Thursday, January 25, 2007

Driving A Wedge

I've been meaning to write this up for a month or so, and since the New York Times revisits the story today I guess this is as good a time as any.

In case you haven't heard, there has been a brewing controversy over research being done at Oregon State University where scientists are attempting to learn the reason behind homosexuality in sheep.

Several groups and activists ranging from PETA to Martina Navratilova have denounced the research for various reasons, but the main objection is that this will lead down the slippery slope to breeding homosexuality out of humans. Now, bio-engineering human beings for desired traits is truly reprehensible, and realistically, there is no evidence at this time to suggest that this research on sheep brains or DNA will lead down that slope to discovering the cause of, or a "cure" for homosexuality. Our brains are a tad more complex than those being studied.

That being said, one group, the religious right, has been conspicuously silent on the issue. It seems like an issue they would want to wade in on, you know, the whole playing God thing. Wrong, they can't run away from it fast enough. From the Independent:

This experiment throws up difficulties for all sides of the millennia-long debate about homosexuality. It gives the forces of homophobia plenty to fume against by annihilating their most hoary argument: that gay sex is "unnatural". In reality, we live in - as the scientist Bruce Bagemihl puts it - "a polysexual, polygendered world", where species from beetles to shrews to chimpanzees have a consistent minority who prefer their own sex. It's everywhere: cow elephants often masturbate each other with their trunks (why has Sir David Attenborough never shown it to us?) and in the Bronx Zoo there is a famous pair of gay penguins called Wendell and Cass who sit on a little rock they believe is their egg. Human homosexuality is just another example of a universal phenomenon.

The homophobes know that when people realise this, homophobia becomes unsellable. The latest US poll found that 79 per cent of people who think human beings are born gay support full gay equality, while only 22 percent who believe homosexuality is a choice agree. The Family Research Council, an evangelical lobby group in the US, are in a panic. In their latest publication, they warn that discovering people are born gay "would advance the idea that disapproval of homosexuality should be as socially stigmatised as racism". Uh-huh. So they spend hundreds of pages trying to debunk the new evidence.

The author is correct, but only about half so. The real worry of the religious right is that they will be pinched between the findings of this research and their followers. Sure, they care that others will suddenly think that gays are more acceptable, but their real concern is that it just might work, on sheep that is.

This would put the religious right in a very precarious position. One of the foundations of their organization is hating the gays. If this research bears fruit on ending homosexuality in sheep, how do they tell their flock that it shouldn't be expanded to see if the same can be done in humans.

They will of course have to take the position that they cannot endorse "playing God" because doing so blows many of their other arguments out of the water, but how do you work your followers up into a frenzy over homosexuality for a decade, and then when a possible solution to their perceived problem comes along, yank the rug out from under them? The smaller minded of their followers simply won't understand, and that scares them a hell of a lot more than additional tolerance toward gays.

The religious right has always made their money on losing and then rallying the troops because if they could just win a few more seats in Congress they'd get want they wanted. In reality if they ever got it people like James Dobson would then become irrelevant.

This can only be sustained for so long though before the natives get restless. Even Cubs fans expect a pennant every hundred years or so.

The natives are, in fact, already restless. Much was heard from the religious right about how the republican led 109th Congress only paid them lip service. How do you think they're going to feel if their leaders, like the aforementioned Dobson lead them to the Rubicon on the issue of homosexuality, then refuse to even dip a toe in it?

Kind of ironic isn't it, possibly one of the gravest threats to their flock comes from actual sheep.

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