Another excerpt from John Corvino's book What's Wrong with Homosexuality? (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013)--this one sums up his chapter on the "harm argument" which maintains that homosexuality ought to be beyond the pale because it harms both those who are gay and society as a whole:
In recent years, harm arguments against same-sex relationships have fallen largely out of favor—although they surface from time to time among right-wing bloggers, pastors, and pundits, especially whenever some new junk sciences is released. Instead, we are seeing a resurgence of natural law arguments, which are the focus of our next chapter.
Meanwhile, mainstream Americans have become more attuned to the harms of homophobia. A substantial body of research suggests that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are significantly more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, and that stigma and discrimination are significant risk factors.* Even those who survive such treatment often carry long-term emotional scars. There is something perverse about using moral arguments to inflict harm rather than to alleviate it—and sadly, the harm arguments are more often experienced as weapons than as points of insight (76).
This analysis stands out for me because of how it turns upside down the argument that gays are harmful to themselves and those around them. As Corvino notes, this "risky lifestyle" argument against homosexuality has fallen largely out of favor.
But, interestingly enough, precisely at the same time that this argument has imploded, more and more people are beginning to look at homophobia--the motivating force of the harm argument--as the real harm that ought to concern us. One of the reasons the harm argument has significantly lost traction is, as he notes in his final sentence, that it's rather hard to convince people that the obsessive focus on how sick the gays are is really, as many of those pushing this rhetoric want us to believe, about love and concern.
It's about the desire to inflict harm while claiming false compassion for the poor sick gays whose illness you want to cure (and whose infection you want to quarantine). As Corvino's final sentence implicitly asks, You want to talk perversion? I'll give you perversion: it's very perverse to use moral arguments to inflict harm instead of alleviating it--and inflicting harm rather than alleviating it is what these "risky lifestyle" arguments are all about.
And when those bearing the brunt of the argument about how harmful homosexuality is are young people coming to terms with their sexual orientation, who sometimes end up taking their own lives due to the relentless drumbeat of homophobic rhetoric masquerading as false "concern," what are we to conclude about the harm argument and where the real harm lies in these social discussions of the place of LGBTI people in the world?
* Caitlan Ryan, David Huebner, Rafael M. Diaz, and Jorge Sanchez, “Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes in White and Latino Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Young Adults,” Pediatrics 123,1 (January 2009) 346-352.