It’s time for another discussion of morality. Just a quick reminder, keep it secular in the comments.
The idea that it’s immoral to be attracted to someone of the same gender (or at least, to act on that attraction) is pretty common around the world. Yet it seems to me that romantic and/or sexual relationships generally increase the happiness of everyone involved without harming the well-being of anyone else, with the caveats that I’d normally put on relationships — that they not be coerced, that all parties are mature enough to consent, that communication is open so that everyone can protect their emotional and physical well-being, and so on. None of this has anything to do with the gender of the people in a given relationship, which is why I have no problem with same-sex relationships and homosexual sex.
I suspect that most of the moral outrage towards homosexuality is essentially religion-based, which is why I thought it would make a good topic for discussion here. Are there any reasons it might be wrong to be gay, if we don’t start from the presumption that any particular ancient book or supernatural belief is true?
One common charge against homosexuality is that it’s “unnatural.” The response you’ll often hear is that homosexuality appears often in nature, and there are many good reasons to believe that being gay is not a choice any more than being straight is. While these points are true, I think that discussion of gay penguins (however adorable) distracts from the real point: what’s so morally wrong with something being unnatural?
There are plenty of things that occur in the “natural world” (defined as everything besides humans, which is maybe an argument we can leave for some other time) which we would strongly object to as immoral human behavior. Some animals devour their own babies. In many species, animals violently attack each other, sometimes fighting to the death, in competition for mates or resources. When people behave similarly, we condemn them as monstrous. So maybe whether animals do something is not a reliable indicator of whether it is moral behavior.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that almost everything humans do could equally well be considered “unnatural” by this sort of standard. Driving a car is unnatural. Waking up to an alarm clock is unnatural. Drinking soda, watching television, heck, typing on a computer — have you ever seen animals doing that? One of my favorite classes of examples here, though, includes things like wearing eyeglasses, or using a prosthetic limb. These things constitute modifications of our natural bodies and abilities in the most basic sense, but I think I’m not alone in saying that they are awesome technologies that have significantly improved our quality of life. I don’t know anyone who would lob the “unnatural” charge at someone just because they availed themselves of orthodontics.
Sometimes the accusation of “unnatural” sex is couched in a more specific objection: gay sex cannot produce a child. Sex is “supposed to” be for reproduction, the argument goes, so sex that could not have reproductive value is a perversion of its purpose. I think this is patently silly. The principal biological purpose of eating is to gain nutrients and energy, but we don’t eat for that purpose alone; we enjoy gourmet food and desserts because they are tasty to us, not because we need them to survive. Similarly, sex has multiple purposes. There’s no reason to privilege the reproductive one over the pure pleasure aspect. Moreover, humans have sex for pleasure rather than reproduction most of the time, and I don’t see any moral problem with that at all. Unless you’re prepared to make a moral argument against straight couples who choose not to have children (or choose to have sex even at times when they are not trying to conceive), and against infertile people ever being in love and/or engaging in sex, I don’t see how you could make the reproduction argument against homosexuality.
Mostly, I suspect, secular objections to homosexuality (to the extent that they exist) boil down to, “I think it’s icky.” And it’s a fair consideration, insofar as I think most of morality is ultimately about examining our intuitions. I rely on my intuition when I lay down moral principles like “It’s bad to hurt people” or “It’s good to help people.” But I think the issue of homosexuality is a higher order question, one which we can break down and examine in terms of those more basic principles. What are its benefits, if any? What are its harms, if any? Whether or not it sounds like fun to you doesn’t really factor in there. (If it did, we’d be able to say that riding big roller coasters was immoral, or that eating Brussels sprouts was immoral. That would be pretty absurd, and I think there’s a reason why there isn’t great social turmoil about either of those judgments.) At the end of the day, I just don’t see anything that would make homosexuality itself bad on face.