Intro to Ethics: Homosexuality (part 2)

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 2, 2010 in Ethics,Intro to Ethics

intro_to_ethics

Welcome to my course on ethics.

I wrote earlier about reasoning in ethics without assuming a meta-ethical view. Today we’ll reason about the ethics of homosexuality without assuming a meta-ethical view. First, you’ll want to read Homosexuality (Part 1).

Earlier, we noted that even if some people are unavoidably homosexual, it may be that homosexual behavior is wrong if it is harmful to oneself or others like pedophilia is. People like William Lane Craig and Thomas Schmidt have argued that homosexual behavior is indeed quite harmful.

Schmidt provided lots of references to research purportedly showing that homosexuals are promiscuous, that homosexuals are more depressed and more likely to be pedophiles than heterosexual men, and so on.

Most of us do not have time to track down and read all the literature Schmidt cites. Nor do we have time to look for contrary literature.  But let us see how far we can get with reason alone. Would the research Schmidt cites, if it were true, support Schmidt’s claims?

…75% of homosexual men have more than 100 sexual partners during their lifetime…

Is this kind of promiscuity destructive? If so, it would seem to be the promiscuity that is destructive, not the homosexuality – e.g., heterosexuals who are that promiscuous are taking just as much a chance with sexually-transmitted diseases or emotional turmoil as homosexuals.

More than half of [the partners of gay men] are strangers…

Why is this thought to be destructive? It’s not clear. But again, if there is a problem it would seem not to be with the homosexuality of these acts but with the stranger component.

Only 8% of homosexual men and 7% of homosexual women ever have relationships lasting more than three years…

Again, even if this is true, why should we think this is a destructive thing? And why would we think it is the homosexual acts that cause relationships to be short-term, rather than, say, a lack of cultural support for the relationship?

Studies show that 47% of male homosexuals have a history of alcohol abuse and 51% have a history of drug abuse…

40% of homosexual men have a history of major depression.  That compares with only 3% for men in general.

Again, a causal link between homosexual acts and drug abuse has not been shown. In fact, when a minority is ostracized and called an “abomination” by most of its culture, it would be surprising if that minority did not exhibit more drug abuse and depression than the greater population.

Studies show that homosexuals are much more likely to be pedophiles than heterosexual men…

Even if true, this does not suggest that homosexual acts are what cause homosexuals to be pedophiles. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a mechanism that would produce this effect from the act of homosexual sex.

So there are several reasons for us to be skeptical of the assertion that homosexual behavior is destructive, and therefore morally wrong. First, many of the statistics cited are prima facie extreme and questionable. Second, a quick glance at the research literature suggests problems for Schmidt’s view.1 Third, and most importantly, the evidence cited does not support Schmidt’s and Craig’s claims.

So we don’t have good reason to think homosexuality is immoral because it is destructive. Are there other reasons to think homosexuality is immoral? We’ll explore those possibilities next.

  1. For example, this review says: “Using the data from our study, the 95% confidence limits, of the risk children would identify recognizably homosexual adults as the potential abuser, are from 0% to 3.1%. These limits are within current estimates of the prevalence of homosexuality in the general community.” Also, one of the studies cited by Schmit was published by a man expelled from the APA 12 years before Schmidt’s book was published. For what reason? “He was misrepresenting and distorting other peoples’ psychological research and using it to sensationalize his point of view on homosexuals. He talks about homosexuals being mass murderers and child molesters and credits other people for those findings. If you read their research, they have in no way made such claims. We have letters from those researchers saying his (work) has distorted their research.” []

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Taranu April 2, 2010 at 10:27 am

“[...] it would seem to be the promiscuity that is destructive, not the homosexuality – e.g., heterosexuals who are that promiscuous are taking just as much a chance with sexually-transmitted diseases or emotional turmoil as homosexuals.”

Perhaps I’m not getting this right, but here it goes:
Maybe the author is trying to point out that promiscuity (which can lead to an increase in the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases) is rampant amongst homosexuals and thus, the more gays there are the higher the risk of the spread and the fewer, the lower? In other words it may be the case that the gay way of life leads to an increase in promiscuity which in turn leads to an increase in the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases.
It would have been nice to know how many(the percentage) heterosexuals are in the same situation, though I doubt the percentage is this high (given that Schmidt’s data is accurate).

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Chris April 2, 2010 at 2:03 pm

This is a great example of why this is the best “atheist” blog on the net. Most atheists who do not specialize in glbt issues will rant about how Christians are simply “bigots” without addressing their claims. Well, that’s not good enough. Keep it coming.

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Torgo April 2, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Taranu writes,

In other words it may be the case that the gay way of life leads to an increase in promiscuity which in turn leads to an increase in the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases.  

I’m not sure there’s a “gay way of life” that is a direct result of the homosexuality itself. For instance, consider the differences between homosexual men and lesbian women, where in general terms the lifestyles and sexual habits are much different. I can’t quote statistics off the top of my head, but I’m pretty sure that lesbians engage in much less anonymous sex, having longer lasting monogamous relationships. The male sex-drive (whether hetero- or homosexual) is probably what accounts, in part, for these statistics in homosexual men.

Also, it’s inaccurate to say there’s a single gay way of life even among homosexual men. It’s fair to make some broad generalizations, perhaps, but this shouldn’t make us lose sight of important differences among sub-groups of gay men.

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lukeprog April 2, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Thanks, Chris. I do try.

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Torgo April 2, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Regarding homosexuals being pedophiles: Didn’t the following come up in part one? Male pedophiles tend to be attracted to young boys, not other men. Thus, they are engaging in homosexual acts in the strict sense, but this doesn’t mean we can blame “normal” homosexual acts or attractions for pedophilia. Homosexuals who are attracted to other men are mostly not attracted to young boys, so it’s a bit of weaseling fallacy to say that most pedophiles are homosexuals.

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Baal April 2, 2010 at 3:47 pm

As to the supposed greater promiscuity of homosexual men, I can’t remember who it was, but a comedian once made a joke about this saying that there were good reasons why women were the limiting factor on male heterosexual promiscuity.

The punchline went something like ‘If there were saunas and woodland areas where women congregated for anonymous sex with men then their wives and girlfriends would have to nail their feet to the floor to stop them going there.’

There is a version of this promiscuity argument, utilised by right-wing Christians and conservatives in general, who object to all birth control and abortion for women for basically the same reasons.
That is that if you allow women to be able to have sex without the consequences of pregnancy then the mindless sluts will cause the downfall of society (of course they don’t say so in so many words).
There are so many assumptions being made such as homosexuality automatically causing greater promiscuity, that sex with strangers is bad, that open relationships are dangerous and unhealthy. That people never change during their lifetimes and eventually settle down and want something more stable. That if given the choice all people would prefer such ‘promiscuous’ relationship types over those that are more conventional.

Even if it could be shown that all these things negatively affected ‘traditional monogamy’ that would in itself not be an argument against them.
It just points out the presumption of these people that there is only one way to have a healthy society and that is where all people are in God-fearing, monogamous relationships that are the centre of a nuclear family.

It could possibly be a fact that a society that were more realistic about the needs and desires of people and didn’t seek to control behaviour through shame and coercion might evolve to be one that is more open and honest, with agents who are more responsible towards their own health and the health of their own sexual partners and life partners, whatever their sexual orientation.

It will be some job to untangle this web of assumptions and to tackle each propostion on its own merit.

I’ll echo Chris here and say it is great to have a blog that tackles these issues in this fashion. Well done.

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Reginald Selkirk April 2, 2010 at 6:27 pm

People like William Lane Craig and Thomas Schmidt have argued that homosexual behavior is indeed quite harmful.

That Craig is so versatile! When he’s not telling mathematicians and physicists how to do their jobs, he freelances as an expert in human psychology.

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