Nathan Richardson

One thing that is not often understood by proponents of the homosexual lifestyle is the motivations of those who oppose it. Gordon B. Hinckley explained that the Church’s positions on homosexuality is inspired by love and concern for people who experience same-sex attraction:

Our opposition to attempts to legalize same-sex marriage should never be interpreted as justification for hatred, intolerance, or abuse of those who profess homosexual tendencies, either individually or as a group. As I said from this pulpit one year ago, our hearts reach out to those who refer to themselves as gays and lesbians. We love and honor them as sons and daughters of God. They are welcome in the Church. It is expected, however, that they follow the same God-given rules of conduct that apply to everyone else, whether single or married.1

In spite of this, it has become cliché to attribute homophobia, an “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals”2 to anyone who suggests that homosexuality is problematic for both individuals and groups. In fact, some textbooks have abandoned the accepted definition of phobia ( “an extreme or irrational fear of … something”4) and have defined homophobia as merely a “negative attitude toward … homosexuality”5 (imagine ). But universally attributing all misgivings about the homosexual lifestyle to a mental illness just isn’t accurate. The purpose of this post is to share at least one reason so many kind, rational, open-minded people are opposed to homosexual activity.

Jeff Lindsay wrote a humorous satirical piece about excessive use of the term “homophobia” in which he compares homosexuality to smoking:

You may be smokophobic if you display any one of the following symptoms. …

  • You are afraid to even try smoking a cigarette (or anything else) because you think you might get “addicted.”
  • You are uncomfortable sitting next to smokers, fearful that their smoke might “harm” you or make your lungs “unclean.”
  • You would be uncomfortable having a smoker baby-sit your children. …
  • You think that states should be allowed to pass laws against smoking. …

While smokophobes blame smoking and cancer in smoker deaths, an early grave is the natural result of bearing a lifetime of hate and grief. And while we need to be concerned about lung cancer and greatly increase funding for it, we must realize that lung cancer affects non-smokers and smokers alike. It’s not just a smoker’s disease! … It’s grossly unfair to blame something as complicated as cancer on a single, simplistic factor like smoking.3

Lindsay’s implied point is that it makes sense to oppose smoking because it is harmful to individuals and groups. I agree with that point. And when he uses the rhetoric and reasoning of those who support homosexual lifestyles to talk about smoking, it sounds funny and kind of silly (which is the purpose of satire). But as entertaining and possibly useful as this analogy is, there are a couple obvious limitations to it.

For one thing, smoking clearly has harmful medical effects (which Lindsay further satirizes with his safe-smoking campaign satire); the harmful effects of homosexual activity are less apparent and less talked about. For another thing, the effects of smoking are clearly communicable, as in the case of second-hand smoke or smelly clothing; any case for a similar effect of homosexuality would be less obvious and thus harder to make. But perhaps even more limiting is this fact: smoking is a drug addiction, so it’s easy to see why we would say, “Don’t ever try it”; homosexuality, however, has no narcotic component, so it’s harder to argue when proponents say, “Try it out to see whether it suits you, and if it doesn’t, no harm done.”

I think Jeff Lindsay is making a good point: that most people oppose homosexuality because it harms people. But his analogy leaves open the question of why so many people don’t see any harm in homosexuality, and thus why it wouldn’t be better to encourage people to continue in that lifestyle if they want to. I’d like to propose another analogy that might better help people understand why the Church’s position against the homosexual lifestyle is driven by love and concern for the welfare of those with same-sex attraction, even while many practicing homosexuals do not want help or even believe they have a problem. I will explain the analogy in another post.



Notes

1. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Why We Do Some of the Things We Do,” Ensign, Nov 1999, p. 52.
2. Webster’s dictionary, “homophobia.”
3. Jeff Lindsay, “Smokophobia, JeffLindsay.com, accessed 10 Jun. 2008.
4. Oxford American Dictionary, “phobia.”
5. Hilary Lips, Sex and Gender (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008), p. 442.