By Chris Kempling Psy.D., R.C.C.
Narth.com: The raging public debate over same sex marriages in Canada, and now
Massachusetts, has highlighted the great divide between those who are
socially liberal, and those who are socially conservative.
Generally speaking, the socially liberal are found on the
center-left of the political spectrum, and include labor unions, women's
and gay rights organizations, human-rights tribunals, much of the
popular media, a good proportion of the "intelligentsia"," and, it may
be argued, the judiciary.
Social conservatives tend to occupy the political right, and may
be found in large numbers among those who adhere to organized religions,
and many immigrant cultural groups. The socially liberal appear to be
in the ascendancy and have been remarkably successful in achieving many
of their goals to "modernize" culture and society. Social conservatives
decry such "progress," seeing instead a degradation of moral behavior
and standards of social conduct.
A very thoughtful analysis of why this great divide exists is
contained in an article entitled "Sexual Morality: The cultures and
emotions of conservatives and liberals," published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology
(Haidt and Hersh, 2001). Haidt and Hersh argue that, in the area of
sexual conduct, social liberals operate within a narrow moral framework
which they call the "ethics of autonomy" (EOA). The ethics of autonomy
hold that only acts that cause harm to self or others should be
condemned. Acts which are consensual and are perceived not to cause harm
should be tolerated or even affirmed.
Under EOA, rationalization for approval of various
non-traditional sexual behaviors is justified under the concept of the
right of individuals to behave autonomously, acting according to their
own conscience, rather than a higher authority.
It can be argued that EOA is foundational to the arguments social
liberals make for re-defining what types of sexual behaviors and
relationships are acceptable in today's society. Thus, when people say
that there is nothing wrong with allowing homosexuals to marry, or that
homosexuality should be taught as a normal variant in public school sex
education classes, or that adult-child sex is not really harmful and
should be permitted, they are using the ethics of autonomy as the
philosophical base for their position. The EOA recently prevailed in the
US when the Supreme Court struck down the anti-sodomy laws of Texas.
Pierre Trudeau's decision in 1968 to remove homosexual acts from the
criminal code, because "the state has no business in the bedrooms of the
nations," was also an EOA-based decision.
Social conservatives operate on a much broader moral plain. Haidt
and Hersh posit that social conservatives base their attitudes of what
is morally acceptable on two additional sets of ethics: the ethics of
community (EOC) and the ethics of divinity (EOD). The ethics of
community are concerned with duty, perceived social roles, traditions,
mutual respect, and what is appropriate for maintaining social order and
family life. EOC is found in such organizations as Focus on the Family,
REAL Women and the Canadian Alliance for Social Justice and Family
Values. The latter organization is almost entirely made up of Chinese
Canadians. Middle Eastern and South Asian cultural groups (religiously
Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus) would also ascribe to EOC values.
People holding to EOC values are genuinely concerned about the
decay of family and societal values, and perceive that those who ascribe
to EOA values rank hedonism, the pursuit of pleasure, as more important
than maintaining the social fabric.
The ethics of divinity (EOD) are concerned with the sacred,
purity, and with living a life consistent with the requirements of God,
generally as revealed in sacred scriptures. Those who ascribe to EOD
believe in a universal moral order, ordained by God, and that to depart
from it risks eternal separation from the divine in the life to come.
All the world's great religions hold to these beliefs. Thus, in the area
of sexual morality, EOD believers have behavioral standards much more
restricted than those who hold to EOA beliefs. This is why when EOD
people write publicly, they often tend to cite holy scripture as the
justification for their concerns. The reaction from those in the EOA
camp is often dismissive, because they generally do not subscribe to the
concept of accountability to a divinely ordained universal moral code.
Heidt and Hersh found in their research, not surprisingly, that
study participants from conservative church groups were much more likely
to use EOD than EOA in their assessment of what types of sexual
behaviors were acceptable. Atheists and the non-religious tended to use
EOA in their assessments, and consequently were more accepting of
non-traditional sexual behaviors.
There has been a growing tendency among those in the EOA camp to
accuse those in the EOC/EOD camp of "homophobia" if they dare to speak
or write publicly about their concerns. Indeed several Christians have
been successfully prosecuted by gay activists in the courts and human
rights tribunals for publicly expressing their opposition to homosexual
behavior. Moral disapproval for certain sexual behaviors based on
EOC/EOD positions ought not to be defined as an irrational or phobic
reaction, however. Yet that is the sledgehammer those in the EOA camp
have been employing with considerable success in the past decade.
Currently, there is general acceptance of the term homophobia, and
general agreement that it is a negative influence in public life.
To this end, there is a concerted effort by gay and lesbian lobby
groups, and supported by teachers' unions, to implement anti-homophobia
and anti-heterosexism programming in Canadian public schools.
Regrettably, there has been very little attempt to accommodate the
concerns of the EOC/EOD side, resulting in divisive and expensive court
battles, most notably the Trinity Western University and Surrey Book
Those who hold EOC/EOD positions are not prepared to compromise
their religious beliefs or cultural values to accept as normative,
sexual behaviors condemned by tradition or holy writ. It is necessary
for those in the EOA camp to understand that EOC/EOD believers may be
homo-negative towards certain sexual behaviors, but homo-positive in
affirming the inherent worth of homosexual persons. This position is
affirmed by all responsible religiously based social conservative
organizations, but seen as unacceptable by leaders of the EOA camp. They
argue that sexual orientation and the accompanying behaviors are
inextricably linked, and that to condemn the behaviors is the same as
condemning the person.
The EOA position that sexual orientation is inherent and
unchangeable is simply not supported by social science research. Indeed,
even the psychiatrist most responsible for the removal of homosexuality
from manual of mental disorders (the DSM) in 1973, Dr. Robert
Spitzer, has published research affirming that orientation change
therapy has been shown to be beneficial and effective for the majority
of his study group (Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual
Orientation? 200 Participants Reporting a Change from Homosexual to
Heterosexual Orientation, Archives of Sexual Behavior, October
2003, 403-417). The majority of his group were motivated by desires to
marry, to maintain their marriage, or to live a life consistent with
their religious beliefs.
To that end, most major religious groups in North America have
established therapeutic resources for those in their faith communities
who are distressed over unwanted same sex attractions, and who are
motivated to re-orient towards heterosexuality. For Jews there is JONAH,
Mormons have Evergreen, Catholics call theirs Courage, and Protestants
These organizations (including NARTH) exist because those with
unwanted same-sex attractions have asked for help for dealing with their
distressing symptoms. The treatment category in the DSM IV is
302.9(3) "persistent and marked distress over one's orientation."
Ironically, it is a denial of the concept of autonomy for those in the
EOA camp to try to prevent these people from gaining access to these
types of services. Gay and lesbian lobby groups have vigorously (but
unsuccessfully) lobbied the American Psychological Association to
declare orientation change therapy unethical. The personal stories of
those who have undergone re-orientation therapy successfully are posted
Mandatory indoctrination of all public school children with EOA
ideology in the area of sexual behavior, is profoundly disrespectful and
manifestly unethical, as it violates the rights of EOC/EOD parents to
transmit their values to their children. The United Nations has
repeatedly affirmed that this is an inalienable right of parents.
Educational authorities have delegated roles in the education of
children, and do not have the right to impose an EOA value system
without parental consent. Furthermore, such efforts violate the specific
requirements of the BC Teachers Federation code of ethics to respect
the sensibilities of their students, and to refrain from using their
roles for ideological gain.
We live in a pluralistic society where a broad spectrum of values
is cherished. It is the duty of public educators to acknowledge all
three ethical positions. Denigrating those who adhere to ethics of
community or ethics of divinity is no way to achieve social harmony, or
even improved social conditions for sexual minorities. Let us agree on
what we can agree on: affirmation of the inherent worth of everyone, non
violence, eradication of harassment, bullying and name-calling, and
promoting understanding of each other's profoundly held values. Against
this ethic, there can be no argument.
Chris Kempling is a Registered Clinical Counselor and NARTH member living in Quesnel, BC Canada. Feedback at Kempling@telus.net is welcome.