The media has recently placed considerable focus on Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's comments equating being gay with murder. This renewed focus is for good reason, of course. It's shocking that anyone in the year 2012 would make (and defend) such an offensive links, let alone a member of the nation's highest court. This focus needs to continue as we head into the historic marriage cases that will come to the high court in 2013.
However, there's another element of the story that deserves equal scrutiny, at least. In fact, I would argue that this other element deserves even more mainstream attention than the more obvious "murder: comparison.
First some background. Within the Catholic church, there is an operation known as "Courage." Courage is kind of like the other "ex-gay" or "reparative therapy" movements that are popular within the evangelical world, except that Courage doesn't so much try to "change" gay people to straight, it merely tries to make us celibate. Whereas the "former homosexual" movement purports to "convert" us through prayer, counseling, or sometimes pillow-beating, Courage just tells gays that we are called to live a chaste life. It's all about denial. Ross Murray, Director of Religion, Faith and Values at GLAAD, has more on Courage in this post.
Two things pertaining to both this Courage program and Antonia Scalia recently came into light. First the biggie: the revelation that one of Justice Scalia's sons, Paul Scalia, is deeply involved with the Courage organization and has written and spoken extensively on that program's supposed virtues. Paul goes around telling people that they should detach gay people's attractions from our identities, something that is a key element of the Courage message. Like with most "ex-gay" programs, Paul Scalia has placed particular focus on vulnerable parents of even more vulnerable LGBT kids, with the overall message being that moms and dads are to love their children but not their sexual orientations. Check out Zack Ford's extensive post for more on the younger Scalia's teachings.
Now, of course the son is not the father, necessarily. Which brings us to the other concerning element that recently came to light—one that does, in fact, connect dad to kid.
Ya see, it turns out that Antonin Scalia's own church, St Catherine of Siena (the same Opus Dei-affilliated church that prominent D.C. conservatives from Rick Santorum to Brian Brown have made their ministerial home), has promoted these very same Courage programs. In multiple church bulletins, the church promoted Paul Scalia's own events on how to handle "same-sex attractions." Presumably, the elder Scalia was himself sitting in the pews receiving these bulletins. Presumably the elder Scalia also subscribes to many (if not most or all) of his church's beliefs. Does he share the church's demonstrated view on this topic? Does he encourage his son's outreach work? Does he think gay people are - not just able to, but literally called by God to deny our capacities for love?
We obviously don't know the concrete answer to those last questions, which is precisely why the media needs to ask them in 2013. We need answers to questions like: Is one of the nine members of the high court, who self-admittedly has an unfavorable view of LGBT people, himself affiliated with the Courage program? Leading to the obvious followup: Are these connections enough of a conflict when it comes to his determination on LGBT cases? Even if we do not get clear answers from Justice Scalia himself, we will at least get closer to pertinent discussion.
I say that these questions are more relevant than even the ones linking homosexuality to murder because whereas those crude analogies might constitute deep and obvious animus, they still don't create the same set of presumptions that a confirmation of his belief in the Courage mindset would itself solidify. It's possible to see how even an Antonin Scalia could put forth arguments about homosexuality (a "reduction to the absurd," he calls his murder comparisons) yet still apply a fair read of the constitution. Theoretically, I can understand how even a judge who is publicly hostile to LGBT rights could still rule in favor of them. And considering what Justice Scalia himself said in his Lawrence v. Texas dissent, I could even see how he might feel forced to decide in favor of civil marriage equality. Again, theoretically.
It's more difficult to see how a judge who believes, at his core, that any non-heterosexual orientations don't really exist, and that gay people called by God to ignore these "attractions," could ever have an open mind on the constutional claims that the Proposition 8 and Defense of Marriage Act cases will bring before the court. If that judge is not even willing to entertain that my sexual orientation is as much a part of my identity as any number of characteristics are to other groups, then how can he possibly be open to applying the "heightened scrutiny" that would get to the heart of the unfair treatment of LGBT people? If the judge believes that my life's calling is to give myself to celibacy, then how can he possibly support my marriage? If the judge is guided by a deeply held faith view that tells him to separate my "attractions" from my in-born capacity for love in a way that separates me from my heterosexual counterparts, then why wouldn't he want to distiniguish my placement within civil society from those who he views as living a life of procreative normalcy? We need to at least alk about this.
When it comes to commentator accountability, we must not focus exclusively on keeping anti-equality voices in check whenever they themselves speak to the media. We must also ensure that our pro-equality pundits, objective journalists, Op-Ed writers, and everyone else with a platform is raising the kind of discussion that gets to the heart of these issues. Sure, these questions about commanded celibacy and a judge that seems to leave little separation between himself and that demand might not be as media "sexy" as the stories that get to use both gays and murder in the same headline. But these are the questions that court watchers should be asking. At the very least, they must be part of the discussion.
I can assure you I would say the very same thing if a Ruth Bader Ginsburg had such close connections to a program that called for a similar form of suppression.