A Rant about Orson Scott Card and Homosexuality

Reasonable argument was impossible when authority became the arbiter... -- Orson Scott Card, "Seventh Son"

In 1990, the author Orson Scott Card published an essay in the Mormon magazine Sunstone called "The Hypocrites of Homosexuality". I'd read parts of it on the Internet, and finally tracked it down. It was republished in his collection A Storyteller in Zion.

It was about what I expected. Card claims that the only people he has contempt for are homosexual Mormons, but it doesn't wash. His position is that Mormons must believe the word of the book of Mormon, with little questioning. Thus, a good Mormon who is homosexual must either leave the religion or spend the rest of his/her life celibate. Apparently Mormonism is never supposed to evolve as a religion.

Even worse, he then goes on to approve of laws designed to punish non-Mormon homosexuals:

Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message to those who flagrantly violate society's regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.

It's hard to tell if he means religious laws or civil laws here, a dangerous ambiguity. If he's talking about religion, fine; kids playing in their sandbox can exclude each other with impunity. But if he's discussing civil law, the message is clear: back into your closets, folks.

As further evidence of this, the essay continues:

The goal of the polity is not to put homosexuals in jail. The goal is to discourage people from engaging in homosexual practices in the first place, and when they nevertheless proceed in their homosexual behavior, to encourage them to do so discreetly, so as not to shake the confidence of the community in the polity's ability to provide rules for safe, stable, dependable marriage and family relationships.

In other words: we'll let you exist, but we don't want to know that you do. Knowledge of your existence might shake our fragile world. It sounds once again like he has no faith in the strength of his own religion and community to survive challenges and accept differences.

Card really seems to have swallowed the religious party line hook, line and sinker. He acknowledges that there are people who are homosexual and Mormon; yet he claims the goal of Mormons is "perfect obedience to laws designed for our happiness". Don't these two things point out some contradiction?

On the subject of legal rights, Card has this to say in an afterword:

...it has become clearer and clearer to me, since writing this essay, that gay activism as a movement is no longer looking for civil rights, which by and large homosexuals already have.

What planet is he living on? In most of the USA, you can be fired from your job, thrown out of your apartment, refused entrance to your lover's hospital room, thrown out of the military, and have your children taken away from you, all for being homosexual. And let's not forget the suicide statistics and violence against homosexuals. This is equality?

Card raises the point that labelling someone a homophobe is used to silence them. Yet has he never thought that it might be used to get someone to question his or her beliefs? When you move beyond tolerance to advocating the suppression of a group, no matter whether the motivation is religious, moral, or personal, that's evidence of a phobia. This is the fundamental point.

One thing about the essay that's so disappointing is that Card never considers why he finds homosexuality so threatening. He mentions two reasons: (1) Mormonism says it is, and (2) acceptance of homosexuality is "destructive", though he doesn't say why or how. It's surprising that someone like Card doesn't question his own assumptions.

Early in the essay, Card points out that one person cannot serve two masters. It's true. In Card's case, the two masters are Mormonism and the USA. One condemns homosexuality. The other is slowly realizing that homosexuals are people, and that there is no danger in providing people with equal rights. Card chooses conservative Mormonism rather than a commitment to furthering human rights and equality. This is odd, since elsewhere in A Storyteller in Zion he points out how Mormon doctrine has changed over time (p. 83). Yet apparently he believes that Mormon doctrine about homosexuality cannot, or should not, change.

Finally, Card's superiority grates. According to him, any Mormon who doesn't act according to all the rules of Mormonism is nothing more than a small child, and must be treated as such. I wonder if it's ever occurred to him that some people transgress rules not because they want to, or can, but for matters of conscience. Isn't that what Joseph Smith did?

I think it's time to give up on Card. Some of his fiction has been good, and some dreadful. I really liked four of the five books of his Alvin Maker series; they're the most interesting ongoing fantasy series being written today. Yet I can't in good conscience give money to someone with these views.

This rant itself is a silly thing. Card isn't interested in a rational discussion. A reasoned discussion, perhaps, but he proceeds from religious beliefs which are by definition irrational. So this is just an exercise in ranting, inspired by the disappointing realization that an author who has written some good stuff has feet of clay. And a brain that has been thoroughly washed.

The Mormons can set whatever rules they want for themselves. Sure, they might destroy a few lives along the way, but that's their right. What I won't tolerate is people advocating laws condemning others for something that has no material effect on them. Be it homosexuality, gender, race, belief or any of a thousand other things, if it doesn't directly affect you, I'll thank you to keep your views to yourself.

More than anything else, Card's position is sad. He tries to write about a world where people treat each other with respect and dignity, yet is unable to see beyond his religion's condemnation of homosexuality. In his own words:

Rather they [gay activists] are seeking to enforce acceptance of their sexual liaisons as having equal validity with heterosexual marriages...

Oh, I see. If two people love each other, and they are of different gender, then that's okay. Yet if two people of the same gender love each other, it's not really love, it's just "sexual liaisons". What a sadly narrow view Card has of the vast and rich texture that makes up human experience.

You want a challenge, Mr. Card? Write an Alvin Maker novel where he meets the poet of the manhood of America, a man who saw his own vision of Alvin's Crystal City. That man was Walt Whitman. And don't overlook that Whitman was gay.

By the way, I had to laugh sadly at the line "the Lord even guides the sexual behavior of those who are married, expecting them to use their sexual powers responsibly". Responsibly? Isn't this a religion that encourages its members to have many children? How much more irresponsible can you get?

Last updated 2 June 2000
All contents ©1999-2002 Mark L. Ironsexcept excerpts from Card's essay "The Hypocrites of Homosexuality", reprinted in his collection A Storyteller in Zion

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