Saturday, January 21, 2012

Homophobia, gay marriage and mental illness

Just a couple more thoughts on this gay marriage issue: I remember seeing a profile of Dr Kerryn Phelps on the teev several years ago. Can't recall what current affairs show it was on, or even the channel. But there was one scene that I remember clearly.

In it, Phelps was lecturing to a group of students or activists. She was fired up, passionately condemning discrimination against gays and lesbians. Now, I can't be sure of her exact words. But they were something along these lines: "Make no mistake: Homophobia is a kind of mental illness." (Now, if she's never said anything like that, I'm happy to withdraw, Mr Speaker. But even if she hadn't, the points I'm making in this post still hold.)

That speech from Phelps stood out for me. At the time I thought her sentiments were pretty extreme. Sure, homophobia isn't nice. But how do you define it? And if it is a mental illness how do you diagnose it -- or cure it, for that matter? These are valid questions because the views Phelps expressed seem to be gaining ground in psychiatry.

Sadly, homophobia is just one kind of prejudice. And humans are capable of a whole range of 'em. Is sexism a mental illness? I'm sure that plenty of feminists would say that misogyny is. But if you define misogyny as a mental illness, then surely misandry is as well. And, let's face it, a lot of lesbians do seem to have a deep hatred of men. So, that would make them mentally ill as well, wouldn't it? 

See the problem? If you go down this mental illness route you can pathologize pretty much any group you like.

Right now this is even more problematic. This is because accusations of homophobia are being leveled not just at people who hate gays, but also at those who simply disagree with the idea of gay marriage. Take this column, by Carlos A Ball. The conclusion reads:

Nonetheless, after marriage equality opponents have failed for twenty years to articulate rational arguments for their opposition to gay marriages, it is becoming less plausible to contend that such an opposition is not, at some level, grounded in homophobia.

Now, if this argument gains more ground and starts to have legal force it will have huge ramifications for society, won't it? Even if the most optimistic claims by gay marriage advocates are correct, and most people are okay with the idea, that still leaves a sizeable minority who are not. Even in Australia, that would mean several million people would be classified as mentally ill. 

Now, that's gotta be the biggest, most spectacular example of "political correctness gone mad!" we've seen so far. Or it's the grandest, most audacious act of disease mongering ever attempted. (There's a new one for the conspiracy lovers: Maybe the big drug companies have hijacked the gay rights movement in order to quadruple their profits?)

Well, whichever way you look at it, it's a doozy.


  1. It's perilously close to what they used to do in the old Soviet Union - lock up dissenters in psychiatric institutions. I can see modern leftists being quite happy to do the same thing. Underneath, leftists are still the same old Stalinists.

  2. I agree. In the end their motivation always seems to be about gaining power over others. Of course they insist it's because they care, and want to make a better world. But the truth becomes obvious sooner or later.

  3. So true. As against down town Perth or anywhere else for that matter where the homosexuals were bashed by the right wing fascists and the police, and then locked up in psychiatric institutions. It's a bit like not so much your Stalinists, but your Nazi's.'But you both know that already don't you?

    Same same I guess. We haven't come far have we?

    Same old political point scoring off the Gay's.