by Douglas Farrow
The Québec policy against homophobia was released in December with introductory fanfare from Premier Jean Charest and Justice Minister Kathleen Weil, who is officially “the minister responsible for the fight against homophobia.” It diagrams a full-scale assault, to be coordinated by an inter-departmental committee, against “homophobic attitudes and behaviour patterns” and “sets out the government’s goal of removing all the obstacles” to full recognition of LGBT interests and modes of life. What is thus promulgated is no ordinary policy document, for it aims at the conversion, not merely of this or that piece of public infrastructure, but of the psychological and moral and sexual infrastructure of a generation. It is not directed at creating a situation of legal equality – that, it proudly proclaims, has already been accomplished – but at creating “a society free of prejudice with regard to sexual diversity.”
Herewith the Ministry of Justice moves boldly and decisively into territory once reserved for the voluntary organs of civil society. Not only is homophobia to be eradicated “at all levels of society,” it is to be eradicated as a matter of government policy and by means of government action. “The first challenge,” we are told, “is to ‘demystify’ sexual identities and orientations and the realities they involve. Prejudice is the foundation for homophobic attitudes and behaviour, and because of prejudice, sexual minority members are often forced to keep their sexual identity quiet, perpetuating the lack of understanding and the rejection of difference.”So the government will undertake to “raise awareness of the realities” and promote respect for the rights of sexual minorities, to “rally all players in society” to their cause, and to “ensure a concerted approach” to the matter in all branches of the bureaucracy.
This putative de-mystification, as we shall see, is actually an exercise in obfuscation. But there can be no obscuring the fact that the Québec policy against homophobia is an official endorsement of – indeed, the assumption of full responsibility for – the activist agenda of so-called LGBT groups. As such, it is also a declaration of war by the Charest government on all groups and citizens who oppose that agenda. That this war must be fought on a broad front is not denied: Some widely held beliefs about sexual minority members are still common in Québec. For example, it is still possible to hear people say that homosexuality is an illness, morally wrong or a form of deviant behaviour, and that people choose their sexual orientation. These beliefs, often instilled in the past, tend to marginalize sexual minority groups and prevent full recognition of their social equality.
That is a very broad front indeed, just as the ambition to create social, and not merely legal, equality is a very large ambition. But the government is determined to assert “the state’s role as a leader in upholding rights and freedoms and keeping public order,” as well as “the responsibility and commitment of all institutional and social players, and of the general public, to combat homophobia.”Can the government win such a war? Perhaps not. But a government so lacking in constitutional modesty, in moral judgment, and in political sense as to wage it, is a government that can and will wreak havoc in Quebec society. I feel it my duty to point that out to my fellow citizens, and to comment on some of the tactics displayed by the document, though these will already be familiar to anyone who has observed the earlier stages of this Kulturkampf, when the combatants were volunteers rather than conscripts.
Before I begin, let it be noted that nothing I have to say here is directed at or against people of homosexual inclination, among whom I too have friends and colleagues, some of whom would agree with the main thrust of my argument even while disagreeing strenuously on points of substance or of detail, whether in morals or politics or in social phenomena. Which is to say, there is by no means unanimous support among such people for the Kulturkampf to which I am objecting. Some of them feel that the government, or the activists pushing the government, by pursuing a cause that far exceeds the necessary defence of those who are persecuted for their personal tendencies or private actions, are making the situation worse rather than better. They do not wish to find themselves in a society where it is not possible to enquire openly about the causes and consequences of sexual behaviour, or to make moral claims about sexual behaviour that do not suit the people in power. And they can see that this is where we are headed; that the new moralists (as I have elsewhere referred to them) are in some ways much more rigid and prone to persecute than the old. They may not like it, for example, if an institution or an individual refers to their condition as “disordered” or their behaviour as immoral, but they would defend the right to hold such a view, to live by it, and even to argue for a polity that takes it into account.
That right is just what is threatened by the Québec policy against homophobia.
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- Douglas Farrow is Professor of Christian Thought at McGill University.
- Published in cooperation with the author.