»  National Review

April 17, 2000

  Dr. Laura Non Grata


Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the nation's favorite agony aunt, is in trouble with the homosexual lobbies. Last year she agreed with Paramount Studios to host a syndicated TV talk show along the same lines as her phone-in radio program, currently the most popular in the country. This began a sequence of events that culminated recently with a march by 500 protestors on Paramount. The march was organized by GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. In a speech outside Paramount's main gate, Joan Garry, GLAAD's Executive Director, demanded that Paramount drop the show. Speaking of Dr. Laura, Ms. Garry declared that "If she can't be controlled, she must be stopped."

Dr. Laura's advice to the confused and lovelorn centers on the frank statement of traditional moral truths. She has publicly deplored homosexuality, referring to it as "deviant" and a "biological error". Militant homosexuals have had her on their watch list for some time. GLAAD first met with her two years ago in the hope, according to Ms. Garry, that they might "open her eyes and broaden her understanding of the impact her words have on those who listen to her." Alas, Dr. Laura's eyes remained unopened. When it became clear that the deal with Paramount was under threat, she issued a conciliatory "clarification" of her on-air remarks. Later, however, in a Don Feder column in the Boston Herald, she backed off from that self-criticism. One's impression from reading these somewhat over-wrought re- and re-re-cantations is that Paramount has been leaning hard on Dr. Laura; that she desperately wants that TV show; but that she is not, anytime soon, going to start telling her listeners that gay is just as good as straight. The homosexual lobbies have therefore decided that she must be destroyed, and a major campaign against her is now under way. The gist of it is that Dr. Laura is practising "hate speech", that her views "encourage prejudice and discrimination".

I had never listened to Dr Laura at any length prior to this current controversy. Yesterday I sat through the whole three hours of her radio phone-in show. Yes, the lady has a sharp tongue, but I heard nothing very outrageous in her advice. The strongest impression that remained with me was of her callers. What Legions of the Lost there are out there! A psychologist friend of mine is fond of saying out loud the statistical truism that "half the population falls below the median." Well, here they are; and one could ask for no better illustration of the thesis that those on the left-hand side of the bell curve are much more in need of simple, clear rules of morality than are the cognitive elites who run their society. The majority of callers are not coping well with the liberties handed to them by the sexual revolution. Much of Dr. Laura's work consists of the firm statement of the obvious. Are there really 17-year-old girls who do not know that getting pregnant by a man who has no intention of marrying them is the dumbest thing they can do, short of amputating a couple of healthy limbs? Yes, there are. Are there really adult men who do not know that their responsibilities to loving wives and helpless babes are far more important than transient sexual longings? Oh, yeah, lots of those. Dr Laura is performing a useful service; but what a crying shame that it needs to be performed at all! About a half of the callers I heard opened their questions with some variation on: "Dr Laura, is it morally right that …?"

In the matter of homosexuality, Dr Laura's hostility is rooted in her religious beliefs — she is a practicing Jew of, one gathers, the stricter sort. In Genesis, she has pointed out in that way she has, "God didn't get Adam another guy." To a degree this plays into the hands of the lobbies like GLAAD, one of whose fondest conceits is that lack of acceptance of homosexuality is a hang-up of the Religious Right — a sort of relic of the Middle Ages, like witch-burning. Pushing this line allows them to avoid more fundamental issues, like: does society have a vested interest in promoting some kinds of private unions and discouraging others? (And, if it does not, why has every human society that ever existed thought it did?)

In fact the distaste for homosexuality is deep-rooted in human culture, and can be found in societies very far removed from Judeo-Christian ethics. Pre-Christian, un-Christian and even anti-Christian societies have placed homosexuality outside the bounds of the respectable. In Mao's China it was a capital offense: Bao Ruo-wang's Prisoner of Mao includes a grisly account of a homosexual being executed. The British — i.e. Celtic, pagan — Queen Boudicca, rallying her troops to rise against the occupying legions in a.d.61, told them that the Romans were "men who bathe in warm water, eat artificial dainties, drink unmixed wine, anoint themselves with myrrh, and sleep on soft couches with boys for bedfellows." We British have, most of us, overcome our aversion to warm water and soft couches, but a recent survey in Britain revealed strong public resistance to further encroachments on majority culture by homosexuals. (And in fact, Roman respectability also excluded homosexuality: Julius Caesar had a passionate attachment to a male friend when young, but his minders covered it up when he went into politics.) The notion that the ancient world was a freewheeling paradise of liberated gayness until those "mean-spirited" Christians stomped on it is nonsense. Even the Ancient Greeks scorned the man who permitted himself to be penetrated, who "played the woman's part." Social disapproval of homosexuality plainly has more to it than just a strict reading of Leviticus.

And Dr. Laura traffics in something that is, from the point of view of organizations like GLAAD, far worse than disapproval. In the best Judeo-Christian tradition, she hates the sin but loves the sinner, and wants to see the sinner reformed. This leads her to advocate reparative therapy, in which homosexuals, through counseling and steady encouragement, are set back on the straight and narrow, or at least the straight. Nothing arouses the ire of homosexual militants more than the idea that sexual orientation can be "turned" like this. If true, it means that there is some element of choice, of personal responsibility, in being an active homosexual. This robs the militants of some of their best arguments — for example, the spurious claim that disapproval of homosexuality is just like racism, since a homosexual can no more help his or her tendency than a black person can help being black.

You don't have to share Dr. Laura's religious convictions to find this attempt by a rich, loud, media-supported lobby to get her off the airwaves profoundly antisocial. In a civilized modern society, the majority owes to harmless "lifestyle" minorities the following things: tolerance, full civil rights and equality as individuals under the law. Tolerance, however, is not the same as acceptance, much less full approval. Nor is there any civil right to live free from criticism or verbal offense. Furthermore, minorities owe something to the majority, and to other minorities: a decent respect for opinions different from their own, and some forbearance in advertising their private preferences to those who find them distasteful.

There is now no large number of people in any part of American society that wishes to persecute homosexuals, or to criminalize (in many states it would be re-criminalize) their private activities. There is, however, strong feeling against their attempts to colonize long-standing majority institutions — marriage, the military, the Boy Scouts — and remake them in a form hospitable to homosexual tastes. There is also, I think, widespread unease with the effort — of which the campaign against Dr. Laura is one element — to demonize other minorities who object to homosexuality on religious or moral grounds. Just as tolerance is not the same thing as approval, neither is disapproval the same thing as hate. A lot of people object to homosexuality for a lot of reasons, from the religious to the hygienic. Just as homosexuals ought to be tolerated by the rest of us, so those voices should be tolerated by homosexuals. In a free society, nobody should be denied harmless private satisfactions; but neither should anyone who honestly believes those satisfactions to be immoral be silenced. American culture has survived Ellen DeGeneres baring her soul on prime time; it will survive Dr. Laura telling us that what Ellen does is "deviant." It may not survive the sinister totalitarian doctrines of "hate crime" and "speech crime" promoted by the likes of GLAAD.