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Ken Cuccinelli’s Use of Acts-Person Distinction: Continuing Dishonesty in Catholic Approach to Gay Persons

Several days ago, the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli, was asked if he thinks that gays are a detriment to our culture.  This question came on the heels of a ruling by Cuccinelli instructing the commonwealth’s universities to rescind policies prohibiting discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

Cuccinelli’s response to the question about whether gays are a detriment to our culture is interesting.  It illustrates a point I made several days ago in my posting about disordered acts and disordered persons: namely, that right-leaning Catholics want to use the distinction between disordered gay acts and disordered gay persons to continue discrimination, even as they claim that it’s the gay acts and not gay people they’re combating.In response to the question—Do you think that gays that practice homosexuality is a detriment to our culture?—Cuccinelli fumbles for words, and then replies,

Uh, the, the acts are. I mean, you certainly want everybody in your society to be integrated into the society.

And what many of those hearing Cuccinelli’s response may miss is that it is an accurate replication of Catholic teaching about gays, as it currently stands.  That teaching focuses on gay acts, the strange word that Cuccinelli immediately reaches for here.  And it uses what it says about disordered acts to define an entire group of human beings as disordered in their nature and personhood.

We Catholics want to view the humanity of a whole set of people through the lens of their “acts”—on the basis of what we imagine those “acts” to be.  On the basis of what we assume goes on in their bedrooms.

Asked if we accept a group of people and want to integrate them into our society or if they are a detriment to our society, we go right to the bedroom: the acts are a detriment to our society.

Those “acts” are happening in the privacy of the bedrooms of gay couples, but we want to keep them front and center as we assess whether gay people can or should be accepted in society.  Something we don’t do with heterosexual couples, no matter how far from the norm their bedroom “acts” might be.

We just don’t think it’s right to make value judgments about straight people—or about other groups of people, groups other than the gays—by heading to the bedroom and talking about “acts.”   That’s a . . . strange . . . way of looking at any group of people, we conclude, an undignified and unjust way of determining whether people count, we think.

Unless it’s the gays we’re talking about.

But when it’s the gays, the “acts”—the bedroom—are front and center, and they’re front and center in Catholic magisterial teaching.

And here’s the puzzling thing about Cuccinelli’s use of the term “acts” in response to a question about whether gays are a detriment to our society: he actually thinks that distinguishing gay “acts” from gay people absolves him of the prejudice that oozes out of every word he speaks.

Having proposed that helpful distinction—people who do gay “acts” are a detriment to our society, but the humanity of gay people somehow stands apart from the “acts” that gay people do (in a way that the humanity of other people never stands apart from their acts)—Cuccinelli goes on to propose that he wants gays to be integrated into society!

He wants his prejudice and he wants to eat it, too, in other words.  He wants to keep that sharp laser focus on gay “acts”—on gay bedrooms and our lurid imaginings about what goes on in those bedrooms—front and center, while assuring us that he’s all about integrating gays into society.

And while writing letters to universities in his commonwealth instructing them to reinstitute policies of discrimination that they have thrown away precisely because those policies militate against the integration of gay and lesbian people into society.

At one level, Cuccinelli ought not to be blamed for the dishonest semantical game he’s playing here.  The church to which he belongs is ultimately to be blamed for crafting semantic distinctions that promote discrimination while permitting the church to claim that it stands against discrimination.   Cuccinelli was merely replicating Catholic teaching faithfully when he informed the media during his campaign for office that homosexual acts, not homosexuality, are intrinsically wrong, and we need policies to reflect this distinction in a “natural-law based country.”

Acts, not people.  Acts that we use to define a whole group of people, even as we claim that those acts somehow stand apart from the group of people we’re defining by means of the acts we imagine they do.

Catholics who hold onto these dishonest distinctions want to have their cake and eat it, too, when it comes to questions of prejudice.  In the case of Cuccinelli, we see precisely where the current right-wing defense of official Catholic teaching, with its attempt to distinguish disordered acts from disordered persons, leads: it leads right to discriminatory treatment—legal orders to remove protections against discrimination—even as those engaging in the discrimination claim that they want to integrate the targeted group into society.

Cross-posted from Bilgrimage, 23 March 2010.

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7 Responses

  1. Somewhere I saw an observation (was it at Bilgrimage?) that telling someone it’s OK to BE gay, but not to ACT gay, makes about as much sense as saying it s OK to BE left-handed – just don’t WRITE left-handed.

    • Terry, thanks–I’d like to take credit for that witticism, but it’s not from Bilgrimage. It makes an outstanding point, though, about the futility of trying to claim that in defining people by their “acts,” you’re not defining the people themselves.

  2. This is excellent. When are those people going to get it? SIGH!!!

    • Thanks, Mark. I don’t think they want to get it, frankly.

      What they want is their own political advancement, and what they can get through that. And they’re using gay lives as a convenient tool–as weapons–in the battle for their political advancement.

  3. It is not quite right to say that the Catholic Church thinks that “homosexual acts, not homosexuality” is intrinsically wrong. This is incorrect.

    The Catholic Church as well as the bible declares homosexuality states that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered, and to act in accordance with this great disorder is gravely immoral.

    Please understand, the Catholic Church believes we are ALL disordered to some extent, in that we all have inclinations toward evil things and actions, even though we were created only to do good. Just as one may have a disordered desire to cheat, or lie, or be unfaithful, or any other sin, we do not declare the inclination toward sin as sinful (that is what baptism is for, cleansing original sin.)

    To act on these disorders, which are flaws in our human nature caused by original sin, is sinful.

    So basically what the Church is saying, is ****that homosexuals are like everybody else***: they have to do good and avoid evil, no matter what their individual temptations and difficulties are, as these difficulties vary in number and gravity from person to person.

    • Interesting analysis, Craig. Can you please point me to a statement in the catechism which says that all heterosexual folks are disordered?

      I can easily find the statement that says this about all those born gay.

      But when I look for the passages you imply are in the catechism about how all straight folks are disordered, and therefore gays are “like everybody else,” I’m just not seeing them.

    • Craig, let us accept that the Catholic church states that the orientation is “disordered” (whatever that may mean. It is certainly not substantiated by any evidence from the natural sciences, or from the study of anthropology). Can you provide any evidence for your statement that the bible says the same thing? There are in fact only a handful of biblical verses that even appear to be critical of homosexual acts, and every single one has been questioned by modern scholars who point out that they have been mistranslated or misinterpreted.

      The strongest apparent condemnation is in Leviticus, which says that for man to lie with man is an “abomination” – just like shaving your beard, or eating shellfish or rabbits, or wearing clothes of mixed fibre. Are the people who do these also “disordered”? In fact, the word “abomination” here has been grossly abused, and more is more accurately translated as “taboo for the Jews”.

      Nowhere is the modern CDF descrition of “disordered” supported by Scripture, or by the teaching of the early church. It has a very specific meaning, which is “not ordered to procreation”. Nor is celibacy. Is that also disordered?

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