The argument about semantics is important, because a word is being used loosely in order to achieve political ends. I’m not talking about the case of the doctor in the medical journal. I’ve already made it clear that I’m talking about the broader situation. The word “homophobic” is being used in a way that could, in countries that have “hate speech” laws (laws which Jonathan Burke recommends, but which Faizal Ali and I think are a bad idea), potentially land Christians, Jews, and others in jail for saying in public what their faith tells them is true. If “homophobic” means only what it literally says according to its roots, i.e., that someone is afraid of homosexuals, or even (by stretching) that someone personally hates homosexuals, then no one could be put in jail for expressing homophobia. But if the term “homophobic” is read by judges and juries to automatically include preaching violence against homosexuals, or advocating taking away their civil rights, then someone (under hate speech laws) could indeed be put in jail for being “homophobic.” So the use of words does matter. Charges of “homophobia” should not be thrown around casually. The term has, almost since its inception, been fuzzy, a moving target in its meaning, and its use in a courtroom situation could result in unjust consequences for some people.
What you mean by “victims of homophobia” is “victims of illegal violence coming from people who hate homosexuals so much they would break the law in order to harm them.” And I agree that this sort of action should be severely punished. I have made it clear from the beginning that the law has the right to punish people for actions against other people. But if a clergyman posts a comment on a website saying that according to the Bible, homosexual relations are sinful (without ever calling for violence against homosexuals themselves), he is certainly going to be called “homophobic” by a large number of journalists, academics, lobbyists, etc., and he shouldn’t ever have to go to jail, or face legal prosecution, for stating what he believes. Yet, in countries which have instituted hate speech laws, such a clergyman would be in serious danger of facing jail time. So the word “homophobic,” given the rhetorical climate in which it is often uttered, is potentially threatening to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc.
Contra Jonathan Burke, America is wise not to institute “hate speech” laws, because once introduced, they will certainly invite attempts by many to suppress speech they don’t like through the use of the courts, even where that speech does not involve recommending violence; it will be enough that the speech indicates “hate.” It will potentially be illegal to hate anyone, or at least, to ever say that one hates anyone. That’s an extremely dangerous road to travel on, for someone committed to the traditional understanding of American liberties.
I think I’ve now made my position clear. I condemn physical violence against homosexuals, and I oppose actions that would deny homosexuals jobs, housing, etc. But the state should not try to control what people think or say about homosexuality (as long as speech about it does not incite to violence or to suppression of civil rights). The word “homophobia”, combined with the existence of “hate speech” laws, is for citizens of traditional religious and moral views a ticking time bomb, and that’s why the “loaded” nature of the word needs to be in the minds of anyone contemplating the adoption of “hate speech” laws. And “homophobia” isn’t the only word which poses dangers in this regard. The policing of thought and expression is very, very dangerous to the kind of freedoms that
Americans haven taken for granted.
I don’t want to spend any more time on this.