Dr. Laura Schlesinger, whose top-rated radio show dishes out ìtough loveî for her callersí ìmoral dilemmas,î has come under increasing attack by gays of late. They are charging that her persistent critique of homosexuality is ìinviting gay children to see themselves as less than fully human.î
At issue, in part, is Judaismís views on homosexuality, which Dr. Laura, an observant Jew, cites as a source for her opinions, though rabbis are divided along denominational lines on the issue.
While Dr. Laura never actually said gays were less than human, an archive on her Web site substantiates the charge by gays, in a series of newspaper ads, that she has described homosexuality as ìdeviant,î and a manís inability to be attracted to the opposite sex as a ìbiological error.î
The long-simmering feud came to a full boil in recent weeks with the bitterly fought campaign in California over Proposition 22, a referendum on that stateís ballot alongside Tuesdayís presidential primary. Dr. Laura and the gay groups opposing her are all California-based and were actively campaigning for and against the referendum. The referendum, which passed by a wide margin, does not mention gays but essentially bans gay marriages by making the traditional male-female marriage the only legally recognized marriage in the state.
In December, the Supreme Court of Vermont ruled that homosexual couples should receive the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples.In recent weeks, gay activists have launched full-page ads against Schlesinger in The New York Times and major dailies in San Francisco and Los Angeles, marshaled several Web sites to ìstop Dr. Laura,î and reportedly besieged Paramount with telephone calls and e-mails to pressure the studio to cancel Dr. Lauraís ìvenomousî TV talk show even before it premieres next autumn.Some 450 radio stations nationwide, including WABC locally, broadcast Dr. Lauraís syndicated daily show, which attracts about 14 million listeners a week.The attacks have included references to Dr. Lauraís Judaism. The Web site of Horizons Foundation, which sponsored the newspaper ads, featured a mock question and answer: ìDr. Laura says being gay is against her religion. How can you condemn her for being Jewish? No one is condemning Dr. Laura for being Jewish. … Dr. Laura uses scriptures to condemn gays and lesbians, but at the same time has described herself as a ëprophetí and a rabbi, while according to Orthodox Judaism women are not allowed to be either.îDr. Laura frequently refers on the air to the Torah as the source of her moral judgments and cites Reuven Bulka, a highly respected Orthodox rabbi in Canada, as her mentor.
On Tuesdayís show, she accused her critics of being hypocritical on the issue of free speech, using bullying tactics reminiscent of ìfascismî and ìterrorism.îì
What these people are trying to do is demonize me in an effort to help their political campaign,î Schlesinger told reporters.On the air, Dr. Laura said if her critics are taking her critique of ìbiological errorî as literally inaccurate, it is equally insensitive and inaccurate to call all critics ìhomophobic,î as a phobia is ìa mental disorder.îPeter Teague, executive director of the Horizons Foundation, in an official statement, said Dr. Lauraís ìprejudicedî commentaries ìare teaching otherwise happy and healthy young people to hate themselves.
The full context of Dr. Lauraís use of ìdeviantî and ìbiological errorî came from two broadcasts last summer. Dr. Laura said on the air to a homosexual caller, ìThe fact that you are intelligent, creative, and valuable is all true. The error is in your inability to relate sexually intimately, in a loving way to a member of the opposite sex ó it is a biological error.îOn another show she added, ìNobody said [gays] were ëbad peopleí or incompetent or not intelligent or not good citizens. They just said the sexual behavior is deviant, and we donít want it in schools, and we donít want it to be recognized on the same level as heterosexuality.îHorizons sent an open letter to Dr. Laura that was signed by 180 groups and individuals, including more than 20 Jewish leaders and rabbis, such as Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service, and Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun.
Rabbi Roderick Young, of Congregation Bet Simchat Torah, New Yorkís gay and lesbian synagogue, said heís been getting e-mails about ëstoppingí Dr. Laura in the last week, particularly regarding her forthcoming TV talk show, and sheís been the subject of discussion on a web site for Reform rabbis. ìShe has the right to say what she wants just as the Nazis had the right to march through Skokie. I remember what it was like growing up as a gay kid, when there was little that was positive in the press. You feel like a deviant because thatís what you hear somebody say on the radio. It takes year to undo that.
Rabbi Young added, ìThe kind of stuff Dr. Laura says makes me think of her as a 1990s Julius Striecher,î whose caricatures of Jews in the Nazi press typified the bigotry of the era.Rabbi Michael Lerner, the Berkeley-based editor of Tikkun and spiritual leader of the Jewish Renewal community, said the debate over Proposition 22 ìis, in part, a deflection of legitimate anxieties that people have about the collapse of family life, but itís unfairly directed at gay people. The collapse of the family has more to do with the ethos of selfishness and materialism in society. Instead of dealing with the prevailing ethos, people blame the ëothers,í the gays.îRabbi Saul Berman, director of Edah, the Modern Orthodox advocacy group, said, ìWhat the Torah demands is the recognition that homosexual acts between men is forbidden. The notion that one can take an act that the Torah deems forbidden and make that into an affirmative value, while seeking to create a culture built around that, would be no different than if one would say that idol worship or eating non-kosher is a positive value and people should build an affirmative culture around that.îReligiously speaking, is ìdeviantî a fair word to use? ìThat is not a word that the Torah uses,î says Rabbi Berman. The word for sin is related to the word for deviation, but Rabbi Berman points out that ìdeviantî has a different cultural implication. Nevertheless, ìhomosexuality is a deviation from the norms that the Torah establishes.î