Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Rick Perry's support for outlawing gay sex

This article was written for Helium Network in 2011. It was updated in 2014 and had minor updates in 2016.

Regarding the looming threat of openly gay Boy Scout leaders in his 2008 book On My Honor, longtime Texas Gov. Rick Perry claims that the Boy Scouts as an organization tolerate gay people but don't want a leader "whose personal agenda is to make an open issue of his sexual orientation." Within the book, he claims that he supports an individual's right to be gay — just not within the Boy Scouts! — but his record does not show that he has actually supported even that much.

Why Perry's approach to the topic is severely flawed

First, in focusing the argument in "On My Honor" only on those who are openly gay, Perry neglects to address the entire Scouting policy that excluded "known or avowed homosexuals" — that is, people who are merely discovered to be gay as well as those who openly acknowledge it.

Second, in trying to demonstrate how commonsense his position is, he begins with this disingenuous premise: "The defining characteristic of homosexuality and heterosexuality is sex. Scouting is not intended to advance a discussion about sexual activity, whether of the heterosexual form or the homosexual form." Notably, however, the Boy Scout policy excluded only "homosexuals" and not "heterosexuals." One can easily agree with Perry that a man should refrain from sharing his "dating patterns" with the children he mentors, but if a straight man may casually reveal his marital status should the question arise, why can't a gay man do the same?

Elsewhere in the book, Perry is more honest about his prejudices. An openly gay person, he says, turns his sexuality into an "issue" or a "public matter" that will inevitably trigger "debate" or become an object lesson in "sex education." The presence of gay leaders would cause the Boy Scouts to be "an experiment in social engineering." He conflates being "openly gay" with being "openly [sexually] active" and says that gay people make gay activism "central" to their lives and cannot refrain from talking about it around children. He provides not a single statistic or anecdote to bolster his assumptions, nor is there any indication that he attempted to speak to an actual gay person for research purposes.

Can an organization practice exclusion and still teach tolerance?


Perry denies that the exclusion of openly gay Scout leaders, as well as the exclusion of open atheists, teaches intolerance. He says it is just a way of avoiding debate on sexual matters and atheist ideology that are not part of the organization's mission.

Later in the book, however, he makes an unrelated observation that unwittingly challenges his own argument. He complains that some parents and teachers have asked for intelligent design theory (a form of creationism) to be removed from science classes and debated in religion classes instead. Instead of acknowledging that these people are simply trying to find a better forum for that debate according to their understanding of science and religion, Perry complains that "the left advocates tolerance while crushing dissenting views." In the case of science classes, then, he believes that the deliberate exclusion of dissenting views is an example of intolerance.

Might it be plausible, then, that gay would-be Scout leaders might perceive their exclusion from the organization as a way of crushing their dissenting viewpoints rather than as a benign relocation of their speech? And if Perry is correct in his analysis of the redirection of discussion about intelligent design, why wouldn't gay people also be correct about the redirection of their very persons to which they would be subject regardless of what they choose to discuss?

Does Perry support a person's right to be gay — anywhere?

Finally, Perry claims that "I respect their [gays'] right to engage in the individual behavior of their choosing," which the record shows to be flatly false. Texas had a longstanding "Homosexual Sodomy Law" which classified gay sex as a misdemeanor. Former President George W. Bush, while campaigning in 1994 to become governor of Texas, referred to sodomy laws as "a symbolic gesture of traditional values." In 2002, threatened by the possibility that the Supreme Court might declare this particular law to be unconstitutional (it did, the next year), Gov. Perry likewise championed the law as "appropriate."

Even in 2010, when the law had been unenforceable for seven years, the Texas Republican Party platform stated: "We oppose the legalization of sodomy." Perry ran his re-election campaign in association with this platform. Two subsequent attempts to remove the obsolete law — HB 2156 and HB 604 in the 2011 legislative session — did not make it out of committee. (The mention of support for anti-sodomy laws was finally removed in the 2012 Texas Republican Party platform, and a different bill to repeal the anti-sodomy law, SB 538, made some progress in 2013 before fizzling out.)

Richard Goldstein in his book Homocons proposed that few people relish the actual penalties that are inflicted on gay people as a result of sodomy laws; rather, the real reason straight people support sodomy laws is that they maintain a social hierarchy that privileges heterosexuality. This would explain why Bush praised the law's main impact as "symbolic" and why he made a vague appeal to "traditional values." In this context, the values in question are little more than one group having power over another group.

However, to pretend that the law has mainly a symbolic impact and not a material impact as well is demonstrably false, which is why such pretenses must be blown through. The criminalization of gay sex impacts people's lives by threatening their careers or their custody of their children. It is particularly egregious for Perry to say on the one hand throughout his political career that he supports the criminalization of gay sex and then to publish that he acknowledges people's "right to engage in the individual behavior of their choosing." He cannot mean the first in a purely symbolic way while meaning the latter in a material way. It is one law: he either supports it or opposes it.

Although people can no longer be prosecuted or penalized for same-sex liaisons in Texas because of the Supreme Court having declared such laws unconstitutional, the Texas Republican Party has frustrated all attempts to remove the law from the books and it remained there under Perry's governorship. If Perry genuinely believes in an adult's legal right to consensual sex with another adult of the same sex, there is one clear action he could take to demonstrate it: lead a bipartisan campaign to strike the obsolete sodomy law from the books. That he has not even made a statement suggesting he would be willing to do so — an inquiry with the gay rights organization Equality Texas in 2011 did not turn up any leads — suggests that he does not really support an individual's right to private sexual activity and only said so where it was convenient (albeit totally false) in his book.

The only way in which Perry supports an individual's right in this area is through his expressed support of their right to leave Texas and move to another U.S. state with more permissive laws, which he advocated in his 2010 book, Fed Up!.

What Texans want

Perry's position is out of step with the majority of Texans on issues pertaining to gay people. An opinion poll of Texas voters commissioned by Equality Texas in 2010 revealed that 78 percent knew someone who was gay; 60 percent thought that gay people were seeking "equal rights," not "special rights"; 69 percent thought that gay people should have the same parental rights as straight people; 63 percent supported recognizing same-sex relationships with a "civil union"; 62 percent supported "domestic partnership" benefits for government workers; and 43 percent thought Texas should perform same-sex marriages, a number that increased to 48 percent when the question was whether Texas should recognize such marriages if they had been performed elsewhere.

Perry is particularly out of step with the younger generation on these issues, given that people under 30 were more likely to express support for gay rights than were people over 65 on every issue proposed in that poll.

Another opinion poll conducted in 2012 by the University of Texas/Texas Tribune found that 69 percent supported recognizing same-sex relationships with either civil unions or full marriage. Only 25 percent wanted to maintain the status quo in that regard, and one imagines that a rather smaller number would have supported criminalizing sex between consenting adults in private, had they been asked.

Perry's presidential bids

Perry ran for the Republican Party nomination in the 2012 presidential election. That nomination finally went to Mitt Romney, who ultimately lost to Barack Obama, who was elected for a second term.

With regard to the nation as a whole, which is more liberal on these issues than Texas, several polls in 2011 found that a majority of Americans supported same-sex marriage and military service by openly gay people, the latter already having become military policy anyway. This was something with which Perry had to contend in his presidential campaign.

On Dec. 29, 2011, a questioner at a coffeehouse appearance asked him to discuss his view of limited government in light of Lawrence v. Texas. This was the Supreme Court case in 2003 surrounding two men who had been arrested for having consensual sex in their home in Texas, resulting in the ruling that anti-sodomy laws were unconstitutional in any state. Perry admitted that he was not familiar with the case, deriding the inquiry as an attempted "'I gotcha' question" and pleading, "I'm not a lawyer." When a reporter later asked him to clarify, he said the same thing: "I'm not taking the bar exam." His unfamiliarity with the case may explain why, as governor of Texas, he continued to support anti-sodomy laws for years after they were ruled unconstitutional. He dropped out of the presidential race on Jan. 19, 2012.

He campaigned again for the 2016 presidential election but dropped out on Sept. 11, 2015. When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, he nominated Rick Perry to be Secretary of Energy. On Jan. 19, 2017, Perry told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that he regretted his own presidential campaign pledge in 2011 to eliminate the department: "My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking. In fact, after being briefed on some of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination."

The Boy Scouts, and the US, move forward

In May 2013, the Boy Scouts of America decided to allow openly gay youths — although not openly gay adult leaders — to participate in the organization. A clear majority of the 1,400-member national council voted for the change at an annual meeting in Texas. The resolution took effect in January 2014. In July 2015, the policy was changed again to allow gay leaders.

As 2014 opened, one-third of Americans lived in a state where same-sex marriage is recognized, and the federal "Defense of Marriage Act" that prevented recognition of such marriages for nearly two decades was finally ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. There is no movement to reintroduce anti-sodomy laws (save an abortive attempt by Virginia's Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli in 2013, the promotional website for which was disabled within a few months). Montana repealed theirs, as it had, of course, been unenforceable ever since Lawrence v. Texas. In 2016, Pew Research Center polling found that 55 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage rights and only 28 percent believe that homosexuality should be discouraged.

Rick Perry may wish to criminalize gay sex. However, it's hard to find other people who do, and there is neither political will nor constitutional room for it in the United States. In this area, Americans clearly prefer their limited government and their individual freedoms.

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