Texas has a lot of things to be proud of. The Republican Party of Texas, however, is not one of them. Turns out everything really is bigger down in Texas, including our embarrassments.
Taking cues from the national party, the Texas GOP invokes religion and false ideas of the Founding Fathers to promote their blatantly anti-science stances. Texas Gov. Rick Perry recently compared the homosexual "lifestyle" to being an alcoholic. In its recently-finished 2014 party platform, Texas Republicans offer the following stances on homosexuality and reparative therapy:
Homosexuality: Homosexuality is a chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that have been ordained by God in the Bible, recognized by our nation's founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples. We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin. Additionally, we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.
Reparative Therapy: We recognize the legitimacy and efficacy of counseling, which offers reparative therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle. No laws or executive orders shall be imposed to limit or restrict access to this type of therapy.
While homosexuality may not be "an acceptable alternative lifestyle" to some Republicans, the idea that it is an illness or disorder is almost universally dismissed by health organizations today. The American Psychological Association (APA), for example, "affirms that same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings, and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality regardless of sexual orientation identity" and "opposes portrayals of sexual minority youths and adults as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation."
Similarly, the idea of reparative therapy has been widely dismissed by health professionals. In a 1999 publication ("Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation & Youth"), 10 health and education organizations—including the APA, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers—asserted that "the most important fact about 'reparative therapy,' also sometimes known as 'conversion' therapy, is that it is based on an understanding of homosexuality that has been rejected by all the major health and mental health professions." The UK Council for Psychotherapy calls it "exploitative for a psychotherapist to offer treatment that might 'cure' or 'reduce' same sex attraction as to do so would be offering a treatment for which there is no illness."
Reparative therapy does have organizational supporters, including the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which describes itself as "a multi-disciplinary professional and scientific organization dedicated to the service of persons who experience unwanted homosexual (same-sex) attractions (SSA)." NARTH executive director David Pruden recently told Texas radio station KUT that reparative therapy is no different than other therapies, saying:
"People seek counseling, they go to a therapist because something is distressing them. Therapists that I work with and we work with here at NARTH are simply therapists who are willing to acknowledge the belief that people's homosexual feelings are, in some cases, unwanted and unwelcome in their lives."
However, people who have endured such "therapy" don't paint such an innocent picture of it. In a 2012 op-ed for Advocate.com, Peter Gajdics describes his reparative therapy experiences, which included "prolonged, near-fatal doses of five concurrent psychotropic medications" to help "suppress (his) libido". He continues:
When it became clear, despite the medications and almost-daily "feeling therapy," that my same-sex erotic desires were not diminishing, (Dr.) Alfonzo ordered me to bottle my feces and to sniff it whenever I was attracted to a man.
"You need to be reminded where homosexual men stick their penis," he said. "You need to be reminded that homosexual relations are not pleasurable." When none of that worked—I was still attracted to men, only now all erotic desire seemed to elicit the smell of feces—Alfonzo threatened to hook my genitals up to electrodes.
Even in less extreme cases, mental health professionals say reparative therapy—the very name of which is problematic, as it suggests that homosexuality is something that needs to be repaired—can cause psychological harm to patients. Jeff Lutes, an Austin-based licensed professional counselor, told KUT that no matter what methods this therapy uses, it pushes the idea that being normal means being heterosexual, which can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts when the therapy isn't successful. The Pan American Health Organization's position is that reparative therapies "lack medical justification and represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people."
Since the medical world is pretty clear about homosexuality, how did the Texas GOP justify denouncing it and embracing reparative therapy? Oh, right, homosexuality is "contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that have been ordained by God in the Bible, recognized by our nation's founders, and shared by the majority of Texans."
The Bible does seem to be strongly against homosexual actions. (Though, to put that into perspective, the Bible also condones slavery.) And polls have found that almost four out of five Texans are "very or moderately religious". In fact, Texas is one of a few states that has a law against atheist politicians. The Texas Constitution stipulates that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being."
But regardless of whether "the majority of Texans" reject homosexuality, it's simply false to suggest that "the fundamental unchanging truths that have been ordained by God in the Bible" were recognized by our Founders as a sound basis for policy or political action. This toxic combination of church and state is exactly what they were trying to prevent.
The founders unquestionably fought for religious freedom, but religious freedom doesn't include the freedom to force your beliefs onto others. In 1784, Thomas Jefferson wrote: "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
Likewise, whether my neighbor is in a heterosexual or same-sex marriage, it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. Even if Texas Republicans personally consider homosexuality to be immoral, that in no way justifies their opposition to letting homosexual couples marry.
Far from supporting the government enforcing religious beliefs, "Father of the Constitution" James Madison explicitly warned against it. In 1785, Madison wrote,
What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny: in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people.
Fortunately, despite the official party platform and equally silly comments by Rick Perry, the Texas GOP isn't unanimously in support of the party's stance on homosexuality and reparative therapy. Texas GOP Chairman Steve Munisteri recently denounced the position on Texas Public Radio, asking "Do they think they can take a straight person to a psychiatrist and turn them gay?"
Munisteri said that his office has gotten emails and phone calls "running overwhelmingly opposed to that plank in the platform."
While Texas isn't exactly blazing the trail for LGBTQ equality, the state as a whole hasn't avoided the rising wave of support. A survey conducted in April by Texas Tech's Earl Survey Research Lab found that 48 percent of Texans supported marriage equality, with only 47 percent of respondents opposing it.
I guess there has been some progress from the Texas GOP, too: The new party platform ditches the more explicitly homophobic 2012 language, which asserted that "homosexuality tears at the fabric of society". Hopefully, Texans will soon realize that it's ignorance, bigotry, and ignoring the dictates of our Founding Fathers that truly tear at the fabric of society.