I want to start with a thought experiment. Suppose I told you that I’m imagining an activity that takes place between consenting adults, doesn’t hurt anyone, and results in a great deal of pleasure for the people involvedand that’s all that you know about the activity that I’m imagining. Given that information, it sounds pretty good. Suppose I fill in the picture a bit more and tell you that not only does it result in pleasure for the people involved, but it’s an avenue of communication and a source of deep meaning in their lives.
And, again, that’s all you know about the activity that I’m imagining. Given that information, it sounds greatthe kind of thing we’d want to encourage. But, of course, when I fill in the picture a bit more, and tell you that the adults in question are two men or two women, and the activity is some kind of sexual activity, suddenly people are not so keen on it anymore. In fact, not only would many people condemn it, some would call it a moral abomination. Consider the fact that right now there are thousands of people across the world having.
Sex. It’s kind of disconcerting when you think about it. Especially when you realize you’re sitting here listening to me. Some of those people are with partners of the same race some of them are with partners of a different race. Some of them are with partners of the same age some of them are in what we call MayDecember relationships. Some of them have known each other a long time some of them met last night on the Internet. Some of them are in loving, nurturing relationships some of them are in abusive relationships.
John Corvino Whats Morally Wrong with Homosexuality Full DVD Tutorial
Now those facts all have varying moral significance. But when I tell you that some of these people are with partners of the same sex and some of these people are with partners of the other sex, that fact seems to take on a significance all its own. And the question I want to explore tonight is why What’s morally wrong with homosexuality, if anything, and if nothing, what’s all the fuss about And the way I’m going to do this is I am going to look at some of the most common arguments against homosexuality and subject them to philosophical.
Scrutiny. It sounds fancier than it is really, we’re just going to look at these arguments, see what they are, and see if they work. Before I get to the arguments, there are a few preliminary things I want to get out of the way. We’re talking about homosexuality tonight. What is that A lot of people like to make a distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual activityhomosexual orientation, being attracted to people of the same sex homosexual activity, engaging in some kind of romantic activity with people of the same sex.
Like many such distinctions, this one is both useful and problematic. It’s useful, in part, because it reminds us that we all have feelings that we don’t act upon, and maybe shouldn’t act upon. I’ll give you an example. Sometimes I’m in line, and there’s somebody in front of me with one of those bluetooth earpieces on. They’re chattering and chattering, completely oblivious to the people behind them, and we’re all waiting while they keep chattering. And sometimes, when that happens, I fantasize for just a split second about pulling out.
A sword and chopping of their ear. Whoosh! I don’t act on that feeling don’t act on that feeling. You may have had similar feelings. We all have feelings we don’t act upon, and that’s part of being a grownup. That’s part of being a human being you have selfrestraint. Just because you have a feeling, doesn’t mean you ought to act on it, and this distinction reminds us of that. It’s a problematic distinction because it oversimplifies. For one thing, it draws a very sharp contrast between feelings and activities, when the contrast between those things is.
Not always so sharp. Sometimes they’re intimately connected. Sometimes who we are and what we do are profoundly connected, and this distinction maybe makes us forget that a little bit. It’s also problematic because it oversimplifies each of the elements involved, both sexual orientation and sexual activity. Let me say something about each of those elements. Let’s start with activity. What do I mean when I say, homosexual activity Well, what do I mean when I say, heterosexual activity Intercourse Sure. What about kissing Sometimes. What about holding hands What about going for a romantic walk with someone What about.
Making a nice dinner for someone What about waiting outside someone’s door because you have a crush on that person Yeah, you know who you are. Think about all of the activities that make up our romantic lives, broadly understood. When we talk about heterosexuality, we talk about that wide range of activities. When we talk about homosexuality, we focus on the sex part of it. That gives us the kind of picture like the bedroom is the only room in the homosexual person’s house or the most important part of our lives and relationships, and it’s a false picture. This is not the.
Only time we get this sort of false contrast. We say things. With heterosexual people, we talk about relationships. With homosexual people, we talk about sex. We say heterosexual people have lives homosexual people have lifestyles. I teach at a state university. I don’t make enough money to have a lifestyle. We say heterosexual people have a moral vision homosexual people have an agenda. The words we use to talk about these things really affect our way of thinking about them. Now, I’m going to focus on homosexual sex tonight because.
That’s the part that bothers people, but I don’t want you to get this kind of skewed picture that’s the only part of homosexual activity, homosexual relationships, or homosexual people’s lives. What about the other side of this contrast Sexual orientation. I have a certain sexual orientation. What is that I’m attracted to people of a particular gender. That’s true. I’m also attracted to people of a particular age range, body type, personality type, and certain kinds of senses of humor. All of these things make up my sexual orientation, broadly.
Understood. But when we talk about sexual orientation, we focus very narrowly on the gender of people that you’re attracted to, and then we divide everyone into these nice, neat categories. There are heterosexual people, and there are homosexual people. Then there are bisexual people, and they mess up our neat categories! Everywhere I go, people say to me, I just don’t understand bisexuality. Let me take a little time to explain it it’s not a complicated concept, really. Some people are attracted to both men and women. That’s it! It doesn’t mean they’re attracted to everyone. That’d.
Be exhausting. It doesn’t mean they’re confused. It doesn’t mean that gender is not important to them. It doesn’t mean any of those things. It just means it’s not an overriding factor in what makes people attractive to them. I mention this because many of the same problems faced by gay and lesbian people in our society are faced by bisexual people. Bisexual people are not half kicked out of the house or half fired from their jobs or half harassed for being bisexual. I’m going to be focusing on homosexuality tonight, but much of what I.
Say can be applied with the appropriate changes to bisexuality. Finally, in the years that I’ve been doing this, a number of people have made the comment, at least in the early years I started doing this in Texas in the early 90’s, people said to me, You know, your approach seems so negative. You’re always talking about the arguments against homosexuality. Why don’t you ever give an argument in favor of homosexuality I say, You know, that’s a good idea. So, I want to start with a kind of preliminary.
Argument in favor of homosexuality. It’s just a preliminary argument there’s a lot more to be said, but, in a way, the preliminary argument is quite simple Homosexual relationships make some people happy. When I say it makes some people happy, I don’t just mean that they’re pleasurable, although that’s part of it. But, there’s more to it than that. A homosexual relationship, like a heterosexual relationship, can be an important avenue of meaning and longterm fulfillment in people’s lives. This is the kind of thing that we celebrate when we talk about heterosexuality. We celebrate it everywhere from great literature to romance.
Novels to trashy shows on MTV. You know these shows You can feel your brain cells dying as you watch some of these shows you know the ones. But they have this point in common about finding a special someone, connecting with that person, expressing your feelings for that person in a way for which mere words would be inadequate. This is a wonderful, beautiful part of the human experience. If we’re going to deny this to a whole group of people by saying, You can’t have that. That’s wrong, we better have a darn good.
Reason. So, let’s look at what some of those reasons might be. This first reason that I’m going to look at, the first argument is the argument that homosexuality is wrong because the Bible condemns it. Now, when I say the Bible, I could be talking about a lot of different things. There are many different scriptural texts that different groups of people recognize as authoritative. Even if we focus on the JudeoChristian tradition, which is actually a melding of different traditions, there are arguments about which books should be included, which translations are authoritative, and so on. We could go through all of that,.
But let’s put that aside. Suppose you know what I’m talking about when I talk about the Bible. When we look to that JudeoChristian Bible, we find some things that actually sound pretty negative with respect to samesex relationships. The book of Leviticus says, Man shall now lie with man, as with woman. It is an abomination unto God. Of course, the book of Leviticus calls a number of other things abominations that we don’t tend to pay attention to quite as often. The book of Leviticus says that eating shellfish is an abomination unto God.
Shrimp cocktail Not if you follow Leviticus. The book of Leviticus says that wearing clothing of mixed fiber is an abomination unto God. Cottonpolyester blends Not if you follow Leviticus. The book of Leviticus says that touching the carcass of a dead pig is an abomination unto God. Football Not if you follow Leviticus. They used to be made of pigskin. Stay with me. It’s not just the book of Leviticus, and it’s not just the Old Testament. As we look through the Bible, we find a number of things that seem, at best, morally problematic.
St. Paul says, Women must remain silent in the churches. Doesn’t seem to me like good moral advice. The Bible suggests that those who divorce and remarry should be put to death. Why Well because the New Testament defines divorce as adultery the Old Testament prescribes death for adultery. Again, this doesn’t sound very good. The Bible suggests that slavery is morally acceptable. People don’t believe me when I tell them this. I say, Okay, I’ll read to you. This is from Leviticus 254446 You may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are round about you. You.
May also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their families that are with you, who have been born in your land and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you, to inherit as a possession forever. Who says this, according to the Bible God says that, according to the Bible. And yet, we have a hard time imagining how an allgood, allloving God could condone an institution like slavery. And it’s not just the Old Testament, either. St. Paul says in Ephesians, Slaves.
Be obedient to your earthly masters, in fear and trembling, in singleness of heart as you obey Christ. Again, you look at this and say, Well, what’s a believer to do One thing I think you can do is to say maybe the Bible is wrong about certain things. This does not mean that God is wrong. Rather, maybe human beings have been wrong in discerning God’s word. After all, we should not confuse complete faith in God with complete faith in our ability to discern God’s voice. And, in fact, any honest look at history should tell us that.
We should be wary of people who are too certain that they speak directly for God. But, some people want to say, No no no, the Bible is God’s word. The Bible is infallible. The Bible contains no error. And, I say, The Bible contains no error What are you going to do with those slavery passages And you know what the people say to me They say to me, John, you are pulling those passages out of context. You can’t just take passages out of the Bible and quote them as if they mean the same thing today as they did for.
The people at the time. You can’t just pull the passages out of context! And I say, Well, wait a second! If it’s not okay to do that with the slavery passages, then why is it okay to do that with the homosexual passages Because, after all, the context surrounding samesex relations was very different in Biblical times than it is during our own day. And indeed, in the handful of places that the Bible talks about homosexuality, it’s almost always in the context of a discussion of idolatry because homosexuality was very much associated with.
Certain pagan practices. If that’s the kind of thing that Biblical authors had in mind, if that’s what they meant, then what they’re talking about and I’m talking about are very different things, and to use those passages that way would be to pull them out of context. Now, a few caveats and clarifications. First of all, I want to make it clear what I’m not saying here. I’m not saying , Hey, the Bible is old, so forget about it. Ignore it. Just pick the parts you like. A lot of people do that on different sides of the debate.
I don’t think that’s a very good way to proceed. Rather, I’m saying that if you’re going to understand what the Bible means for us today, we have to understand that the Biblical authors’ concerns and our concerns may be different, and that’s relevant to our interpretation of the text. And the alternative to that is to commit ourselves to very strange views on women’s roles, on slavery, and a host of other things. Second, having said that, I’m not so convinced that any amount of context is going to help.
The slavery passages. I think that when we look to those passages, we have to admit that the prejudices and limitations of the Biblical authors crept into the text, and if they did that with respect to slavery, then it could have happened with respect to homosexuality. Finally, it seems to me in many cases, not all, but in many cases the Bible is not really the root of the objection here. What often happens is people have an objection to homosexuality, maybe for reasons they don’t quite understand, and then they use the Bible and bring it in.
To back that up. Why do I think this Well, let me tell you a story. Many years ago, I was briefly a graduate student at Notre Dame, which, as you know, is a major Catholic university. At Notre Dame, we were told by the administration that we could not have a gay and lesbian organization on campus because that would conflict with Catholic teaching. Over and over, the administration would say, You cannot have a gay and lesbian group. That conflicts with Catholic teaching. We did have a Muslim student group on campus and a Jewish student group on campus. Muslims.
And Jews both deny the Divinity of Christ, which, when I went to Catholic school, was a very important part of Catholic teaching. This wasn’t really about Catholic teaching, I don’t think. You know, they had this objection, and they pulled in Catholic teaching when it was convenient. So, what is it really about We need to look to some of the nonreligious, or secular, arguments against homosexuality, and we especially need to do that if we are genuinely committed to living in a society that embraces freedom of religion. So, what are some of those nonreligious arguments against homosexuality Well, the second argument.
I’m going to look at tonight the first nonreligious argument is the argument that homosexuality is wrong because it’s not universalizable. That’s not a word you get to use every day. What does that mean I first heard of this argument back in ’92. I gave an early version of this lecture at St. John’s University in New York, where I had previously done my undergraduate work. There was a priest, Father Prior, who wrote to the school paper. He was very upset that I had been invited to give this lecture, and he wrote this long letter to the school.
Paper. In his letter to the school paper, on of the things he said was, Of course homosexuality is bad for society. If everyone were homosexual, there would be no society. And I call this the universalizability argument. If everyone were this way, if we universalize the activity, that would be bad therefore, the activity is bad. Now, I disagreed with a lot of what Father Prior said in his letter, but I thought it was nice that he took the time to write to the school paper. And I said, You know what, I’m going to write to the school paper,.
Too. And, I did. I wrote an open letter to Father Prior. It said, Dear Father Prior, if everyone were a Roman Catholic Priest, there would be no society, either. Sincerely, John Corvino. What’s the problem with this argument There are a few problems. One, Father Prior seems to assume that just because society needs some people to procreate that everyone is obligated to procreate, but, of course, that doesn’t follow. Society needs some people to be doctors. That doesn’t mean everyone is obligated to be a doctor. Society needs some people to be sanitation workers, which doesn’t mean that everyone is obligated. Yes,.
We need some people to procreate, but it doesn’t follow that everyone is obligated, as Father Prior surely recognized. People have pointed out to me, Yeah, well some Catholic priests actually do have children. Fine. The point is the argument applies equally well to celibacy. But, let’s suppose that we were to grant this premise that everyone is obligated to procreate. Even that would not be an argument against homosexuality. At best, it would be an argument against exclusive homosexuality. Homosexuality doesn’t prevent a person from procreating, anymore than you sitting here listening to this lecture prevents you from procreating.
I mean nobody is procreating right now, as far as I can tell. The lights are kind of bright I can’t really see to the back. It’s just a nonprocreative activity. And, so, Father Prior’s argument would not apply to gay and lesbian people who had children through prior relationships, artificial insemination, or, if we take procreating broadly, through adoption. So, we need a better argument to cover those things. I want to turn to the third argument that I’m going to look at the argument that homosexuality is wrong because it’s harmful. And this is not just one argument, of course. This is.
A whole host of arguments. Throughout history, gay and lesbian people have been blamed for all kinds of disasters earthquakes, plagues, famines. Liza Minnelli We were party responsible for that one, actually. You’ve got to accept blame where it’s due. Even today, we hear all kinds of crazy claims about homosexuality being associated with disease, suicide rates, pedophilia, and all kinds of social ills. When you listen to these claims, you’ve got to ask a couple of questions. One question is are they true Another question is and, how would we know this.
It seems one way we might know is by talking to gay and lesbian peoplebecause we know something about our own lives. But, a lot of people say, No, no, you can’t trust them they’re biased. Okay. So, how do we find out about gay and lesbian people’s lives Well, we could look to statistics, but there’s a problem with doing this. It’s not just the usual problem that, well, sometimes it seems like you can find a statistical study to back up any claim you want. There are better and worse statistical studies to be sure. The.
Problem is that in order to make any kind of accurate comparison between gay and lesbian people on the one hand, and straight people on the other, you need some way of separating the two. How do we do this We ask people! Are you gay or straight You can’t just check behind people’s ears. You’ve got to ask them! And in a society that stigmatizes homosexuality, some people are not comfortable answering that question, which makes it very difficult sometimes to get accurate samples for research on gay and lesbian people versus everyone.
Else. Now, for many of these claims, we don’t have to settle the statistical arguments in order to address the arguments. Part of the reason for this is that correlation is not the same thing as cause. How many of you have heard this before Just because two things go together, it doesn’t mean that one causes the other. I usually illustrate this with the old story of the scientific drunk. Scientific drunk wants to know why he gets hangovers, so he starts keeping a journal. He writes in his journal, Monday night, scotch and soda. Tuesday.
Morning, hangover. Tuesday night, gin and soda. Wednesday morning, hangover. Wednesday night, vodka and soda. Thursday morning, hangover. And he looks back at the journal and says, Aha! Soda causes hangovers! I think that when we say that homosexuality is responsible for all these problems, we might be looking at the soda. So, what’s the alcohol Well, at least part of the alcohol seems to be society’s treatment of gay and lesbian people, which might make it stand to reason that life is more difficult if you’re a gay or lesbian.
Person, and you might be more likely to exhibit problems as a result of that. In fact, there is something here that I call the argument of the bully. A bully on the playground knocks another kid, kid falls down and starts crying. Teacher says, Why did you hit the kid Bully says, I hit him because he’s crying and that bothers me. Teacher says, Well, he’s crying because you hit him. Bully says, Yeah, and if he keeps crying, I’m going to hit him again! Now, what’s the problem with the bully’s argument The bully.
Tries to justify what he does on the grounds that he doesn’t like the effect of what he does. Now, imagine somebody like, oh I don’t know, Pat Robertson. Pat Robertson says, Homosexual people lead miserable, unhappy lives! And I want to say, Why do you think that might be Could it have anything to do with the kinds of things that you say about gay and lesbian people Could it have anything to do with the kinds of positions you take I mean that might stand to reason that gay and lesbian people’s lives are a little more difficult.
Now you might say, Okay, well that might work for some of the alleged problems, but not all of them. What about AIDS Doesn’t homosexuality cause AIDS Um, no. A virus causes AIDS, and that virus can be passed along by homosexual activity, by heterosexual activity, by some activities that are not sexual at all. Consider the fact that from the standpoint of AIDS risk, it is infinitely more risky for me to have sex with an HIV positive woman than with an HIV negative man. Why Because it’s the virus that causes AIDS,.
Not the sex. And, if the virus isn’t present, two men can have sex for days on end without worrying about AIDS. Fatigue, yes. AIDS, no. And furthermore, if AIDS risk was somehow supposed to be the barometer of morality, lesbians would be the most moral people in the worldbecause, from the standpoint of AIDS risk, lesbian sex is the way to go. I see some of you are very riskaverse in this audience. I mean think about the headline Surgeon General Recommends Lesbianism. Okay, it’s probably not going to happen.
I mean, there are just too many gaps in this argument. The argument seems to assume that all homosexual sex is risky, all risky activity is immoral, and therefore, all homosexual sex is immoral. That argument falls apart in two places the first premise and the second premise. They’re both false as written. Some homosexual sex is risky, some is not, some heterosexual sex is risky, some activities that are not sexual at all are risky. Some risky activities are immoral, some aren’t. There are just too many gaps here. Now, in the early days of my lecture, when I used to talk about risk, that is all I would.
Say. But people would sometimes try to ask me a question during the QA period. I say try to ask my a question because it would often come out in a kind of garbled and uncomfortable way, and it took me a while to figure out what was going on. It would go something like this, they’d say, Yeah, but isn’t it risky because, you know, um, uh, when two men um, it’s risky because uh the parts don’t fit and um uh the parts don’t fit because uh when two men um and the parts. And they’d go on and on doing this for a while. Finally,.
I would interrupt them and say, Excuse me, are you trying to ask me about anal sex Oh my God, he said ‘anal sex’ in Texas! Arrest him! I mean, it was a bad scene. But, in fact, they were trying to ask my about anal sex, and I recognized that there was an interesting phenomenon going on. When people think about homosexuality, they think about male homosexuality. When they would think about male homosexuality, they would think about anal sex. When they would think about anal sex, they had this.
Argument in their minds that the parts don’t fit, and I realized that if I was going to address people’s actual concerns, I would have to address this argument. So, I actually have two responses to this argument. First response yes, they do. How do I know Well, because if they didn’t, people would try it, it wouldn’t work, and then they’d go do something else. I mean what’s that scenario going to look like Oh my God, the parts don’t fit! What are we going to do I don’t know! Do you want.
To go bowling Sure, this isn’t working! I would actually have people during the QA portion of my program I’m not making this up say, Well of course it’s wrong because pointing two fingers at each other. And, I want to say that if you’re doing it this way, you’re doing it wrong. What do you want me to tell you Gay people aren’t stupid. We don’t sit there saying, Oh my God, the parts don’t fit! What are we going to do I began to understand why people always focus.
On male homosexuality, right. What’s lesbianism going to look like banging fists together At this point, we don’t have an argument anymore. We have a panic. This brings me to the second, somewhat more serious response to the parts don’t fit argument. Suppose you have an argument against a particular sexual practice, say anal sex. What do you have You’ve got an argument against that practicewhich is not tantamount to an argument against homosexuality. Because not all homosexual people engage in anal sex as I’ve mentioned, there are many different experiences and not only homosexual people.
Engage in anal sex. This point also surprises some of my audiences. There’s this great story about Strom Thurmond. People always laugh when I say Strom Thurmond. You remember Strom Thurmond. Strom Thurmond was the senator from South Carolina. He had been a segregationist many years ago, then he ended up being in the Senate, and he was there until he was like 116 years old or something. They had to dust him off and wheel him out. It’s kind of like Weekend at Bernie’s at the Capitol. Senator Thurmond, how do you feel about gay marriage grabs back of head and shakes.
It no You could actually see the wires on CSPAN I’m not kidding. But, there’s this great story about Strom Thurmond. They were talking about sodomy laws. Now, many of you don’t realize that before the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws in 2003 Lawrence vs. Texas, the dozenodd states that had such laws generally applied them to both anal sex and oral sex. People didn’t realize they applied to oral sex. About half of those states made the laws apply both to homosexual sodomy and heterosexual sodomy. So there are these laws on the books against heterosexual oral sex, as well as heterosexual.
Anal sex and things like this, and this got brought up in this congressional debate. It’s like You know, heterosexual people do these things, too. And Strom Thurmond actually stood up which was no small feat, he stood up and said, No, they don’t! Suddenly, I understood why that man was so cranky. I don’t want you to lose the serious point embedded in all of this, which is the following When we’re talking about homosexual activity, we are talking about a wide range of experiences, often the same kind of experiences that heterosexual people have, sexually. And to try to define.
People in terms of one particular sexual act is such a reductionistic picture of people’s experience, and it really gives us a false view. I’ve been talking about arguments that suggest that homosexuality is wrong because it’s harmful to the people who engage in gay and lesbian relationships, but sometimes people say that homosexuality is wrong not because of what it does to gay and lesbian people, but because of what it does to the larger society. We hear lots of claims about this, Homosexuality is a threat to the moral fabric of our country. It’s a threat to the nation’s infrastructure..
I must admit I find some of these bizarre. How does what I do in bed threaten the nation’s infrastructure I might think I’m powerful in bed, but whoa, that’s a crazy claim. The nation’s infrastructure better watch out tonight, baby. But I just said to you it’s not just about what people do in bed, right I’m being facetious there. In what way is this a threat to society And there are all different kinds of arguments around this. I want to focus on two. I want to look at the argument that says it’s a threat to children, and then I.
Want to look at the more general argument that says it’s a threat to marriage and the family. The argument that says homosexuality is a threat to children could mean a number of different things. One thing it might mean is that as homosexuality becomes more visible, children will be more likely to grow up gay and lesbian. Now, first of all, there is absolutely no evidence for this, but, even so, the argument is entirely circular. You can’t argue that something is bad because, if we allow it, other people will do it because that still.
Doesn’t explain why that’s bad. It’s like saying well if we let people play golf, more people will want to play golf. Okay, but why is that bad The argument doesn’t get us anywhere. So, then there’s the other version of the argument that says it’s a threat to children because homosexual people, particularly gay men, are more likely to be pedophiles. Now again, the evidence does not bear this out. This claim is just false. But also, I want you to think about this whenever a heterosexual person does something terriblemolests a.
Child, rapes a woman, commits some horrible crimewe don’t think of this as reflecting on all heterosexual people. Why then, when we read in the paper about a man molesting a boy, this somehow becomes a fact about all gay people. Look, if you want to fight child abuse, I am right there with you. Child abuse is a horrible thing, but let’s not confuse that with consensual adult relationships because, to confuse those two things not only slanders innocent people, it also directs our attention away from the real threats to children, and.
That’s a serious moral concern. So, then people sometimes move away from the children argument a little bit and say, Yes, but this is a threat to the family. I go around the country debating same sex marriage. I’ve heard this argument many times, and I must admit to you there’s a part of it that I just don’t quite get. Do we think that if we support gay and lesbian people in their relationships that heterosexual people will stop having relationships and all go gay This seems implausible. The usual response to a gay person is not, Hey, no fair! How.
Come he gets to be gay and I don’t Heterosexual people will continue to have relationships, and that’s a good thing. We can support that, while recognizing it’s not for everyone. In fact, I want to take this a step further. I want to say not only does this argument scapegoat gay people and make that sort of mistake, it actually is a greater threat to the family than what it’s trying to fight. Let me tell you another story. Many years ago when I lived in New York, there was a.
Guy, Joe. He had a wife and several small kids, and they went to my church. And, one night, I saw Joe out at a gay bar. At first, I wasn’t even sure if it was him because, how could that be Joe He has a wife and kids. But, every time I looked over, he’d cover his face. It’s kind of conspicuous in a gay bar. So, I went over to him and I tapped him on the shoulder and said, Joe, what are you doing here And Joe, who was about ten years.
Older than I am, explained to me that when he was growing up, being gay was just not an option, and he felt a lot of pressure to do the right thing, which, for him, meant marrying and having children, but it wasn’t really working for him. So, he was living this double life. Now, I don’t want to condone what he’s doing there I think that’s a terrible thing. On the other hand, I’ve never walked in his shoes. I don’t know the kinds of struggles he went through. I don’t really know enough details of the situation to make any real.
Kind of informed commentary on the specific situation, but I do want to say that we would have fewer such difficult cases if we would simple recognize that heterosexual marriage is not necessarily right for everyone. We don’t do anyone any favors by pressuring them into situations that they’re not suited for. We don’t do gay people any favors. We don’t do their spouses any favors. We don’t do their kids any favors. Okay, I want to move to the fourth and final argument that I’m going to look at this eveningthe.
Argument that homosexuality is wrong because it’s unnatural. Now this could mean a lot of different things. What is unnatural Clothing is unnatural in some sense. Buildings are unnatural in some sense, but we’re not doing this naked and outside. Be thankful. So what do we mean when we say that homosexuality is unnatural, and, also, why does that matter Unnatural So what So we need to specify some morally relevant sense of unnatural. Let me look at a few different things that people might mean when they say this. One.
Thing they might mean is that most people don’t do that it’s statistically abnormal. Well, that’s true. Most people don’t engage in homosexual relationships. Then again, most people don’t play the mandolin, most people don’t pilot planes, most people don’t read Sanskrit. The fact that most people don’t do something doesn’t make it wrong. So, that doesn’t seem to be morally relevant. Well, what else might we mean We might mean animals don’t do that. There was a legislator when I lived in Texas, Warren Chisum, who used to love this argument. He said, Homosexuality.
Is unnatural! Animals don’t do that! Since when did animals start providing us with our moral standards, particularly in the area of sex I mean, think about this. Animals don’t become state legislators, either. Can we lock Warren Chisum up now But, beyond that, think about the premise behind this claim. I want to make you a promise. I’ve made this promise to hundreds of audiences, so I’ve got to follow through on this if it ever happens. If I ever encounter Warren Chisum in public, I’m going to get down on the ground.
And start humping his leg, just to drive home the point that animals do not provide us with our moral standards. And even if they did, well then homosexuality wouldn’t be a problem because not only do animals engage in homosexual sex, some actually form homosexual pair bonds. People are always sending me clips about this kind of thing. You read this stuff in the paper Gay penguins in Central Park. I’m not making this up. Lesbian seagulls. What Do they have short haircuts and Birkenstocks What does that mean I mean it’s all very fascinating, scientifically,.
But it’s not going to answer the moral argument for us. You know what other scientific debate is not going to answer the moral argument for usthat whole nature v. nurture debate. You know what I’m talking about Back when I started doing this, there was a lot of research going on about the hypothalamus of the brain, and we used to hear this argument. And, it seemed right away that there were two camps that formed. One side says, I was born this way, therefore it’s natural, therefore it’s okay, and the.
Other side says, No, it’s a choice, therefore it’s unnatural, therefore it’s wrong. I think those are both really lousy arguments, both of them. Let’s take each one. I was born this way, therefore it’s natural therefore it’s okay. Well, first of all, I don’t really remember the way the world was when I was born and neither do you. I mean the best you can say is that I’ve had these feelings as long as I can remember. I mean you can’t just by some act of introspection see your own genetic makeup.
You’ve had these feelings for a long time, okay, but just because you’ve had these feelings for a long time it doesn’t mean that you ought to act on them. I might have had violent feelings for as long as I can remember, but if I start hitting the people in the front row, you’re not going to say, He was born that way it’s okay. We don’t judge the moral status of an activity by looking at the cause or origin of the disposition to that activity. On the other hand, there’s the side that says, No, it’s a choice, therefore it’s unnatural therefore.
It’s wrong. What do they mean when they say that it’s a choice This is one of those places where the orientationactivity distinction actually comes in handy. They might mean that homosexual orientation is a choice, having those feelings. If that’s what they mean, that just seems false. How many of you choose your sexual feelings Ask yourself whether you’ve ever been attracted to somebody that you wish you were not attracted to. Maybe the person was already involved with somebody else. Maybe you were already involved with somebody else. Maybe the person just couldn’t stand you. We’ve all had these kind of experiences.
Where we’ve had these feelings and wished we could get rid of them. We can’t. Or, the other side sometimes happens, where we don’t really have the feelings and wish we could. Soandso is so nice, we had great conversations, but the spark is just not there. We don’t have that kind of direct control over our feelings. But if we don’t have that kind of direct control over our feelings for particular individuals, why would anyone think that we would have that sort of control over our feelings towards men in general or women in general.
And, why would anyone choose to be gay in a society that stigmatizes homosexuality It just doesn’t stand to reason. So then, the other possibility when they say it’s a choice is that they mean the activity is chosen, and if that’s what they mean, there’s only one appropriate responseDuh! It’s a technical philosophical term you can write that down. Yes, the activity is chosen. You don’t just sort of wake up and find yourself saying, Oh, I’m living with this person. How interesting. You make choices, but that doesn’t say anything about whether it’s a.
Good choice or a bad choice, a natural choice or an unnatural choice, in the relevant sense. Think about this by way of analogy. I am probably naturally righthanded in the sense that I’ve just been discussing. I’ve always written with my right hand. Everyone in my family writes righthanded, but if I were to pick up a pen and start writing with my left hand, you wouldn’t say, Unnatural! Sinner! There was a time in history when people would have said that. People were burned at the stake for writing with their left hands. We think.
That’s crazy, but it has nothing to do with whether lefthandedness is something genetically determined or something learned in early childhood or something that I just do for some reason because I think it might be fulfilling to me. The scientific debates are not going to settle the moral debates. So what else might we mean when we talk about unnatural Well maybe people are grasping at this kind of natural law tradition that goes back to Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. The idea is something like the following all of our organs have certain natural purposesour.
Eyes are for seeing, our ears are for hearing, our genitals are for procreating, and to use your organ for some purpose other than its natural purpose is unnatural, and therefore, wrong. Now, there are a number of problems with this argument. A lot of our organs have multiple purposes. I can use my mouth for talking, for singing, for breathing, for licking stamps, for blowing bubbles, for kissing a woman, or for kissing a man, and it seems very arbitrary to say that all of those are natural, except the last one. And if you say,.
Well, okay, using it to lick stamps is not natural, but it’s okay. Well, then we don’t have a morally relevant sense of unnatural. What about the sexual organs Obviously, one purpose of the sexual organs is procreation nobody denies basic biological facts here, but is that the only legitimate purpose Heterosexual people often have sex, even if they don’t want children, don’t want children yet, don’t want any more children, or can’t have children. Why Because there are other purposes for sexbuilding and expressing a kind of intimacy and connection and relationship, showing affection.
For a person. Even the Roman Catholic Church which by no means is a permissive organization, will allow sterile heterosexual couples to marry and have sex and will allow pregnant women to have sex with their husbands, even though further procreation cannot result. Why Because they recognize these other dimensions of sex, this unitive dimension of sex. But, if it’s okay for heterosexual people to pursue that in the absence of procreation, why is it not okay for homosexual people to do this I think one of the best ways to show this is by analogy to certain other organs of the.
Body. Take the digestive organs. What’s the purpose of the digestive organs Nutrition and hydration. So, it seems that any time you eat or drink something, it should be to bring nutrition or hydration to the body. You’ve been drinking something. Can I borrow that This is the audience participation portion of the program. Diet Coke. Diet Coke contains less than 2 of the following. There’s no nutrition in Diet Coke. Why would you drink it Just for the taste of it Presumably, you would drink it for hydration because it.
Brings fluid into your body, yes No, because Diet Coke contains caffeine. Caffeine actually functions as a diuretic it removes fluid from your body. This is why you’re not supposed to drunk caffeinated drinks while you’re engaging in sports. It’s why you pee a lot after you drink caffeinated drinks. And yet, we all know that the purpose of eating and drinking is nutrition and hydration. That’s the purpose of the digestive organs. Get this away from me, you pervert. Oh sure, you laugh now, but the next thing you know, Diet Coke drinkers.
Will want to teach in our schools and parade in our streets. You’re laughing, and that’s good because it means that you follow me. This is what we commit ourselves to when we insist that our organs have a natural purpose, and to use them for any other purpose is unnatural, and therefore, wrong. Frankly, when I hear people say that homosexuality is unnatural, it’s really kind of a fancy dressedup way of saying, It’s gross! It bothers me. It’s icky. I have no doubt that a lot of people feel that way about homosexuality. Maybe you’re one of those people, and that’s.
Okay. A lot of us have feelings. A lot of things might gross you out. You might think that having reptiles as pets is gross. You might think that eating broccoli is gross. You might think that cleaning the bathroom is gross. You know, here at Wayne State University, where we’re doing this lecture tonight, we have one of the largest mortuary science programs in the Midwest. Many of my students are in the mortuary science program they take Ethics class. They touch dead people on a regular basis. I think that’s disgusting. They hand.
Their papers in to me and I’m like, Ew! But, the fact that it grosses me out, the fact that it would gross most of us out doesn’t make it wrong. At best, it gives us grounds for an aesthetic judgment, not a moral judgment. Okay, where are we I have looked at some of the most common arguments against homosexuality and explained to you why I think they don’t work. I want to conclude tonight by talking about what the real problem is. And I should say, by talking about what part of the real.
Problem is because I don’t think there’s any simple problem or simple explanation here. I think it’s complex. I think part of it goes back to something that I said a moment ago about it making people uncomfortable, grossing people out. You know, we are often uncomfortable in the face of things that are unfamiliar, and that’s especially true when we’re talking about sex. I want you to think back to the first time you ever heard about sex. I remember when my parents gave me this book Where Do Babies Come From It was about two years.
Ago. I learned fast. Seriously, I was a child, and my parents gave me this book. I’m reading through it, Two people love each other very much apparently that’s the key to the whole process. I thought that if I loved my mother too much she might become pregnant. Then she became pregnant with my sister and I was kind of freaked out by that. But I remember when I was going through this book, coming to this page, going, You’re supposed to put what, where, and do what with it! It wasn’t just because I was a little gay kid. Sex is weird. I mean think about.
It. Two people, they get naked, they rub up and down, they exchange bodily fluids, and then you try and think, Oh, I get it now. But, in the abstract, sex is kind of weird, and I think that when it comes to homosexuality, a lot of people never get past that whole that’s just weird reaction. Then, they translate that that’s just weird reaction to that’s wrong! So, if that’s the problem or at least part of the problem, what’s the solution Am I going to suggest that you all should go out and try it No. That would be interesting,.
But no. I think a big part of the solution is for straight people to actually get to know gay and lesbian people because only then do we come to realize that we have many of the same hopes and dreams, fears and challenges as everyone else. That sounds very simple, but it’s not easy. It’s not easy because it gives us all a responsibilitya kind of homework assignment, if you will. It gives a responsibility to straight people because it means you’ve got to get outside of your comfort zones a little bit, when talking to.
Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. Straight people say to me, Oh no, I’m cool with the gay thing. I used to watch Will and Grace. Yeah, great. That’s not just what I’m talking about. I’m talking about real life, flesh and blood people. But that, of course, puts a responsibility on those of us who are gay, lesbian, and bisexual because it means that in order to do that kind of education by example, we have to be out of the closet. When I saw out of the closet I don’t mean, Well, I go to the bar on the.
Weekend. That’s nice, but I just mean being honest about who we are. That’s not easy to do. Sometimes it’s not safe to do. Maybe you’re not at a point where you can do that, but it’s so important. It’s important because it puts a face on the issue. Now, a lot of people at this point will say to me, You had me part of the way, but now here you go being all open about it now, and that’s what I don’t get. A couple days ago, I got an email. It was actually a very nice email. The title of.
The email was looking to understand, and the person was, I think, genuinely trying to understand something about homosexuality. The person wrote, You know, I don’t understand that if you’re okay with it, then why do you have to be open about it Why does everyone have to know I don’t understand why gay people have to be so open about it. I’ve heard this question before. The first person I ever hear this question from was my mother. Back when I came out to my parents, many years ago, we used to have long discussions, and I remember.
During one of these discussions or arguments, whatever you want to call them. We didn’t throw things, but they were lively my mother said, I just don’t understand why you have to be so open about your sexuality! Your father and I aren’t open about our sexuality! I want you to think about that sentence. Your father and I are not open about our sexuality. Not only is the person who utters that sentence openly heterosexual, she’s also open about having sex at least once. Heterosexual people do this all the time. They talk about their wives, their husbands,.
Their boyfriends, their girlfriends, people they have crushes onperfectly normal. We do the exact same thing and were flaunting it, were making an issue out of it, and that’s a double standard. It’s not fair. I don’t mean to pick on my mother here because, over the year, things have changed quite a bit. She’s grown both of my parents have on this issue. They’ve been wonderful. A few years ago, I was home for Christmas with my partner, and my parents took us to this restaurant that they go to all the time. They know all of the waiters and waitresses.
By name. At one point, we were sitting there eating, and my mother sees a waitress walk by and says, Oh, Jane, come over here. I want you to meet my son, John, and his partner, Mark. I nearly spit my food clear across the table. Who are you, and what have you done with my mother It was such a powerful moment. It was a powerful moment, in part, because of what it said to me, which was, You know what We’re not going to treat this like a dirty little secret anymore because there’s no reason to. In the simple act of.
Saying his partner, Mark, not his friend, or not his roommate. I mean you could hear the quote marks around the words. This is John’s roommate. His partner. In that simple act of calling things by their right names, it shattered a taboo, and that was beautiful and important. But, it wasn’t just important because of what it did for us at the table. It’s also important for those come after us. You know, one of the interesting things about gay and lesbian people, as a minority group is that, in a.
Sense, our children are not born unto us. What I mean is this black people generally have black children, Jewish people generally have Jewish children, any kind of people can have gay or lesbian children. Sometimes rabidly antigay people have gay and lesbian children. We can’t protect them from a hostile world the way other minority groups can. We can’t necessarily give them the benefit of our experiences the way other groups can. I feel for these kids, partly because I was there and I know what it’s like, and partly because they are,.
In a sense, our kids. So, what do we do for them Well, one thing we can do is we can educate their parents. And you know, that day when my mother said, My son John and his partner, Mark, some day that waitress may have a lesbian daughter or a gay son, and she may remember back and say, Hey you know what The Corvinos had a gay son, and they went out to dinner with him and partner, and they seemed to be okay with that. That may seem so simple, but it’s powerful. Sometimes it can make all the difference, but we’re.
Only going to have things like that if we have moral courage. And I mean it when I say moral courage. This is a very important point. One of the biggest misconceptions about the work that I do is that people think that I’m out to attack morality, that I’m out to espouse some moral relativism where I just say do whatever you feel, it doesn’t matter, or that I’m telling people morality is a private matterkeep it to yourself, don’t judge other people, I’m not about the moral judgments. People think this.
About me. Nothing could be further from the truth. So much of what I’ve said tonight is based upon my moral convictions, convictions about fairness, convictions about justice. I think the way gay and lesbian people are treated in our society is wrong, not just irrational, but morally wrong. I think there’s something perverted about the fact that we hate people because of whom they love. We do violence against people because of the affection that exists in their lives. The effects of that treatment are a far greater moral tragedy than sex between consenting adults could ever be. And I’m not just talking.
About the obvious casesgay bashing, the murder of Matthew Shepardyou don’t need me to tell you that that’s wrong. I’m talking about all of the people living in silence and in fear, all of the wasted talent and energy that goes to building up walls. Why Because somebody loves in a different way than other people do. That’s terrible, and I want it to stop. But, that takes moral conviction. You see, morality has a point. It’s about enabling us to flourish as human beings in a society where other people are trying to.
Do the same thing, and that’s everybody’s concernconservative, liberal, red state, blue state. All of us have a responsibility to stand up for morality. So, let me make myself very clear. I am not asking you to stop making moral judgments or to keep your judgments to yourself. I’m all about the moral judgments. I’m asking you to make sure you have reasons for the moral judgments that you make. I’m asking you to put yourself in people’s shoes before you judge them. And I’m asking you to judge people not on whom they love but on whether they love. That’s my moral vision. That’s.