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"Gays are a threat to public health" letter fires up civil unions debate

"Gays are a threat to public health" letter fires up civil unions debate

At this writing, the second-most-viewed item on the Boulder Daily Camera website is a letter to the editor -- but not just any letter. The missive, published under the heading "Gays are a Threat to Public Health," has had an explosive impact on readers, coming at the outset of a special session inspired by a bill to legalize civil unions. But its author, Charlie Danaher, insists the opinion piece (read it below) wasn't motivated by prejudice -- a point he made in a headline the Camera replaced.

A mechanical engineer and 22-year Boulder resident who says the Camera has published as many as thirty pieces of his writing over time, Danaher notes that his self-penned headline read, "All Opposition to Gay Unions is not Bigotry." And in his view, these words effectively synopsize his message.

One Colorado's Jace Woodrum at a pro-civil unions rally last week.
One Colorado's Jace Woodrum at a pro-civil unions rally last week.
Photo by Ladd Bosworth

"I find it troubling that people are sure I'm driven by my bigotry or hatred," he says. "But we live in a world where people want to do whatever they want to do, and any cost of that philosophy people are reluctant to acknowledge."

The Camera didn't want to run Danaher's full, 700-word original, which is on view below, so he cut it down to just over 300 words and gave his okay for it to be printed as a letter. Here's one section of the Camera's version:

But I have to ask, if gay relations are promoted as healthy and normal, then why are they so dangerous? A March 2010 Center for Disease Control (CDC), press release reported that active gay men were more than 44 times more likely than non-gays to contract HIV and more than 46 times more likely to get syphilis.

If these data are true, doesn't it make sense to ask why? And if we really cared about others, instead of encouraging such risk-taking by conferring formal recognition on them, shouldn't we be alerting them to the risks?

It seems to follow then that discouraging same-sex relations would be the obvious thing to do, and failing to do so would be a huge disservice to the public.

According to Danaher, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel also published the letter, but it generated little controversy theare. The opposite was true in Boulder, though. More than 200 comments have accrued at the Camera thus far. Here's a representative sampling:

What an ignorant letter. Charles, you need to step off of the wayback machine and into this century.

Often Mr. Danaher makes logical and valid arguments. In this case, his argument is fallacious and incomplete. He completely ignores the female sex and the fact that civil unions would encourage monogomy and would therefore reduce STD transmission.

Idiotic.

Charlie, your rant bears an uncanny resemblance to the rants of the late director of the F.B.I., J. Edgar Hoover, regarding homosexuals.

"It certainly draws a reaction," Danaher concedes. "But I consider it not to be doing a service to people if you don't alert them to the dangers of what they're doing -- and to a large degree, I think authorities and the media have been remiss in their reporting, their advocating. And there's much scientific evidence to suggest there are risks associated with a gay lifestyle."

Page down to read the original, full-length version of Charlie Danaher's opinion piece.

 

Danaher doesn't exempt the Center for Disease Control from his criticism. "They state that their mission is to help ensure people will live a long, healthy life. But I find that they don't seem to be acting on the information they have about homosexuality."

By declining to do so, Danaher feels the CDC is misapplying compassion -- a quality he feels he brings to the issue. "I say we should be loving, and in no way should we be acting as though we're better than them," he maintains. "Everyone has their faults, and I'm not in a position to say my faults are less significant than your faults. I'm very sensitive to this -- that this is not a gay-bashing situation. But people are very resistant to hearing this message. If you view the responses, the only takeaway you can have is that they're taking it as gay-bashing and gay-hating and bigotry. It seems there's very little interest in asking the question of, 'Is it true there are elevated risks to this lifestyle?'"

A family photo featured on the One Colorado website.
A family photo featured on the One Colorado website.

Not that he wants to outlaw homosexuality. "What I'm trying to do is make a distinction between tolerating something and encouraging something. I'm a Libertarian: I think people should be able to smoke dope and have as much Coca-Cola and French fries as they want. But there's a vast difference between doing that and asking the government to give civil standing for something. People say, 'Why do you want to ruin their lives and pass all these laws?,' but I'm not trying to pass a law that prohibits them from doing what they want to do. And there's designated beneficiary legislation that allows people to identify someone as having power of attorney or someone who can visit them in the hospital -- something like a dozen things they're asking for.

"I know that's not all they want," he continues. "They're asking for societal recognition of equality. I understand that and can't fault them for doing it. But I have to ask: Would that be good for society -- for children and society in general, crime rates and depression rates and drug-abuse rates and on and on? And there's evidence out there that strongly suggests it wouldn't be."

Stepping into the public sphere brings risks, he allows. "I think some publications -- and I think the Camera is one of them -- would like to portray people who oppose civil unions legislation and gay marriage as fanatical, out of touch, ignorant, hateful. The Camera even did so by selecting the title they did. And I believe there are a lot of people who are bigots and hate gays for who they are. But I don't believe I'm motivated by hatred and bigotry. I'm motivated by genuine concern for them and for our society."

Here's the unedited version of Danaher's opinion piece.

All Opposition to Gay Unions Is not Bigotry

For centuries the marriage between one man and one woman has formed the basic building block of civilization. But a social revolution now underway threatens the abandonment of this special regard for heterosexual marriage. A society that cherishes its future will naturally encourage activities that it finds uplifting and will discourage ones it deems dangerous. That's not bigotry, but just plain common sense.

One way societies recognize uplifting activities is by conferring a benefit on that activity. And that is what we have done by establishing a civil designation of marriage. Advocates for social acceptance of civil unions label anyone opposed to such a radical re-definition as bigoted, close-minded, fearful, ignorant, and motivated by hate. But I have to ask, if gay relations are promoted as healthy and normal, then why are they so dangerous?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), men who have sex with men are 17 times more likely to develop anal cancer than straight men. And a March 2010 CDC press release reported that active gay men were more than 44 times more likely than non-gays to contract HIV and more than 46 times more likely to get syphilis. Referring to that study, the director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS Prevention stated, "While the heavy toll of HIV and syphilis among gay and bisexual men has long been recognized, this analysis shows just how stark the national disparities are between this and other populations."

Stark disparities, indeed! The shortened life expectancy of active homosexuals has been universally recognized for decades.

If these data are true, doesn't it make sense to ask why? Doesn't it make sense to suspect that this morbidity has a cause? And if we really cared about others, instead of encouraging such risk-taking by conferring formal recognition, shouldn't we be alerting them to the risks?

It makes me wonder why the CDC isn't leading the charge. The CDC's mission states that it is "dedicated to protecting health and promoting quality of life through the prevention and control of disease," and that it is "committed to programs that reduce the health and economic consequences of the leading causes of death and disability, thereby ensuring a long, productive, healthy life for all people."

It seems to follow then that discouraging same-sex relations would be the obvious thing to do, and failing to do so would be a huge disservice to the public.

One need not refer to any moral code to conclude that there are significant health risks associated with active homosexuality. Indeed, I submit that one can be the most utilitarian, secular humanist imaginable and conclude that, for the general health of society, we ought to discourage such behavior.

I realize that publicly opposing homosexuality is likely to be interpreted as hurtful, but I'd like to suggest rather that it's an expression of concern. In a true friendship, one ought not be afraid to tell another something for fear it won't be well received. On the contrary, I think love includes a willingness to tell someone something that may result in the loss of friendship, if the message is for the good of the other.

I don't reject the idea that some people are predisposed to be attracted to others of their own sex. But it doesn't follow that one must act on such impulses, especially if it is dangerous to do so.

We are all seeking love, companionship, and -- for those who have not chosen celibacy -- intimacy. But if we are to find happiness and wellness, we must pursue these things in a manner that is likely to yield positive outcomes.

Society has an interest and an obligation to support, defend, and encourage ideas that are healthy and life-affirming. In addition to protecting the rights of the individual, civil law should help structure society to promote what is good and discourage what is not.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that homosexual activity be criminalized. Rather, like other activities that are unhealthy - smoking, abusing drugs, and eating junk food -- the answer is not to prohibit it. But there is a profound difference in tolerating something and encouraging it. Formally recognizing gay unions sends an unambiguous message to people, and will only serve to encourage this unhealthful behavior. Given the inevitable outcome of such encouragement, the move to officially recognize gay unions is irresponsible.

Editor's note: The initial post stated that the Daily Camera edited Danaher's article, whereas he tells us he did so himself. We've corrected the reference.

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