A few weeks ago I watched a great documentary called “For the Bible Tells Me So”. The movie details some experiences of several evangelical parents and their homosexual children, and also interviews several biblical scholars that speak about the serious incoherence of “biblical literalism”. The arguments given against literalism are especially convincing; the scholars show that, as with any text, the Bible needs to be interpreted, and that a culturally sensitive interpretation of the most often cited passages about homosexuality render these passages useless in the crusade against homosexuality. These are the most convincing arguments given in the film because they refute key Evangelical arguments that attempt to support the claim that homosexuality is immoral.
This film does use another approach to defend homosexuality from the charge that it is immoral; it is an approach that, unfortunately, is used quite often in defense of homosexuality. This approach argues that, since scientific research shows that homosexuality has a biological root, homosexuality is natural, and thus, not immoral. In more detail:
1. Sexual preference is a naturally occurring biological trait found in humans (and other animals).
2. One cannot change any of one’s naturally occurring biological traits.
3. Thus, one can change one’s sexual preference.
4. Thus, people who identify as homosexual do not do so by choice.
5. Thus, homosexuality is permissible.
Putting aside for a moment that I have a hard time accepting 2*, I think this argument is bad for a number of other reasons. First, and probably most importantly, this argument does nothing to defeat the claim that “Homosexuality is immoral.” Simply because X occurs naturally, it does not follow that X is permissible. For example, if scientists found that pedophilia was a naturally occurring biological trait, we would probably all still believe the claim that “raping young children is wrong.” (though, perhaps, it might chance the way we deal with pedophiles). Further, we’d probably still expect them, over time, to chance this behavior, even though it is a biological trait.
Second, relying on this argument leaves open the possibility that progress in the biological sciences decides the question of whether homosexuality is permissible. But, it is entirely possible that further study in biology (or a better understanding of the relationship between biological traits and choices) could reveal that sexual orientation is, in some sense, a choice. If biology leads in that direction, people relying on the above argument would be in a pretty sticky situation.
For those reasons, I think that defenders of homosexuality (I am certainly one) should address the immoral claim head on. That is, they should show, through an informed interpretation of the Bible, that homosexuality is not condemned by God, and, perhaps more importantly, that there are no bad consequences that result from homosexuality (qua homosexuality).That is, we should show that, even if homosexuality is a choice–and I believe that it (along with heterosexuality) is a choice, in the Sartrean sense–there are no good reasons for one to claim that it is a bad choice.
*Well, not totally aside: for example, Sartre argues convincingly that much of what we consider to be ‘human nature’ is actually a free choice. While traits like skin color and height might not be so clearly seen as things to be chosen, many preferences and actions, even if we have a predisposition toward preferring X to Y, do seem like choices. We are free not to sleep with Jill, just as we are free not to commit criminal acts; further, we can even learn, through a bit of education or conditioning, to actually change what we prefer.