In a previous post, I discussed common arguments against gay marriage and laid out counterarguments against them. Considering the blog setting, the post couldn’t possibly deal with all of the nuances of each argument. I attempted to make my points as readable and succinct as possible without expending too much energy on arguments that are, frankly, rather weak. The arguments against gay marriage that I presented could certainly be polished up and presented in a more convincing way, but they would be no stronger for it.
That said, in the past week, I have been dealing with a more complex and seemingly coherent argument and I felt that it would be best to deal with it thoroughly in a separate post in order to more fully lay out both the argument and the counterargument.
A blogger by the name Right Libertarian was the man who posited a great deal of this argument. Warning: Reading his blog might make you want to punch your screen.
Homosexuality is not normal. In fact, homosexuality is not only ‘not normal’, it is a harmful deviance. Homosexuality is linked to higher mental illness (there are, in fact, studies that show this), greater risk of AIDS and STDs (again, studies support this) and a higher occurrence of promiscuity (studies again), even among married homosexuals. To allow gay marriage would be to ‘normalize’ homosexuality (and all the subsequent ills of it) in society, which would in turn undermine society. Furthermore, children shouldn’t be raised in such an environment.
I hope I’ve done the argument justice. This was never explicitly written out. It had to be extracted from pages and pages of comments and tangential asides and links to studies. Generally, though, I think this is a fair and concise summary of the argument.
And I think it’s a pretty good argument. Better than ones based on the Bible or slippery slopes. On the surface, it does make sense. Why would we wish to normalize a lifestyle that scientific studies have shown is linked to illnesses, high risk behavior and a proclivity for non-monogamous relationships?
Let’s start from the beginning with the idea of ‘normal.’ Well, normal could mean, colloquially, the norm. As in, what most people are. In this case, homosexuality is clearly not normal. Just like left-handers and redheads and albinos.
Recent estimates suggest that homosexuals represent 2 to 3% of the population (though those same estimates put the percentage of people who have engaged in homosexual sex at 8%, which rightly raises the question of whether or not self-identification of one’s sexual orientation is a reliable gauge for homosexuality’s prevalence in humans). It is, of course, only an estimate, and even the man who presents those numbers admits that it basically comes down to a very educated guess. Until we live in a society that doesn’t shun homosexuals, I don’t foresee ever reaching an accurate estimate.
Based on those estimates, though, we can firmly say homosexuality is not the norm. But we don’t legislate on percentages. Civil Rights didn’t come about because the black population hit some magical percentage. They came about because it was right, because black people are human beings (not just 3/5ths of one).
Normal means something else: Natural. Is homosexuality something that occurs in nature? Well, yes, among animals it does. But we aren’t mere animals, we’re humans (actually, we are mere animals, but that’s beside the point). “Animals eat their young,” they say, “so should we do that , too?” Only if they’re tender, I say.
But, let’s think about that. Should we do everything animals do, just because biologically we are also members of the animal kingdom? We are more ‘highly evolved,’ aren’t we? Well, technically, the idea of being highly evolved isn’t a scientific notion. We are highly complex beings, but our evolution isn’t a matter of superiority over the animals, just a matter of being better suited to our environment. Are lions ‘better’ than jellyfish? It’s an arbitrary question.
Anyway. We don’t do things that animals do, but then again, sometimes we do. After all, animals hunt food, build shelters for their offspring, and they have sex, just like us. We don’t eat our children because we don’t want to harm others. Homosexual (consensual) sex hardly harms other people, so it really can’t be equated to eating our young. It’s an asinine comparison.
Is homosexuality genetic? Well, as conservatives will point out, many studies on this question have been inconclusive. On the other hand, a rather extensive amount of research has shown a variety of likely biological factors for homosexuality. These studies all show a correlation between homosexuality and some genetically inherited feature that implies a significant, though not absolute, connection. The fact that no single factor can be attributed to homosexuality is unsurprising. From the Darwinian perspective, homosexuality is not a beneficial trait for reproduction, so we should not expect to find a so-called Gay Gene. How would that gene pass itself on? However, it would make sense if there were a confluence of genetic factors that on their own were insignificant, but when mixed together led to a higher predisposition towards homosexuality. Nature would not select against it, because any one trait on its own would be benign (probably even beneficial in some unknown way).
I think it’s safe to say, from a biological point of view, homosexuality is normal because it does, indeed, happen naturally.
Alright, so it’s normal. But it could still be a ‘harmful deviance.’ After all, just because someone is born with a predisposition towards something, that doesn’t mean it’s good. Alcoholism has been shown to have a likely genetic predisposition. And mental retardation is a trait from birth. These are both conditions that are unhealthy and lead to shorter lifespan. Though, we don’t prevent alcoholics or the retarded (I feel no qualms using that term) from marrying.
But that’s different. Well, sort of. If the anti-homosexuals are right and it’s a choice, than it’s a lot like alcoholism, a condition that requires an action on the part of the individual. On the other hand, if the liberal side is right, homosexuality is akin to a condition like mental retardation (I hear the gay-bashers laughing at that), in the fact that a person is or isn’t. There is no choice. In reality, it’s more of a middle ground. A homosexual can choose to abstain from homosexual sex for their entire life, but that doesn’t mean their natural desire will be any less real (ask George Rekers; or, you know, like a dozen other gay hatemongers whose hypocrisy has been revealed). Alcoholism is triggered by the consumption of alcohol. Homosexuality, on the other hand, is there with or without action.
Still, homosexuality is harmful, right? That’s all that matters. We don’t encourage alcoholism, and we shouldn’t encourage homosexuality. For instance, studies have shown that mental illness such as depression (and related conditions) are higher in homosexuals than in heterosexuals. The study I linked to used a large sample and found that 42% and 43% of gays and lesbians (respectively) were found to have a mental illness, in contrast to 12% and 20% for heterosexual males and females (in a separate study). Clearly a big difference. Then again, 66% of those surveyed also said they had faced discrimination due to their sexuality. (It’s probably safe to say that 0% of the heteros faced such discrimination). Discrimination against homosexuals is a pretty common occurrence and it should be no surprise that people who must constantly be aware of attacks would also have more mental stress.
My sparring partner pointed to this survey from the Netherlands, a more “tolerant” nation, that indicated higher mental illness among homosexuals there, too. One could pretty easily argue that even in the most tolerant countries, homosexuals will still face some level of discrimination. It’s not like the US suddenly became a land of lollipops and love for African Americans after interracial marriage was legalized. Bigotry has a way of lingering.
But, more importantly, I want to discuss this notion of legislating by surveys.
Correlation Vs. Causation
The numbers are interesting, but they are just numbers. Does homosexuality cause mental illness? Does mental illness cause homosexuality? More likely, neither causes the other, they just happen to be connected by an unknown chemical process in the body. There are so many societal and personal factors associated with homosexuality (even in ‘tolerant’ nations), one can’t generalize any definitive meaning just by looking at numbers. There’s a classic phrase used when talking about statistics: “Correlation does not imply Causation.”
One study found that of those homosexuals who had considered suicide, the cause was more likely to be the end of a relationship than sexual bigotry (though discrimination was the second leading cause). This would seem to be an argument for encouraging longer, more meaningful relationships between homosexuals, yet Right Libertarian used this fact to claim homosexuals shouldn’t marry. They aren’t depressed because of discrimination, his logic goes, they are depressed because they are promiscuous bedhoppers, unwilling to stay in a monogamous relationship. They’re depressed because they just can’t help but jump from relationship to relationship, all willy nilly.
I don’t know about you, but if a person considers suicide after the end of a relationship, that doesn’t indicate to me that they didn’t care about the relationship.
Promiscuity and STDs
That leads directly into the promiscuity argument. Homosexuals are just more promiscuous. Fact. And as curt as that sounds, the truth is, studies do support that. Even among homosexual married couples, there is a greater openness to multiple partners. I don’t accept the notion that having multiple partners is inherently wrong, as long as there is open communication between partners. But, for the sake of argument, I’ll work from that assumption.
If your nation tells you, “You are not a real couple, we will provide no support for you and your loved one and we will not legally recognize your relationship,” why wouldn’t you be promiscuous? Society at large says homosexuality isn’t natural, isn’t real love, and then society condemns homosexuals for behaving in a way that conforms to that stereotype? I don’t see promiscuity as an argument against gay marriage. I see it as an argument for it.
From the Netherlands study mentioned above:
“The finding that homosexual people are less often involved in steady relationships than heterosexual people is seen as resulting from the limited opportunities homosexual people have to find an intimate partner, lesser legal and social support for developing and maintaining homosexual relationships compared with that for heterosexual relationships, and differing norms and values regarding sexuality and personal relationships.”
It’s easy for heterosexuals to look at homosexuals and say, “They should be more like us.” But what do heteros really know about what it’s like to be in a homosexual relationship?
Related to that, the high incidence of AIDS and STDs among the gay community is obviously related to said promiscuity. I don’t know that anyone is seriously arguing that gay sex produces AIDS or STDs (it simply isn’t true). These diseases spread because homosexuals are more likely to have multiple partners, allowing for greater opportunities to contract an infection. If we all agree that disease is a bad thing, why not encourage something that would likely diminish promiscuity and its related ills? It’s like those anti-abortion people who rail against teaching safe sex. They want to reduce abortions but they don’t want to use a method that would help do just that, simply because it doesn’t meet their moral standard.
(I’ve already addressed the idea that homosexuals shouldn’t raise kids in the previous post, so I won’t rehash that here. I will say this on the matter: Considering how many children are left in poorly maintained foster homes, wouldn’t financially stable, committed gay couples who want to adopt be a good thing for society?)
Bringing It All Back Home
It seems to me, ‘normalizing’ gay marriage would probably rid the homosexual community of a great deal of the ills mentioned here. But of course, that isn’t the anti-homosexual’s point in mentioning them. They aren’t concerned for the welfare of the homosexual community. Their argument really comes down to, “Gays are mentally ill, sexually deviant disease carriers, and we just want them to go away.”
Or, more succinctly, “Gays are icky.”
But homosexuals aren’t going to go away. It’s not a fad, it’s not Satan’s scheme.
Let’s put these numbers in perspective. It’s easy to throw studies back and forth and say percentage this, percentage that. But, what do those numbers mean? Even with a higher occurrence of mental illness among them, it doesn’t mean all homosexuals are cursed.
From this site: “A recent study indicates that gay teens are twice as likely to contemplate or commit suicide compared with heterosexual teens; however, the same study found that 85% of same-sex–oriented youth never contemplate taking their own lives.” 15% is a lot, and if your whole goal is to make homosexuals look like deviants, it serves your point to focus in on that number, devoid of context.
On the other hand, 15% isn’t a majority, not even close. It means 85% of the gay population, if given the choice, could very likely grow up to be well-adjusted, happily married parents (as could the other 15%; mental illness is not some sort of death sentence). We shouldn’t bar the rights of an entire group for 15%. We should, instead, focus on making the society better for homosexuals struggling with mental illness. Homosexuals are going to exist, whether your preacher likes it or not.
Do we tell heterosexuals they can’t marry if they have mental illness? Or if they have a penchant for promiscuity? Or if they have a case of the herps (or even AIDS)? Of course not. Why? Because the government isn’t in the position of making value judgments about people’s lifestyles. Its concern should only be whether or not gay marriage is good or bad for society.
Aye, there’s the rub.
This particular argument reflects the point of view that society is worse now than it was in the past. This was Right Libertarian’s underlying point. He thinks the world is worse off, not just because of homosexuals, but because women are not staying at home with their kids (really) and because liberals are pushing their agenda on America. His words.
That, simply, is a matter of opinion based on (conservative) personal preference. Debating this topic for a couple days has driven home just how much this argument hinges on how you view the world, not on facts, which is why some people will never agree on this subject.
You will never get a homophobe to admit they are homophobic. They will wrap themselves in statistics and say the numbers don’t lie. Well, the numbers don’t lie. But they also don’t have a fixed perspective. One person can look at the numbers and say, “See, homosexuals are bad.” And another person can look at the numbers and say, “See, society mistreats homosexuals.” In truth, your personal bias is always going to skew your interpretation of numbers.
Like Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
Most psychology studies are wisely filled with caveats and carefully worded conclusions that discourage politicizing the data and encourage further study. People usually ignore those parts.
Could I be accused of skewing the data to my own agenda? Certainly (and I will be). That’s why I’m trying to step back from the numbers and look at society as a whole. I don’t see the world getting worst. I’ve yet to see a country crumble because it legalized gay marriage. I’m actually pretty optimistic, I see us making progress. Gay marriage will be legal here in the US. I don’t know exactly when, but it will happen.
I freely admit my bias. I believe this world is better thanks to liberal things like Civil Rights, Gender Equality, Worker Rights and Gay and Lesbian Rights.
I guess I’m just a crazy Leftist radical that way.