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Homosexuality, nature and decisions 19.XII.2005 14:06
One of the things that annoys me most in the homosexuality debate is the focus on whether it is natural, and whether it is a choice. This is an argument engaged in eagerly by both factions, and sometimes it seems to me many believe that the issue of the morality of homosexuality hinges on its outcome. This annoys me, because the issue is completely immaterial; and yet studies keep cropping up as evidence of homosexual behaviour in animals, or equating homophobia to racism because homosexuality isn't a choice. Neither could be less relevant to an actual debate of morality.

In my opinion, the fact that this argument exists at all is a victory for the opponents of homosexuality, because it allows the debate to happen on their terms, mostly, those involving God. Ethics, however, definitely has nothing to do with 'naturalness', and in my opinion has little to do with inborn tendencies. To debate whether something's natural only makes sense if we deify nature, somehow making it perfect and something to which we humans should strive; I guess this makes sense in the context of God, but it really doesn't in a modern secular morality. And yet, the debate persists.

For me, the clearest parallel to homosexuality (in terms of the two aspects at hand) is aggression. Aggression, of course, is extremely natural: it practically defines the animal world, and the plant world, in its own way, is no peaceful walk in the park either. And yet, violence is wrong; to kill another person, or to hurt another person, is wrong. The question then, if it is natural, is what makes it wrong. Clearly, God created violence, and thus violence must be part of His Ineffable and Divine Plan. The thing that makes it wrong is empathy, to me the centre of all ethics; humans' empathy for one another makes (most of) us recoil at the thought of others being hurt, and those who lack that empathy must be prevented from inflicting harm, however natural violence is. So why does homosexuality need penguins to validate it? Flight is unnatural for humans, but I don't see the Christian right protesting at every airport.

The more interesting issue is that of choice, but while I have no idea if homosexuality is 'natural' or not, I can categorically say that it is a choice. Now, I don't mean that being attracted to the same sex is a choice; but acting on it definitely is. It's the same with paedophilia; some people are sexually attracted to children, but that doesn't make acting on those impulses somehow moral. Moreover, we can return to the parallel of violence: some people are born more aggressive than others, but committing violence is still wrong (though our legal system is moving more and more to using any kind of compulsion as an excuse for anything). Ethically, as human beings, paedophiles and aggressive people have a responsibility not to act on their compulsions; their immorality has nothing to do with inborn tendency or not. If homosexuality were wrong, it would be equally people's responsibility not to act on their desires, irrespective of whether they could help them or not

All this, of course, doesn't matter, because homosexuality isn't wrong, but it has nothing to do with the fact that it's natural or isn't a choice. Homosexuality isn't wrong because it doesn't hurt anyone; it does not infringe on the human rights of any other person, and rights are subtractive rather than additive: something needs to be proven wrong to be denied as a right, not validated to be enshrined as one. If we allow the debate to continue on issues like 'naturalness', or choice, we're opening ourselves up to moral attacks that are, quite simply, irrelevant. Paedophilia and violence can be just as natural, and just as inborn, as homosexuality, but they are wrong for reasons that are not mirrored in homosexuality. Debating homosexuality in these aspects is completely missing the point, and is effectively an attempt to fit it into Victorian sexual morality rather than reject that oppressive morality outright and that, I think, is a mistake.
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