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I came across the AIDS Memorial Quilt while in Washington last weekend. Like others, I was moved as the names of the dead droned over microphones. The ceremony itself was tranquil and peaceful. By comparison, members of Act Up stormed a Republican campaign headquarters across town, chanting, "Dole, Kemp, you can't hide. We charge you with genocide."
I was angered. Genocide aptly describes mass murders in Bosnia or Cambodia, not AIDS in America. The federal government already spends more per capita on AIDS research than on any other disease, and those funding levels suffered no real decrease under a Republican Congress the past two years. Nevertheless, protests that, "not one life can be lost" drown out suggestions that our real priorities lie with diabetes, heart disease and cancer research, ailments more widespread and less well funded.
But money isn't enough for AIDS activists, who won't be content until they transform the nation's attitude about homosexuality and gay rights. One group was pushing for an elementary school curriculum to "form and defend gay/straight alliances in public schools." Another spent $1.5 million to encourage others to come out of the closet. Such plans bristle Americans who agree that all disease should be combated, yet resent being vilified for their moral objections to homosexuality itself.
Homosexuality is an abominable crime to many Christians. It's also something scorned rather than celebrated throughout the history of Western civilization. Still, it's possible to hate the sin and love the sinner. Consider someone who harms himself through smoking or poor eating habits. One can criticize that person's lifestyle, suggest they modify that behavior and still extend them compassion and support.
The same should be true with AIDS. Aside from the handful of cases derived from using infected needles or blood transfusions, AIDS overwhelmingly is acquired through abnormal sexual behavior. It's logical, then, that people sympathize with the victims' plight but refuse to adopt the agenda of gayrights advocates.
Try condemning the sin of homosexuality or publicly opposing samesex marriages. Say, "It may be true that the two individuals are just as committed as partners in heterosexual unions. But still, good intentions can lead to bad consequences, like undermining the concept of family or shredding the fabric of civil society. This is where I put my foot down."
Liberal elites will quickly and casually insist those moral objections be kept out of political debate. But that's impossible. Moral understandings form the basis of all legislation, from the tax code to the prohibition of prostitution, polygamy, consensual sex with minors and cruelty to animals.
Is homosexuality on par with these questionable practices? Is it a biological preference, or a conscious choice? How should we direct resultant education and treatment efforts? And if society accepts any two-person union, will polygamous unions be far behind?
When those of differing opinions clash in a deliberative democracy, society may need to restrict certain actions to preserve order and protect citizens. Nobody has a "right" to practice sodomy any more than one has a "right" to play checkers. Both actions can be discouraged or curtailed if necessary.
Is restriction warranted? To decide that question, we must engage in vigorous debate. Gay and lesbian activists, however, hope to silence discussion, making a mockery of calls for toleration and dialogue.
Just ask Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield '53, who needed a year's leave of absence to escape the pickets, protests, threats of violence and intimidation for his decidedly antigay statements in 1993.
The AIDS Quilt was a silent, wrenching reminder of a plague we cannot ignore. Seeing names of 37,000 victims stretched across 11 city blocks would help anybody identify with them as more than mere statistics. It also reminds us of the 99.9 percent of Americans who go to their grave without a quilt, victims of other diseases that deserve attention.
While more can and should be done to fight AIDS and every other disease on this planet, one need not concurrently find value in homosexuality. Without justice, there can be no peace. To promote justice, one must practice compassion. That sentiment is slow in coming when those demanding it also insist on linking their brethren to Nazism, Fascism and genocide--merely for raising questions central to the issue itself.
Christopher R. McFadden '97 is a senior
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