Countdown to Tolerance

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Tue Jan 24, 2012

Maurice Tomlinson's Countdown to Tolerance: The Coordinated Fight Against the Human Right of Gays to Form their Own Families is Undeniably Harmful

By Maurice Tomlinson

In January 2012, two pieces of international news, as well as two startling admissions, made me reflect on the still vexed question of same-sex marriage and its possible impact on the HIV epidemic. Firstly, Pope Benedict XVI declared before leaders of nearly 180 countries that same-sex marriage threatened the very existence of mankind. Next, the Canadian government sought to revoke thousands of same-sex marriage licenses it had issued to non-Canadians since 2004. Further, John Smid, the former Executive Director of Christian organization Exodus International admitted that changing sexual orientation is in fact not possible for 99.9% of homosexual men (like me) who relied on his organization’s teachings to try and “be normal.” Finally, the ex-wife of US Republican candidate Newt Gingrinch stated that the family values champion (who in September 2011 called same-sex marriages an “aberration”) wanted an “open marriage” so he could carry on an eight year extra-marital affair with the woman who would later become his third wife.

The link between these news stories and admissions is the scary lengths public officials will go to in order to deny the rights of people they simply do not like. Yet these same officials express at least token commitment to a reduction in the HIV and AIDS epidemic. I am left wondering if, in light of evidence that promoting committed monogamous relationships is one effective way to halt the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, is it not time that we demand more responsible public utterances from persons in such exalted positions?

First off, let me declare my personal interest in this matter. Coming from a hyper-homophobic country I yielded to the pressure of having “legalized sex” and therefore married a woman who had been a good friend for many years. She knew my orientation going in to the marriage, but we honestly thought marriage could “change” me. However, throughout the marriage I knew I was not being authentic. I therefore pursued clandestine affairs with men. When the marriage ended (bitterly), I had a girlfriend for a while but eventually that too fell apart. I then hosted an “ex-gay” Christian group in my home for a while but after sleeping with two of the group members I realized that my same-sex attraction was hard-wired, so I called it quits. After dating men for some time I eventually met and married a wonderful man last August. I am therefore “wedded” (pardon the pun) to the concept of same-gender loving people being able to form unions with individuals they truly wish to be with, instead of being forced to lie about who they are. I cringe when I think about the careless way I endangered the lives of women and men that I cared about (as well as myself), in the pursuit of a genuine relationship. I am now quite passionate that other men not be forced to make the same mistakes and take the same unnecessary risks I did.

So I was incensed by Pope Benedict XVI’s declaration, considering its potential to cause tremendous harm. Admittedly, I regularly dismiss such extreme statements by the Pope as, let’s face it, the Vatican has not always been on the right side of sound science. I figure, at some point, good sense (or at least another synod) will prevail and what was once deemed heresy will be “revealed” as scientific reality. Similarly, the Catholic Church’s denialism on the efficacious nature of condoms was apparently reversed last year when the same Pope who so roundly condemned them, conceded that they are in fact a “necessary evil,” if you will, in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Now the church is once again flying in the face of good science. Research in New Hampshire last year found that the health of homosexual men is much better in states where same-sex marriage is allowed. This is because of the psychological and physical well-being associated with their ability to form unions of their own choice. It seems quite logical to me as a lay person that allowing and supporting people to form the family units they really wish to be a part of, instead of forcing them to compromise their true selves, is vastly superior for all concerned. The impact on HIV is also clear. Men who feel, as I did, pressured into forming heterosexual relationships put themselves, their partners, and their children at risk of HIV through engaging in clandestine relationships. Professor Peter Figueroa, former head of Jamaica’s National HIV/STI Programme and a regional expert on HIV transmission among marginalized groups, points to research which shows that Jamaican men on the “down-low” act as a bridge for the HIV epidemic to enter the general population. With an HIV prevalence rate of 32% among Jamaican men who have sex with men (MSM) as opposed to 1.6% in the general population, there is indeed cause for concern. Homophobia driven by structural barriers such as the colonial era anti-sodomy law restricts the ability of Jamaican MSM to effectively protect themselves and their partners.

I was also outraged when the Canadian government initially sought to invalidate the same-sex marriages of thousands of non-Canadians on the pretext that these marriages would not be considered valid in the couples’ countries of origin, hence they could not be recognized in Canada. Thankfully the government quickly abandoned its misguided attempt to invalidate its own marriage licenses, no doubt in response to public pressure and vigorous media condemnation. However, the proposed revocations briefly caused great consternation in Canada and around the world. It struck very close to home as well. As a non-Canadian, I had a momentary dread that my own marriage to a Canadian was invalidated. Thankfully, this was clarified as it was initially pointed out in the media that the revocations only occurred if both partners were non-Canadian. All this needless anxiety precipitated by unmasked animus towards same-sex marriages served no one except those silly enough to think that undermining same-sex marriages will somehow result in stronger heterosexual ones. 

If Newt Gingrich’s second wife is to be believed, the thrice-married gentleman carried on an affair with his second wife while his first wife was dying of cancer. He then carried on an affair with his third wife while his second wife had multiple sclerosis. It is such flagrant disregard for Mr. Gingrich’s “no-adultery” pacts, and not the fact that the 7-10% of the population which is estimated to be gay can actually marry each other, which undermines heterosexual marriages.

Finally, I did not find it at all amusing when John Smid stated that he is now a “homosexual man living with a heterosexual woman.” His admission that his attempt to “pray away the gay” is an abject failure is just too little too late if you ask me. Many persons, including myself, have taken unnecessary health risks as a result of his misguided teachings. 

The coordinated international fight being mounted against the human right of gays to simply form their own families is undeniably harmful and should be of concern for public health officials everywhere. My own country, Jamaica, has already imposed a constitutional bar to my marriage being recognized there. North Carolina is proposing even more hateful language for their constitution, which says that the only “valid” relationship will be that between one man and one woman. This trend is being picked up and led by religious groups around the world. In November 2011 Nigeria’s Senate voted in favor of a draconian law which punishes the mere participation by third parties in a same-sex marriage. I wonder if any of those who are so violently opposed to gay marriages have ever stopped to consider the full implications of their hateful practices.