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Second iPhone App Decried as ’Anti-Gay’

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Feb 17, 2011

Late last year GLBT advocacy organizations condemned an iPhone application called The Manhattan Declaration to be anti-gay and lobbied for its removal. Now another religious app has come under fire for allegedly homophobic content, according to a Feb. 13 article in British newspaper The Observer.

The application, called Confession: A Roman Catholic App, set off GLBT advocates, who said that it was "promoting anti-gay spiritual abuse" by directing users to ask themselves, "Have I been guilty of any homosexual activity?"

LGBTQNation reported on Feb. 10 that the app was the product of three designers in Indiana who had worked with two socially conservative priests. Lawmakers in Indiana recently advanced a resolution to amend the state's constitution in a way that would ban both marriage equality and civil unions.

The notion of "guilt" and "sin" in connection with same-sex intimacy prompted Wayne Besen, head of the American anti-"ex-gay" group Truth Wins Out, to say that the app promoted not virtue, but rather "neurosis."

"This is cyber spiritual abuse that promotes backward ideas in a modern package," Besen charged. "Gay Catholics don't need to confess, they need to come out of the closet and challenge anti-gay dogma."

Saying that the application was "helping to create neurotic individuals who are ashamed of who they are," Besen slammed the very notion of homosexuality as being inherently sinful. "The false idea that being gay is something to be ashamed of has destroyed too many lives," Besen asserted. "This iPhone app is facilitating and furthering the harm."

The Guardian noted that the app is sold through iTunes, and reported that it was a strong seller, ranking at #26 on the apps chart.

Church officials have praised the app as a means to help keep the devout on the straight and narrow. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales lauded Confession as a "useful tool to help people prepare for the sacrament of reconciliation," the Guardian said.

The flap recalls similar outrage over a religious app named after an evangelical Christian document called The Manhattan Manifesto, in which same-sex relationships are excoriated.

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 legal equality for all. 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 decrying the app was organized by change.org and 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, 2010, 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."

The Mormon Church-affiliated anti-gay organization the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) lent its support to the app, producing an ad that accused Apple founder Steve Jobs of anti-Christian censorship.

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. 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."

NOM was a key player in promoting California's anti-gay ballot measure 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.

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 Jobs to demand that the app be restored to service.

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," wrote 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.

The app's backers condemned Apple anew following the app's second rejection, noted GLBT news site JoeMyGod in a Dec. 30, 2010, posting that quoted text from ManhattanDeclaration.org.

"Inasmuch as the Manhattan Declaration simply reaffirms the moral teachings of our Christian faith on the sanctity of human life, marriage and sexual morality, and religious freedom and the rights of conscience, Apple's statement amounts to the charge that our faith is 'potentially harmful to others,' " the site told readers.

"It is difficult to see how this is anything other than a statement of animus by a major American corporation against the beliefs of millions of Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox citizens," the text went on. "It is our sincere hope that Apple will draw back from this divisive and deeply offensive position. The corporation's leaders must be made to understand that they do the country no good service in capitulating to efforts to stigmatize, marginalize or defame people on one side or the other in important moral debates."

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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