Foto: Dan Allison
Issuing a moral statement - X is bad, Y is good - does not provide any justification, especially in open and diverse societies. We need more.
Can we be opposed with good arguments to gay pride? Can we reasonably hold homosexuality to be a danger for the stability of families and societies? Are there good arguments for claiming homosexuality to be a perversion? Is it possible to rely on strong arguments for claiming that homosexuality is a perversion? Such is the goal of this article: to examine the most common arguments that could sustain positions very often depicted as homophobic or intolerant towards gays and lesbians. Too often, worries which come from people opposed to homosexuality are repelled by people who consider themselves as liberals without any kind of discussion. It is surely a mistake, as the vigour of democracy does not lie in ostracism but in the exchange of arguments, as far as each side is eager to discuss.
Thus, I will review the principal justifications mobilized by people who feel uncomfortable in front of homosexuality and its public manifestations. First of all, one may consider that a distinction should be drawn between homosexuality as a private matter and its public expressions. It could be argued that, while homosexuality is not a problem when remaining within the walls of private home, it begins to pose some trouble when it comes to be publicly exposed. One path to justify such “neutralization” of the public sphere is to claim that sexuality should stay an intimate affair. The pertinence of this distinction is dubious.
If some people are tempted to use this kind of argument, in order to stay coherent, they would lobby for removing any kind of sexualized behaviour – at large – from the streets, restaurants, movie theatres, malls etc. It means that kissing, holding hands should be banned, even between persons of different sexes. If the proposition sounds weird, it is not only because everyone understands that such a position would signify the end of the romantic apparatus that all of us have experienced in many occasions in our life. No, in fact the main reason why it sounds so strange to reach such extremities is precisely because the point here is about the public manifestation of homosexual sexual orientation and not the public manifestation of affection or sexual attraction among all people in general.
So, in order to evaluate one’s justifications against homosexuality and its multiple expressions, it is essential to enter into the details of the arguments mobilized. Several are used, sometimes together, in order to discredit homosexuality or to present it as a phenomenon that should be fought for the sake of society. I want to carefully evaluate those arguments and objectively determine if they are coherent, plausible and, in the end, compelling.
First, the “argument source” – the one at the origin of the others – is the natural argument. Stated very briefly, it says that homosexuality is against nature, in other words, that homosexuality would not respect the order of the world. The value of the argument lays in the following rationale: respecting the natural arrangement, the natural principles, is good in itself. In other words, nature furnishes us with the blueprint for distinguishing good from evil. So, we can assess the morality of an action or a state of the world by comparing it to the precepts of Nature.
But, generally speaking, the trouble with this argument is the fact that the natural order, if it exists – and it is an open question – is mainly a hidden one. At best, it is very difficult for human beings to guess what nature would prescribe in particular situations. But it is more common to face a silent nature. For example, about euthanasia, we could say that nature would prohibit murder, but it is totally false since animals kill each other, principally for feeding. Moreover, observing nature would lead us to accept actions and situations that were morally counter-intuitive. I have just used the case of murder. But we would find dozens of examples in which using natural argument would compel us to tolerate unacceptable acts or states of the world.
Applying the argument to homosexuality, it states that homosexuality, as it represents a relation or even a union between two people of the same sex, presents a threat to the family and a violation of the natural order. Why would it be so? Because if nature created or welcomed individuals of two different sexes, it was on purpose: for reproduction. By essence, females are fated to find their companion among males and any behaviour that contradicts this Golden Rule is a violation of the natural order.
But if we base our judgement on animals that are closer to us – social animals like wolves and great apes – the structure of the family and inter-sex relationships are not at all what some people have in their mind when they estimate that homosexuality violates the natural order. Why? Firstly, among those animals the structure of male/female relationship is based on the model of one dominant male – the alpha male – that monopolizes all females able to reproduce. Are we so sure to want to cope with this? Because, as social animals, we would have to follow a model that is very far away from models of the nuclear or patriarchal family advanced against the so-called homosexual threat. Secondly, behaviours assimilated to homosexual ones are common among animals that are close to us. In other words, we must recognize that nature in itself is morally neutral towards this issue, which means that we cannot find any moral prescription by looking at it, except if we want to legalize homosexuality and polygamy. Human beings need more to orientate their life. A possible answer could consist in raising the point that what nature requires from humans is different from what it requires from other animals, even from those that are close to us on the evolutionary scale or by their sociality. Such a reply abandons the natural argument to join the original argument.
A second bunch of arguments can be gathered under this label of the original argument. It states that homosexuality represents a perversion. People involved in same-sex relationships have fallen off track. They have perverted the original human end. From that point a burning question appears: what is the human end? How to define it? Who can define it? Is there just one good way or are there several possibilities? Unfortunately these questions are too broad and important to find an answer in this paper. The only thing that can be said is that such a view tends to dismiss the moral pluralism of our societies. And if one is ready to defend such a monist position (that there is just one way of life that is good for everyone), he will have to be prepared to impose his views by force, which is very problematic in a democracy. But, of course, this kind of warning is compelling only for people who accord some worth to democracy. In any case, there is no single project for the whole humanity. Human beings are characterized by a deep diversity of interests, values and norms.
According to this second bunch of arguments, homosexual people would disrespect human destiny in two senses – one broad, the other narrow – by being involved in same-sex relationships (publicly and privately) and doing so by undermining traditional couple and family models composed of a woman and a man, and sometimes one or several children.
On a narrow scope, it is worthwhile to note that the vision that a lot of people have in mind – a woman, a man and children – figures as an exception in the History of humanity. For instance, in Western countries, up to the beginning of 20th century, the most dominant model was the patriarchal family, composed of grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, sons, nephews etc. This traditional model was rational in the economic and social context of agrarian societies where the welfare state was absent or not very developed. In fact, this structure offered security and solidarity to share risks (illness, old age, deaths, bad harvests, disabilities, accidents, bad weather, insecurity…) between the more numerous people in order to reduce individual costs. In other words, large families had been, for a long time, the best structure to manage collectively risks of life. They were security networks which provided a lot of social services now devoted to the welfare-state. Other familial structures have developed through History. For example, Iroquois societies in the New World were mostly matriarchal. Chiefs of “long houses” (houses which gather members of the same family) were women. When a man got married, he joined the “long house” of his wife. Women took an important part in deciding to declare wars. They could command men to set up expeditions in order to get new family members by capture among other tribes when the population of long houses had dropped for particular reasons.
The point here is just to be aware of the fact that familial structures are socially constructed. There is no model than can be proclaimed to incarnate the human destiny. Does it signify that we cannot criticize specific models? Of course not. For example we can worry about peer pressure into the patriarchal model. Pressure that frequently conflicts with individual freedom and can be disastrous for personal lives. We can evoke cases of arranged/forced marriages, submission of young generations to older ones, submission of individuals to group decisions, difficulty or impossibility to exit from family or if so, at a large cost (this is the case for Amish and other closed communities). On the other hand, the nuclear family model is not clear of concerns. We can reproach it for being unstable and not providing a sufficient level of affective, psychological and social security to its members. The archetypical case is the suffering experienced by children during violent divorces. Another is the difficulties that some single parents – mostly women – face when they have to raise children without the support of a larger family.
Of same-sex couples worries are twofold. First, it would hinder the survival of societies, especially those which have been registering a drop in their population. The argument is dubious because it is based on the idea that accepting homosexuality provokes such a growth in the number of gays and lesbians that a society is put in danger of extinction. If a society is facing difficulties for maintaining its level of population, it is due to other factors (high rates of mortality among a gender (usually men) or an age class (youth) that undermine renewal of the population, exceptional past or present events like war, genocide etc.). Moreover, compelling scientific evidence of the hypothetical link between acceptance of homosexuality and growing numbers of gays and lesbians is missing.
Generally, in a society that previously banned or discriminated against some practices, a new acceptance of this set of practices regularly results in the reappearance of a number of people who followed the practices in question. Common sense pushes us to believe that accepting can be equated with giving incentives to act in such a way. But this is rarely the case. The newly permitted practices are just coming to the surface. There are not more people who are following the practices; it is just that they are permitted to be public about it. So, there is no proof of such a trend towards extinction that would be grounded in the acceptance of homosexuality. Moreover this argument takes the form of millenarian fears in which a society is depicted as in danger of extinction. The fact that the population of Latvia is decreasing (due to natural and migratory factors) is real but it does not mean that Latvian nation will disappear. And, most of all, there is no connexion at all with homosexuality.
In the end, if a society has the prime objective to maintain its level of population, one solution that should be considered seriously is to allow gays and lesbians to adopt. Of course, one may argue that homosexual people tend to experience strong pedophiliac impulses. Again, there is no scientific proof at all. Moreover, if we take a deep look into data, we will notice that almost all cases of sexual abuse are committed in heterosexual families by heterosexual people. The first victims of domestic sexual abuse are girls and primary offenders are men, so men with heterosexual preferences. It discredits the rationale that tends to equate homosexual people (reduced to homosexual men) with pedophiliacs. Besides, there is no link at all between sexual preferences and age preferences. It is not because a man or a woman prefers to share his or her intimacy with people from the same sex that he or she is eager to try to have sexual intercourse with children. They are two separate issues. One is a real problem – pedophilia -, while this other – homosexuality – is not. One is about unacceptable exercise of domination or influence over vulnerable individuals – children – in order to extort sexual services from them, the other is intimate relationship amongst consenting adults. There cannot be more obvious distinction.
If we really care about children, we should think instead about ways to protect victims against their real aggressors: heterosexual men and sometimes women. We should focus on this violence inside “normal” families and not being obsessed by the margins. Our energy and time would be more efficiently used by getting involved in other projects that will aim at the defence of children’s rights and welfare.
From a broader point of view, homosexuality is supposed to express a perversion of the human fate by itself. Stated differently, it is because homosexuality is about two women or two men that it would be morally wrong. This version of the argument looks like the natural one. However, in this case, it is not due to a lack of conformity with natural requirements but to the intrinsic evilness of homosexuality. But, once we claim that intimate relationships which imply two people of the same sex are bad, we must furnish reasons why it would be so. Issuing a moral statement – X is bad, Y is good – does not provide any justification, especially in open and diverse societies, which means inside societies that welcome various moral and religious doctrines. We need more. One way to justify such a moral statement against homosexuality would be to mobilize holy writings to prove that homosexuality is out of the plans that God has elaborated for us.
A first difficulty with this argument is that it is really convincing only for people who believe in God and base their lives on a strict interpretation of holy writings. Briefly, if this kind of argument is used in order to promote a ban on homosexuality – a policy that tends to dissuade people to express and to live according to their homosexuality – it will fail for sure. It will fall short precisely because referring to the authority of a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible is a weak argument to convince people who are not religious or people who have a liberal interpretation of the Sacred Texts. Furthermore, it is a total lack of respect towards people that do not share those interpretations. Actually, if I come into the public sphere invoking such arguments, it is like I would say to you “look, you should act in conformity with my conception of the truth, according to what my faith is stating.” It appears maybe as a good strategy in an authoritarian regime like the Soviet one, but the nature itself of the strategy is self-defeating in a democracy. Saying to people to conform with a very particular way of life with arguments of authority – my holy book says so – generally leads to strong oppositions and for obvious reasons.
But, except the fact that it is a bad strategy, can we say that homosexuality represents a violation of the human destiny? Again, the question about the fate of human beings comes to the surface. Is there such a thing than one human fate? Is there one path for all of us? Very recently, communists and fascists believed so. But are we ready to buy into such utopia once more? Are we really ready to pay the price? I am not sure, even among people who mobilize this kind of “one way for all of us.”
In conclusion, people who oppose homosexuality have no compelling reasons to convince people to support them. If they want to ban homosexuality or to forbid Gay Pride, they should tailor better arguments than the ones they have been advocating. It is the price for living in a democracy, to be ready to see our cause fail if we are not able to persuade people, to provide good arguments in favour of changes that we are proposing. But behind the veil of rough discourses, we can observe real and important concerns: the welfare of children, the vitality of a society and so on. If some people are concerned with sexual abuse of children or the drop in demographic figures, I think they are misleading in imputing such real and important problems to a specific category of the population. If now they are objecting to homosexuality because it is a way of life that they cannot stand for, it is their problem. In a liberal regime, we are not supposed to find every way of life sympathetic or worthwhile. But we have the duty, if you are tempted to imply state power in order to regulate behaviours of other people, to present good arguments. But, homosexuality understood as a way of living intimate relationships among consenting adults should stay off the aim. By itself, it does not imply any kind of coercion, domination or perversion. So it is dubious to find good arguments against activities that implied consenting adults and which do not inflict any harm to other people excepting the fact that they disagree with such a way of life.
In conclusion, at the beginning I evoked the argument against the public expression of homosexuality and I said that it is not the real argument since it targets just one kind of sexualized behaviour. Although, few words about it were said afterwards. For people that oppose public expressions of homosexuality – like Gay Pride – on the ground of their faith, I would have a thought experiment to offer. Almost all indigenous peoples of the New World and a large part of African people could express deep worries about Christian public celebrations since Christianity has served to justify the submission, enslavement or slaying of millions of people in the Americas and Africa. One may argue that public processions, churches and other public symbols recall to memory the dark hours of Christian domination and should not be permitted or, worse, should be destroyed. What does this example teach us? It teaches us that we can incarnate the unacceptable of others, so if we try to rule other’s lives, we should expect others to adopt the same behaviour towards us. The main risk is then to attend to a vast game of crossed, harsh critiques and attempts of interference, mostly based on arbitrary grounds. Is it what we really want? Our way of life is not always as clean as we would want.
 According to Statistics Canada, in 2005, the numbers for sexual aggression inside families towards girls from 2 to 15 years old were 2 to 6 times more numerous than towards boys. More often the aggressor was exterior to the family and almost all the time it was a male.