Friday, April 5, 2013

Sexual Disorientation

In a post a few days back, I noted that laws restricting marriage exclusively to heterosexual couples are based upon biology, not bigotry. Four million years of human evolution has yielded two genders for the reproduction and rearing of offspring. Nature has provided  that men and women are drawn together to some degree subconsciously by subtle visual, auditory, and olfactory cues. For ions of time, men and women have been engaging in sexual intercourse, giving birth, rearing children, and forming extensive kinship networks based upon consanguinity.

Over the centuries different societies have devised different social conventions that sanction human pairing and infuse it with meanings particular to those cultures. They call it marriage. They are all but universally based upon pairings between men and women. Marriage was created by heterosexuals for heterosexuals.

Yet homosexuals, who make up about 2%-4% of the population, claim to experience innate attraction to persons of the same sex. Because this claim comes from those who describe their own private, subjective mental state, no one could or even should contest that claim. In addition, homosexuals claim to be "born that way" and that homosexuality results from the same natural biological and developmental processes as heterosexuality. (That is a very different claim that is by no means obviously true.) Consequently, they argue, homosexuality is just as natural as heterosexuality and should serve as the basis of discrimination in the issuing of marriage licenses.

If homosexuality is natural in that sense, this make homosexuality something of a biological anomaly. Scientists do not usually talk about purposes when describing natural processes such as biological evolution. Modern science abandoned a teleological  view of the universe long ago for a mechanistic one. The mechanisms of evolution, however, have made heterosexuality the biological norm. It is not heterosexuality that calls for explanation; it is homosexuality. So how is homosexuality to be explained?

The traditional explanation of homosexuality is not biological at all, but psychological and /or moral. Until 1973, the American Psychiatric Association included homosexuality among its list of sexual deviations in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. At that time it substituted Sexual Orientation Disturbance, which referred to people who were unhappy with , in conflict with, or wanting to change, their orientation. This did not mean the APA normalized homosexuality. The author of the change in nomenclature wrote that “by no longer listing it as a psychiatric disorder we are not saying that it is "normal" or as valuable as heterosexuality.” This change occurred, however, as a reaction to political pressure, not as a result of new research evidence or better reasoning about homosexuality. The American Psychological Association followed suit two years later. At the same time, many jurisdictions in the United States still criminalized certain sexual practices associated with homosexuality. As a society we never squared homosexuality as a mental disorder with homosexuality as a criminal activity. The same situation persists today with pedophilia. It is still considered a mental illness but is also criminalized. And some people wonder what this says about mental illness as a coherent concept anyway. Does the fact that many people act in weird ways mean they are mentally ill?

A more contemporary explanation relies on genetics. Genes determine physical characteristics of biological organisms. It is possible that a mutation triggers drives in homosexuals that deviate from those inherited by the vast majority of other members of homo sapiens. Perhaps homosexuals carry an allele that accounts for the deviation from nature's norm. If true, it suggests that homosexuality is natural in that it results from natural processes. But it is certainly a maladaptive trait. The possession of a homosexual allele or some other genetic factor does not affect directly the viability of the individuals who carry it.  But, like most mutations, it is does not appear to enhance the survival of the species as a whole. Homosexuals couples cannot reproduce themselves. If homosexuals found themselves separated geographically so that their gene pool became isolated, it would not lead to new species. It would lead to extinction. Some research suggests, however, the counter intuitive conclusion that homosexual factors in the genes actually increase the chances for reproductive success among heterosexuals. And this explains the persistence of homosexual genetic traits in the general population.

A somewhat different appeal is to behavioral genetics. Genes play a determinate role in the instinct bases species-specific behaviors exhibited by animals. Scientists have now embarked on studies of behavioral genetics in humans. They suggest that a variety of genes contribute to human behavior. This seems to be a much more difficult task, given that humans do not really exhibit instinctual behaviors like other animals. Humans distinguish themselves from other animals by the possession of free will. And this brings us back to the controversy over homosexuality as a matter of choice. Moreover, researchers have yet to find a "homosexual gene."

Some researchers believe that genes contribute to homosexuality indirectly. They suggest that some malfunction of the genes that govern intrauterine development result in homosexual orientation or at least susceptibility to the development of a homosexual orientation. This seems the  most probable.

Perhaps homosexuality results from some combination of biological processes, social conditioning, and choice. A recent pamphlet produced by the American Psychological Association suggests just that:

"There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles..."

Does this mean homosexual relationships are evil? No,

Does this mean homosexual relationships are less worthy? No.

But neither does it contribute much to the argument for homosexual marriage.

Approximately 2% to 4% of the population confuses the cues that should draw them to the opposite sex. They demand state recognition of  homosexual relationships under the banner of "justice" and  "marriage equality."

Centuries ago, Aristotle argued that to understand the justice of any social practice, one must understand its telos--its end or purpose. As I wrote at the top, men and women engage in sexual intercourse, give birth to children, rear them into adulthood, and form kinship networks based upon consanguinity.  Marriage is social convention based upon these biological realities. As a civil institution provides social and legal support to the ends or purposes of marriage--sanctioning of regulating the sexual dynamic between men and women, legitimizing children produced by sexual intercourse, establishing the rights to property acquired by the household. On this ground, it is difficult to see just how homosexual relationships are equal. Homosexual relations share with heterosexual relationships mutual affection and some level of commitment. That is, however, about the only characteristic in that they are equal. Homosexual couples do not engage in sexual intercourse, strictly speaking. They do not give birth to children and families. They do not form extended kinship networks based upon consanguinity.

Marriage is a social convention with social purposes that we as a society can change and  define anyway we want. We can change the definition of marriage to include couples of the same sex. We can  change the definition of marriage to include good old fashioned Biblical or Koranic polygamy. We can change the definition to include new fashioned gender neutral polyamorous relationships.

There just do not seem to be any compelling reasons why we should.

No comments: