Why Rick Santorum Can’t Just Say: God Doesn’t Want You To Be Gay

It’s been widely observed that religious foes of LGBT equality frequently make arguments of convenience. These arguments are usually guised in the language of rhetorics other than that of religion. Thus homosexuality is pathological (medical), destructive of society (sociological), narcissistic (psychological)—anything, really, as long as it’s bad, which is what opponents of equality really mean.

Aware, however, that pure rhetorics of sin and God’s will are of limited public efficacy (mostly for cultural reasons, though also for legal/political ones), the more candid statements are rarely spoken publicly.

As Mark Jordan has recently described in great detail, this instrumental use of non-religious rhetoric has led to a discursive slipperiness, leaving the keen observer wondering: What, exactly, is wrong with homosexuality? Opponents of equality often seem unable to respond consistently, instead attempting to marshal a variety of non-religious arguments to bolster what is at heart a religious condition. Chosen, as they typically are, for efficacy rather than for accuracy, these arguments often turn out to be wrong.

Last week, for example, Rick Santorum argued that same-sex marriage would be a slippery slope, because “in terms of pleasure,” polygamous marriages offered as much pleasure as gay marriages do. This strange new line of thinking presupposes that the only reason for same-sex marriage is pleasure, just as the only reasons for a homosexual “lifestyle” are pleasure, lust, and so on. 

This is, of course, absurd. Gay couples get married for the same reasons that straight couples do, with pleasure being pretty far down the list—behind, say, love, companionship, taking care of one another, societal recognition, raising children, and so on. Santorum’s ignorant comment (one of many, of course) assumes, incorrectly, that homosexuality is a (changeable, optional) predilection of the gonads, rather than an orientation of the heart. Lust, not love.

Likewise, Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, recently gave an interview on Christian Radio wherein he described the “homosexual lifestyle” again in terms of selfishness and pleasure. The radio host, in turn, stated that LGBT activists (it was interesting to hear her say the acronym—I think its foreignness and length helped her case) simply don’t understand how a person changes when they are born again in Christ. Because LGBT activists are irreligious, they just don’t get how religiously-inspired change is possible.

This, too, is factually wrong. As readers of this publication know, a great many LGBT activists (this one included) are religious. Many others are formerly religious. We know quite well what it is to live in the light of God, Christ, dharma, et cetera. And many of us have experienced that doing so while not lying and repressing oneself is actually more religiously spacious than the alternative. 

And, to state the obvious, any queer person in a committed relationship with a partner or with a circle of friends and companions knows that selfishness is as pathetic in a queer life as it is in a straight one. Apparently Chambers has forgotten that during the AIDS plague, queers were highly unselfish in their taking care of one another (including, let’s mention out loud, lesbians taking care of gay men). It’s a pity that Chambers’ experience of the gay community (apparently extremely brief, according to this report) was limited to its most vapid representatives. But even K’d-up circuit boys take care of one another.

In making these bogus arguments, Santorum and Chambers inevitably run afoul of the facts, because the facts are not what really interest them. If we assume that Santorum is being sincere in his bigotry rather than purely opportunistic, what he’s really interested in is religion, not social policy. If it were social policy that motivated him, he’d read the studies of same-sex couples in Massachusetts and in other countries, which show that they raise children as well as opposite-sex couples, form stable families, and the rest. But what Santorum is motivated by is actually religion: a fear of sexuality and of women souped-up by a misreading of Leviticus, Romans, and Corinthians.

But he can’t really say that on television. If he were honest, he’d just come out and say something like: “I’m sorry, but God just cannot abide any homosexual behavior.” But he isn’t.

Now, in no way am I claiming that the Bible prohibits same-sex intimacy. I have written a book showing the exact opposite: that Biblical values demand us to affirm it. Rick Santorum’s views are not dictated by St. Paul, but he believes that they are, and that’s enough.

Let me take one further step. Santorum and other homophobes cannot speak frankly because their real motivations are private, emotional, and incoherent. It’s not as though Santorum dispassionately selected Catholicism from a menu of religious ideologies. He believes because he feels. Even before his wife’s miscarriage (in 1996), before his political career, some concatenation of circumstances installed what some have called religious “software” in his brain. Things are good when religion is dominant, bad when it is not. This is the truth of his experience.

I’m reminded of a story told by Tim LaHaye, notorious author of the apocalyptic Left Behind series. LaHaye was ten years old when his father died, and obviously devastated by the loss. As LaHaye tells it, it was during a pastor’s eulogy for his father that he truly came to believe. The pastor explained how his father was now in heaven with Jesus, and the young LaHaye knew this to be true, felt it to be true. Indeed, he must have wished it to be true as well. Of course he did; what ten-year-old boy wouldn’t?

That, not evolution or homosexuality or any other point of dogma, is the real issue for people like LaHaye, Santorum, and Chambers: the fundamental comfort that religion provides. If people evolved from apes, according to this logic, Timmy LaHaye’s father is not in heaven with Jesus and Rick Santorum’s son died for no reason.

And this is why we cannot argue with people who subscribe to this framework: there is simply too much at stake for them. They have wedded their fundamental sense of okay-ness to the truthfulness of a set of doctrines. Not only is sociology not at issue for Rick Santorum, Romans isn’t either. What is at stake is his very sense that the world is a good place, that things are basically okay, and that he himself is okay as a result. That may be expressed in a theological framework, but it is a psychological reality. If I marry my partner, therefore, Rick Santorum is not okay.

The rest is window dressing. The fake sociology, the religious doctrines of sin and salvation, all of it. Santorum and Chambers have had powerful religious experiences, and they avail themselves of such doctrines to articulate the inexpressible. 

The fake secularism, the fake science, the bogus constructions of homosexuality—all of these are so transparently false because they are mere props. As one after another of them collapse, anti-gays will eventually be left only with their convictions, and the reasons why they have them. Perhaps only then, echoing Portnoy’s therapist, might we say “Now vee may perhaps to begin.”

JayMichaelson&ltjay@nehirim.orggt'

Dr. Jay Michaelson [@jaymichaelson] is Associate Editor of Religion Dispatches and the author of five books, most recently "Evolving Dharma: Meditation, Buddhism, and the Next Generation of Enlightenment" (North Atlantic, 2013). He holds a J.D. from Yale and a Ph.D. in Jewish Thought from Hebrew University of Jerusalem.