Homosexuality and Morality
The ‘Unnatural Argument’
Recall our earlier discussion of ‘reflective equilibrium’ (the balancing between universal principles and moral intuitions). In order to say that particular activities are wrong (such as various homosexual activities) we need to know WHY they are wrong. In other words, we need to know what makes them so wrong (what are the ‘wrong-making’ features?). For example: We know that randomly spraying mace at people for no reason is wrong because of the general principle that is wrong to harm people for no reason. We could formulate an argument as follows:
(1) Harming people for no reason is morally wrong (This is the Universal Principle which identifies a ‘wrong-making’ feature)
(2) Spraying mace at people for no reason harms people (this asserts that the specific activity possesses the ‘wrong-making’ feature)
(3) Therefore: Spraying mace at people for no reason is morally wrong.
The question is this: If homosexuality is wrong, then what is the universal principle which explains WHY it is wrong? What are the ‘wrong-making’ features of homosexuality?
On the face of it, it seems that there is NOTHING wrong with homosexuality. If two consenting adults enter into a same-sex relationship and do not harm each other, then what is the problem? Since homosexuality involves consensuality and does not involve either party harming the other, it seems very difficult to see what could be wrong with homosexuality.
Argument: (1) If we cannot identify what is wrong with homosexuality, then we have no
good reason to believe that it is wrong.
(2) We cannot identify what is wrong with homosexuality
(3) Therefore, we have no good reason to believe that it is wrong.
In order for this argument to be successful, we need to examine various attempts to identify what is wrong with homosexuality and show why they fail.
The argument which seems to have the greatest likelihood of showing that homosexuality is wrong is the following ‘Unnatural Argument’. (Note: The following discussion is based upon work by John Corvino).
(1) Whatever is ‘unnatural’ is morally wrong (universal principle)
(2) Homosexuality is ‘unnatural’ (specification that homosexuality possess the wrong-making feature)
(3) Therefore, homosexuality is morally wrong
Obviously one of the greatest difficulties is identifying what is meant by the term ‘unnatural’. It can mean several different things.
(A) Statistically abnormal (i.e. rare). If this is what ‘unnatural’ means then the universal principle cannot be accepted as true since there are many statistically rare activities that are not wrong .
(B) Repugnant, Gross, Disgusting. If this is what ‘unnatural’ means then the universal principle cannot be accepted as true since many disgusting things are not morally wrong (e.g. vomiting). Moreover, whether premise (2) is true or not is entirely subjective. Homosexuality may or may not be ‘disgusting’ depending upon one’s preference. The same could be said of heterosexuality.
(C) Not what the other animals do. If this is what ‘unnatural’ means then the universal principle cannot be accepted as true since many things that animals don’t do are not immoral (e.g. brushing one’s teeth). Moreover, premise (2) would be false since many animals DO engage in homosexuality. In other words, according to this definition of ‘unnatural’, homosexuality IS natural.
(D) Not what flows from innate tendencies. If this is what ‘unnatural’ means then the universal principle cannot be accepted as true since many things that do not flow from innate tendencies are not immoral (e.g. driving cars). Moreover, premise (2) would be false if it turns out that homosexuality is innate.
(E) The use of body parts in ways that go against their proper function. One of the difficulties with this view is that it isn’t clear why something can’t have more than one function. For example: While the mouth can be used for eating food, it can also be used for ripping paper and opening packages, etc. Is the second instance a proper function of the mouth? If it is, then a body part can have more than one proper function. If it isn’t a proper function, it doesn’t follow that it is WRONG. So the universal principle would be false.
In the view that the only function of sexual organs is procreation, it follows that ANY non-procreative sex is unnatural. Even the Roman Catholic Church allows infertile married couples to have sex. It also allows sex when the woman is pregnant. If so, not even the Roman Catholic Church accepts the principle that all non-procreative sex is morally wrong. So the universal principle cannot be accepted.
Another suggestion: The natural function of a penis is to go into a vagina; the natural function of a vagina is to receive a penis. (Ignore the fact that both penis and vagina have other functions). It would follow that oral sex and solitary or mutual masturbation is wrong. If these activities are morally acceptable, then this universal principle is false.
Conclusion: The ‘Unnatural Argument’ fails to show that homosexuality is wrong.