In my last article I had some fun writing about a few examples of sexuality in non-human animals, to establish that variations other than heterosexuality are indeed natural and caused by biological factors. However, a few readers who commented seemed convinced that I was trying to justify human actions based on what animals do, despite my disclaimer near the beginning of the article that said the exact opposite.
This time, I’d like to examine some common arguments used to claim same-sex intercourse is morally wrong. I will also explain why they are terrible arguments.
1) Two people of the same sex can’t reproduce
The premises and conclusion of this particular argument are only tenuously linked. There are two variations, so I’ll deal with both.
First, some people claim that sex is only morally right if it could result in a baby. According to this logic, it would be wrong for married postmenopausal women to have sex with their husbands. It would be wrong for anyone who is infertile for any reason to have sex with anyone. Using condoms would be morally wrong. This reasoning is ludicrous for obvious reasons, and I don’t think it is commonly used (except maybe by the Catholic Church).
The other variation of the argument claims that sex is only morally right if it’s between people of opposite sex, because only people of opposite sex can produce offspring together. This avoids the troublesome implications for infertile people, but still doesn’t work. We already have the technology to produce a human embryo with two parents of the same gender, so the basic premise is completely false.
Same-sex couples will soon be able to produce offspring together through the magic of science, and at that point the argument will likely be modified to specify that only people of opposite sex can produce offspring without help from science. But this brings back the issue of infertility: plenty of opposite-sex couples also need help from science to produce offspring. If that’s morally fine, the premise of the new argument falls apart because it’s based on the assumption that the ability to naturally produce offspring defines the morality of sex.
Furthermore, all versions of this argument assume that biological sex is a strict binary, and most people I’ve encountered who use it either don’t know about or simply deny the existence of intersex conditions, which cause ambiguity in biological sex and often infertility. For example, Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome is a condition where a child with XY chromosomes develops as a female, and in most cases it isn’t discovered until puberty because the lack of menstruation is the first easily noticeable symptom. Click here to see an interview with a CAIS woman.
If a woman has testes instead of ovaries, and XY chromosomes, is it morally right for her to have sex with a man or a woman? According to the biology of a CAIS woman, she’s male, but according to her physical appearance she’s female. So how do the people using this argument propose to cram intersex people into their simplistic male/female binary? If the distinction is based on chromosomes, you’d be claiming a CAIS woman who’s lived her entire life as female is actually a man. If it’s based on physical appearance, then you’re going to run into a logical nightmare trying to explain many other intersex conditions, and anyone who changed their physical appearance would be changing their sex. The reality of sex and gender is far more complicated than that, but it’s a subject for another time.
Quite simply, “reproductive potential” doesn’t work as a basis for sexual morality.
2) Gay people have a higher rate of STDs than straight people
American people have a higher rate of STDs than Europeans; does that mean it’s morally wrong for Americans to have sex? African Americans have a disproportionately high rate of HIV infection; does that mean it’s morally wrong to have sex while being African American? Transmission of HIV from female to female is very rare; does that mean lesbians are off the hook?
I could go on and on. You can’t just compare the incidence of a disease in two groups and then conclude that the defining trait of the group with the higher rate is therefore immoral. There are a lot more factors at work than just gay sex. A monogamous gay couple who are HIV negative are just as likely to catch it as a comparable straight couple, so the biological sex of the people involved is not even the root cause. Anyone should be able to identify this as a post hoc fallacy.
The statistical risk of catching a disease doesn’t work as a basis for sexual morality.
3) Same-sex intercourse causes emotional/psychological harm to the people involved
Yet plenty of gay couples have lived good lives together for decades. What’s the harm? Most arguments that use this point are really vague about that, or cite issues that are actually caused by discrimination, like depression and suicide rates.
Don’t all relationships cause emotional harm at some point, like when they inevitably end in a breakup or death? Doesn’t every relationship come with risks? There are also major physical risks to things like skydiving and rock climbing and driving a car…why are those not morally wrong? People in certain jobs are at greater risk for psychological harm than others…are those jobs therefore morally wrong?
On the other hand, the idea that gay people are immoral has caused plenty of psychological and physical harm. It has resulted in murder, assault, imprisonment, forced treatments that are basically torture, homelessness, bullying, depression, suicide, etc. This is a far greater level of harm than anything that might theoretically result from consensual sex between two people of the same gender.
The theoretical risk of future emotional or psychological harm doesn’t work as a basis for sexual morality.
4) My god/holy book/religious tradition says so
So what? If that’s the only reason someone can give for why something is morally wrong, their system of morality is arbitrary and meaningless. Most people’s religion is chosen for them by the culture in which they happened to grow up, and “because my religion says so” still doesn’t explain why any of the things the religion prohibits are actually wrong.
Asserting a religion as the basis of morality is nothing but a fallacious appeal to authority. In order to make this argument work, someone would have to first prove that the religion is true, and that its teachings are the only possible basis for moral judgment. And then they also have to prove that it actually teaches what they think it does.
Often this argument also exposes inconsistencies in the beliefs of the person proposing it. If the religion in question is Christianity, for example, there are numerous moral prohibitions in its scriptures that most Christians completely ignore, some of which are in the very same passages that are used to condemn gay people. It also has explicit approval of slavery and genocide, and a command to kill family members or friends who try to convert you to another religion. When religious scriptures approve of such obvious evil, they are not a credible source of moral guidance.
I tried to find more arguments to address, and even asked for help from people who think being gay is wrong, but I simply couldn’t find anything new. These four basic arguments, along with the utterly false “it’s unnatural,” seem to add up to the entirety of the moral case against same-sex intercourse. It all boils down to false premises, invalid logic, and blind obedience to religious teaching.
So what does work as a basis for sexual morality? In one word: consent.
Mason Lynch also blogs at castinglargeshadows.wordpress.com
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