Tuesday, August 05, 2003

The recent coverage in the press of the gay marriage controversy has raised some questions in my mind. Since some of these questions have somewhat metaphysical implications, and the church has come down strongly against gay marriage, it seems an appropriate metaphysical elders topic even though it is so political.

What sparked my interest is the Pope's statement that homosexuality is against the "natural moral law." As the Lawyer has shown in his paper on natural law, positivism, and mormon polygamy, this kind of natural law reasoning has lost force in current legal thinking. I cannot help but see the Pope's statement as completely unconvincing to anyone who is not Catholic (and most likely Catholics too). Another approach would be to look at empirical data in families in the country to try and make a more economic or sociological argument, namely that families create an environment which is beneficial to the state because it raises responsible members of society and therefore should be legally encouraged. (Cornel West has argued this in a book on the family, though not against homosexuality distinctly). Does such data exist, and if it does should we try and make these arguments?

And what are we Mormons to think about the natural law argument against homosexuality? Pres. Kimball identifies homosexuality as 'crimes against nature' and there is a strong tradition in the church that supports this natural law thinking. But in modern society (esp in science) we try and refrain from attaching 'teleology' to things--and it seems a bit odd to argue that "God created your reproductive anatomy to create children only, and thus it is immoral to use it any other way." Many other things: murder, adultery, etc seem perfectly natural (in a Darwinian sense) and yet we consider them immoral; skeptics will point to genetic correlations and homosexuality among animals as natural examples. I don't think that deriving morals and ethics from nature works (maybe it is linked to natural theology of the 19th century?). So maybe natural law means the order of the universe as decreed or discovered by God and revealed directly by God and not through study of nature. This seems very Mormon--the question is if this will reduce us to arguing against gay marriage (if indeed we are to do so) by saying, "well, God said we shouldn't, as least he said so to me."

Another aspect that has long interested me is the free will / determinism aspect of the recent gay movement, where it is argued that sexual orientation has some genetic aspect, cannot therefore be controlled, and thus we need to give gays equal rights. It sounds a lot like race in the civil rights movements of yesteryear. Reification of a complex behaviour and then linking that object to a gene is a very sketchy process, and the correlations are weak, and of course correlation and causation are not to be confused. I have lots of genes (such as those found on the Y chromosome) which encourage me to do all sorts of bad behaviour that I would likely not be inclined to do were I to have two X chromosomes. For the most part I avoid this behaviour.

One last point: assuming empirical data exist to support the idea that families are useful to the state in some way, would it then be ethical for the state to encourage this behaviour in some way, or does that infringe on our ideas of fairness and civil rights? I find it fascinating that with our American emphasis on the rights of individuals, conceptualized in Lockean terms, the family becomes an troubling unit of society--a source of abuse, control etc. But of course we are not libertarian Lockean atoms, but inherently social animals… and I think that this debate could not happen in say Japan where the emphasis is on the good of the group (although interestingly not the good of the family).