LGBT Rights v. the Anti-Rational Passions of the RightOpponents of same-sex marriage in Taiwan might not be aware of it, but much of the rhetoric they use comes from ultra-conservatives on the American right, climate change deniers and white supremacists
One thing that can be said of the organizations that have mobilized in recent years to oppose same-sex marriage in Taiwan and elsewhere is that they are tenacious. Over and over again, they have repeated the same rhetoric with the expectation that, by dint of insistence, they will obtain what they want — or in this particular case, prevent others from obtaining what they want. Two strategies, religious texts and pseudo-science, are at the bottom of those efforts. Knowing where the language comes from can help Taiwanese society make enlightened decisions on the ongoing controversy.
The principal actor in Taiwan is the Protect the Family Alliance, a group that has taken the lead in opposing proposed regulations to the Civil Code that would legally recognize unions between individuals of the same sex. Time and again the Alliance, which in no small part has been inspired by a rigid interpretation of Christianity, has resorted to what can only be referred to as fantasy to make its case against homosexual unions, with warnings of attendant social ills that have much in common with the fire and brimstone sermons of ancient times: social chaos, the spread of AIDS, bestiality, incest, polygamy, erosion of morals, assault on human rights and freedom of speech, and so on.
Although vocal opposition cannot be said to have solely come from within the Christian movement in Taiwan (which accounts to about 4.5% of the total population, according to the CIA World Factbook), conservative churches have undeniably taken the lead on the issue, with other religions for the most part remaining silent (a few token representatives from other systems of beliefs have been brought on board in an ostensible attempt to portray opposition as heterogeneous).
Consequently, the rhetoric that has been used against same-sex unions in Taiwan has had strong biblical references, an irony that appears to be lost on the activists who argue that homosexuality, along with the concept of legalizing same-sex unions, are foreign imports (sorry folks: Christianity isn’t indigenous to this part of the world; 93% of Taiwanese are either Buddhist or Taoist). Besides providing a mantle of “high morality,” references to religious texts have given opponents of same-sex marriage an instrument — a set of godly laws — that cannot be “unproven” or questioned. Their arguments are therefore unassailable; the validity of their words protected by ineffable truths (“who are we to question the holy writ?”)
Some infamous preachers in Taiwan have even infused their sermons with an element of the supernatural (finding trails of diamonds, homosexuality as an aura that can be sliced with use of a magical sword, et cetera). Now, the extent of this religious radicalism certainly varies, and we can assume that most Christians in Taiwan are not of the end-of-times type. Still, the ideology that is used to oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan comes from a large body of ideas that at times has blamed natural catastrophes on society’s acceptance of homosexuality or countenanced the most horrible of punishments against gays, such as in Uganda and the Gambia (until recently a diplomatic ally of Taiwan). Whether they are aware of it or not, the ideology springs from the Religious Right in the U.S., in mega-churches such as the International House of Prayer (IHOP) and religious schools that, in most cases, train preachers for Dominionism (literally the Christian right to rule, on a global scale). Of course not every Christian in Taiwan subscribes to the (terrifying) notion of Dominionism, but even the milder types should be aware that the rhetoric that they hear against homosexual unions, and which they subsequently (and uncritically, it being of a religious nature) repeat in their homes, communities, schools, and at rallies, has such origins (as I demonstrated last year, a good number of the preachers who have agitated against same-sex unions in Taiwan went through indoctrination in ultra-conservative training grounds in the U.S., or are foreigners who received such training before coming to Taiwan).
Of course, when heard by the majority of those in Taiwan who do not believe in a biblical God, those arguments against same-sex unions (or alternative lifestyles in general) quickly collapse. Not to be deterred, opponents of same-sex unions here have emulated their counterparts in the West by turning to pseudo-science. Religious ideas having failed to educate a non-receptive society on the supposed dangers of homosexuality, activists have therefore attempted to give their arguments a scientific ring by drawing from a body of “academic research,” what with all the jargon, surveys, and legitimate-sounding institutes, to make their case. It’s even better if the research in question comes from Western institutes, which somehow legitimizes the findings (in other words, selectively importing foreign ideas to combat the “foreign” disease of homosexuality).
To coincide with the annual Taiwan LGBTQ Pride Parade held this weekend in Taipei, the Protect the Family Alliance turned to one such study to make a purportedly scientific, or at least academic, case against same-sex unions. It did so with the translation (available on its website and Facebook page) of an article by Bradley Miller titled “Same-Sex Marriage Ten Years On: Lessons from Canada,” published by the Witherspoon Institute, a Princeton, Ney Jersey-based non-profit. In it, the author (who in a different article laments the secularization of Quebec and evidently wasn’t in the province during the dark ages of stridently Catholic Duplessisme) makes what can only be characterized as a very poor legal case to demonstrate that the legalization of same-sex unions in Canada has led to an erosion of human rights and freedom of speech, a warning that surely is intended for societies that have yet to make a move in that direction.
One sample of Miller’s argument provides plenty to disagree with: “promot[ing] the acceptance of gay and lesbian youth and the children of same-sex households [in schools],” he writes:
is nothing less than the deliberate indoctrination of children (over the objections of their parents) into a conception of marriage that is fundamentally hostile to what the parents understand to be in their children’s best interests. It frustrates the ability of parents to lead their children to an understanding of marriage that will be conducive to their flourishing as adults. At a very early age, it teaches children that the underlying rationale of marriage is nothing other than the satisfaction of changeable adult desires for companionship.
I will let such arguments fall on their own contradictions, but suffice it so say that similar arguments would have been expressed not so long ago about, say, the presence of African Americans on university campuses, in public buses, restaurants, or as partners in an interracial marriage. Yet, who would argue today that claims of racial purity (or conversely of Negroid predisposition to violence, crime, AIDS, which had no basis in science) should be protected as freedom of speech, or that promoting multiculturalism in public schools constitutes “deliberate indoctrination” of young minds against the wishes of parents who are, say, closet KKK members? Furthermore, does the author really believe that legalizing same-sex unions in Canada has transformed school curriculums to such an extent that the subject will be discussed in every classroom? Rather than deny anyone’s rights, a new, more inclusive curriculum simply allows for richer discourse on the matter if and when the topic arises (math teachers will therefore not go out of their way to talk about homosexuality; they are paid to teach math).
And while we’re on the subject, why isn’t Miller, who purports to write in the defense of freedom, up in arms over schools in the U.S. whose curriculum strictly adheres to a Christian interpretation of marriage and sexuality (that is, no references to homosexuality, or if so strictly in terms of sin; anti-abortion; pro-abstinence)?
As is almost always the case, a bit of research will tell us a lot about the institutions opposing same-sex marriage which, prima facie, appear to be legitimate platforms for academic research. As it turns out, the Witherspoon Institute is listed on the Right Wing Watch website, which as its name says, tracks right-wingers and their ideas. The Institute, we now know, is vehemently anti-gay (it also opposes stem-cell research, abortion, and even globalization). It also became notorious a few years ago for sponsoring a study (“The Regnerus study”) — with a US$700,000 donation — that sought to demonstrate that children raised by same-sex parents would be at a disadvantage. However, it was soon proven that the study was, to put it kindly, complete bunk. For one thing, the methodology was all wrong (his sample of children in such households totaled only two), and there serious problems were identified with the role played by the Institute, associated groups, and the timing of the study, which appeared to have been released to influence a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a marriage equality case. Interestingly, Regnerus received assistance for data analysis from one William Bradford Wilcox, a member of the James Madison Society who at the time was also a fellow at the … Witherspoon Institute.
And here’s where the associations get funky, as they usually do when it comes to groups and individuals opposing LGBT rights. Miller, the author of the article translated by the Alliance, is also a visiting fellow at the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, the same body with which Wilcox is associated. Sounds innocuous enough? Let’s see. The James Madison Program, a scholarly institute within the department of political science at Princeton University, has been praised for its “ability to enable Catholic and Evangelical Christians to work together.” The Program is funded by Donors Trust, an organization that, among other things, supports the Heartland Institute, an anti-science and global-warming denier group (also listed on Right Wing Watch, which writes: “The group is behind an effort to promote climate change denialism in schools and a billboard campaign likening climate scientists to mass murderers).
Anti-science, like many of the organizations that oppose same-sex marriage: all inclined towards what Susan Jacoby in her book The Age of American Unreason describes as the “anti-rational passions in American culture.”
But the Heartland Institute isn’t only against scientific evidence. On its website, visitors will find such classic documents as “The Other Side of Tolerance: Victims of Homosexual Activism,” published by the Family Research Council, a Washington, D.C-based ultra-conservative non-profit headed by Tony Perkins, who as Michelle Goldberg writes in her book Kingdom Coming: The rise of Christian nationalism, in 2001 addressed a local chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a leading white supremacist organization (the Council is a spinoff of right-winger James Dobson’s Focus on the Family).
The Heartland Institute has also cooperated with Robert George, one of the founders of the Witherspoon Institute, and other extreme-right organizations to combat “Common Core,” an effort by the U.S. Federal government to centralize education which right-wingers regard as a conspiracy enforcing political and anti-religious beliefs. George is more recently the founder of the American Principles Project (APP), one of whose endeavors, known as American Principles in Action, has included campaigns against teaching about LGBT in schools and opposition to the repeal of the military’s anti-gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The APP is also heavily involved in efforts to promote parental authority and protect the “innocence of children” against a variety of ills such as promiscuity, pornography, violence, and “other corruptions.” (George also seems to believe in conspiracies about world government.)
Those are just a few of the many examples of how organizations on the religious right operate and cooperate on some issues, such as LGBT rights. They move large sums of money around, and through articles and speeches they defend each other while creating a feedback loop that amplifies their conservative positions. What the great majority of these groups (and there are many, many others — the world or right-wingers and Christian fundamentalists is that incestuous!) have in common is their strong advocacy of a strict adherence to traditional Christian marriage. They also tend to be anti-scientific, highly paranoiac, and often argue that their freedoms and liberties are under assault whenever people (or governments) disagree with them (see, for example, this recent screed against liberalism and President Obama by an editor at the Heartland Institute).
It’s a gift that truly keeps on giving. The more one digs into the literature against same-sex marriage, the greater the evidence that a constellation of U.S.-based ultra-conservative Evangelical organizations is behind the worldwide efforts to oppose progress on marriage equality, regardless of the local conditions, religion(s), or beliefs. That the Alliance would turn to such organizations for material and ideas — as it repeatedly has done — should make us all pause. Debate on same-sex marriage should be informed by facts and science, not a network of organizations that regard science and reason as anathema to their narrowly religious (and minority) interpretation of the world.
J. Michael Cole is editor in chief of Thinking Taiwan, a senior non-resident fellow at the China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham, and an Associate researcher at the French Center for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) in Taipei.