On 22 March, thousands of people worldwide read comments from a representative of the Temple academic community, and their impression of the university must be none too complimentary. Dr. Clarence James, a professor in the African American Studies program, joined a group of pastors in Atlanta in collective opposition to gay marriage and to homosexuality in general. Dr. James’ group statement said: “People are free in our nation to pursue relationships as they choose. To redefine marriage, however, to suit the preference of those choosing alternative lifestyles is wrong.” To say that it is astounding that a person could harbor these antiquated views on homosexuality is an understatement. Researchers know that human sexuality results from a complex interaction between environmental and hereditary forces, and to treat homosexuality as a “choice” is a degradation. Moreover, why might Dr. James view heterosexuality as the “normal” controlling principle from which he can criticize other “deviant” sexualities? We’ve heard these types of arguments before. In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that the division of the sexes was “natural”: “The natural head of the conjugal association is man. They [Americans] do not therefore deny him the right of directing his partner.” Dr. James and de Tocqueville both obscure their prejudice towards others within their larger argument about naturalism — those subjugated groups, whether women or homosexuals, are subsequently viewed as the unnatural, or subversive, group.
Earlier in the month, Dr. James made comments to ‘The Washington Post’ concerning gay and lesbian rights; he stated, “The civil rights movement was about a positive freedom, which is a freedom to rise to the highest levels of our capabilities. The homosexual movement is part of the sexual revolution. It is about negative freedom and the freedom from moral restraint.” Certainly, “freedom from moral restraint” for homosexuals implies that homosexuals (remember gays are “acting” for Dr. James) are amoral; by recognizing their natural sexual orientation, gays are thus deemed “morally [un]restrained” to Dr. James. Gay and lesbian rights are relegated to a “negative” movement by this Temple faculty member, and one wonders what right he has to regard an entire population as “negative” and immoral.
His comments are deleterious to the homosexual (and human) community, and I am appalled that a faculty member at our university would harbor such prejudice against a minority group. This begs the question of whether gay and lesbian students feel comfortable in Dr. James’ courses and whether he fosters an environment of mutual understanding and respect in his classes. In light of these comments by Dr. James, I call for an official university censure of this faculty member.
Michael S. Martin
de Tocqueville, Alexis, “How the Americans Understand the Equality of the Sexes,” reprinted in ‘Gendered Voices,’ edited by Karin Bergstrom Costello (Boston: Heinle & Heinle, 1996 [1835, 1840]), p. 70.
Ly, Phuong, and Harris, Hamil R., “Blacks, Gays, in Struggle of Values,” Washington Post, 14 March 2004 (accessed 23 March 2004).
Kniesse, Mark, “Black Clergy Brush Off Gay Marriage Link,” Associate Press Article, 23 March 2004 https://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20040323/ap_on_re_us/gay_marriage_civil_rights_15
(accessed 24 March 2004).