Technology » Personal Tech

’Anti-Gay’ Apple App Incites Controversy

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Dec 15, 2010

An iPhone application named after a Christian manifesto titled The Manhattan Declaration generated an outcry that led to the app's deletion. Now the app's defenders are raising their own outcry--and mulling legal action.

The Manhattan Declaration runs to 4,700 words, and was presented at a media conference on Nov. 20, 2009. The document purports to trace a Christian tradition of defending "the sanctity of life" and "traditional marriage" through the ages, and makes the claim that Christianity laid the groundwork for democracy and equality for all before the law. Anti-gay groups such as Focus on the Family embraced the manifesto and encouraged their adherents to put their names to it.

But the declaration also raised hackles. The text claims that the push for equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian families is nothing more than an attempt to "redefine" marriage to suit "fashionable ideologies," and "affirm[s]... marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society." An online petition organized by gathered thousands of signatures within a week; Apple responded by removing the app.

GLBT equality group the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) noted that the app went beyond an implicit assumption that same-sex families were somehow undeserving of the "dignity" that the Manhattan Declaration indicated should be reserved solely for mixed-gender couples. "The app features an electronic version of a declaration, through which users can pledge to make whatever sacrifices are required' to oppose marriage equality, even, presumably, if that means breaking the law" in asking users not to "bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth," a Dec. 15 GLAAD release said.

"The 'Manhattan Declaration' calls gay and lesbian couples 'immoral,' it calls the recognition of their relationships 'false and destructive,' and claims that allowing them to be married will lead to 'genuine social harms,' " the GLAAD release noted. "The original application also contained a quiz in which the 'right' answers were those that oppose equality for gay and lesbian people.

"This application fuels a climate in which gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are put in harm's way," the GLAAD release went on. "Apple did the right thing in recognizing that this application violates the company's guidelines."

Noting that the quiz had been stripped out of the revised app that was re-submitted to Apple for approval, GLAAD went on to say that, "simply removing the quiz does nothing to address the underlying problem, which is that this application tells people to pledge to oppose equality for gay and lesbian couples."

GLBT equality advocates were not alone in objecting to the manifesto. Some Christian conservatives also took exception, albeit for different reasons. An Orthodox Christian conservative posting under the rubric of The Ochlophobist stated his objections in a Nov. 23, 2009, posting that dismissed same-sex relationships as based on nothing more than "a sexual act which can never rise above entertainment" and claimed that homosexuals "commodify" human beings, but went on to declare that many religious conservatives adopt lifestyles that are every bit as commodity- and consumerism-based.

"What I do not 'get' when I do this is that when I live in a manner that assumes the correctness of grossly gratuitous consumption, I live in a manner that assumes that homosexuality should be socially accepted," the Ochlophobist wrote. "Why? Because like calls out to like. Homosexuality as a lifestyle and as a moral act is a decadent, gratuitous form of consumption in which the human person becomes commodified."

The posting went on to say, "But my intent here is not to analyze homosexuals, it is rather to note how much in common the bourgeois Christian living a decadent lifestyle has with the homosexual lifestylist on a fundamental level, and thus the ridiculousness of that Christian going all Dobson in his political life."

The Mormon Church-affiliated anti-gay organization the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which was a key player in promoting Proposition 8 in 2008 and has, since then, spent massive amounts of money across the nation to defeat or overturn marriage equality in the handful of states where it has been (or might be) approved, lent its support to the app, producing an ad that accused Apple founder Steve Jobs of anti-Christian censorship.

According to a Dec. 15 article at the Daily Princetonian, the student newspaper at Princeton University, one of the school's professors, Robert George, a co-author of The Manhattan Declaration, wrote to Jobs to demand that the app be restored to service.

The NOM ad noted that the app had originally been awarded top marks by Apple, which found that it contained no offensive language. However, the company reviewed that ranking in the light of complaints, The Daily Princetonian reported; said Apple spokesperson Trudy Muller, "We removed the Manhattan Declaration app from the app store because it violates our developer guideline by being offensive to large groups of people."

George's letter to Apple denied that the app or the manifesto contained anything that should be considered offensive. "As you will immediately see if you read the Manhattan Declaration, it is written in respectful language, and it engages the beliefs of those who differ in an honest, thoughtful and civil manner. It is entirely free of rancor, name-calling or offensive rhetoric," George, along with two others, Charles Colson and Timothy George. The former is with the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, while the latter is with Beeson Divinity School, noted the Daily Princetonian.

George also sent comments to the student newspaper, telling the Daily Princetonian, "When reasonable people of goodwill disagree about questions of morality, justice and the common good (or other questions, for that matter), the thing to do is to have a free and robust discussion in which the competing sides make their arguments and engage each other."

George's "dispute with Apple" could escalate to "legal action" if the app is not restored to service, the article said.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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