Thursday, November 12, 2009

And now for some politics...

Today's Indianapolis Star had a front-page article about a Purdue University professor who blogs on conservative issues. Bert Chapman is the Government Information & Political Science Librarian and a Professor of Library Science at Purdue. The reason he made the news is for writing a post called "An Economic Case Against Homosexuality." A grad student discovered the blog post and reported Chapman to the university's Office for Institutional Equality, leading to protests in the campus newspaper and onward to the local news.

I agree with the university's decision that Prof. Chapman did not violate any rules, and therefore should not be punished. He put up a required disclaimer stating that his views do not represent those of Purdue University, and thus far there is no evidence that his political and social views have corrupted his professional behavior. I do disagree with a few of the other conservative bloggers cited in the IndyStar article who criticize the students and professors at Purdue for protesting against Chapman's homophobic views. Jonathan Katz calls the protests "bullying and an attempt at censorship." From the perspectives of students at Purdue, the majority of the protests are not attempting to get Chapman fired, or even to get him to take down his blog post. Instead the protests were a means of disputing the facts put forth by Chapman, thus continuing the debate. Sadly, many people who say controversial things get upset when other people have the temerity to disagree loudly and publicly. It would be bullying if Professor Chapman had expressed his opinions at a small dinner party, and found his remarks being protested in the newspapers and on campus afterward. But he made his viewpoints quite public through a popular conservative site (, so any response that attempts at equal footing must be made loudly.

As for the merits of Professor Chapman's "case," I see several problems. First, AIDS. This is not a homosexuals-only disease, nor only spread through "morally aberrant sexual behavior (including heterosexual promiscuity in Africa and elsewhere)." Blood transfusions, shared needles, these also spread HIV. And even if you could make the argument that we could wipe out AIDS by discouraging promiscuity, that is an argument FOR homosexual marriage. What is marriage but a social encouragement to be monogamous? Surely Professor Chapman doesn't think that people will simply stop having sex if they can't get married. The lack of social acceptance for homosexual relationships in the past drove gay people to casual, promiscuous relationships that did indeed help to spread AIDS. The fear of being caught prevented any attempts at long-term relationships, but the physical desires for sex could not be simply ignored. These are historical facts, along with the fact that gay couples have the same rate of breaking up as cohabiting heterosexual couples (16 and 17% respectively), while married couples have a break up rate of 4%. You want homosexual people to stop being promiscuous and thus stop spreading AIDS? Get them married! This also corresponds to Chapman's concerns about the economic costs of STDs in general.

Second, prison rape. Rape has nothing to do with gender preference, and everything to do with power. Just as heterosexual rape does not equate at all with a loving heterosexual relationship, prison rape does not equate at all with a loving homosexual relationship.

Third, health insurance. Ignoring the odd complaint of a self-avowed Christian that helping others with health insurance keeps him from getting more health insurance (Jesus would not be happy with that argument, see his views on the poor and how to get into heaven), these companies and and universities that offer domestic partner coverage are not being forced to by any government concerns, it is purely through the "invisible hand" of economics, which isn't that invisible. All market pressures are really social pressures, and these companies/universities have decided that they will either get better employees or look better socially and get more customers/better students from offering these benefits. Yes, some organizations might be driven by individual political beliefs, but if society – and thus the economy – did not support those beliefs then those organizations would fail.

Fourth, providing other services. Chapman's last full paragraph doesn't make any sense. If life insurance companies have more people to cover, the insurance pool is increased, thus reducing risk, and thus costs would decrease. In fact, insurance companies would make more money because of more potential policies to sell, and the increase in profits helps the economy. Likewise with lawyers and divorces or other legal considerations. Lawyers will have more opportunities to make money, so they won't have to create as high a profit margin, so our costs go down (or at least stay the same). And if the lawyers are making higher profits, the economy grows.

People were concerned about the economic costs of allowing women to work full-time. People were concerned about the economic costs of allowing slaves to go free. Economic costs were used to justify discrimination against Jews, Italians, Irish, Blacks, Hispanics, and any other minority group. These proposed economic costs never proved out. By expanding the number of people invited to participate in society, the society and thus the economy grows.

I hope Professor Chapman fully considers both the economic arguments against his position, and the myriad ethical and moral arguments against his stance.

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