Homosexuality and Morality
(1) The Issue: One of the deepest current cultural divides in the USA concerns the moral status of homosexuality. From one perspective (which I share), gay men and women continue to be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. Addressing this systematic discrimination is a political action motivated by the concern for political equality. From another perspective, however, homosexuality is sin condemned by God. In this view, to accept homosexuality is to accept a sin. To allow gay men and women to gain access to rights (such as marriage) is to institutionalize sinful activity (and therefore ought to be opposed). Obviously, from the first perspective the moral condemnation of homosexuality seems like just another instance of homophobia (i.e. the hatred, fear, and stigmatization of homosexuality). From the second perspective, the belief is part of a broader religious perspective.
(2) An Apology: I propose to examine the question: Is homosexuality immoral? I defend the view that it is NOT immoral. I must acknowledge that the very posing of the question (and the very attempt to answer it) is, in my estimation, heterosexist. I say this because heterosexuality is not similarly required to defend itself from accusations of moral wrongness. Insofar as I engage in the activity of defending homosexuality, I thereby ‘buy into’ the view that homosexuality needs to be defended, and so accept a heterosexist position. I apologize to LGBT people (myself included) for adopting this questionable attitude. I adopt it because I think that it is important to ‘dig into’ some of the deepest current cultural quandaries and point to some of the difficulties inherent in the view that homosexuality is morally wrong.
(3) LGBTIQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersexual, and Queer or Questioning. We will distinguish between sexual/affection orientation and gender identity. The latter is one's sense of self as belong to a particular gender and sex (i.e. one's sense of as a man or woman). The former concerns one's sexual and romantic attractions to a sex or gender. Thus, a transgender woman may see herself as a woman (that's her gender identity) and also see herself as lesbian (that's her sexual/affection orientation). I talk about affectional orientation in addition to sexual orientation because there is more to how we love and enter into romantic relationships than just sex. Obviously, it also concerns how we love, who we love, etc. So affectional orientation concerns one's romantic/loving orientation to a sex or gender
(3) Is homosexuality a choice or is it innate? Much of the current cultural discussion surrounds this particular question. I believe that this is a mistake.
(A) The dichotomy presented in this question is bogus. I say this for two reasons.
(1) There is a sense in which sexual/affectional desires (hetero or homosexual) is obviously not a choice. Reflect upon your own sexual and affectional likes and dislikes. Reflect upon your own emotional and romantic needs. These do not appear to arise from choice. Rather, one simply has these needs and desires. One cannot merely decide to make them go away. One cannot through sheer choice swap one desire for another. So, homosexual desire is not a choice.
There is a sense in which what we do with our sexual/affection desires
is a choice. For example: On one hand, a man with same-sex sexual
and emotional attractions may choose to marry a woman and raise a
family. It is likely that he will be unhappy. On the other hand, this
man may decide to ‘come out’ and live a life in accordance with his
emotional and sexual needs.
Upshot: The question ‘Is homosexuality a choice?’ is unclear because
it does not distinguish the different ways in which homosexuality
might be a choice.
(2) The position that homosexuality is innate is erroneously taken as equivalent to the position that homosexuality is not chosen. There are various different reasons for why sexual and emotional needs might be unchosen and fixed (i.e. not open to alteration). One reason may have to do with biology (i.e. the desires and needs may be innate). However, another reason may also involve environmental conditions such as upbringing. Perhaps our experiences, etc. as young beings shape who we are as adults. And perhaps it is impossible to change this. If so, the opposite of ‘choice’ is NOT ‘innate’ but rather ‘not chosen’ and ‘fixed’ – and whether this is because homosexuality is innate is an entirely different question.
NOTE: I did not point this out in class, but let me mention that the question ‘What causes homosexuality?’ is actually heterosexist if the similar question ‘What causes heterosexuality?’ is not likewise posed. The position is heterosexist if the assumption is that heterosexuality is normal (and requires no explanation), while homosexuality is abnormal (and requires an explanation).
(B) Despite the fact that the appeal to the lack of choice involved in homosexual sexual and emotional desire may SEEM like a good defense, I do not believe that it is. Just because somebody has an unchosen, fixed tendency or desire to behave in a particular way, it does not follow that acting on this tendency or desire is morally acceptable. Suppose that somebody has an unchosen fixed desire to kill people. The fact that he did not choose this desire does not alter the fact that acting on it is wrong. Analogously, if homosexuality is morally wrong, then the unchosen desire to act on it does not change the fact that acting on such a desire is wrong. Therefore, an appeal to the lack of choice involved in homosexual sexual and emotional desire is not a good defense of homosexuality. Indeed, it is worth noting that the Roman Catholic Church recognizes the possibility of unchosen, fixed and powerful homosexuality desires. The response is not that homosexuality is OK. Rather, the position is that this is a challenge for the person who has these desires – she must try to not act on these ‘wrongful’ desires.
(C) I suspect that one reason the ‘no choice’ defense of homosexuality is used is the following: If it can be shown that homosexual desire is fixed and unchosen, then people otherwise hostile to homosexuality might find themselves more tolerant. They might say, ‘Well, it’s not their FAULT. So perhaps we should not be so severe in our judgment of them.’ One of the difficulties with the defense, however, is that it leaves the view that homosexuality is immoral untouched. Any defense of homosexuality, I contend, must show that it is simply not wrong at all.