"Fear and Loathing in L.A."

                   by Hadley Arkes,
    originally published in the Wall Street Journal

     The scene was a hotel in Los Angeles last month, the
occasion a conference on homosexuality and the law
sponsored by The Claremont Institute and the National
Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. 
The meeting brought together political philosophers
interested in making arguments about natural rights and
a group of psychiatrists reviewing, in a critical way,
the claim that there is a genetic basis for
homosexuality.  It was not a meeting designed to rouse a
mass audience, with epithets and incendiary
proclamations.  But it set off passions quite out of
scale -- and it revealed the kinds of assaults that do
not seem to count, or register, in the current state of
our public life.

     The City Council in Los Angeles actually passed a
resolution to condemn the meeting.  For those who may be
visiting from another planet, let me put it another way:
The civil authorities in a major city declared it to be
an offense to their civil order that a group of Americans
would assemble to consider some of the moral and medical
arguments that weigh against homosexuality and the
politics of gay rights.  A moral tradition running back
to Athens (yes, Athens) and Jerusalem was now pronounced
as nothing less than unspeakable in Los Angeles.  Without
hearing any of the arguments, the council caricatured the
discussions as nothing less than an exercise in
"defamation and demonization."

     But the resolution in the council was among the
milder incivilities.  The hotel received a flow of
menacing calls, along with threats of death aimed at the
organizers of the conference.  The consequence was that
the Beverly Hilton Hotel caved in and cancelled its
contract to hold the meeting.  In the end, the Claremont
Institute managed to find a fine alternative setting at
the Biltmore Hotel -- along with a management that showed
exemplary nerve.  For the threats mounted, becoming ever
more ferocious and audible, in the streets and in the
halls, as the opening drew nearer.

     A crowd with placards began to pound on cars
entering the garage and accosting people entering the
hotel.  In an attempt to disrupt the meeting, three
activists stood outside the door of the meeting room,
screaming charges:  The people inside the hall were
murderers of gays; or they and their kind were
responsible for the murder of Matthew Shepard (the young
gay man killed in Wyoming); or they were the moral
equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan.

     The themes were bizarre but no longer novel: Savage,
slanderous rhetoric of this sort had become a staple in
the commentary and the demonstrations that molded the
story of Matthew Shepard.  In that story line, anyone who
had expressed reservations about the homosexual life was
accused of complicity in murder.

     A friend of mine at Princeton, Prof. Robert George,
received a letter with a nasty edge from a former student
asking why he and his political friends, so critical of
homosexuality, would not condemn the killing of Matthew
Shepard.  Mr. George responded sharply:  There had been
prominent cases recently of teenagers, in Delaware and
New Jersey, giving birth to babies and throwing them in
dumpsters.  Yet the pro-lifers did not demand that Ted
Kennedy, Christie Whitman, and other defenders of
abortion denounce those killings.  The pro-lifers assumed
that Mr. Kennedy and the partisans of abortion would
never defend the killing of a child at birth.  They were
willing, that is, to give their opponents the courtesy of
a presumption in favor of their decency.

     But that is a courtesy that the partisans of gay
rights have not shown the slightest inclination to extend
to the people on the other side.  In recent weeks, Frank
Rich and other columnists have spun out columns vibrant
with a hatred of the Family Research Council and
evangelical Christians, who have run ads on television
pointing up gays who have "converted."  But those ads
were put forth in a spirit of civil appeal; they cast no
reproach, and sought to inspire no contempt.  Anyone
familiar with these Christian groups knows that they
begin with a respect for persons, even persons they think
are making grave mistakes.  And even if they regard the
homosexual life as sinful, they do not think it warrants
aggression -- much less lethal assaults -- on gays and

     In truth, the campaigns of aggression and calumny
are launched persistently from the other side.  But when
Catholics gather civilly across the street from Terrence
McNally's "Corpus Christi" in New York -- when they say
the rosary and carry signs protesting against blasphemy
-- they are labelled as aggressors and tagged for the
dark crime of censorship.

     This want of evenhandedness makes little impression
on the media, and there is no outrage over the facts
revealed again in Los Angeles: that the gay activists are
seeking, overtly, to repress their opposition -- to
silence anyone who would call into question the
homosexual life.  For what took place in L.A. took place
at a similar conference, at Georgetown University, in
June of last year -- as it will take place in any city
with a "gay presence" in politics.

     And that lends a bitter irony to all the recent talk
about a federal law on "hate crimes."  These laws may
appear neutral, but they are tilted toward certain
favored groups.  In the speech codes on the campuses,
people can be punished for uttering epithets against gays
and lesbians.  But there has been no symmetry in
protecting the people who are vilified as "homophobes." 
Why shouldn't a new bill on hate crimes cover the
attempts to intimidate, with threats of death, people who
are merely trying to exercise their freedom to discuss
the rights and wrongs of homosexuality -- or anything

     In fact, why would an application of this kind not
be a plausible next step in the movement to extend the
laws on racketeering?  Of late, the courts have stretched
the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to
cover the "intimidations" generated by pro-life groups as
they stage demonstrations and sound their views.  To
reach these groups, the courts have detached the notion
of "extortion" from the attempt to extract financial

     But how can the RICO laws be turned on people
praying and standing outside of abortion clinics and not
be applied to gay activists who orchestrate threats of
violence and seek to intimidate others in the exercise of
one of the most elementary rights: the right to
deliberate in public about the substance of the laws?

     Of course, we enter onto tricky ground whenever we
bring in the restraints of the law to deal with private
repressions of speech.  And rather than enter on that
path, it may be better altogether if the pundits in this
cultural debate -- so eager to preach tolerance to the
benighted -- would show a willingness to cast reproaches
on the thuggery, on the ugly acts of intimidation, that
come from the side they happen to favor.

                         * * *

     Hadley Arkes is professor of jurisprudence at
Amherst College.

Return to rants