Lawrence and, arguably, Goodridge – that the state may not favor one group’s pursuit of “the good” over another’s without concrete reasons that amount to more than a set of abstract moral and philosophical opinions. This is what real pluralism is all about- and it is a founding and core value of American democracy (as evidenced by none other than the Constitution’s guarantees of religious freedom).

This kind of democratic pluralism was also a primary value of the Civil Rights Movement. Ms. Dunbar’s narrow-minded desire to shut certain people out of the legacy of that movement, to act as if it were the sole property of herself and her group (and whomever else they choose to recognize as having suffered “like them”), is evidence of a particularly infuriating kind of narrow-minded arrogance. Fortunately, her sentiments are not shared by the likes of Nelson Mandela and Coretta Scott King, both of whom have recognized that the struggles for gay rights and racial equality, while by no means equivalent, are rooted together in many common principles and values.

Many GLBT people will spend their lives living in fear of very real harassment and persecution from the homophobic majority. Whatever one thinks about same sex marriage (I am on the fence for a variety of reasons), to suggest that their efforts to be free of this sort of injustice constitute nothing more than an attempt to oppress others and mock the struggle for equality is profoundly offensive. The promises of freedom and equality before the law belong to all of us, as does this country. Mr VanDyke and Ms. Dunbar would do well to remember that fact.

Daniel Weiner, ’05

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