On Orson Scott Card

C.S. Denton

Issue 17 * Fall 2005

For a long time, I have wanted to make and try to publish a full response to science-fiction writer Orson Scott Card's two essays on homosexuality and same-sex marriage, "The Hypocrites of Homosexuality" and "Homosexual 'Marriage' and Civilization" (note the use of quotation marks!). Until now, I satisfied myself with pointlessly railing about him and his less than warm feelings on gay activism. Why did I let two screeds by someone who is really not that prominent outside some literary circles become such a gadfly?

Mainly because of what people call 'personal issues' - not only am I a homosexual, and one who likes to think of himself as politically active, but also someone who has been very much affected by the same basic, underlying mindset Card is operating from, having grown up in a conservative and conventionally Christian area. But also because Card is an established and influential voice, one that speaks with a tone of reason and with an apparent interest in fair debate, yet in both essays he perpetuates harmful untruths about homosexuality and displays an attitude toward gay people and his critics and ideological opponents that should not be taken lightly or shrugged off. I am realistic enough to know that this 'rebuttal' will probably not reach the same large audience that Card's essays reached or change the opinions of anyone that agrees with him, so it is written just as a way to exorcise the frustration and feelings of anger Card's essays have left in their wake.

Anyone familiar with Card's political and even his cultural writings will know that in most viewpoints he would be considered far-right, despite his own continuing efforts to paint himself as a 'committed moderate.' He is also a devout member of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, an organization which is not at all on the side of American homosexuals. However, this essay is not going to be an attack directly on Orson Scott Card or on his political and religious associations. I do not have the knowledge or even the right to assume exactly what fuels his need to write against homosexuality, whether it is his political outlook, his church, or anything in his background. I have no intention to attack Card as a person here because I do not know Card as a person, but I do know what he has written and sought to widely publish these two essays in print and through the Internet. It must be remembered that none of his reasoning exists in a vacuum and is built on assumptions that are, sadly, very common in the United States and often go unaddressed directly. To use an old quote, "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars, but in ourselves."

Let's begin with "The Hypocrites of Homosexuality," an essay whose title rightfully reads like a declaration of war, which was published in the June 1990 issue of Sunstone magazine.

The Hypocrites of Homosexuality

Some might think it a little unfair to target "The Hypocrites of Homosexuality," which was published in a conservative Mormon magazine for a conservative Mormon audience. I doubt that there were many people who first read this essay, before it reached a wider audience once it was published on the Internet, who did not already nod their heads at Card's rhetoric on sexuality and religion. And, in fact, at a glance the essay only seems to concern gay members of the Church of Latter Day Saints. If that were Card's only axe to grind, I could not object too much. Unfortunately, as we will see, Card's essay is really aimed at all homosexuals, Mormon or not.

Card begins by recalling how, as an undergraduate theatre student, "how pervasive was the reach of the underculture of homosexuality among my friends and acquaintances. After a while I stopped being shocked to discover that someone I had known well, or whose talent I admired, was either moving into or already a part of the not-so-clandestine network of gay relationships." Already Card's language might remind us of how someone at the height of McCarthyism might write about Communism. 'Homosexuality' in Card's cosmology is as much an organization, with a network and the mission to convert, as his church. Not to mention, Card, right off the bat, invokes a corny stereotype as if it were scientific fact. Apparently being a theatre student made him more vulnerable to the "pervasive" influence of gay people than being an accounting or biology major. Card continues, "I learned that being homosexual does not destroy a person's talent or deny those aspects of their character that I had already come to love and admire. I did learn that for most of them their highest allegiance was to their membership in the community that gave them access to sex." This is generosity, I suppose - being openly gay does not make one less of a person overall, but the only thing that binds people to the demonic Church of Gay Love is sex, not any romantic love and attachment.

"One thing is certain: one cannot serve two masters. And when one's life is given over to one community that demands utter allegiance, it cannot be given to another. The LDS church is one such community," Card writes. "The homosexual community seems to be another. And when I read the statements of those who claim to be both LDS and homosexual, trying to persuade the former community to cease making their membership contingent upon abandoning the latter, I wonder if they realize that the price of such 'tolerance' would be, in the long run, the destruction of the Church." I won't spend too space on Card's words on gay Mormons, but it is interesting the dichotomous and provocative language Card uses concerning the "homosexual community." It is not only impossible to be a good Mormon and homosexual, the gay community is something that demands "allegiance"! Then we have Card's apocalyptic, Cassandra-esque prophecy for a Church of Latter Day Saints that allows itself to be overwhelmed - dare I say 'penetrated' - by gay members. How could Card view his own religious institution - one he sincerely believes as being built on the true word of God, no less - as so weak and fragile?

If readers have any doubts that Card believes that homosexual relationships are incapable of achieving 'love' and are only about 'lust', they are gone once Card follows up with his comparison between homosexuals and "[t]he average fifteen-year-old teenage boy" who "is genetically predisposed to copulate with anything that moves." In Card's mind, the debate over nature versus nurture is, as he himself puts it, "almost laughably irrelevant." If a fifteen year old boy can refrain from a sexual relationship until he is married, then a homosexual can refrain from not only sex with those they are inclined to love, but supposedly all physical and romantic contact with a member of the same sex for a lifetime. To do otherwise, Card says, to be a homosexual who does not admit that his most intimate desires and loves are sinful and against God, makes one a "hypocrite," at least in the context of the Mormon community. 'Unrepentent' homosexuals are "wolves in sheep's clothing, preaching meekness while attempting to devour the flock."

Next, however, Card moves outside the confines of the church and into "the polity, the citizens at large." Card writes,

Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society's regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society. The goal of the polity is not to put homosexuals in jail. The goal is to discourage people from engaging in homosexual practices in the first place, and, when they nevertheless proceed in their homosexual behavior, to encourage them to do so discreetly, so as not to shake the confidence of the community in the polity's ability to provide rules for safe, stable, dependable marriage and family relationships.

There are many things that could - and should - be said about this frankly brutal and hateful passage, most particularly about the anti-democratic idea that society does have not only a right, but a duty, to regulate consensual sexual behavior, the implication that homosexuals must be considered second-class citizens for the sake of some social balance, or Card's smug and absurd claim that the "goal" is "not to put homosexuals in jail," but the most interesting to me is Card's refreshingly honest assertion that he wishes sodomy laws to be used as a scare tactic - not to be used against any homosexual, but against the uppity ones, the ones who have the audacity to display their relationships in public. Why such a crackdown on those who are honest about their loving relationships? Because, again, Card believes his ideals of family and lifestyle are so delicate they must be observed in every home and on every street and buttressed by the force of law. One wonders if a similar logic is employed by lawmakers in Iran when 'encouraging' women to wear their burkas in public; these women cannot, after all, be permitted to shake their community's confidence either with their sexuality. Card does not dwell on his thoughts on 'open' homosexuals in the American community at large, but instead shifts back to a discussion of the 'incompatibility' of membership in the 'gay community' and the Church of Latter Day Saints.

I will bypass the rest of Card's writings concerning uncloseted homosexuals who happen to be Mormon - at any rate, I think a response to those is best suited for someone who is or was a part of the LDS faith. I won't go into his afterword that appears on the online edition of his article on the Nauvoo website either, except to point out two things. First, that Card tries to frame editorial decisions brought about by his essay as censorship ("Signature Books responded to publication of "Hypocrites of Homosexuality" by suggesting to Sunstone magazine, where the essay appeared, that Signature might not be able to continue distributing that magazine if they continued to publish essays by me -- a thinly veiled attempt to suppress my ability to get my writings published") and that those who say his arguments are homophobic or intolerant are paradoxically acting contrary to principles of free speech ("I have had ample opportunity to observe that some supposed proponents of liberty for homosexuals do not believe in freedom of speech for anyone who disagrees with them"). Apparently calling for the imprisonment of 'indiscrete' lesbians and gays is reasonable, but criticizing the essay as 'bigoted' or making the decision not to distribute the magazine that carried the essay goes far beyond the pale.

Second, I want to show Card tapping into the disingenuous 'gay agenda' meme by stating, "gay activism as a movement is no longer looking for civil rights, which by and large homosexuals already have." Nothing could be a more inaccurate statement, unless I am seriously underestimating what Card means with 'by and large.' There is no federal law protecting homosexuals from employment discrimination in the private sector and only sixteen states and the District of Columbia have placed such protections in state law. Many school boards and other public organizations still do not specify sexuality or gender identification in their discrimination policies. Few states extend housing protection to gays and lesbians and across the country gay citizens may still encounter a plethora of problems, from inheritance issues to hospital visitation rights. That is not equality, unless one already finds such concerns trivial.

The second and last essay, "Homosexuality and Marriage," was first published in the Rhinoceros Times of Greensboro and Charlotte, North Carolina.

"Homosexuality and Marriage"

This recent essay, which was inspired by the Massachusetts state court's decision to interpret the Constitution as allowing same-sex marriage, mainly rails that same-sex marriage will be the end of Western civilization, but also elaborates a deep-rooted revulsion at contemporary American society and a longing for some idyllic Eden of modern family values (which, of course, came into existence after World War II and ended sometime in the 1960s, probably when women got The Pill). Most glaring, though, is how Card writes about gay people and his lack of understanding on the history of human sexuality.

My goal here is not to list the pros for same-sex marriage, to argue against Card's cries of 'judicial activism', or to discuss Card's statements about divorce and 'family values' (which he goes into detail here as well), but to look at the dangerous misconceptions and simply false statements Card uses as the tools to build his case. As a student of history and knowing that Card professes to be knowledgeable in at least American and European history, I could not help but zero in on his historical arguments every time I read this essay. Judging from these arguments and surprisingly for the author of Pastwatch, Card actually seems to have about as much contempt for history as he does for the gay rights movement.

Card does not hesitate to reveal his very personal revulsion at the very idea of using the word 'marriage' to describe homosexual relationships. He compares advocates of same-sex marriage to Humpty Dumpty - an analogy he uses for all it is worth in the essay - and states that, since homosexuals can marry the opposite sex, their rights are not in danger. For someone who bases his political beliefs on concern for the American family, Card does not seem to care about the usual emotional consequences for gays that enter unfulfilling marriages or for their spouses and children. Although one can see Card's logic: if homosexuality is nothing more than a mental illness, then marriage to a 'natural' partner is the ultimate therapy, but we will get to that point later – his assertion is a bizarre way of dodging the point. One might as well write that, under Emperor Nero, there was no persecution since a Christian could make a pagan sacrifice at any time.

But Card says, "In order to claim that [gay couples] are deprived, you have to change the meaning of 'marriage' to include a relationship that it has never included before this generation, anywhere on earth." Unfortunately, that statement is more debatable than Card thinks. In Homosexuality in History, Colin Spencer discusses a first-hand account of same-sex marriage between two men in Rome, one that was part of a movement brutally repressed by church officials, yet suggests that such ceremonies have a very old but very hidden history (Spencer 141). John Boswell has written an entire book on the subject of ritualized bindings between people of the same sex in The West, The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, which includes an appendix of manuscripts containing ceremonies of same-sex unions in pre-modern history (Boswell 372-74). Outside Europe, male same-sex unions were observed in imperial China, particularly in the province of Fujian, and in many Native American cultures in southwestern and central North America the berdache, gay men who were deemed belonging to a 'third gender' were sometimes married to other men. True, there has not been a society in recorded history that allowed same-sex unions the same social significance and legal protection as heterosexual marriages, but the concept of same-sex couples being able to share the same emotional and even spiritual bounds as strong as any opposite-sex couple is not something that emerged in recent years ex nihilo.

Still, appealing to the word 'marriage' as if it has retained the same meaning is futile. Just two hundred years ago, in much of Europe and among many people marriage was still seen as chiefly a social, financial, and sometimes even political alliance between two families, little more than a business arrangement. Less than four hundred years ago, marriage was made a sacrament during the Council of Trent (or rather, as the Catholic Church helpfully puts it, they first declared that they had always considered marriage a sacrament). A thousand and five hundred years ago, polygamy was practiced among the Frankish elite in Merovingian Gaul. Appealing to tradition does not do much good overall, really. After all, there were times when just about every society practiced one form of slavery or another and when monarchy was the only form of government possible, if not imaginable. Most societies also did well enough under industrialization, the growth of service-economies, and the women's rights movements. Human societies are never rigid things.

While I said I would not delve into Card's lamentations about the rise in divorce rates, I should mention this comment: "Monogamous marriage is by far the most effective foundation for a civilization." The Chinese, who have a long history of practicing polygamy and yet have the oldest living civilization, would be surprised to read that. Also, surprisingly enough, the majority of societies in history practiced forms of polygamy or even polyandry ¹ - marriage between a woman and multiple husbands. They, too, got on well enough.

While making the semantic argument that homosexual marriage could never be marriage and using quotation marks around marriage as a protective barrier, Card declares solemnly that recognizing a same-sex couple as being married "does not make it reproductively relevant and will not make it contribute in any meaningful way to the propagation of civilization." One wonders if, on the same basis, we should deny marriage to the infertile, the elderly, or simply those who for one reason or another do not wish to have children. And what does Card think of his own marriage, if he describes its raison d'etre as producing children?

Card's faith in his own marriage looks shakier as the reader goes on. "So if my [homosexual] friends insist on calling what they do 'marriage,' they are not turning their relationship into what my wife and I have created, because no court has the power to change what their relationship actually is," Card protests. "Instead they are attempting to strike a death blow against the well-earned protected status of our, and every other, real marriage. They steal from me what I treasure most, and gain for themselves nothing at all. They won't be married. They'll just be playing dress-up in their parents' clothes."

None of this is too surprising. If Card has no confidence that the Church of Latter Day Saints can survive the homosexual onslaught, then what hope does the institution of marriage have? Note, too, the continued equation of homosexual desires with something adolescent that has been with us since "The Hypocrites of Homosexuality."

This is not the end of Card's fears. He envisions a dystopia where "anyone who tries to teach children to aspire to create a child-centered family with a father and a mother will be labeled as a bigot and accused of hate speech . . .[t]elevision programs will start to show homosexual ‘marriages' as wonderful and happy (even as they continue to show heterosexual marriages as oppressive and conflict-ridden)," and "society will bend all its efforts to seize upon any hint of homosexuality in our young people and encourage it." This slope is astoundingly slippery. Not to mention, how many 'normal' depictions of gay life and relationships has 'liberal' Hollywood released even just in recent years? If Card thinks Will & Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy are the beginning of a warm and unconditional relationship between the American entertainment industry and the gay community, he is actually more optimistic than I am.

Card is right that there has been no scientific proof that one's homosexuality or bisexuality is entirely a genetic matter (although, as of this writing, the May issue of the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences describes a study by Swedish scientists that found differences in brain activity and pheromones between heterosexual and homosexual men). However, he is not right to dismiss the argument that homosexuality is inborn as a "myth," but he needs to do this to provide the groundwork for his most outrageous statement: "The dark secret of homosexual society -- the one that dares not speak its name -- is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally."

It is bad enough to see someone so gleefully and arrogantly dig up the old trope that homosexuality is a mental illness, but it is staggering to see such a disgusting insult levied at the caring parents and relatives of gay people. Your children, your siblings, your cousins and nephews and nieces must have gotten that way through abuse, abuse you or one of your loved ones must be responsible for! If Card wishes to expose this "dark secret," which has to be one hidden by sinister forces as diverse as the global news media, the American Psychiatric Association, and the National Organization on Male Sexual Victimization (which lists Card's theory as one of the most prevalent myths faced by victims of sexual abuse), then he surely must have some quantitative evidence, some studies by professional and unbiased organizations and individuals, to prove this allegation? To disprove Evelyn Hooker's 1957 study and Mark Freedman's 1971 study, both of which suggested that homosexuality among women and men is not linked to pathology or the number of proceeding studies that have demonstrated, time and again, that gay people are as emotionally healthy as straight people? And if homosexuality is predominantly a psychological side effect of child abuse, why does reparation therapy, such as those offered by groups like Exodus International (whose two founders, incidentally, ended up 'reverting' back to homosexuality), fail (Haldeman 221-227)?

The way Card sees it, homosexuals are frozen in adolescent confusion. "It's that desire for normality, that discontent with perpetual adolescent sexuality, that is at least partly behind this hunger for homosexual ‘marriage,'" Card says. It seems homosexuality must be dismissed continually and at length as "adolescent" because he literally cannot accept the possibility that just possibly gay couples are enjoying relationships that are every bit as fulfilling and as deep as the relationship he has with his wife. Here Card is proving nothing except his own pathological refusal to accept any romantic or sexual relationship unlike his own as valid and his lack of faith in the ability of relationships like his own to stand strong in a truly diverse society.

Of course, the gay community won't be alone; American society at large will be its accomplice. "They will use all the forces of our society to try to encourage our children that it is desirable to be like them," Card says, in classic paranoid language. Is this the same society that continues to promote stereotypical images of homosexuals (including the meme that gays and lesbians are usually promiscuous) and that shies away from honest portrayals of monogamous homosexual relationships? What sort of audience does he expect to reach with this kind of strange, conspiratorial code? Despite this, Card still refers to the "ranting methodology" of the "anti-family, politically correct elite."

As Card's essay winds down, we see why he feels he must use such a tone. Like his church and his marriage, his nation is threatened by the very possibility of recognition of same-sex unions. "If America becomes a place where the laws of the nation declare that marriage no longer exists -- which is what the Massachusetts decision actually does -- then our allegiance to America will become zero," Card declares. "We will transfer our allegiance to a society that does protect marriage. We will teach our children to have no loyalty to the culture of the American elite, and will instead teach them to be loyal to a competing culture that upholds the family. Whether we home school our kids or not, we will withdraw them at an early age from any sense of belonging to contemporary American culture." Given how widespread gay rights and the recognition of gay relationships are becoming, one wonders what societies that "uphold the family" Card has in mind. At the time of this writing, Spain, Belgium ², Canada, the Netherlands, and South Africa recognize same-sex marriages, and in Sweden, Taiwan, Cambodia, and China the question of allowing these marriages has been recently raised. Civil unions have legal recognition in much of Europe, including the United Kingdom, as well as in Israel, New Zealand, and parts of Australia, Italy, Brazil, and Argentina. The question of at least allowing civil unions comes up even in religiously conservative countries such as the Republic of Ireland and Poland. Looking at the global situation, perhaps Card would find Saudi Arabia suitable.

But, no, Card says, he is not urging people to pack their bags and leave, but to end their allegiance to America. Card feels that legal recognition of gay partnerships is an act of intolerance against him and the faceless masses he represents. Referring to supporters of gay rights as "barbarians," Card predicts that "civilized" people will abandon civilization and our soldiers will have no “'values" to defend, so "our civilization will collapse or fade away." Taking Card's argument at face value, even though I know I am just a "barbarian" and Card is the "civilized" one here, we have to ask if there is any example of a civilization that collapsed or otherwise perished in such a fashion. The Roman Empire happened to be at its political and cultural peak at the same time when "acceptance" of homosexuality and the laws regarding divorce were the most permissive. It so happened that the fourth century, when society turned toward the concept of indissoluble marriage and sodomy became a capital offense, was also the empire's final decline. That is not to say there is a correlation, but rather that it is pointless to blame the fall of the Roman Empire - or any great political and social institution - on an abandoning of values. Would any serious scholar see the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Aztecs, the Mayans, or the Egyptians as "falling" because of anything resembling Card's scenario?

Even though Card protests that he has gay friends and acquaintances he respects, his arguments are at their core hostile and neither rational or detached. When Card dismisses his opponents as "barbarians" and paints himself as a guardian of "civilized" values, asks for the imprisonment of a minority on nebulous grounds, ignores the rich tapestry of the history of human sexuality in civilization, and hurls hysterical accusations of censorship and oppression at critics, Card is accomplishing nothing except adding to the number of misconceptions and false conceptions that gay people in the United States have to live with - the "theory" that homosexuality is predominantly caused by childhood sexual abuse the most insidious and irresponsible of them all since it not only hurts gay people, but their families as well. That Card tries to wrap his "facts" and conclusions with a voice that may sound reasonable or the fact that he is an established and respected writer who commands a following does mean his logic cannot be opposed in strong terms. In Homosexual Oppression and Liberation, Dennis Altman writes, "Oppression can take many forms; when it is most insidious, it is not always recognized" (Altman 52). The same can be said for hurtful rhetoric.



  1. Such practices have been recognized in Tibet, China, Sub-Sarahan Africa, and South America.
  2. Although, as of initial publication, Belgium does not recognize adoption as a legal right of married same-sex couples.


Works Cited

Altman, Dennis. Homosexual Oppression and Liberation. New York: Outerbridge & Dienstfrey, 1971.

Boswell, John. The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.

Card, Orson Scott. "Homosexual Marriage and Civilization." Rhinoceros Times. 15 February 2004. <http://www.ornery.org/essays/warwatch/2004-02-15-1.html>

______________. "Hypocrites of Homosexuality." Sunstone. February 1990. <http://www.sunstoneonline.com/magazine/searchable/Issue75.asp>.

______________. "Hypocrites of Homosexuality (With "Some Observations"). Nauvoo Library. <http://www.nauvoo.com/library/card-hypocrites.html>.

Crompton, Louis. Homosexuality and Civilization. Cambridge, MA: Belknap P, 2003.

Freedman, Mark. Homosexuality and Psychological Functioning. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, 1971.

Haldeman, D.C. "The practice and ethics of sexual orientation conversion therapy." Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology. 62.2 (1994). 221-227.

Hooker, E. "The adjustment of the male overt homosexual." Journal of Projective Techniques 21 (1957). 18-31.

Spencer, Colin. Homosexuality in History. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1995.

Stewart, Chuck. Homosexuality and the Law: A Dictionary. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2001.