No white flag. Ever.

Michael Cook
7 March 2014
Reproduced with Permission

It's sad to witness columnist Ross Douthat's devolution into a cheese-eating surrender monkey. For years, his was the only voice at the New York Times to put the case, often eloquently and persuasively, against same-sex marriage. But last weekend he ran up the white flag. The battle is all but over, he lamented. In the not-too-distant future, the Supreme Court will follow the logic of recent decisions like US v. Windsor and redefine the institution of marriage to include gay and lesbian relationships. He concludes:

"We are not really having an argument about same-sex marriage anymore, and … we're not having a negotiation. Instead, all that's left is the timing of the final victory - and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose."

This bleak panorama is dangerous. If the battle is all but won by supporters of same-sex marriage, what point can there be of campaigning, of framing new arguments, or donating?

Too much is at stake. Douthat fears that people with deeply-held convictions, mostly religious, will become victims of discrimination. "Now, apparently, the official line is that you bigots don't get to negotiate anymore," he writes. But pressure on religious individuals and institutions is just the beginning of a revolution.

Acceptance of the moral legitimacy of homosexuality and same-sex marriage upends pillars of Western culture, including the Enlightenment approach to science as the exploration of reality with reason and evidence. And if you think that I am drawing too long a bow, just read a recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics by two British women, Rachel Bingham and Natalie Banner. It is a gem of ideological fanaticism.

The mise en scène is a discussion of homosexuality's controversial history as a psychiatric disorder. In the first edition of the Bible of psychiatry, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), in 1952, it was classified as a "sociopathic personality disorder". In the second edition in 1968 this was softened by classifying homosexuality as a "sexual deviation". In 1972, in the third edition, however, after years of lobbying and debate, it was declassified the by the American Psychiatric Association. Victory! Homosexuality, according to the world's leading psychiatric body, was a normal form of sexual expression.

What reasons were put forward for this amazing turn of events? This is where the analysis of Bingham and Banner - who have not a milligram of homophobic bile between them - gets interesting. There weren't any. "It is widely accepted," they write, "that ultimately the removal of homosexuality was not so much an outcome of new scientific knowledge, as … 'an action demanded by the ideological temper of the times'." In other words, declassification was a nakedly political decision. Evidence, shmevidence. Who needs that?

But the change left an embarrassing gap in the discipline of psychiatry. If political pressure, and not reason or facts, explains the declassification of homosexuality, could anything be described as a "disorder" or "deviation"? How about ADHD? Personality disorders? Bipolar disorder in childhood?

The 1973 decision, they admit, placed an ominous question mark over "the legitimacy of psychiatry as a scientific clinical discipline". Psychiatry works by classifying people as suffering from disorder A or deviance B. But if it is not possible to define these rationally, perhaps there is no point in doing psychiatry at all. Some sort of benchmark is required.

Bingham and Banner have the answer: the benchmark is the normality of homosexuality.

"We take as our first premise that homosexuality should be excluded by any useful definition of disorder. We assume without discussion that homosexuality is not a disorder and perceive this to be the consensus among those concerned to delineate the legitimate domain of psychiatry."

In other words, a psychiatric theory which in any way discredits homosexuality is, ipso facto, false. The starting point of inquiry has shifted from fact to ideology.

This is a Mardi Gras version of creationism. No matter how many Tyrannosaurus rex fossils are dug up, creationists insist that dinosaurs could not have existed because the world was created on the evening before October 23, 4004 BC. Similarly, no matter how strong the statistical, genetic or evolutionary evidence might be, Bingham and Banner contend that nothing can be described as a disorder if the same chain of logic would end up describing homosexuality as one, too.

And, they admit, the chain of logic includes facts: "fact-based definitions of mental disorder, relying on scientific theory, fail to offer a robust definition of mental disorder that excludes homosexuality".

Behind the psychological jargon, this means that Bingham and Banner's version of Ockham's Razor is that all legitimate arguments must support homosexuality. If facts lead elsewhere, they are not facts. If theories lead elsewhere, they are wrong. The legitimacy of homosexuality is the foundation stone of psychiatry.

This may seem as loopy as Alice's adventures in Wonderland - or as Islamicist zealotry or North Korea's Juche -- but it is a faithful rendering of the rhetoric of supporters of same-sex marriage into academic language. In judgment after judgement, editorial after editorial, facts are ignored and arguments dismissed simply because they are deemed "homophobic". The legitimacy of homosexuality is widely assumed to be the first principle of all intellectual inquiry.

If same-sex marriage succeeds, arguments like Bingham and Banner's are going to dominate public policy, the law and even science. Is Ross Douthat content to live in a society whose policies are all measured against a single benchmark - whether they boost homosexuality? I'm not. Marriage is too precious; democracy is too precious; science is too precious. The battle against same-sex marriage is worth fighting. As the British artist Dido sings in her brilliant "White Flag":

I will go down with this ship
And I won't put my hands up and surrender
There will be no white flag above my door
I'm in love and always will be.